Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Day 2: Two kinds of people

There are two kinds of people, as far as I've been able to tell. Some (like my friend Mary Price) get energized by being in the presence of others. They feed on that, and when they are separated from connection with others, they struggle. They need to get into community to get their batteries recharged.

Then there are those (and my wife and I both number ourselves in this camp) whose batteries are depleted by too much together-time with others. We recuperate by "getting alone" ... I bury my nose in a book, get out and bike in the woods, hunt for those elusive mushrooms, etc.

But, lately I've been thinking a lot about the unhealthy aspects, or at least the hazards associated with, the way I appear to be wired. And one of them was driven home to me (in dramatic fashion) last night.

New Year's Day Darlene and I had an enjoyable "double date" with our pastor and his wife, Martin and Kim, watching the movie "Les Miserables" and then heading out to dinner at my favorite restaurant, The Ram, where I ordered my favorite burger (The Hillbilly), rare, with fries (which I usually substitute something lighter and healthier for), plus an iced tea (and I usually don't have caffeine anytime after noon as my stomach is pretty sensitive to its effects).

Earlier that day Darlene had asked me to clean the grout in our shower, so I had done something I know better than to do, mixed a little bleach in some water then meticulously scrubbed the grout between our shower tiles. We were both pleased with the way they brightened up, but I am sensitive to chlorine and my throat and lungs burned all day afterward.

After dinner I did something else kind of dumb. I was feeling a little jittery from the caffeine so I made a hot toddy: hot chocolate, with a splash of rum, brandy, and kahlua. Past experience is that this hits my stomach a bit hard, but of course that's Monday morning quarterbacking now.

I went to bed before Darlene did and fell asleep with headphones on, listening to music. But after about an hour I suddenly woke up, feeling with a sense of sickening confusion that something was desperately wrong. My throat was burning horribly, and constricting, and I began a coughing fit to end all coughing fits. The more I coughed, the less air I felt I was getting. My lungs were rattling severely. I began to fight panic. Soon my head began to swim and my limbs began to tingle and feel very heavy.

Downstairs, Darlene said she could hear me snoring, then heard my coughing fit. She came upstairs to see what was going on. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, gasping for air and coughing, my skin clammy with sweat. She listened to the rattling wheezing of my lungs and my symptoms (as I was able to squeak them out between gasps) then gave me a couple of antacids. I chewed these down and waited, then my throat slowly began to feel better and the pain in my lungs subsided slightly. My nurse/wife then sat with me as I slowly returned from the brink. Finally, after I had stopped coughing so severely, she fell asleep. I didn't want to lay back down, so I went downstairs and spent the night in a comfy chair.

I've had occasional episodes of acid reflux throughout my adult life, but not often enough to warrant any serious concern. Each is terrifying, the most scary (prior to this) being on a canoe trip with my dad and son, out in the wilderness, far from help. (The common denominator is falling asleep with too much food in my stomach, and I had eaten a high-calorie MRE for dinner that night!) But last night was the first time I felt I ever got acid in my lungs and had such difficulty breathing afterward. Even now, about 12 hours later, I'm still shaky and coughing, and my lungs and throat still burn.

Anyway, this is all probably too much information, but one of the things I thought about all night long as I drifted in and out of unsatisfactory sleep (as one does sitting up and not feeling well) is how grateful I am that Darlene was there ... how relieved I was when I saw her concerned face come round the corner. And not just last night ... but there for me, every day!

I often think, "How would I handle it, as a person who gets his batteries recharged by solitude, if I were incarcerated and stuck into solitary confinement, not seeing another human being for weeks, months, or years at a time?" Sometimes (as an erstwhile recluse) that doesn't sound too bad. But in my saner moments I realize how desperately I need others, how we each need one another. I don't know how I would make it without Darlene, without other family members, without friends and fellow believers. During the course of a typical day I experience such a wealth of human interaction, some virtual, some face-to-face. I rarely stop and reflect how deeply I am enriched as a result.

And I also realized last night how desperately I need my connection with God as well. Every time I've had a late-night acid reflux episode, even though they are infrequent, they are like a dash of cold water in the face, sobering me up to remind me what a tenuous thread my life hangs upon. How long can I last without air? Minutes at most. When that connection to air is somehow threatened, I think even the strongest of us is suddenly transformed from a self-assured, I can do anything stud, to a whimpering, pleading child, tears running down your face. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

And an even more sobering thought: Even if air is restored ... there is inevitably coming a moment when I will take my last breath!

Well, I think I take back what I said about two kinds of people. There really are only one: Frail, sinful people, like me, with one foot in the grave.

It's at times like these, these foxholes of life, when we must be grateful for and must throw ourselves upon the promises of the God who will never leave us, nor forsake us. If tonight in my sleep my heart stops beating, or my lungs fill with fluid and the world starts to swim around me, or even if a meteor plunges through my bedroom roof ... in whatever moments I have remaining, I pray that God will yank hard on that connection so that I will die knowing He's there; that He will fill me with His peace and presence and prepare me to see His face!

What does connection ... with others and with God ... mean to you?

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