Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Pilot Light

I have had four surgeries in six months, so you would think I would be getting used to it, at least a little.

Two of them were fairly major surgeries: a tonsillectomy (at 42 this is a pretty big deal) in November, and what they call a neck dissection (awful word for it, but it essentially means the removal of the remaining lump in my neck and surrounding lymph nodes) in April.

Two were more like "procedures" - the insertion of the feeding tube into my stomach, and then yesterday a biopsy of something suspicious in the back of my throat, near the base of my tongue.

For the first three I was absolutely terrified.  I remember sitting in the "pre-surgery" room at Mass. Eye & Ear before my neck dissection with tears just pouring down my face.  I couldn't stop them, no matter how hard I tried.  I prayed, I breathed, I used all my tools, but nothing could stop my pounding heart.

Yesterday, for the biopsy, I went through the regular admittance drill with the usual fear gripping my heart.

For me, the worst part of the whole surgery experience is always when they push you on the stretcher down the chilly corridor to the operating room.  They haven't given you an ounce of sedation, so your nerves are on full tilt as you watch the cold lights go whizzing by overhead.

It feels endless, when in fact it probably only takes a minute or two.  Your loved ones are not with you - they are nervously awaiting the outcome in the waiting room - so it is just you, half naked, scared with a bunch of masked strangers in full operation garb whisking you down the hall.

I had been feeling more nervous than usual all morning.  I don't know why, exactly.  Everyone is very nice, very professional, and of all my surgeries this was the least complicated.  But I couldn't stop my hands from shaking, the fear from gripping my heart.

"Okay, here we go!" I heard a nurse chirp, "just lie back and relax and we'll be in the OR in a jiff!"

I braced myself for the dreaded roll down the hall.  Halfway there, there was some kind of hang-up - a stretcher jam or a confusion about which OR to bring me to - and we just sat there, unmoving, for several minutes.  I felt a panic attack start to rise up from deep within me.

And then the most amazing thing happened.  It just stopped.  I thought of all the prayers coming my way from friends and family, I thought of all the well wishers and people who have helped me through this journey, and I was overcome with a sense of gratitude, of peace.

I started to say a little prayer, too - I don't remember the exact words - but it was essentially a "Thank you" prayer for all the goodness that has been in my life even in the midst of all the strife and pain.

And, of course, I thought about my Dad.  I pray to him a lot.

A warmth passed over me - it was so strong I looked down to see if they had given me any medication through my IV.  They hadn't.   I felt a sense of lightness and peace like I have never, ever experienced before, and it was incredible.

I am more of a spiritual person than a religious person.  I talk to God, but my notion of God is a very personal, private one that doesn't have anything to do with any traditional religion.  

All I know for sure is that He was there yesterday in that hallway with me.  I feel odd saying it - like it will be perceived as flaky or self-serving, but I guess I don't care.  Because I know He was there.

As they finally rolled me into the OR, I looked around with a sense of wonder. I asked a bunch of questions about what each machine did, asked the nurses their names.  I had absolutely no fear.  I felt grateful to be surrounded by such sophisticated technology, instead of being afraid of it.  When they put the mask over my mouth and told me to breath deep, I had a smile on my face.


Last night I lay in bed, wide awake and in a LOT of pain, and trying to recreate the experience I had in that chilly hallway.  I was full of fear, wondering about what the biopsy results would say, and having trouble breathing through my swollen throat.  It was a long night.

I lay there wondering why I can't have the feeling I had in the OR all the time.  Selfish me, like a junkie, you give me a little taste of something incredible and I want more more more.

I'm not sure what it all means, really.  I'm grateful I experienced it at all, and I'm hopeful it will come back.  I'm pretty sure the key is to stop trying, to let go and trust in God, or the Universe, or the Energies, or whatever faith sustains you.

That experience shifted something in me, though.  Something good, something peaceful, sprung to life, deep inside - like a little pilot light. I hope that I can keep it burning over the coming days - no matter what news I get from the biopsy, no matter what happens next.

And, as always, thank YOU for all your prayers and well wishes, my friends. You were all there with me, too, in my heart.  I read and re-read your words of comfort and support when I'm feeling low and scared, and it helps me so much.  Thank you.


  1. Incredible!!!
    That's God for you. When He gives, it's out of sheer magnanimity. And He never does something (you know, like "show up") the same way twice - because He doesn't like to be pegged. It's sheer joy for Him to make His presence felt when least expected. He gets a kick out of it.

    Once you KNOW that God is there by experience, that 'pilot light' (a cool analogy, thank you!) never leaves. Leaving all the burners on ALL the time uses up the fuel way faster - it's best to have some in reserve for when you REALLY need it. And He's the one who knows when to turn them on. He WILL, too.

    Peace - and healing - be yours.

  2. I am an agnostic, but sometimes there are moments of clarity and grace that just shock you.

    ps: you should NOT have been in so much pain afterwards. Either your anesthesiologist gave you a ridiculously low dose or someone is piking your meds. Push that button, honey. Demand the care you deserve. xoxo

  3. This is incredible, Ellie ... I am confident you were visited by the spirit, by God, by grace, whatever we (or you, more importantly) think of it as. Sending you so much love. xox

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience, Ellie.
    I don't have a blog of my own, but if any of your blog friends have extra prayer time, please pray for my friend, Elaine, who is having breast (cancer) surgery tomorrow. She is feeling so scared and alone. Thank you!

