Saturday, October 24, 2009

As Time Passes By

Bob Rakestraw

I have been having a rough time lately. Some of you have been too. I wish it were not so. But, here we are, and life keeps passing by—one day at a time. As I am writing this, the day is almost done, and I will never live this day again. Perhaps I can write something that will help both you and me to live out our days well. This is my desire and prayer.

Probably the biggest source of difficulty over the past few months has to do with my health. I am not speaking here of specific medical symptoms in themselves, but of the accompanying issues that surround and intertwine with physical problems. Emotional, volitional, interpersonal, and spiritual facets of chronic illness are every bit as much a part of experience as my specific medical condition—transplant vasculopathy, due to my body’s chronic rejection of the “new” heart (now six years in its present home).

I now have a new cardiologist. My previous one, who has guided me since before the transplant, moved to a position in another city. I have had some difficulties adjusting to the new doctor, one reason being that he ordered a number of major tests, yet spent no time discussing the results with me. Instead, he ordered exercise, so I am now going to cardiac rehab when I am able. He is getting to know me as I am getting to know him, and that will take time. Perhaps I am too sensitive. I do know that a change of transplant cardiologist, after six-and-a-half years, is major.

My previous cardiologist understood me and my condition quite well, and had concluded that the disease progressing in my heart arteries will not be reversed to any appreciable extent, and will eventually lead to a major heart attack or attacks. My new doctor hasn’t contradicted these conclusions, but has focused (so far) on exercise and more medications. I will certainly be glad for any improvement.

I write the above not to malign the doctor in any way. We have met only twice. He seems to be a likeable guy, with much knowledge and a lifetime of experience. I say these things to provide one window into a roomful of issues and effects. This new relationship has raised or reawakened spiritual and psychological matters within me that I am seeking to resolve.

I feel a bit foolish writing the above. It’s actually not about the doctor, but about my need for understanding and empathy. Since I try to write about how things really are, not about how things should be, I am writing what I have been feeling.

After 25 years of heart problems I have become not only weary of tests, procedures, blood draws, doctor visits, medications, hospitals, IV’s and surgeries, but I have also become cautious—even wary—of medical opinions and recommendations. I am almost as suspicious of “natural” remedies and supplements. I try, however, to discern what is helpful from both the medical and alternative worlds, while all the time trusting God with the outcomes.

I am very thankful, frequently, for my doctors, nurses, medical technicians, my children, grandchildren and extended family, my friends, my wife, and especially my Lord and Savior. I do not want to leave the impression that I am ungrateful. I do need to acknowledge, though, that a certain spark has gone out of me over the past couple of years. Perhaps this is due to the cumulative, wearing-down effect of living with the sword of Damocles hanging over my head. I will never forget November 28, 2006, when after Judy and I spent two hours—unscheduled—with my cardiologist, we were told that my major invasive procedures that morning revealed chronic rejection of my heart, and nothing more could be done medically. I might have a few months or a few years to live.

Well, next month marks three years since that meeting, and I’m still here. I admit to bewilderment and discouragement, but I notice significant improvement in my attitude and mood since those very dark days in January of this year (written about earlier).

My biggest praise item concerns the small collateral vessels that are bringing oxygenated blood to my heart, even though one major artery to the pumper is 100% blocked by the vasculopathy, and four others are 75-90% blocked.

My biggest prayer request is that I will know how to use my time profitably. Even though I may have only a small amount of energy each day, I desire to use what I have to honor Jesus and extend his reign over the earth. Writing is my primary medium for this, and I need the perseverance and optimism to stay at my tasks.

I trust that I have said something that resonates with you, and will be of help in your set of circumstances. I close with these strong words from the epistle to the Hebrews (10:22-23).

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful.”


Roy Danielson said...

One of the things that help me with the day to day struggles are "memories." When I do lawn work, I remember the big maple tree where your car was parked when you visited us on your way to your brother's place. I also remember the wonderful lunch Nancy and I had together with you and Judy. The memories are not just of good times, but rememberances of your dedication to the Lord and His blessings on you over the years. I often remember the dedication which you and Judy have to live a life worthy of His calling. I constantly treasure our friendship and it's memories over the many years, and thank Him for your substantial impact in my life. Memories of our past times together are like spring rains-- they occur unexpectedly, they are generally welcome, and they nourish the soul. May His strength continue to thrive in you, Bob.

Roy Danielson
Seattle, Washington

Robert V. Rakestraw said...

Great to hear from you, dear brother Roy. I love your words on memories. For the last couple of years I have been thinking about the joy and therapeutic value of memories. One man who spent years in a bleak prison cell said his captors could take away everything but his memories, and that's how he survived.

Judy and I remember with fondness our visit with you several years ago when my brother was dying. I remember when we drove to the restaurant in your Honda, all in "one accord."

Thank you for your very kind words. My greatest desire is to live in the way you describe, all the days I have remaining. I look back after all these years at the four years we spent at Prairie, and I realize they were the most formative years of my life. You were a big part of all that, especially by conversation about matters serious and light, even silly. Thank you for then and now. It (life) has been a hard life for both of us, in several respects, but through it all God has shown himself to be mighty, good, wise and merciful.

Rich blessings always, Roy. Say Hi to George.