How to Deal with Pain and Uncertainty

“The human spirit is stronger than anything that can happen to it.” ~C.C. Scott

A blueberry muffin, that’s the last thing we spoke about before she went under.

I didn’t know it then, but it was to be the final conversation my (middle) daughter and I would have for a very long time. I was trying to distract Nava by talking about food; in this case, the promise of the rest of her muffin when she came back from the bronchoscopy.

We were thrown a steep curve ball out of left field when Nava went for an exploratory procedure and ended up on a respirator in a drug-induced paralyzed coma. 

Almost three months later, miraculously, she was slowly awakened, but not to any muffin; rather, to a  life that would require a strength of spirit, body, and soul unlike anything we could’ve ever imagined.

Nava was in an uphill battle to rebuild her life, muscle by muscle, limb by limb, as she relearned and reclaimed each bodily function.

Her spirit, attitude, and disposition carried her through this torturous climb and that carried me through, as well.  You could say I piggybacked on my daughter’s positive, brave, fighting spirit.

What do you do when your feet are jello, the ground is mush, and you’re drowning in a dark abyss of unknowns, amidst horrific pain and suffering? How do you begin to grope along the edge and regain some sense of grounding?

Here’s how I navigated pain and the unknown.

1. Become knowledgeable in the “problem” area.

Having information in a situation where you are totally helpless and have no control gives you something to hold onto.

For me, it was conferring with doctors on a daily basis. It became my lifeline in a foreign world of illness and advanced medical technology.

2. Find a healthy outlet for maintaining your physical and psychological well-being.

When the doctor offered me anti-anxiety medication, I made the decision to resume my walking regime. This kept me strong and helped manage my stress level without the use of meds. (I’m the antithesis of a pill popper.)

3. Hold onto even the smallest semblance of normality.

In a world that’s turned upside down, maintaining some familiar routines helps keep you grounded.

I maintained my observance of the Sabbath and lit candles to welcome it in, sometimes right in Nava’s room.

Every Friday night, since we don’t drive on the Sabbath, we found a place to sleep in walking distance to the hospital. We had our meals, together with my ex, at the Ronald McDonald House. This went on for the thee months that she was in the ICU, and then for the subsequent nine months that she was at the rehab hospital.

4. Do enjoyable activities, even if it’s for the sake of other family members.

Upon the advice of the doctor, I took my younger daughter to the mall, the movies, and other outings.

It was hard to do while Nava  teetered on the brink of life and death, and it felt weird to pay for clothes at a cashier and try to smile; but those brief interludes within the ordinary aspects of life provided a little relief  from a world that reeked of tragedy.

Showing appreciation for people working on your behalf  feels good for both you as the giver and them as the receiver.

When we went apple and vegetable picking, we brought back baskets of  beautiful red delicious apples and huge purple eggplants and brought them to the hospital. It was a small token of thanks to the tireless nurses in the critical care unit, a moment of joy and gratitude.

5. Allow yourself a good cry.

Curl up in a ball, go under the covers, and cry till you can’t cry anymore. The tears may not heal, but they do wash away the blurriness; you can then see a bit clearer.

6. Pray.

Pray to whomever for the strength and ability to deal with whatever’s come your way. I always felt there was something far greater than little old me that helped carry me through. We all need to believe that we’re strong, and stronger than we think.

Photo by notsogoodphotography

About Harriet Cabelly

Harriet Cabelly, LCSW is a therapist specializing in grief, loss. and critical life situations. She's also a speaker, author, and group leader. Harriet works from the lens of positive psychology and existentialism. She has a private practice seeing clients both in-person and virtually. She is passionate about helping people cope and grow through critical life-changing circumstances. Harriet is the author of Living Well Despite Adversity: Inspiration for Finding Renewed Meaning and Joy in Your Life. Visit her at rebuildlifenow.com.

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