Pain and Sickness Are Death in Slow Motion
In April 2004 I brought home my own bionic man!
My husband had received a diagnosis of "severe spinal cord injury with a spinal tear" and was told to sit still and rest for 1-2 years. Given a 5-pound weight limit and no hope for recovery, the doctors loaded him up with Oxycontin, Percocet, Morphine, and a few other heavy-duty painkillers - all at levels normally reserved for the terminally ill - and wished us good luck.
His final surgery for the year was an experiment to implant an electronic neurostimulator from the top of his back and down to his hip. Neurostimulators were becoming common in those days but no one had yet successfully implanted the apparatus into the region of the thoracic spine, we were told.
The theory is, you shoot controlled electric currents into the spinal cord to shut off the pain. Cauterizing local nerves also served to help shut off the pain, theoretically. The computerized battery was designed to control the current on both sides of the spine and could be dialed up or down by the patient.
The neurostimulator was to become yet another failed experiment that would forever impact our lives.
Making our way down the 401 from Bakersfield to California my husband went into out-patient surgery (yes, out-patient!) to have his back opened up and wires implanted along his spine, from top to bottom. In the middle, near the source of the injury, a junction box was installed that served to conduct electricity to the wires. Into his hip was implanted a computerized battery that was operated by a control unit with all kinds of fancy buttons.
Arriving in the recovery room, the doctor passed a box to me and told me to read the instructions, while a nurse handed out a yellow sheet of paper with standard surgical recovery procedures and then told me to bring my pickup to the front door.
This was the 9th surgical procedure, so I just did what I was told.
With the nurse's help I lifted my husband out of the wheelchair and propped him up in the passenger seat, very droopy from anesthetic. I hit the 401 and we returned to Bakersfield.
At home I opened up the box and curiously inspected a gray control panel with a lot of buttons... similar to a PlayStation controller. What in the world? I asked my heavily sedated husband, "Did anyone show you how to use this thing?" Blurry eyed, he said he didn't remember a thing.
Okay... if all else fails, read the instructions. Needless to say, it was all Greek to me. So we played with it. Controlling the electricity levels, he would have sensations of electricity alternatively jolting through his legs and out his feet... or hands... or even certain personal parts.
It was a bit odd, as I discovered I could make my husband hop, skip, and dance!
We finally resorted to going in to see a specialist, where a company representative arrived to teach us how to use the control unit. Hooking Randy up to his computer, he began properly programming the control panel. Using his computer mouse to determine the appropriate places to shoot electricity, my husband performed like a puppet for the technician. Click the mouse and my husband's hand jumped. Click the mouse again and his feet reacted. Click the mouse again and my husband was yelling, "You're making me wet my pants!"
There were times when so much electricity would shoot through his feet that it was like he was disco dancing. It was fun for a few months, but then body fluids filled the battery and shorted out the whole system! Determined to beat the system, we elected for more surgery. This time they tweaked the junction box, excavated the battery from the back of his hip, drained it out, and then re-implanted it into the front of his abdomen. Fuzzy from surgery, the technician tested the electronics and, satisfied with Randy's responses, flew back to Colorado!
I pulled my pickup truck to the hospital, grabbed my dazed husband, and we left for home.... little realizing something was amiss. They forgot to turn on the computer! A week later they flew the technician back and she turned on the power. We finally left California and returned home to the mountains of Northwestern Montana.
Randy was still using a wheelchair, but it wasn't working very well on the rocky ground. I'd see his empty wheelchair and then rush to go find him, hoping he hadn't fallen down anyplace too hard to get him out of. I ordered two canes for him and he began dragging himself around the farm for short distances. But it was like having a 200-pound toddler to watch!
Randy was not one to sit for more than a few minutes. One day I lost track of him only to discover him limping out of the woods, totally drenched in sweat, the sweat of pure terror! In a drug-induced daze he had wandered too far out and had met up with fresh grizzly bear tracks and the sounds of a very large animal in the brush. One cane has broken in half and the other was severely bent out of shape. It's amazing he got out of the woods in time!
