“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.” This promise has been my lifeline for decades. But when I read it this week, I saw something new.
My life is filled with infections and dangerous skin conditions, along with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer. In addition, I now also have a “history of falling.” Regular readers of this blog may remember that I had to move to my son’s home last fall for several months because I was consistently dizzy and confused and often fell. After months of this, my cancer doctor, with great trepidation, removed an oral medication from my chemo “cocktail.” And within two weeks the dizziness and confusion disappeared and the chemo kept working. (I was, however, left with a permanent worsening of “word salad” – mixing up words and forgetting words, especially when I am eager to share something). I am still unsteady and need a walker, but at least I wasn’t falling.
So imagine my distress several days ago. I was sitting in my leather office chair, intending to turn off the computer, when the symbols on the screen started darting around. And imagine my surprise when after some time had passed (I don’t know how much), I woke up on the floor. I managed to get myself up, but I have not yet figured out how I ended on the floor in the first place. (Maybe I slid out of the chair?)
This fall was really a shock. I thought I had conquered this problem! I hadn’t fallen in months and I wasn’t dizzy – and I was sitting in a chair! I managed to get to the living room and sat in my recliner, for the rest of the day – and most of the next day. After all, I figured, it would be really hard to fall off a recliner!
Thus incident brought on a few days of existential issues. What would the rest of my life be like if I start falling again – especially if I manage to fall while I’m sitting down? What if they can’t find an antibiotic to cure my infections? Or what if it does cure infections, but I can’t take it because it affects my increasingly worrying kidney function, which means I will have to stop chemo, which means the multiple myeloma will win sooner that anyone had expected. (We can certainly get ourselves in dithers, can’t we?)
I decided first of all that I needed to look again at my “living will.” And then there are the forms from two different agencies waiting for me to resolve the DNR question. Do I want to choose to not be resuscitated? Do I want to go to the emergency room and a probable hospital bed? I can take care of myself now, but where am I going to live if I can’t stay on my feet?
Somewhere during all of this angst, I ran across Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It spoke to me louder than ever! – “I’ve got your back, Karen! You will struggle but not be harmed. You can have hope in a future. Start living again in the present. So I stopped stewing and started acting.
First I called my friend, a retired hospice nurse. She raved about the details in my living will and encouraged me to talk over the entire plan with my son – which I plan to do once he is finished grading his college students’ exams.
Then I called Palliative Care and asked for the social worker to visit. We talked about the issues around a DNR. She gave me information I needed: CPR can result in broken bones and make everything worse. She didn’t recommend it for someone who will be 80 in October. She gave me a DNR form; it has already been signed by four people and is ready if needed.
She also labeled me as someone “at risk for falling” – and gave me the Medicare definition for falling which is: “A sudden, unintentional change in position causing an individual to land at a lower level.” (Actually she said, “An unintentional change in position causing a descent to earth” which I like much better.) I asked her, “So if I’m walking past this chair and I suddenly feel that I might fall so I sit down, is that labeled a fall? She nodded. Hmm, I thought, I’m almost always very careful, but some falls might be inevitable.
She went on, ” Your living will is wonderfully specific and will be very helpful for your son if you have to be hospitalized.” (My worst nightmare). But if and when you do have to stop chemo, we will work with your doctors and it should be possible for you to go right into Hospice. We will take care of you.”
Today the sun is shining and I am not burdened with fear. But when the door starts closing and decisions have to be made, I trust that God will always remind me that He will always have “plans that will not harm” me and that I can have not only hope, but also a future.