His grace is sufficient, despite the lung… er, thorn

I here sit in a hospital bed yet again, with a chest tube that is sucking air out of my chest… yet again.  Because my lung collapsed… yet again, even though it was not supposed to anymore after I received surgery for it in 2007.

There are many similarities between then and now (for the complete story of that 2007 visit, go here).  I had a basic idea of what was wrong but had stuff to do, so I tried to fight through the pain as much as possible.  Eventually, I got griped at by a girl(s) to go see somebody, I did, and I was told I immediately needed a chest tube, went to the ER, and now I’m stuck in a hospital room.  Another weird similarity:  Back in 2007, my church in Austin had a crawfish boil that summer and I had to miss it because I was in the hospital.  Yesterday, we were going to have a crawfish boil for my church in Arlington, one that I had planned, and I spent the day getting X-rays and eventually a chest tube after I started out at Costco.  I guess God doesn’t want me to eat crawfish.

Anyway, I had slight pain for about a week, but it spiked considerably on Friday evening while I was lying down and texting (yep, that was all I was doing).  I considered going to the seminary medical center for an X-ray, but they were closed and wouldn’t open until Monday.  I resolved to wait because I had the crawfish boil to set up the next day.  Since it was uncomfortable to sleep straight lying down, I slept on a sofa chair in an awkward position.  I actually got decent rest, but the pain wasn’t gone when I got up.  Still, I called some people, played some Street Fighter x Tekken with John, and then went to Costco with him, his brother, and Cathy.  Almost immediately, I was beset with questions from Cathy about how I felt because, as she put it, I looked “worse than awful.”  She kept promising, “Okay, this is the last time I’m going to ask because you’re not a baby, but are you really ok?”

“Yeah, it’s been worse.”

“That… is not a helpful answer.’

Anyway, she didn’t keep her promise and kept pestering.  Her and John then tried to develop a ruse to get me to go to a Care Now and get an X-ray, with John saying he and Sam would go to another store while I should accompany Cathy to church.  What a silly lie:  We’re not even done shopping.  What could we possibly do at church yet?  As I looked at him quizzically, Cathy just came clean and told me that she wanted to take me to Care Now.  Knowing that I would not hear the end of it and that it was, in fact, the wise thing to do, given my history and a recent death of a friend, I relented.

At Care Now, I got admitted and eventually took an X-ray.  I was praying that it would not be serious because it took years for me to recover financially from the previous hospital stay.  Alas, it was serious; not as bad as the last one, which featured a complete collapse of the lung (tension pneumothorax), but bad enough that it was a bad idea to wait.  I asked the lady there, “So, it’s that significant?”

“Yeah… it’s like 50% collapsed.”

“Oh great.  Um… could I just wait this one out like some of the other minor episodes?”

(incredulous look) “No.  This is life threatening.  You know this, you’ve been through this before.  You need to go to the ER.”

I thought to myself, “Sigh.  I’m about to get really poor again…”

Cathy was nice enough to not only wait for me but to take me to the ER.  She insisted upon running a couple of stop signs and speed, as I tried to tell her that I’d rather not die on the road before getting to the hospital, as funny as a story that would be.  I wasn’t in danger of collapsing all of a sudden or anything.

Anyway, we made it to the hospital, with Cathy enjoying every minute of my helplessness because she thinks I have an overly macho attitude.  Funny story:  She got hit on by the dude at the reception desk.  Yellow fever!  I called my sister and Tina at this time to tell them what is up.

I got called in and Cathy came with me as they do all the same things again; take vitals, take an X-ray, and put all this crap on me, including an IV.  When the chest tube procedure was getting ready to begin, a couple of blonde young nurses came in who were recently graduated.  They were all excited to see what would happen, and I told them that I was fine with being a guinea pig.  They asked, “Can I listen to you breathe?”, and each of them got a stethoscope to listen, remarking, “Wow, that’s cool. I can hear his lung fine on that side, but on the other, it’s like it’s not there!”  Glad I could fascinate you.  They gave me more drugs than I got last time to make me more loopy, and I felt the onset of the drugs and tried to fight it off by thinking about complex things.  I do remember the whole thing, but what happened afterward is a little hazy.

Oh, and although Cathy claimed she was tough enough to watch it all, like the girls did the last time, she bailed when the doctor told her that she would see and hear “stuff.”  Wuss.

Anyway, it was the same type of feeling; they poked me through with a tube, sucked the excess air out, and I started to cough, but not nearly as much as the last time.  After that, I got a room, where I am no hooked up to a wall as a machine keeps sucking air out that my lung is leaking.  It’s sore, but as long as I can avoid surgery, it shouldn’t be too bad.  I hope to be out in a couple of days.

I’m not going to lie; this is very frustrating in many ways.  I was planning on starting on working out again; that won’t happen.  I was slowly getting financially better after years of hospital debt; I have to start over.  My 2007 surgery was supposed to stop this from happening again; obviously it didn’t.  And I had to miss crawfish again.

However, I had my own mini church service in my room:  I listened to Chandler harp on the fact that while God is for us, the universe does not center around us but God.  I listened to several hymns, and then I read 2 Cor 12, where Paul boasts about his weaknesses and says that God allowed for a “thorn” from Satan to torment him in order to keep him from becoming conceited from all of his gifts.  Scholars still debate what that thorn may be:  It could be a physical ailment, a disability, an emotional problem, a spiritual issue, etc.  We just don’t know.  Whatever it was, it was something Paul asked God to take away but God did not, because “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is a humbling passage; not only do Paul’s accomplishments far outstrip some average Joe like me, his hardships for the cause of Christ are far more than I could dream of.  Yet he had the conviction to say, “I’ve done some very awesome things, but to keep me from being conceited, God allowed a thorn to pester me to remind me that it’s not about me, it’s about Christ.”  Is this lung problem my thorn?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that before it ever happened back in college, I was quite proud of the fact that, as skinny as I am, I was physically fit for my size; I could bench press more than people fifty pounds heavier than me, I could run fast and jump high, I could run five miles without a problem, and on top of that I was serving at church.  It was exceptionally annoying to have all of my physical activities taken from me in an instant, not to mention my financial security; I spent the better part of a semester being angry at God.  It’s one thing if I suffer an injury or illness when it’s my fault, but this spontaneous pneumothorax business is a mystery.  That frustrated me to no end.  I have come to learn, however, that whether or not this is my “thorn” or not (I hesitate to be presumptuous), God’s grace is sufficient and his love will never leave.

My health may come and go, and even the things I do in service of the church can end.  My identity is in none of those things.  It’s a hard lesson to learn and I’m still learning it, but this time around, I’m already handling things far better. I’m prepared to face the consequences of all this because despite  my flaws and my sin, God is with me.  He has shown that in the past, and he has already shown that again through my many faithful friends, who tolerate me despite my stubborn sarcasm.

This will change some of my plans for the summer.  I may have to get another job, I may have to even get surgery.  Who knows.  But whatever I do, I hope to avoid any self-pity parties and continue to do what I can for God, because that is the only thing that will last.

At least this place has a TV where I can watch basketball…

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One thought on “His grace is sufficient, despite the lung… er, thorn

  1. Am I the only one actually commenting on wordpress? Isak! I’m praying for you! Sad to hear that this happened, but praise God for how He’s working in your life!

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