Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and I’ve been thinking…thinking about many things. But frequently on this eve of Valentine’s Day 2017 my mind has wandered back to eight years ago this morning when the ventilator was removed following brain surgery the day before to remove a large brain blob of tangled arteries and blood vessels (called an arteriovenous malformation (avm)) in the left frontal lobe of my brain.
See the picture. It was the size of a small peach. The supremely skillful and gifted hands of Dr. Frederic Meyer, then the head of neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic successfully removed this massive congenital mass and it won’t be causing any more problems.
As I was slowly weaned from the ventilator and regained consciousness, my eyes looked to the left to find my wife Karla standing there with a big smile on her beautiful face. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it three times…our super secret signal our entire married life, that we love each other. Karla is my best friend and she was a rock through this entire ordeal as she advocated on my behalf.
My mind was racing 1,000 miles an hour. I took careful note that I didn’t even have a headache, something which I had been prepared to experience. But there were other things that weren’t right. I couldn’t speak a word and I could not move the entire right side of my body. Moreover, it was not a certainty that I would regain either of those fairly important functions. I spoke not a single word the day after surgery, but slept much.
Before that very moment I had never considered the amazing gifts that I had completely taken for granted for 44 years. Speech and movement at will. Here is a link to the entire ordeal Brief Summary.
How does a person vocalize a thing? How does a person move a thing? It was a fascinating yet simultaneously frustrating experience of the highest order…and I never care to experience anything like it again.
On Valentine’s Day, 2009, I managed to speak a couple of words. In my mind I was carrying what I thought was meaningful dialogue with family gathered around my bed. Only trouble was there were no words coming out, nothing! And then there were some. Karla’s mom asked me if I had considered watching the TV in the room. I said no, first in my mind but then also in reality. A second word I remember saying that same day was “international” as the group gathered around my bed was talking about airports. I have no idea why those word actually ended up in real speech and the thousands of other words I was saying in my mind did not.
As far as movement returning on my right side it was not until roughly five days after surgery that I could move my right big toe just a bit. But it was hugely encouraging to both Karla and me.
I think it is impossible to fully appreciate a thing unless you can no longer do that thing, see that thing…or a person that you loved that has died. Precious people are easier to appreciate and value than the many billions of things that we human beings take for granted in our bodies alone! If you don’t think this is true, then you are mistaken. The intricacies of the human brain itself are utterly astonishing! Human brain transplants are not even theoretically possible.
So on this eve of Valentine’s Day 2017 I beseech every person who reads this not to take anything for granted. Just because you can do it today does not mean you will able to do it tomorrow. Or, to be more accurate just because at the exact moment your eyes saw, and mind understood, and absorbed the meaning of these words does not mean in the next millisecond you will be able to do the same.
Nor do I claim to have a handle on not taking speech and movement for granted. I have experienced not having either of these for a time. It seemed and felt like an eternity, and yet I still am not as thankful as I should be. I can grumble. I can complain. I can bemoan my situation in life.
Because we live in a fallen world this is as it will always be on this side of eternity. But I am certain that Psalm 139 is true…that my unformed body complete with the brain anomaly and all was “knitted together” in my mother’s womb more than 52 years ago. Not by chance, but by a good, loving, and sovereign God who does all things well.
My friends you and I are fearfully and wonderfully made! “Your eyes saw my unformed substance: in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious are your thoughts, O God!” (Psalm 139:16-17).
So on this eve of Valentine’s Day 2017, consider giving thanks to God for everything! Thank Him for the ability to do anything! Thank Him for your spouse! Thank Him for the pain! (not necessarily one and the same). Thank Him for the trials of life. Thank God that He is in control of all things even though world around us may appear to be on the cusp of a complete implosion. God is always doing way more than we will ever know or appreciate at every single moment of our lives…through every joy and pain.
For myself I will continue in my pursuit of the holy grail of the Christian life: contentment. Yes contentment. The apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:11 “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Two verses later in this same stream of thought he says “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Yes, even this seemingly impossible state. A good start on this pursuit would be to stop right now and give thanks to God that you can speak and move.