I Have this Feeling…In My Gut, part 2

I guess I should continue where I left off, huh?

I went to the GI specialist on Tuesday.  He was pretty sure it was appendicitis.  He thought that the appendix may have even burst and I’d been walking around with a burst appendix.  He sent me for scans on Wednesday morning.  Upon seeing the scans I was sent straight to the Emergency Department at BroMenn for surgery.


If you are wondering how a person walks around with a burst appendix, it is a good question.  Here is the story of Martha Little, news director for WBUR.  She lived with a burst appendix for weeks!


The appendix had not ruptured so they were able to do the surgery laparoscopically and was in the hospital overnight.  I cannot praise the nursing staff enough.  They took good care of me…and got me home quickly where my wife could continue caring for me.

I’m doing well, now.  I’m in some pain, but I have medicine to help with that.  I’m being well-cared-for and my church is in good hands.  My wife and other clergy are covering for me while I recover, but my congregation is amazing and I can also count on the people of the church to make sure everything and everyone is cared for while I am gone!

Blessings,

What A Week!
The beautiful stained glass at my new church in Normal.

This past week has been an incredible journey and I want to thank all of the people of Pontiac and Normal who have made this such a positive and faith-filled transition!

The people of Pontiac shared with me during a farewell reception and the thoughtful cards, gifts, and well-wishing touched me and ensured that we left Pontiac feeling cared-for!  Meanwhile, the people of Normal have welcomed us with graciousness that we could not have expected.  For instance, two members of the Staff-Parish relations committee (my liaisons with the congregation) showed up on move-in day with a large laundry basket filled with house-warming gifts:  things we would need as we started unpacking.  They also presented us with gift cards for Steak-N-Shake and Avanti’s.  How thoughtful!  The Avanti’s card paid for our pizza that night, because we had no dishes unpacked nor energy for cooking!

Fast forward to this past weekend.  I had a funeral on Saturday morning and preached at a worship service on Saturday night and two worship services on Sunday morning.  I made it though the weekend in pretty good shape, but had a moment during the 9 am worship service communion when fatigue hit me.  I had to hold on to the wall and rail to finish, but once I sat down and got to rest, I was fine again.

There are moments like that which remind me that I’m still recovering from surgeries, but, mostly, I don’t feel any different than before my medical problems began.  I just have to watch for my moments of stress, weakness or fatigue and know when to slow down or rest…

Mostly, this week has been a joy.  I feel as though I have experienced love from one congregation and great hospitality and welcome from another.  Who could ask for more than that?

blessings to you,

Weight Watchers Saved My Life!

Lately I’ve had a whole lot of people comment on my weight.  Either they say something like, “Oh you’ve put on some weight, you look much better,” or something like, “oh, you look too thin (or sick).”  Now, I know that it is all amplified because folks know I had a brain tumor: so I don’t take it personally…but it has me worried!

I think it reveals a larger problem in society, especially the rural, midwestern culture here in Livingston County (Illinois). Our American Society is, quite simply, obese.  I was overweight until not long ago and now that I’m at the top end of my healthy weight range, everyone thinks I am sickly.  I still have flab, I’m still not fit and toned…yet everyone thinks I am now unhealthy!  Let me say it one more time:  I’m not even at the low side of my healthy weight range and everyone around me seems to be freaking out, why?  Because so many who are around us in rural midwestern America are overweight.  Overweight has become the standard, quite simply.

I’m not coming down on obesity because of how people act, by the way (I’m not calling people lazy), nor am I even upset because of how people look (It’s really not about vanity).  I’m honestly concerned for my health, my family’s health and for the people around us.  Being overweight is a serious problem which leads to all kinds of health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, for example.  And weight gain, beyond one’s healthy weight range, is an indicator that one’s diet and exercise are out of whack and that things are not well with your body!  (When you are gaining weight your body is trying to communicate with you)

Well, back to me.  Last week someone cornered me and shared their concern about my weight and I responded that Weight Watchers (my weight loss) saved my life.  It did, by the way!  I told them the story of how my spinal fluid leaked into my bed after my second surgery.  I told them about how the surgeon shared with Carrie that I would have died that night had I been any heavier or older.  I told them that losing 35 pounds and getting into my healthy weight range was not just to look better (vanity), it actually saved my life.  Now, I’ve responded this way with several people, but the reason this one interaction stands out in my mind is because the person responded to my story: first, by saying, “Oh my.” and then saying, “what do you mean about a healthy weight range?”

