Sunday, January 30, 2011

57 and counting

I was at the hospital a few weeks ago(I work part-time as a Contract Chaplain) and found myself very introspective. I find this is often the case(one reason there are Chaplains at hospitals) but that night I thought hard for a long time, long enough to make me want to start this blog. I made an observation in my head and then spent the rest of the night trying to figure out why that was. The observation was simple: The time I spend serving in the hospital is when I am most at peace with my Epilepsy.

I had my first seizure at a movie theater during my first semester at college. My date went and got the the manager who called 911 (this was before everyone had a cell phone) and was nice enough to pause the movie while they came in and got me. I awoke hours later at a hospital totally clueless about what happened. During the next 7.5 years I had many seizures and they impacted my life in a way that I am still learning about. I'll share a few of those.

When I had seizures I lost memory. My junior year I went with  my sister Becky and friends to visit Sarah in Chicago. A fun road trip that I don't remember at all. I had a seizure the week after we got back and then had no recollection of the trip. This happens every time(its really nice before finals) and frustrates me because college and your early twenties is a great time to make memories, not lose them.

I was really depressed at times in college. My doctors were experimenting with meds to try and find a proper balance and never found it while I was in college. It seemed no matter how long I slept I woke up drowsy and some of the meds had side effects.

The state of Nebraska says that you should not drive for six months after a seizure. You do not know what freedom is until it is taken away. I also felt like people got tired of me using Epilepsy as an excuse and  I got tired of talking about it. So at some point I stopped telling people when I had them. I struggled one time at a job because after a week of training(which I needed) I forgot everything after my seizure Friday night. I did not want to tell anyone and then not be able to drive so I didn't. Came back Monday and tried to figure it all out again. If God forbid I have another one, everyone will know about it.

In April 2006 I had my last seizure. 57 months. The cause was diagnosed as sleep deprivation which explained why I never had a seizure until I got to college. For a few years I was just thankful they had stopped and did not think much about them beyond that context.  But upon starting chaplaincy I was forced to think more about them as I drew on those experiences. My first day I had an experience I will never forget. I was talking to a patient who asked me why I was there and I gave him what has become my standard opening for this situation. "Why am I here? When I was in college I had seizures and the doctors couldn't tell me why while they kept switching my medications. I would wake up hours later unsure of where I was or how I got there. I lost memory which affected my studies and wasn't able to drive. At one point after college I spent some time in a hospital when I didn't have insurance and picked up some debt. I won't pretend to know exactly what you are going through but I have laid in that bed before. I know what it's like to be frustrated because the doctors don't have answers or to wonder how you will pay for everything. I believe it is impossible to spend a night in a hospital and not reflect about your life. When I was in the hospital I never really had the chance to share that, or maybe I wasn't willing. If there is anything you're thinking about I'll be glad to help you process it or just  listen to what you have to say."

The words came so easy. We talked for a few hours and it was like talking to myself in the bed. It seemed everything they said made total sense to me, a few times I related a story explaining when I felt that way. Before I left the patient thanked me for coming and cried while we prayed. They told me how they felt for years no one had understood them and they were just glad to meet someone who did.

I wrote about Epilepsy so you could maybe know how this conversation impacted me. That night I went home and openly wept as I recalled the days events. But it was more about the past really than that one day. I had looked back at those 7.5 years with so many emotions. At times I was depressed, angry, frustrated, scared, and questioned repeatedly what God was doing. I looked back at those years and they just seemed a mystery. But that day the lights came on for me. As I talked with patients I kept sharing from my struggles and thinking about those times. I began to understand the purpose of those struggles and connected the past with the present. I got past the cognitive knowledge of "God is allowing this for a reason" and began to process and know these reasons for myself. There was a joy in helping people that day, and it came from those 7.5 years. I have learned that I am never at greater peace than after realizing in the present how God has been working in the past. It gives hope and  allows me to remember that God is working in the present for the future.