A couple of weeks ago, I decided to write a series of perspectives on Thanksgiving Day. As it happened, the one I posted the Monday before the holiday was titled, perhaps a bit prophetically, “Thankful, Yes – But for Everything?” Then a funny thing happened on the way to Thanksgiving: I got a headache.
This was not a run-of-the-mill, take a Tylenol, Advil or aspirin type of headache. No, it was industrial-strength, one that wracked every bit of my head, in the back, on the top, sides of my face, above my eyebrows. Even my eyes hurt. It started on a Saturday, and at first I dismissed it as a sinus headache. When pain relief medication didn’t affect it, I thought perhaps I had some kind of virus. Wrong.
Unable to find a suitable appointment time with my regular physician, my wife drove me to see a doc-in-the-box on Tuesday afternoon. Based on symptoms I described, he diagnosed a migraine headache, gave me a shot and a prescription, and sent me on my way. Wrong again.
Wednesday arrived and the headache was more intense than ever. Finally, resigned to the fact it wasn’t about to go away on its own, my wife drove me to the nearby hospital’s ER. By this time I was noticing double vision in my right eye. Thankfully the wait there wasn’t too long, and a CT scan identified the source of the problem: a mass on my pituitary gland inside my brain.
Without facilities for treating such a problem, a hospital ambulance transported me to the ER of a hospital downtown. The medical staff couldn’t promise how quickly they could get me to the MRI machine, but thankfully that wait also was much shorter than expected. I forget how long I had to lie still on the machine – they did the imaging in two segments – but the MRI confirmed the tumor. I’m told that after the MRI, when I tried to stand up, I passed out. I don’t recall that, since I was unconscious.
Soon we were discussing my situation with a neurosurgeon who recommended surgery as soon as possible. By this time my right eyelid was drooping and had almost closed. As my headache continued to pound, I had to agree. There was no time for “second opinions” or evaluating which surgeon to use, since it was already Thanksgiving morning. So, suddenly my holiday had shifted from the prospect of a turkey dinner with all the requisite trimmings to brain surgery. Not exactly as I had anticipated the day unfolding.
Thankfully, after my Thanksgiving morning brain surgery, I awoke in the Neuro ICU. The headache that had plagued me for five days was…gone! Not even a twinge. There was no post-op surgical pain, either. Looking to the left, my vision was clear, but looking toward the right my double vision was pronounced. This, the medical staff surmised, would subside over time. They could not offer a specific timetable. I couldn’t read twice as fast, but I definitely could read twice as much!
Over the next several days I was poked and prodded, had blood drawn, and my “vitals” checked every few hours. As I had learned previously, you don’t go to the hospital for a rest. There’s an unwritten rule against patients getting sleep. But the doctors, medical staff and nurses were reassuring, extremely competent and caring.
Apparently there was no nerve damage from the pressure of the pituitary mass, since my double vision rapidly improved. I was even able to watch the traditional Ohio State-Michigan football game on TV from my hospital room – a first for me. That’s not recommended, since I was still hooked up to blood pressure and heart monitors at the time, but I handled the stress pretty well. And the machines survived.
The Monday after my surgery, I was discharged, armed with pages of post-op instructions. My double vision had disappeared, and I had successfully walked the hallways and even navigated some stairs to ensure I could handle my return home. Brain surgery on Thursday morning, heading back home just after noon on Monday. Wow!
I don’t recount this experience to point to myself. I know many people have gone through – and continue to go through – far worse. But it gave me more opportunities for thankfulness. Philippians 4:7 speaks of “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.” We never really know what that means until we find ourselves in circumstances that would seem to defy having such peace. I and my wife both had that. We trusted that God knew my situation, even better than I or the medical team did. We also trusted that He had guided us to the right place and the right hands for treatment.
Having learned a lot about sheep over the years from my friend, Ken, who raised them, I’ve long loved Psalm 23, the “shepherd psalm.” Many of us are familiar with the verse, “though I walk through the shadow of death.”This doesn’t necessarily refer to imminent death, but shadowy areas where shepherds in the Middle East guide their sheep to new pastures. The sheep trustingly proceed, aware predators might be lurking in the dark. I sensed God’s presence in the “shadow of death,” even when my headache was at max force.
And I could be thankful because, even though the outcome for me was uncertain on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, I knew from God’s point of view my life and circumstances were right on schedule. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11). Nothing is beyond His control.
Do you have this trust, this confidence in the Lord? I hope you do – because I don’t know how we can successfully navigate the stresses of everyday life without it. Because, as my friend Albert often says, “God is good all the time – all the time God is good!”