The neurostimulator was too delicate for antics like that, and it broke shortly after that incident. By then our cobra insurance had run out and for the next two years we had no medical intervention except for appointments with the local physician, a country doctor, who said he could do nothing for Randy's back except prescribe drugs.
There seemed to be no end to pain and suffering in sight!
Without the neurostimulator, Randy's pain level shot up to the moon and we again experienced tortured nights of screams and groans. Sleep deprivation, the constant crises, and knowing that apart from a miracle our lives would never recover was like a dark cloud enveloping us day in and day out.
Living with a "bionic man" was so appropriate because all along Randy had been treated by his employers as little more than a machine... so much so, that my husband had begun to believe it and act like it! His significance and identity came directly from his work and how well he could out-perform most other men. But as anyone knows, who lives with an addict, especially an addict with ADHD, a former bull-rider, bull-fighter, and Motocross racer, wild-lands firefighter, assistant fire chief, logger, rodeo clown, and basically anything 'on the edge'... it's a setup for emotional disaster!
Unfortunately, when life gets that tough, we often blame the loved ones in our most intimate relationships.
The movie, "8 Seconds" is one of the best stories about this dynamic, especially in the life of a bull rider, that I've ever seen. It's a great story and really helps me to understand my husband!
Many marriages cannot withstand the stress of chronic pain without some sort of medical and psychological intervention.
Randy and I had lost everything and our grief had yet to be processed. When you're living on adrenaline for years how do you stop and rest? When you've lost your health coverage how do you afford medical or psychological intervention? When all you know is work, how do you change?
Even at church there seemed to be few solutions.
People loved us and cared about us, but they just didn't understand! Randy would come home from a back surgery, such as the implantation of the neurostimulator with dozens of staples up and down his spine, and the very same church leaders who prayed for him during the surgery would come up and slap his back, welcoming him back to church that week! It was crazy. I felt like I had to be his bodyguard but I so often trusted people to 'know' what was happening, when in reality many people hide from things they cannot understand or control... it scares them.
If you know someone in your family, or if you have been in severe chronic pain or disease, you probably understand the need of people around you for you to be 'normal' and if you're like Randy, you probably suck it up and wear a mask for as long as you can. Then, when you come home, you rip off the mask and let out all the pain... and if you're like me, you are probably the nearest shock-absorber.
Without resting and taking your troubles to God, how can you address the tremendous grief and the pain of loss?
The best we could do, and what turned out to be the very best solution of all, was to find every bit of Beauty, Truth, Humor, and Joy we could every day.
We continued to dream and to pursue BIG dreams. I learned to unleash my creativity and pursue time for ME. Taking walks in the wilderness were a big way for me to tap into God's peace. There was a looping mountain road behind our house that went UP the mountain on a fairly good incline. I would carry my heavy load of worries and troubles with me, beating out my pain with a fast clip up the mountain path. Near the top there was a slight dip in the road where a very careful middle-aged woman could sit down and rest for a minute. Then I would stand up high on this ridge overlooking our home and also the entire valley... a place where one could see with eyes like an eagle's for many miles.
This was a sacred space - a place I only went with a very serious type of prayer in mind.
Shouting aloud, crying, and with the grace to ask for all of Heaven to be my witness, I made promises and vows to God that I would never give up. In fact, I prayed more dangerous prayers and asked God to send us to the most hurting, to the most broken... to do with our lives WHATEVER He wanted.
Then, having laid down my heavy load, I would skip and sing back down the mountain and pick up my work once again. Many times before I hit the end of the path I would have a clear idea of the next step. It was on one such day that I immediately entered the house and found my ideal business. I joined a team of like-minded people and, in the company of these great people, I began to thrive. Personal development was at the forefront of our learning curve while at the same time we honed our business skills.
I entered into personal coaching with Dani Johnson, of A Call to Freedom, Int'l, and within a year my sales pipeline was kicking out fairly well. For the first time in a long time, I could take my mind off of the constant crises and pain and focus in a positive direction.