They were serious.  They had no idea that based on sex and weight there are guidelines to help people find a healthy weight!  Today I want to begin correcting this view.  More importantly, I want to become more vocal about our need, especially in rural communities, to work against obesity and grow in health.  I want to do this work not to be critical of people or to be hurtful, but because I want to help.  There are many people suffering from the plight of obesity (or at least being overweight) and I would be remiss if I didn’t share my own experiences and work to help them.  At my heaviest several years ago I was 225 and I hit my goal weight of 165 pounds a few weeks ago (when I arrived in Pontiac two years ago I was about 200).  I’m a 6′ male and my healthy weight range is 147-184 according to Weight Watchers.  I got to where I am by eating more vegetables and fruits and cutting down my oil and carbohydrates, I got to where I am by eating well (not being hungry), and I got to where I am by adding some basic exercise to my routine which not only helped me feel better and lose weight, but also helped me to have more complete and enjoyable days.

I hope you will join me as I continue working to be more healthy.  Don’t do it for me, do it for you!

Also, if you’d like to find you’re body mass index (figure out how you are doing), click here!


Get started with a new and accurate bathroom scale:
Resurrection & New Life: I’ve Seen It Too Many Times Not To Believe!

Meet Rev. Dr. Victor K. Long


Rev. Victor K. Long is the pastor at First United Methodist Church of Mount Vernon. He is an Elder of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and previously served an appointment in Marion, IL where we worked together at First United Methodist Church.

He received a Bachelor of Business Administration from McKendree University, a Master of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and Doctor of Ministry from Graduate Theological Foundation.


Victor is married to Jennifer, and together they have four children: Ashley, Autumn, Lauren, and Carson.

Victor is a close personal friend and one of the important mentors of my life and ministry.  I hope you will welcome him to my blog today!

…I’ve seen it too many times not to believe in it!

Today’s Scripture: Romans 8:28


    My dad died from a brain tumor at age 55 in 1996 … just six days before my daughter [our first child and my parents’ first grandchild] was born.


    The afternoon after my father died, I was listening to the radio, reflecting upon the tragedy that was overwhelming my family, and a contemporary Christian song came on the radio, the chorus of which said, “Life is hard, God is good.”  In that moment, I felt God’s presence and the assurance that I/we would make it through this dark and difficult episode.
 

    A few days later, the birth of my daughter, Autumn, provided a much-need burst of joy in the midst of our grieving for my father.  Our joy, however, was quickly displaced by anxiety and fear when we learned that our newborn child had a life-threatening infection, requiring major surgery at three weeks of age.
 

    On the Sunday following her surgery, I sat in her hospital room, rocking her and watching a televised worship service.  That morning, the guest vocalist sang a song which had quickly become familiar to me … “Life is hard, God is good.”
 

    Church historian Diana Butler Bass tells of overhearing an exchange between a bishop whom she describes as an “octogenarian liberal lion” and a parishioner who was interrogating his beliefs.
 

    “Bishop,” the person asked, “Do you believe in the resurrection?”  Listening in, Butler Bass says, “Frankly, I could not wait to hear the answer — like most of his generation, there was no way that Bishop Corrigan believed in a literal resurrection.”
 

    The old bishop looked at the questioner and said firmly, without pause, “Yes. I believe in the resurrection. I’ve seen it too many times not to.”
 

    I have to agree.  I’ve witnessed resurrection too many times not to believe in it.  I’ve seen dead souls awakened to new life through the touch of God’s love.  I’ve seen grief transformed into hope, tragedy turned into victory, despair changed into joy.
 

    When “life is hard,” I remember that the God we encounter in Jesus Christ is a great and gracious God whose love is stronger than death, whose goodness overwhelms hatred, whose forgiveness is greater than sin or guilt — a God who can ultimately make “all things work together for good” [Romans 8:28].
 

    Resurrection … I’ve seen it too many times not to believe in it!
 

–  Victor Long

Title image found at:  http://josephpatterson.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/the-resurrection-of-christ-our-god-and-the-laws-of-physics/

Joy in Ritual?

My wife and I divide up many of the household chores and share responsibilities, normally, but since my first surgery on February sixth I have been very limited in what I can do. Over the last few months I have not had to put dishes in the dishwasher, do laundry, mow the yard…well, actually, I haven’t had to do anything but sit in a chair and take occasional walks! My normal routines and practices have been interrupted and the longer I go without doing them, the more difficult it is for me to start again.

