You know that sinking feeling you get when you’re driving along and all of the sudden, the Check Engine light comes on? And then you drive with one eye on the road and one eye on the light and wonder if this will turn out to be a simple sensor or something really expensive, say like a fuel pump. Yeah, well, my body’s Check Engine light clicked on three weeks ago and I decided to ignore it and try to make it to the end of the semester then deal with whatever was leaving me doubled over with stomach pains. That turned out to be a pretty stupid idea.
After three days of pain and chills, I decided that I would suck it up for one more day, get through my day at work, then go see my family doctor and see what was going on. All I had to do was make until 2:30 or so on Thursday afternoon. Instead, my mom took a tumble before my alarm even went off Thursday morning and I ended up in the emergency room with her. Thankfully, her injury wasn’t anything catastrophic – a broken arm but nothing requiring surgery. I spent most of the day Thursday and good chunk of Friday at the hospital with her, arguing to get her admitted to evaluate her heart condition, while in agony myself and not telling anyone. Finally, Friday afternoon, the chills were so bad, I had to go home while my sister stayed with Mom. I took a hot shower and still couldn’t stop shivering. My teenage son brought me two blankets and the thermometer. I’d spiked a fever of 102.2. I finally had to admit I was sick. I went to the walk-in clinic Saturday morning and they wanted to put me in an ambulance immediately and send me off to the same emergency room where I’d just spent two days with Mom. They suspected colitis or something similar and said the ER could keep me hydrated via IV fluids, run some tests, maybe give me some antibiotics. I refused to go, knowing it would just mean long hours of being ignored in the hallway, cold and miserable, when I could keep myself hydrated at home and wait to see my family doctor on Monday. Probably not a brilliant choice but oh well, I’m still here.
I spent the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday on the couch. Monday, my fever was lower but not gone. My doctor made sure I could keep fluids down, told me to stay away from solid food for a few days, and to rest. E. Coli from eating raw cookie dough or diverticulitis were his two prime suspects. Given the way things played out, diverticulitis was the final diagnosis. I missed a full week from work and school. I ended up coordinating Mom’s move from hospital to a nursing home for rehab from my bed. I lived on nothing but Gatorade and water for 8 days. Care to guess who does all the grocery shopping and cooks Thanksgiving dinner? Yup – yours truly.
Turns out spending a week completely flattened and another ten days feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck will give you a whole new appreciation for the words Slow Down. I spent a lot of time crashed out on the couch. Bed time got backed up to 7 or 7:30. Visits with my mom were only a couple hours at best before she’d kick me out for looking too pale. I still managed, with help from my younger son, to pull off a fancy Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us. But he has spent the remainder of the long weekend hounding me to sit down and rest.
This morning, as I settled down at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and a copy of John Pavlovitz’s Advent devotional Low. I read the following:
“Life comes with the collateral damage of living, with failed plans and relational collapse, with internal struggle and existential crises, and we carry these things into this season. The good news is we don’t need to discard our messiness to step into this season, and we couldn’t even if we wanted to. Bring every bit of your flawed self and all your chaotic circumstances to this day. Welcome the mess.”
from Low by John Pavlovitz
And as I sat there, gazing out the window and contemplating this, I realized that I am the mess. And trying to force myself to keep going at full power “just a little bit longer” isn’t working. My bad habit of trying to make sure everyone else is taken care of first also isn’t working. It damn near put me in the hospital. And so maybe this Advent, instead of spending half of it trying to get through to the end of the semester with my A average intact and the other half trying to make sure everything is ready for Christmas, I may actually have to slow down and take care of myself. I may actually have to accept that I don’t need to pull off a miracle of getting it all done and coming out on top. Because the Christmas miracle isn’t mine to pull off and it never was in the first place.