Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Personal Essay: This Time Last Year, by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

This Time Last Year
Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

This time last year, I was recovering from surgery.

For about seven years, I’d been experiencing stomach pain which I had thought was acid reflux. I addressed it by avoiding rich foods and by taking probiotics. Last year, over the holiday season, the abdominal pain visited me again, only it was more intense, and I had accompanying nausea and chills. I had to go to the Emergency Room. This medical emergency came as a surprise because I’ve always been a healthy person, and the hospital was an alien place to me.

The ER doctor confirmed something was amiss but was uncertain about my condition. I was admitted into the hospital. Suddenly, I was confined in a room, without the freedom I was used to, and with the accompanying indignities of wearing a hospital gown that showed my behind, and of having technicians poking me with needles and subjecting me to numerous tests.

The lowest point of this story was when the doctor talked of my liver and pancreas being acutely inflamed. I remembered behind frightened and thinking I only had one liver and one pancreas. 

Suddenly the concerns that had cluttered my mind -- laundry that needed to be done, Christmas shopping, other deadlines -- lost their importance. All these paled next to the idea that I could have been seriously ill. I remembered friends who had had cancer or some other illness and who had dealt with doctors and treatments. I recalled how they struggled to stay healthy, to stay alive, how they slowly lost ground, and how eventually some went quietly, while others did not.

I had to consider my mortality. I had to ask how I would behave if I were in that situation. Suddenly time was precious, something that must not be wasted. Suddenly my priorities changed; the material and vain matters took the backburner; family and intangibles like peace and happiness took the forefront.

For almost 24 hours I was not sure what was wrong with me. It was as if my life was on a balance and it could swing either which way. I prayed, and I tried to be brave for my family’s sake.
After a battery of tests, the team of doctors had a diagnosis: choledocholithiasis, meaning a gallstone was stuck in my common bile duct. They said the gallstone had to be removed from the bile duct, and the gallbladder also had to go.

This diagnosis was a relief to me and my family. While there were still risks, this was a far better situation than I had imagined. There was still some medical drama that had to be overcome, but basically, I had the two procedures and after a six-day stay in the hospital was discharged. Suddenly, from being a sick person, I was fine and healthy and could resume my life. I could go back to my deadlines and other mundane concerns.

But in fact, my time in the hospital had changed me.

I’m mortal, I realize that. I’m here only for a little while. But during this short journey of mine, I will do my best not to waste my time on irrelevant, petty matters. I will try not to fret and worry, nor be upset, nor dwell on negative matters. I will avoid vexing people and situations. I will try to use my talents the way I believe God wants me to. I will serve my family and the circle of people that God has placed near me. I will try to be God's tool, broken though it may be. 

It's a cliche, but true: Life truly is short, and every moment is a gift that needs to be appreciated.

Happy New Year!

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           Tags: health, hospital, gall bladder, surgery
           This is all for now,

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