Yesterday I finally unloaded, loaded and unloaded, again, the dishwasher. This was the first time I’ve done any sort of chore for quite some time. The really embarrassing thing is that it isn’t even a real chore. I mean, if I’d washed dishes in the sink that might be a real chore, but I just rinsed some dishes off and set them in a machine. Yet, this insignificant task seemed horrendous. I put it off all morning until I knew Carrie would be returning from work, and, finally, when I was at the eleventh hour, I went about a task that, in that moment, felt tedious and painfully slow.

How is it that a task could become so difficult when it is a routine I’ve done a million times and never felt particularly burdened (that I can remember). Well…now, to be fair I need to think back to when I first moved out on my own and had dishes to do (and no dishwasher). The dishes often mounted up and it often came down to eating on paper products before I would get around to washing dishes (I was a terrible bachelor).

Perhaps it is in the routine that tasks and ways-of-living become familiar and do-able. Perhaps, in forming a routine, we make a task more personal and intimate and, in doing so, make it tolerable, if not pleasurable.

The first time we make a bed or pick up clothes or change a diaper or run a vacuum… the list is infinite…. The first time or the first few times we do something we are bound to find it more difficult, but the more often we do it, the more it becomes part of our life-ritual, the more easy and familiar it becomes. One of the best examples is exercise, I think. It was easy to motivate myself to go to the gym the first time, but the next few times it was terribly difficult. I got home from work and I already felt exhausted. The last thing I wanted to do was walk over to the gym and wear myself down further, yet, once I got through a week or so of going to the gym, it became a highlight. It wasn’t until it became a ritual that I could enjoy it and I began to look forward to it!

In our lives of faith we have the same issue. If you are a church, synagogue or mosque-goer, then you may recognize this. If you skip worship one week, it is easier to miss it the next, and getting back to your faith practice becomes harder and harder. Prayer is the same way. Perhaps that is why muslims pray so often and methodically. By praying seven times each day they have built prayer into their life-ritual. The prayer becomes both familiar and easy, in a way.

For many, dare I say most, Christians it is more difficult to pray. We don’t have the ritual. Maybe we’ve developed a practice of saying a prayer before a meal or at bedtime, but do we interrupt our day for prayer or does our day follow our prayer cycle? I’d wager for most Christians it is the former!

I think practice is important in all that we do, if we want balanced and healthy lives. During my most recent stay in the hospital, I was feeling very sore in bed. I mentioned it to my physical therapist. She got me out of bed and tried to move my legs, but they couldn’t move more than a few degrees without pain. My muscles were tight from lying in bed all day everyday for so long! My legs were used to walking and bending and running. They were used to a certain practice, but they were out of practice. If any of you have gone to the gym, biked, or run further than you are used to, then you know what I mean. You’ve had the opposite experience as I: you went beyond your usual practice or ritual.

In life we need balance. If we want to start a new faith practice it is important to do so in a measured and responsible way. We should begin praying, reading the bible, or worshipping in a way that is tenable (sustainable). If you’ve not had a regular prayer life, then starting 20 times a day is likely not sustainable as a new practice, but finding one or two times during your day (or even 7?) might be. Finding 10 minutes each morning or evening to read the Bible is more likely to be sustainable, for most people, than trying to read a chapter everyday.

On the other hand, if we drop our habit, even for a day, we risk atrophy. In any of your life-practices, this is good advice I would wager. If you are a person of faith, I especially commend to you that you heed this advice and develop healthy practices. It maybe difficult, at first, but it will grow you, strengthen you, and help you in all of your other facets of life.























Images found at:  http://allwomenstalk.com/ & http://www.thegospelmatters.com/, respectively.

Health Checks

Me in the hospital in February 2012 after first neurosurgery.



I suppose everyone has a different experience of the hospital than I do / did, but for me a shift happens at some point during hospitalization. When I was admitted this last time, I was miserable. After surgery, I was hurting really bad. During my first days in a hospital I usually feel as though I need to be there. With this last ER visit and hospitalization, I could only find relief at the hospital and couldn’t imagine going home. As time goes by, though, I begin to feel better and there is finally time when I realize I can go home. A shift happens where my need for the hospital is outweighed by a need to go home.