  5. Ellie, I know this peace you speak of...I have experienced it and it is exactly what I have been praying for God to give you. I am thanking him as I type. It will come again. It is right there. Hold on to that faith and relationship you have with God. It is perfect and exactly what He has to give and wants you to accept. Thanks once again for opening the doors to your soul. You continue to touch so many.
    PS S in SK, Elaine will be prayed for.

  6. I have been following you since 2009, with a hiatus somewhere between then and the past couple months. You continue to touch my heart. When I read the following quote recently, I thought of you: ”Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” You are SO good at this. Thank you. I will continue to keep you in my thoughts.

  7. I will hold Elaine in my thoughts and prayers tomorrow, S. She is not alone.

  8. the pilot light will always burn for you! god bless and always on my mind, in my heart and in my prayers :) xoxo Dawn B.

  9. I have had that feeling in my life and, like you, I find myself chasing it from time to time rather than just stopping and letting it catch me.

    I see it as telling that the gurney was actually stopped when He caught up to you. It reminds me to stop, slow down, or just to be quiet.

    And don't worry, you're going to be fine. That something is nothing.

    Namaste Ellie.

  10. Hey Ellie, I'm sorry you had a long and painful night after surgery. I wish something had been provided for you. Your experience outside the OR was really sublime and I'm so glad for your shift. Hoping and praying for a "negative" outcome on the biopsy.


  11. Yes! Yes! Yes! That is "the peace of God that trancends all understanding"!!!! I too have felt that during a time of great fear. God loves you soooo much and he has shared his perfect peace with you. Yeah, you can't go chasing it, since it is a divine gift, but you can always remember what he did for you in your time of need, and you can rejoice that God is always with you, even when you may feel forsaken. Keep holding on Ellie! I'm continuing in prayer for you.

    "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6, 7 NIV)

  12. Holding you close in my heart. Feeling that presence in the hallway is not self-serving. It's the opposite. (hug)

  13. Courtney in CreteJune 7, 2012 at 4:46 AM

    Thinking of you, Ellie.

  14. You've certainly been in my thoughts, Ellie. I don't think it's selfish at all to want more more more of that goodness you experienced. What a gift you received. And what a gift you have given in this beautifully written post. In my own selfish way, it was something I needed to read and your little pilot light lit up something within myself that I really needed right now. Bless you, and I wish you the best possible outcome with the biopsy x

  15. Ellie, Some how God intervines, and He takes charge, and gives a load off your shoulders. My daughter spent so much time in a hospital, it was weird seeing people from the out side world looking healthy and normal. Doesn't every one have a port, IV, gurney, no hair, weird skin color? Although, I'm not with you, I can imagine those ceiling lights whiz by enroute to the "great and powerful OZ". Just kidding, I'm a Christian, and strongly believe in Jesus. If I didn't have my faith,I don't know how I would've gotten through losing a daughter, etc. I think God has plans for you Ellie, He's just taking you on a detour, but an awful, bumping road enroute! Stay strong, pretty lady :)
    LuAnn in Minnesota

  16. Oh Ellie, your post really touched my heart. I could feel your anxiety as I read your post. I know and despise that feeling. What an absolute miracle that God gave you peace exactly when you needed it. I hate that you are in pain and fear and I hope they will give you something to ease that pain. God will ease the fear if we can just let go, which, holy shit, is so much easier said than done. Damn this on-going medical shit. Makes me angry, frustrated, and scared WITH you.

    Something someone said to me when I was going through a scary time that stuck with me was, "If you knew who walked beside you, it would be impossible to be afraid". I don't know about "impossible", but I'm sure that has to do with the fact that I have a hard time truly understanding the power of my HP.

    Sending blessings of healing, comfort, peace, and HOPE. xoxo

  17. I have the exact same belief in God or Energy or Spirit. And I have NO doubt that not only was He there with you, all this positive energy from your loving friends was there too.

  18. Beautiful post – had me all teary-eyed as I read about that roll down the corridor, and that presence you felt. Knowing there are those loving & supporting us is such a gift. Personally, it helped me face those operations and procedures . . . terrifying as they were.

    Glad to hear your pilot light is burning. I hope that sensation can continue whenever its most needed.


  19. I didn't know you had a blog! My family and I have been praying for you over the past several months (I work with your hubby), but it's nice to put a face with the name. I admire your courage, faith and hopeful outlook. I have no doubt that God the Father was with you in that hallway... leaning close and whispering soothing assurances to your soul. I'm so thankful He gave you that gift of His peace that passes all understanding! Praying you continue to feel enfolded in His arms of love in the coming days. Much love from NH.

  20. I am sending positive energy your way. I was diagnosed with type-three breast cancer and my days are bittersweet also. Filled with joy and fear. Don't let the fear be greater than the faith.

  21. Incredible and just in the nick of time.

  22. Ellie, it's Saturday morning and I have not yet read your latest post but I want to respond to this one before I do.

    That fear you felt in the hallway can overcome what is our usual rational state of mind-for you to be then overtaken by serenity and genuine untroubled-ness and be able to be present and alert as the minutes passed... incredible. Thank you for giving me hope that my ill kindred will also be visited by this Calm that soothes beyond understanding.

    Namaste and thank you again.

  23. My good thoughts are always with you.

    (Your Light, is inspiring.)