For the last month my husband has been critically ill. I have become a nurse. Wellness is not only the main topic in our home, it has become the main topic of most e-mails and phone calls from family and friends: “How’s Fred?” “How are you holding up?” “I can’t imagine the stress you must be under.”
I’ve been pondering these comments for a while. Why are people so surprised that I have not cracked under the pressure of administering 15 prescriptions four times throughout the day and insulin 3 times a day, monitoring a low carbohydrate, low salt, and restricted fluid diet, as well as keeping records of medical data, speaking to doctors and nurses on a nearly daily basis, and driving to lab tests and doctors appointments? And, probably just as important, why haven’t I cracked? I finally hit on the word resilience. When we are dealing with setbacks, suffering, pain, and even the unknown, resilience is the character trait that is key to coping rather than caving.
In an interview with Onbeing host Krista Tippet on February 14, 2019, Richard Davison defined resilience as “the rapidity with which we recover from adversity.” He goes on to remind us that “stuff happens. We can’t buffer ourselves; that’s the nature of life. What is really important is how we relate to these challenges.”
An interesting dictionary definition of resilience is “the ability to spring back into shape.” Picture a baker removing a freshly baked cake from the oven. She sets the cake carefully on the counter and lightly pushes her finger into the cake. If the cake springs back into shape, it is perfectly baked. Our goal in times of difficulty is to spring back into our best selves.
If our resilience is weak or absent, we dwell on our problems, feel victimized, become overwhelmed, or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse. The good news is that we don’t have to get stuck in emotional baggage or wilt under pressure, or hide away from life’s realities.
RESILIENCE IS A CHOICE
I think, as in all emotional or spiritual growth, becoming more resilient is a choice – little hour-by-hour choices during a difficult time strengthen our resilience muscles and help us bounce back from minor or major setbacks. Here’s an example of some of my recent situations. In each case, making a choice about my attitude made it possible to move forward:
♦ Fred comes home from the hospital with 35 pages of discharge instructions, six new meds and changes in dosage in two current meds. I line up all the medications on the table and count 15 bottles. I look at the new ones; four are antibiotics that are all white, rectangular, and imprinted with nearly indecipherable words and symbols. I read the first ten pages of the discharge instructions and look at the line of pills in horror. How will I ever figure all this out!? I decide to read a book instead. The next day I spend about 90 minutes making a chart of all the meds needed and when and then load up a pill-box for morning and a pill-box for night-time and little cups for the 3:30 and 7:30 pills. It is still unpleasant task but no longer a fearful one.
♦ I’m on hold with the cardiologist’s office, trying to make an appointment. This is my third phone call – same results. Finally, I am promised a phone call if I leave a message. I do. Nobody calls. Days later, the office calls my husband’s number to offer an appointment date and he cancels it. I am angry, but finally choose not to try to control his choices.
♦ I have gone on my health portal to try to refill some prescriptions but nothing happens. So when my husband has an appointment, I ask the nurse to check. She gets distracted, so I go to the main desk. The receptionist cannot find any trace of my e-mail. She gets the names of my prescriptions and says she will tell the nurse. The next day I get a call that the refill orders have been sent to the pharmacy.
♦ The doctor’s office calls on a Friday saying that Fred needs a blood test immediately so the results will be ready by his appointment on Tuesday. It takes a couple of hours to motivate Fred and get him dressed and moving. By the time we get we find out the lab closes at 2:00 on Fridays and is not open again until Monday. I have to cancel coffee with a friend to make sure I can get him to the lab on a busy Monday. Thankfully, the results of the test are good.
These are a few of a long list of current large and small setbacks and issues and stressors. But I have learned that Fred and I live in the unshakable Kingdom of God; no matter what happens we are safe. I learn that if I stay calm I can work to solve these problems. So my goal becomes to keep moving through the fear or anger or frustration. And issues are solved . . . or shelved for now or kept in escrow for more contemplation and consultation with the Holy Spirit. I am understanding that persistence is a precursor or companion to resilience. Giving up is not an option; giving over is the solution.
NEEDED: MORE RESILIENCE
On Friday Fred has an appointment with the pulmonary specialist to see if his lungs are healthy enough for biopsies for possible cancer in each lung. His internal medicine doctor has gone over the options with us:
- if the biopsies are an option, go ahead with the knowledge that the needle could collapse his lung whereupon he will have to be hospitalized with a chest tube (and other atrocities) to try to inflate it. Since his lungs are functioning at 22%, this is very risky.
- If the biopsy reveals cancer, choose whether or not to have chemo.
- Choose not to have the biopsy and live with the concern that he is living with cancer.
If anything is going to make me crack, these decisions might. But recently I read a beautiful poetic statement by Pir Elias Amidon:
“Between the dark sky and the dark earth we hang a light in a dark tree and sing of our wonder together.”
I am heartened and amazed by what I am learning about God’s constant presence and about standing strong and hanging a light in a dark tree and singing together.