My soul was healing and the numbness that I had used to protect my heart from all the pain and constant crisis began to melt.
As soon as my own healing began, something in my husband cracked and in his own pain he began getting very angry. Years later he would apologize for those days, saying, "Sue, you didn't do anything wrong. I was just afraid if you got too strong and independent that you would leave me."
His worst fear was that I would leave him, and in his broken condition, who would take care of him? Despite constant assurance that I was for him and not against him, the pain was having its way and my freedom to pursue business was tested in every which way. Nevertheless, he was very much for me... it was just this inner battle he had to deal with every day.
In Steven Pressfield's book, "The Art of War," he defines resistance as anything within you that will kick in to sabotage your efforts at anything having to do with the work you were created to accomplish in this world.
We must be ruthless with such an enemy and the best way to defeat it is to move in the opposite spirit, to do what does NOT come naturally.
As we beat back the resistance within us and begin to blossom and flow in our God-given identity and destiny, it automatically triggers those around us to panic. For when they see us having success battling our own demons, it lays a responsibility on them to slay their own fears... At that point in time, for me to move forward meant leaving Randy behind (emotionally and spiritually). And sometimes, when a person is not ready to grow and mature, it's best for us to keep moving onward and upward. At first glance it seems pitiless. When in reality, it's the only way we can help save another person's life. We must first be healthy and strong enough ourselves!
We have to save ourselves, first, and then we can show by our example the way for others to follow and help them along from there.
Nevertheless, our lives were about to shift once again in ways that would forever change us. A brochure for a healing conference arrived in the mail and we signed up for it that very day! A few weeks later were traveling to British Columbia with one goal in mind: the complete healing of Randy's spine. It was our only hope!
Randy had made a vow and he sealed it by not bringing enough pain medication to last the weekend. He told me, "If God doesn't heal me then you can just put me in the ground!" The first day was really great but no healing. The second day was wonderful but just as Randy got in front of the speaker to receive prayer, they had to close down the service and empty the building! The third day was discouraging and Randy began to lose hope. It took about a half dozen of us to push him to the front to receive prayer. John Arnott was the speaker and he didn't care about speaking so much as he wanted those in chronic pain - specifically those who had been in chronic pain for many years - to come to the front.
We finally pushed and tugged Randy forward. Later he confided that he wasn't certain which fear was the greatest... that he would be healed or that he wouldn't be healed! After all, a lot of people go to healing conferences and they don't get healed. And really, when you see people fall down and claim to be healed, are they really healed or is it a bunch of emotionalism and hype, or worse? We were about to find out.
The actual moment of healing was recorded on tape and then produced into a DVD called "Miracles, the Randy McKenzie Story". I was there watching but my husband was so short I couldn't see anything with all the people in front of me. Then suddenly John Arnott was asking if anyone had come with Randy and for that someone to please come up front. Randy was stretching and bending, doing things that would normally have sliced the muscles and tissues in his back, with all the wires. My husband was crying and then suddenly he picked me up in his arms and began twirling me around!
He always told me that when God healed him, the first thing he would do is pick me up in his arms, and he kept his promise!
From somewhere to my right a voice was saying, "Honey, you've got your husband back!"
The whole world fell away as Randy and I just held each other, until the voice spoke again and said, "Well, I think we'll just let them have their own private moment here!" I peeked out from having buried my head in Randy's shoulder and John Arnott was handing me a microphone. Oh dear! I just said the first thing that came to my head, because it was the sum total of all Randy and I had been praying about over the years.
And that's when our lives changed, irreversibly, once again. Not only had God removed my husband's pain but when we put hands on his back he could feel our hands, whereas before they had cauterized so many nerves that his back had become numb. As if that weren't enough, Randy had run out of pain meds and could not have taken any if he had wanted to... this was literally his last chance.
He slept for the first time that night - all night long! And never once suffered a symptom of withdrawal.
His doctor, during follow up after the conference, told him he should have died simply from going cold turkey off those prescriptions!