This time I had so many ‘incidents’ that made me feel bad (like the spinal fluid leaking or migraines) that I didn’t realize how much better I was getting overall! On Saturday the doctor came in and said they were ready to discharge me when I was ready to go. I was shocked. At first I said, “no way.” I mean, I had just had a migraine that morning, but, then, I realized that my pain meds were being reduced, anyway, and there is really very little they can do for the migraines anyway. There was nothing I was getting at the hospital that I couldn’t do at home. It was an odd moment for me and I looked up at the doctor and said, “You know, it seems like it is time to go home after all.” I only wanted to clarify our at home plan for remaining comfortable and healthy.

At my in-law’s home recovering after my first neurosurgery in Feb. 2012



Sometimes it is difficult to recognize our place and what is healthy for us. Whether it is our marriage, a house, a church or organization, or group of friends we can sometimes forget to consider our own health and happiness. I think, especially in marriage, we get comfortable and stop talking to our spouses about healthiness in our relationship(s). Just like in my hospital stay where I constantly evaluated my health and situation with my wife, the nurses & doctors, and with myself; our marriages and other relationships constantly need to have healthy communication and evaluation otherwise we lose track of our health. We wake up one day and realize that we no longer have a healthy reason to stay.


To stay healthy, we can’t just talk about the ‘nice’ things…In the hospital it isn’t easy, at first, to talk about bowel movements or have someone you don’t know help you with a shower; but these difficult conversations are just as important as the easy ones. In marriage, especially, it is easy to just say the “I Love You’s” and forget to talk about the difficult things. Carrie and I try to talk about the difficult things as much as the easy stuff. It sometimes means that we fight. It sometimes means that we get angry or hurt, but, in the end, it always means that we grow in our relationship, know one another more, and have a more solid foundation for the future.


We have to keep an eye on our relationships and we have to constantly evaluate where we are in those relationships and their healthiness.

Thursday Night: Near-Death

This is the dressing and where the lumbar drain enters my spine.
You can also see a white (and red) safety valve just below my waist.


Before I tell this story I want to catch-up anyone who hasn’t been reading along in this blog.  At this point I had a lumbar drain in my back so that they could keep the pressure from building in my brain.  They were draining off 10 mL of spinal fluid every hour, but this is dangerous.  If something happens that too much fluid drains I could get sick, have migraines or die, if I lost too much.  Also, as you read in the last post, infection is a very big concern when they keep a hole open in your spine, so I have been nervous ever since my surgery.  My nightmare night-after-night had been that the nurse had left my drain open or it had come loose and I was dying!
Alright, so now with the story:
On Thursday evening my wife went for dinner with her sister and I was sitting in bed with my iPad and decided to check facebook, twitter, email, etc.  Since I was having some trouble with diarrhea because of the antibiotics and the many laxatives they had me on (to combat the pain meds) I asked the nurse to put an absorbent pad back on my bed.
Now, if you are laughing at me a little you have to understand that, at this point, I have two sets of monitors hooked to me, sequentials on my legs, a very important tube connecting my lumbar drain in my back to that machine, and, often, an IV.  Also, I’m a fall risk so I’m not supposed to move without someone helping me…and it sometimes takes a few minutes before anyone answers my call button (let alone how long it takes them to unhook me and get me to the bathroom).  So having bathroom troubles isn’t an easy thing.  It was very likely that I was going to leave a pretty big mess.
Back to my original story:  The nurse put a pad on my bed, but I’m tall and it wasn’t positioned quite right, so I remember sitting in bed and scooting about (the nurse supervised) and I pulled the pad up under me.  I worry that I might have unintentionally and unknowingly pulled something loose at that point, but we’ll never know.  The nurse left and would come back later with my meds.  I remained in the same position checking facebook on my iPad.  When the nurse came back with meds about 30 or 45 minutes later I was having a queasy stomach and felt a migraine coming on.  It should have hit me then that something was amiss.  I told my nurse that I had an unset stomach and a migraine coming on.  My nurse left and later, I’m not sure how much later it was, (I was having a major migraine by then) I felt something wet behind me.  I put down my hand into a bed full of spinal fluid.  It still took a moment for me to realize what was happening.  I looked down to see what had spilled and couldn’t find the tube for my lumbar drain.  Once it hit me, I was utterly terrified by what I was experiencing.
I pressed the call button immediately and tried to turn up on my side the way I had lay the other night when he re-did my dressing.  Luckily the unit secretary answered the call right away and I called out that my spinal fluid was leaking out.  I don’t know how she made sense of what I was saying, nor do I know how my nurse, Sean, made it to my bedside so quickly, but it was his quick thinking and steady hands that were able to pull the bandage away and find a tube to clamp off.
The nurse came back and told me he had paged the surgeon and he waited, pacing (and freaking out a little), with me in the fetal position and blanket over my head (trying to keep dark because of the migraine I was suffering).  There were many nurses and others (interns?) in my room by now.  I could reach my phone so I called carrie to tell her that she should come right away.  I lay there and finally worked up the courage to ask the question I needed so badly to ask, “If I lost too much spinal fluid to survive, would we know it already or will we find out later?”  One of the nurses replied, “I don’t know, we need to wait for the doctor.  The surgeon arrived and explained that to help alleviate my migraine I need only to be laid out flat.  The migraine subsided a bit as he raised the bed to table height.  I told him I’d just had work done on the dressing the night before and he responded that he was the one who had done it.  I told him, “Then, doctor, you have seen my ass two times more than I would like!”  (Which did illicit laughter from him and the rest of the room)
He said that I am young and healthy and since I was still alive and conscious I would likely be alright.  He later told Carrie that if I were elderly or obese or otherwise in poor health I would have likely died from loosing so much spinal fluid.
So, as be began to work on me, my wife arrives on the floor.  I know this because I could hear her voice raising as she tried to get past the nurses.  To Carrie’s chagrin the room was already sterilized and they would not let her in.

