As I look back at my 2022, I must say that I did not plan for what was to be. I am an overly optimistic person. I look for the good in all things; I find it most of the time. Oh, but those times when I don’t, I usually fall into the black tunnel of my underworld. It is a place that is filled with anxiety, darkness, and fear. My underworld is in direct opposition to my nature and optimism.
My husband and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary last Christmas season in Hawaii with all of our children and their families. It was wonderful, it was perfectly imperfect, and it was a time of love. In Hawaii I forgot about problems, except any that appeared along the way. Those problems either were resolved or disappeared as our location changed. In such a beautiful place with my family, love abounded. Each time the entrance to the dark tunnel appeared, I chose to stay the course of optimism. We had Portuguese donuts in Honolulu. We swam with stingrays in Kona and it was awesome! Whale watching was incredible.
We, alone without our family, received a Blessing of our marriage from a Priest in Maui following Mass on our anniversary. Later that day, we restated our vows on the beach with all our family present. Upon arriving home, we, my husband and I, would share a look or a memory that kept the “hang loose” spirit alive. These great days and moments of shear joy are embedded in my heart, and it was a good thing because those moments of joy carried me. Those memories of happiness comforted me when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had what I call breast cancer lite. It was a lot like Bud lite, in that Bud Lite is beer and it sucks, but it won’t kill you to drink. My nodule was found very early, but I still had cancer and I wasn’t going to die.
I had it easy, a lumpectomy, a few lymph nodes and then radiation. Chemo was not required. I am very blessed. With that said, cancer sucks. I still had to have needles in my sensitive breast; I got radiation rash and fatigue. My cancer was not life threatening, but it was still cancer. I kept those wonderful memories of Hawaii as my contemplation. And God was right there with me. I never felt the need to ask God for anything more than presence. I was never alone.
God was there by my side. Together we prayed for all those praying for me and for all those caring for me. It was an amazing experience. So again, I am saved from the black tunnel of my underworld. As I say this, I feel the tug of my dualistic nature because I do go to the underworld by experiencing anxiety and fear over the emotions of cancer treatments. And being all in for every encounter in the medical care process exacerbates the experience. While in that dark place, God did not leave my side, but instead would let me know that it was normal to feel scared, anger, and fear.
I was doing okay leaning on God, my spouse, and family, as well as many friends. I was in therapy. I was doing the right things. I felt that I was doing okay, emotionally. Then at a funeral of a friend I fell. I popped up knowing I had bruised my coccyx, my head, and tweaked my knee. The next day I went to stand after kneeling on the floor and very suddenly my right knee could not bear my weight. The knee replacements that had been needed for years could no longer be delayed.
I admit the reality of knee replacement and recovery overwhelmed me. I checked out for a while, but I continued to go to my therapist. She helped me organize my thoughts and prune unnecessary concerns. But she could not change the process. I still had to deal with 5 nurse navigators, 3 PA’s, many schedulers, an RN as well as an adminstrative assistant for every doctor. Of course there was the random financial call to pay for weird stuff that was not covered by insurance. Both my ADHD and dyslexia went into overdrive. Medical forms are a killer. Every once in a while I would just scream or cry. In one day, I might speak to 5 or 6 of these medical professionals. It was exhausting.
So, I get past cancer and a right knee replacement, then at Thanksgiving we get COVID 19. This is the first time in the two and half year pandemic that we got this virus. Eddie was positive first, and I followed 5 days later. Because I had COVID, it was necessary to put off my left knee replacement surgery into January.
In addition, it meant that I had to reschedule all of my doctor appointments. I believe just the simple act of rescheduling so many appointments sent me into a tail spin down the black tunnel to my underworld.
The truth is I was not ready; my right knee needed more strength to support the left knee replacement. But truth and the reality of my emotions were so far apart. I was angry and disappointed. My family physician asked if my anxieties were due to my past medical procedures or the ones to come. “Could it be situational?”, he asked. To be honest it is all of the above. I am a medical Chaplain, which allowed me to reframe the experiences, hence Ritamay’s 2022 Magical Medical Tour. The Beatles music has a very positive effect on me, so reframing as such allowed me to laugh at my circumstances. The problem that sent me for another loop, however, is that the next surgery is in January.
So the 2022 Magical Medical Tour is sneaking into 2023, and I was completely unprepared. I was leaving the ailing convalescent Ritamay behind and in 2023 embracing a new and improved Ritamay.
There is a silver lining, actually it is pure gold. I am having surgery on the Feast of the Epiphany! The Kings reach Jesus and bring him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I am taking all three with me to the surgical facility. These gifts were offered to help care for the child, representing the universal need for cooperative care. The least I can do in thanksgiving for God’s perpetual care of me is to bring the gifts of the Kings with me.
I feel that my 2022 was over taken by a medical coup. I am protected by God from my own underworld and I am never alone no matter the battle ahead. 2022 has been ceded to medical care in this coup, but 2023 is starting with Christ as center of my care. Christ’s care will continue as my recovery will be whole and fruitful.
In closing, I know without the care of my husband, daughter, and sons I would not have recovered as well. Through their love, my family provides a safe and free space.
I also find it reassuring that God is present and giving. In Psalm 23 I am comforted that God has a place of restoration as well as eternal peace.
The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days.
for endless days.