How Can I Go On Like This? Abide With Me



“What surgery meant to *Monica and what it meant to almost anyone else were two different things entirely. For *Monica, a single surgery was more like a fitting for a dress, or the rearranging of living room furniture: it was only a step towards something else. She never gave up believing that there would be a final moment, a last surgery, a point at which her “real life” would begin.” Ann Patchett, Truth and Beauty (*Lucy was Ann’s dear friend)

I need another surgery.
I am thirty-nine years old.
This will be my twentieth surgery.
This will be my seventh neurosurgery.

This IS my life.

In January I asked God to let me go just one year without a scalpel.
I made a list of 40 things I wanted to do before my 40th birthday on November 5th.
I created a beautiful vision board.
I planned out the finishing of Gauntlet With a Gift by April 30th.
I arranged Dan and I’s Tucson trip in February.
I booked a beach house in Corolla for a family vacation the last week in May.
I registered for a writing conference at Princeton in June.
I dreamed of a long July weekend in my Shenandoah Valley hometown with a childhood friend.
In August I wanted to make good on a five year broken promise to Delaney to visit NYC together.
I penciled in a Cleveland Indians game and a concert on the lawn at Blossom before summer’s end.
I booked a hotel in Columbus for my friends and I to attend the Country Living Fair in September.
In late October I intended take my girls to Fallingwater as the leaves turned.
And I wanted a birthday party. A big one.
More than anything I purposed in my heart I would not NEED you.
I would not fund raise.
I would not talk about our medical debt.
I would not blog about my day to day health struggles.
I wanted to do something new here.
I wanted to shine Hope.
I wanted to talk about healing.
I wanted to share other’s stories.
I wanted you to know all your praying, all your giving and all your caring tangibly changed something.

My trip to Maryland last week revealed the reason I cannot get through twenty-four hours without a debilitating headache. It makes a crescendo around 2 pm every single day, and I crumble.

I have all different kinds of headaches, and I am able to tell you about them in detail.

A pressure headache is the feeling my skull and brains will explode. This typically comes from weather changes. I have a lumbar shunt sewn in my abdomen that snakes around to my spinal cord. Theoretically it removes excess cerebral spinal fluid building up and empties it into by belly to be absorbed by my body but often it is not enough. This headache makes me cry. I hold my head in my hands while I curl up in a ball and beg God to make it stop.

A “brain on fire” headache comes from illness like Strep or a wicked mast cell attack from something like bleach or a lilac or your perfume. This headache makes me certifiably insane. I am mean. I am crazed. I am desperate. Praying is almost impossible.

A migraine is like an ice pick in the front of my head spreading pain all over. Any light or noise makes it worse. I am nauseous, and I often throw up. I know it will last for at least twenty-four hours but often I wake up the next day with it. This headache makes me sad.

The headaches above come and go but lately have been layered on top of a never ending, something is smashing my spinal cord, seizing from the back of my neck up my head and over the top of my skull, buzzing and numbing, I cannot live like this pain. I have not suffered this kind of headache since my brain decompression and skull to C2 fusion in November, 2011. It began in Tucson. I explained it away as travel and hiking and washing and flat ironing my hair every day. The popping and grinding of my cervical vertebrae not already fused escalated. I wake and think it is manageable but rotating my neck at all, looking up or down or lifting anything ruins me. This headache makes me cry, “How can I go on like this?”

A month or two in I knew. A scan was just the calling card for a sure thing. I wondered how much damage was being done. I worried about a syrinx forming. I flipped ahead on my calendar to see what would need to be canceled. I saw another season of my life and my family’s life swallowed up by a nightmare deja vu.

I need a fusion of C5-C7. There are two different options for this surgery, one going in the front of my neck, removing the hardware from my C3-C4 fusion I had in October because it is solid and then fusing the three vertebrae below with hardware and bone slurry. The second option is more invasive. I would be cut in the back of my neck and the C5-C7 would be fused posteriorly as well as adding extra stability with bone slurry from my C4-C5 and my C7-T1.