I don't know what shocked us more: the injury or the healing. I think the healing. And that's when the conference leaders sent a film crew to our house and began filming a drama/documentary in our living room and local area. We really didn't want to be part of the movie and had no idea why anyone would want to film an ordinary family who lived in the wilderness and had made pretty much every mistake known to man. But a little ways up the mountain, in a sacred space, where the host of Heaven had been witness, some prayers echoed down to me, "We'll go wherever you want us to go. We just want to touch the lives of the most hurt, the most broken, the most needy...." So we said yes and just trusted God.
I want to share what I feel is the most important lesson of this story: Steven Pressfield, in "The Art of War," nails it on the head.
Some quotes from Steven Pressfield:
Our job: "Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it."
Our greatest fear: "Fear that we will succeed... we fear discovering we are more than we think we are.... We know that if we embrace our ideals, we must prove worthy of them."
Steven shares an illustration demonstrating the power of our choices over the human spirit. When, our of fear (or Resistance), we choose to limit or diminish ourselves, to that extent our human spirit is diminished. What results can take forms such as cancer, auto-immune diseases, being accident-prone, and a number of other maladies both physical and psychological.
When a person overcomes Resistance and slays the giants of their own personal fears, many times the physical or emotional form of the weakness goes into remission or disappears.
I don't know what happened to Randy when the pain disappeared (miracles are mysteries), taking with it all addictions to pain medications, but I do have a sense of what happened when the third and most debilitating injury occurred. Through a lifetime of performance mentality, expressed as workaholism, Randy endured one broken relationship after another.
With a broken heart he was limping through life and despite his great physical strength and determination, the buried dreams, identity, and destiny were simply an expression of his buried spirit... and the death-defying accidents (the petroleum-coke accident being only one of the three accidents/miracles) were physical expressions of the inner working of death in his innermost being. I believe, as Steven Pressfield advocates, that Randy's innermost being was being issued a challenge to "Wake Up"!
His walk to the front of the church symbolized his willingness to awaken and to arise. The man praying, John Arnott, was simply an instrument being used by a loving Father in Heaven, to assist the broken man to rise up and to receive the good gifts his Father wanted to give him.
Pain and sickness are simply death in slow motion. Accidents and injuries and suicide attempts are just more obvious and quicker expressions of the same malady.
Do you know of someone who is sick much of the time, accident-prone, or depressed? We cannot give health evaluations or advice, but in a world where sickness and disease are on the rise in a 1st World Country such as the USA, it seems wise for us to become detectives and search our own hearts for any places where we have given up our dreams, where we have settled for less, where we have put on masks and tried to please other people, or anyplace where we feel stuck.
There is a master plan, a thread that weaves our lives together and knits us into wholeness. We see the bottom side, all threads crisscrossing each other and looking like a chaotic mess. But God sees the topside and skillfully and masterfully weaves each thread, even the dark threads, in our lives in such a way that we each have the potential and abundant resources to fulfill our destinies.
What do you enjoy most doing? If you could do anything in the world today, or be anywhere in the world, with anyone in the world... who would you be with, where would you be, and doing what? If it's not where you currently are or doing what you are doing now, what steps can you take to make a course correction?
We can't change ourselves or anyone else. We can only make one decision at a time, one prayer at a time, and get rid of anything that would stand in the way or create resistance. We don't battle against people - they are not our problem. We battle against Resistance, our fears. I wish I could stand here and tell you that our battles are over and done with. In some ways, they are only just beginning! Little did we realize that our greatest battles were just around the corner!
For more information and resources to help you start on the journey to writing your life story visit http://SusanMcKenzie.org. This website was designed to help you preserve the golden nuggets of your valuable life experiences and to craft your stories into a gorgeous full-color Life Story Book that will certainly become a valuable family heirloom to be shared with the next generation... a living family legacy.
Susan D McKenzie is passionate about families - constantly learning and seeking ways to help heal the heart of the family. She writes articles, memoirs, personal essays and loves to mentor people of all ages in the art of storytelling.
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