I laughed a little and told the surgeon to watch out.  I explained that Carrie, if she feels I was in danger and he was keeping her away from me…I explained that she would probably let him have it.  After a moment of silence I said, “but don’t worry, I’ll remind her that you and this nurse just saved the life of the man she loves.”
As Carrie continued to try to get in, the surgeon leans over and says to me, “That is true love.  We have a hospital full of people who don’t have visitors, but you have someone fighting to be with you and to advocate for you.”

Had I been older or in worse shape, had I not realized the fluid was leaking out, had my nurse not been so quick…had the night not gone just as it did, I might not have survived that night.  The recurring nightmare I’d been having all week came true, but because of an excellent nurse and just a short time later an excellent surgeon, I was put back together and my wife and I were able to see one another again.  By the time the surgeon finished it was well after 1:00am.  Carrie, again, stayed the night.  I mean, it really wasn’t a choice, at that point.  I don’t think anything could have moved Carrie out of that room that night.
Wednesday:  Exposed!
So, Wednesday evening I was introduced to my new nurses and was settling into my space (my wife was actually the one doing the ‘settling,’ I was doing the ordering).  Finally my wife left to go to her parent’s house and get some sleep and I laid back and fell off to sleep.  I woke up needing the restroom, so I sat up on the edge of the bed and got ahold of my urinal.  Something didn’t feel right though, when I pulled up out of bed.  I put my hand behind me to feel the lumbar drain and I felt a string (It was later confirmed that this was the smaller tube from the lumbar drain that should have been under the plastic dressing).  I called for the nurse. 
Now, before I explain what happened, I have to tell you that, every since the surgery I had been paranoid about that lumbar drain.  Every 5 minutes I was asking the nurse to check that the drains were turned off or that the dressing was alright and not leaking.  I think most people can understand how I would be a little paranoid about this thing I didn’t expect, didn’t want, and this thing that can kill you…
So, back to the story!  I called the nurse and said the lumbar drain dressing didn’t feel right.  She said, “I’ve found someone more OCD than me, I think!”  I said, “Yes, but will you please look at it?”  Of course she was glad to look at it  and came around behind me with her little light…  She ended up leaning in really closely to the dressing, because I could nearly feel her breath on my back and from back behind me she quietly said, “I need you to stay very still and I’m going to call the on-call surgeon.”  I asked if everything was okay and she said that she didn’t know, but she didn’t think I was in any danger if I just stay still.  She hustled out of the room and I could reach my phone so I called Carrie and told her something was up.  She didn’t arrive until everything was finished.


It was a very simple procedure.  The surgeon did a great job simply re-dressing and re-sterilized everything and since we became aware, right away, that it was exposed I was never in any serious or imminent danger.  Once everything was sterile and under a plastic dressing again, I was ready to go back to sleep.


Carrie stayed at the hospital the rest of the night, since it was after 2:00 a.m. by then!