Fear. Today is day number 4 of knowing that I have a blood clot in my leg. The clot is located in my calf and is causing me a world of hurt. It is affecting my right foot and ankle too. All around it is swollen and tender. It hurts to walk, sit, or just stand still. It even hurts if I am sitting down with my leg propped up. The only time it doesn't hurt is when my leg is resting on a pillow and I am completely lying down.
So I have been still a whole lot these past four days. I have walked outside only to walk the dog—but mostly, she's been going to 'do her doo' in the backyard. Tonight, however, I took her on our regular long walk for her to get some exercise and for me to walk on my foot for awhile. I noticed that when I was walking for a short while and even when I returned, if only briefly, my foot and calf stopped hurting. Unfortunately that was only for about 10 minutes. The sharp pains returned.
And something else happened too. I got scared. I think I started to get scared at the exact moment the pains returned. My heart started beating faster than usual, my breathing got a bit shallow, and I started to perspire. My face felt flush. And then, I got suddenly very afraid. So afraid in fact that I began packing a sack for the emergency room. I threw in a pair of pajama bottoms, my medications, a couple of books and my cell phone charger. Heading for the door the phone rang. It was my mom. I told her what was happening and she told me to stop, sit down, and start breathing deeply. I breathed in for a count of four, held it, and blew out for a count of four. I did this for about 2 minutes and I found myself calming down significantly. Over the next couple of hours, I debated going to the emergency room and finally decided, that since the panic (is that what it was?) had abated, I would stay home.
At 10:00 PM, I injected the new medicine into my stomach, as instructed by my doctors. And then I took two tablets of Coumadin with water. And I sat down. Just then, the phone rang. It was a couple of friends calling to check on me to see if I was okay. After I hung up, another friend called. And then, another and another.
The kind of fear I am feeling is a new feeling. It is one of mortality. It is the thought that a piece of the blood clot in my leg might break off and go directly to my lungs or heart and cause me great harm. The doctors have told me its a 1% chance that this'll happen and for me not to worry. And yet, I do worry. It scares me that I'll pass out and living alone, who'll find me? And the more I think about it, the more my heart beats and the hotter I get. I tell myself not to worry, to not psyche myself up—to just relax. And when I purposely do it...I relax. And then, in the quiet moments—when it's just me and my thoughts, the fear returns.
I am a man of faith. I pastor a congregation of progressive Christians 10 minutes west of New York City. I used to serve a parish in the heart of New York City. There, I have stood in the cold blistery winter snow and sleet feeding sandwiches to the crack-addicted and alcoholic homeless men and women of the city. I have watched their bodies, skin taut against their faces clutch a sandwich as if it were their last meal. And yet they survive. They come back the next day. They are hungry again, and again they are fed. Meal to meal, day to day—old, young, thin, wasting. Today I serve a suburban congregation of young and old. Men and women. Families. Widows and the widowed. Diabetes. Cancer. Heart attacks. Stroke. Different diseases, the same fate. We all die. The same fear.
They come to me looking for faith. I tell them about God. I read to them the Scriptures. I share with them my testimony. I am not afraid. I hold their hand in the hospital rooms. I pray with them. I am not too confident—I don't tell them everything will be okay.
Today they came to me. They called me. They told me that they were thinking and praying for me. I was not alone. I was afraid. I was not alone. I am afraid. I am not alone. I am scared—but not the heart-racing scared of a few hours ago. It is a calm fear.
Faith and fear. I prayed to God to help me. I asked God to help me. I named and claimed my illness away. I ran my hands over my legs and asked God to heal me. I claimed myself as a child of God. My leg stopped hurting. My calf stopped hurting. My fear abated. For ten minutes. My leg throbs again and my foot hurts. But I am not as afraid as I was. I am cautious. So I called a friend.
James. He is coming over to stay up with me. He'll sleep in my guest bed if he stays over. He wants to stay over. He is worried about me.
Maggie. My faithful canine companion. She hasn't left my side all night. She saw my fear. She sat quietly staring at me. She looked afraid too. She isn't afraid now but she isn't leaving my side either.
Fear ... nervous ... anticipation ... the blood clot in my leg, a piece breaking off and making it's way to my lungs or my heart. I think about it but it doesn't paralyze me. It doesn't worry me. I am not afraid right now.
Tomorrow is my first blood test. I will tell them about tonight and call my doctor and get his insight. I won't tell him about the fear—well, I'll allude to it. He doesn't read my blog. Tomorrow will be another day with more Coumadin and two more shots in my stomach. And the clot will be there. And my fear will be there too.