Monday, November 18, 2013

Cut off from the head

In response to a question raised by my last post, in which I casually mentioned I'm having neck surgery next month, I thought I'd explain it more thoroughly, because though my pain-flooded journey has been well-documented, the consultation with the neurosurgeon was very interesting, and has given me pause in the last week. Spiritual pause, I might even say. I do say, here and now.

Dr. H (as we'll call him) comes into every consultation with the idea that he'll say NO to the idea of surgery. Let's pause here, to begin with. A person who makes his living doing surgery starts with the idea--every time!--that he WON'T do that for which the person has come to him. He wants the images (from the MRI), the symptoms, the person's general health to make it clear that surgery will make a difference in her life.

So we began our consultation as I've begun many, many consultations over the last decade and a half. Telling him my story. "Back up," he said. "Tell me about the trauma that caused this. There was one, wasn't there?" So I told him about the car accident at seven, and he sang the same old song and dance number I've heard a dozen times before--about my body reacting like a football player's who was injured playing, and later had all kinds of physical problems as a result. I told Beve later that surely they must have all learned this song in med. school because they all know the words by heart. Come to think of it, I can sing it right along with them now.

But then the examination began and this is when it got interesting.
And new.
Dr. H had me walk across the room, then walk on an invisible line (and I laughed, because I've said for years that if I ever got stopped, a cop would think I'd been drinking because I can't keep my balance when I have to place one foot directly in front of the other. I stumble EVERY time).
Then he took out his hammer and started checking my reflexes on my knees.
"Tip your head as far back as you can," he told me (one of the most painful positions in my life!).
Then he pounded on my left knee again.
And my RIGHT leg jumped.
He did it again, and again, my RIGHT leg jumped.
When he pounded on my right leg, ONLY my right leg moved.

When he had me bend my head all the way forward, and tried it again, exactly the same thing happened.
Then he pulled on the middle finger of my left hand, and my thumbs moved.
Both of them.

It was the oddest thing.
If it hadn't been me, I would have thought it was magic. Or that someone was in cahoots with the doctor, trying to play a trick on me.

But he explained it to Beve and me thus:
The nerve in my neck is SO pinched that the impulse from my left leg (which is the one in constant pain!) doesn't get past that pinch but goes just to the neck then down the other side of my body. NOT much is getting all the way to my brain from the left side of my body, in fact. So the right side is healthy, and the left side is weak and in constant pain.

What I've thought all this time was my LEG is actually caused by my neck. And was probably the result of that accident.

But here's what gives me pause. Dr. H said that because I'm in good health, I am a good candidate for this surgery. This shocked the socks of my unevenly healthy feet. I needed an instant reboot to take in his words. For YEARS, I've felt unhealthy. But the truth is, it's THIS--this one thing--that has completely taken over my life, has made it hard to walk, to sit, to lift things, to be steady, to...well, to live fully. But my body is relatively healthy. That's amazing. So he said, "I'm offering to do this surgery. But I want YOU to consider whether YOU want to have it." It was a very liberating kind of consultation, I can tell you that. We spent a week really, really talking and praying about it. And decided that it's worth it. A long recovery awaits--with no driving, bending, lifting, sleeping on my stomach (!), turning my head, and sooo many other things I can't even think of right now, but we're hopeful about two things: 1. that my left arm will become stronger and will have no more pain. 2. the pain in my left leg will not get worse. He cannot guarantee that I won't have neck pain and I will certainly always have leg pain, but I can live with that. I'm used to living with it. I feel grateful for what I might get. For what is possible.

But here's the other part, the thing I've been thinking about for days now. Because that nerve in my neck has disconnected my left leg and arm from my head, I've lived in pain. We never consider a body literally disconnected from its head because that's called 'beheading.' Sure death. Right? But spiritually, we often live disconnected from our Head. Maybe even connected to other parts of the body. I've been imagining this. I've been thinking of times when believers get together, get off-track, and it's like a pinched nerve in the neck, like all the impulse from the pain-filled side just stops at that pinch and flows down the healthy side...and the so-called healthy side never even knows that they're compromised as well. I don't know if this makes sense to you, but it has to me this week. I can think of times in my life when I've spent in relationship with people, thinking it was good and right, and, even though they were weak or different or in pain, I was strong enough to carry us. But then something happened, and I realized how far off-track I'd gotten in my thinking to have done that without my Head. And...sadly, at least twice, it took painful surgery of a spiritual sort, to get the pathway cleared and the connection RIGHT again. Those were hard, hard lessons to learn. I wish I could say it only took once. I'm a slow learner, though. And I want--desperately--to believe that I can DO this, or be this, or whatever it is. And do it for Him.  Even if He didn't ask me. Even if He was clearly (yes, sometimes it's pretty dang clear) telling me NOT to.

That's the point. We can't DO ministry on our own. We just can't. We are the Body. We need each other. But we need to be connected to the HEAD. ALWAYS.

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