My surgery is scheduled at Doctor’s Community Hospital in Lanham, Maryland on Wednesday, June 24th.

Like every time before I have no idea how we will do this. There is a $5,200 deposit. There is more travel and more hotels. Dan will take off work. The girls will stay here with family. Their summer story will be held in place by the bookends of their mom suffering and trying to hold on until surgery and their mom recovering from and trying to heal after surgery.

This is their life.

I only wanted one year.

How can I go on like this?
How can they?

I’m sitting here in my “nest” chair with both great room windows open. The early evening sun and breeze move like skilled dancers in the woods behind us creating the backdrop and the lighting for a concerto of bird songs. A daddy and mommy cardinal are building their home in the orange blossom tree along side our deck. They take turns swooping in with new materials for their sweetly thatched hideaway. By the time the delicate flowers flourish their precious eggs will be be nestled safely to incubate and hatch new feathered babes. If I look long enough I can see our grass growing greener. I witness bright yellow dandelion heads morphing to puffy white seeds. If I listen closely I can hear leafy buds on our deciduous darlings opening fuller than even the moment before. The tulip tree outside my kitchen and sun room windows finally risked to bloom. The petals are a graduated palette of blush to rosy pink spun like the softest silk. It is the maid of honor to our flowering pear tree, a bride wearing the most intricate lace gown. This is our third spring in this miracle house. When you are gifted a view of seasons changing over and over again from the same looking glass you begin to let yourself feel at home. If you know our story you know my heart. I thank God every day for this place.

My dear Amy Carmichael wrote these beautiful words:

“We say, then, to anyone who is under trial, give Him time to steep the soul in His eternal truth. Go into the open air, look up into the depths of the sky, or out upon the wideness of the sea, or on the strength of the hills that is His also; or, if bound in the body, go forth in the spirit; spirit is not bound. Give Him time and, as surely as dawn follows night, there will break upon the heart a sense of certainty that cannot be shaken.”

Tonight I am asking God for certainty that cannot be shaken.
Without it how can I go on?
I will trust.
I will abide in Him.
He will abide with me.

This hymn sung by Indelible Grace has been one of my favorites since I was a child. It was written by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847 while he lay dying from tuberculosis. He survived only a further three weeks after its completion.

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3 Comments on How Can I Go On Like This? Abide With Me

  1. Gayl
    May 3, 2015 at 10:19 pm (9 years ago)

    Oh, dear Monica, with all the pain you must have, you write with such beauty. Your observations from your “nest” show a thankful heart in spite of all your pain and struggles. I’m so glad I stopped by from #GiveMeGrace. I pray God will strengthen and bless you as you abide in Him. I also love that hymn, “Abide With Me.” May God grant you healing and relief, but if not, may He give you all the grace and comfort you need to endure yet another surgery with all that comes before and after it. I also pray that He will give you that “certainty that cannot be shaken.” May God be with you and your family and make His presence known to you.

  2. Jeanne Damoff
    May 3, 2015 at 10:28 pm (9 years ago)

    The picture painted by your words — your pain set against the view outside your window –makes me ache. Makes me want to take off my shoes on this holy ground. I don’t know why He gives you this, but I do know He abides with you and on you and through you. Praying for you, dear Monica. Praying His voice will be heard above the roar. He’s a good, good Father, and you are His treasure. Only time will tell the victories being won in the heavens with every whisper of praise, every promise believed, every grace adorning your life like a bride’s jewels. Truly, you are beautiful. Oh, how He loves you. Oh, how He loves through you. Thank you.

  3. Diana Trautwein
    May 4, 2015 at 5:45 pm (9 years ago)

    Unbelievably awful – I am so, so sorry. Praying this surgery will do something none of the others have succeeded in doing – bring full, lasting relief!!


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