Beyond the Threshold

The night was endless. I spent it walking, standing, sitting.  Trying any position that might give some relief to the ever-growing pain.  I sent prayers to the heavens seeking help.  Things were getting desperate, and right before dawn my body began to shake.  I had hit my threshold, and became very afraid about what might lie beyond it.

I thought I knew all about pain.  After all, I’d been through three natural childbirths with back labor to boot.  As it turned out, that was mere child’s play.  None of my pain management techniques worked.  When a tumor is pressing directly on your spine, well, the world could end and you wouldn’t notice.

Off to the ER we went.  After multiple hours and morphine doses I finally began to endure my existence.  Although it seemed barely enough, a higher dose would be dangerous, and the pain ebbed and flowed like an unruly tide.  The cancer that didn’t yet seem real had shown itself to be very real indeed, at once holding captive my every thought, and assaulting my every move.  Why, I thought, had no one warned me that cancer could be so painful.

The next few days were a blur.  A myriad of tests were done as quickly as possible, under threat of the swelling tide of agony that could rush in any moment.  Cat scans, MRI, bone marrow draw, EKG, and a few others I can’t recall.  Then there were the IV’s, the burning injections, and the surgical implantation of a port in my chest, which was then quickly utilized by my first round of chemotherapy.  It would be only after receiving this, that the pain would begin to subside.

But there was one procedure that no one will ever forget.  The spinal tap.  I was forewarned that it might be uncomfortable, but it was only a thirty minute procedure, in and out and done.  So I agreed to let an intern do it under the close scrutiny of a doctor who happened to be “the best there is”.  I curled up in a ball and with my back to them, they began. But the intern could not get the needle all the way in.  He tried again, to no avail.  Deep breath, some instruction, then once again he started, and once again he stopped, without success.

Murmurs and shuffling ensued.  I sensed the doctors exchanging places and furrowed faces.  My husband left the room.  I uncurled and curled up again.  My arms felt the strain and I shivered slightly. But okay, I thought, we have The Best There Is, so here we go now.  No problem.

Problem.  He couldn’t get in.  He tried again.  No luck.  And again.  And again.

Tenseness was rising in the room.  Just then, my oncologist entered.  Looking alarmed, he immediately said what’s happening and I think we need to stop.  They paused.  Strained conversation.  I could sense the heat of frustration warming the coldness of my back.  It just wasn’t going well for The Best There Is.  Yet, who else could do it if not he?  They asked me if I could handle one more try.  I said yes, I’m okay, let’s just get it done, and finally, finally, they did.

Later my oncologist would confess he’d never seen anyone go through that before.  Never had he entered a room so thick with stress that you could cut it with a knife.  Never had he seen it take nine punctures with a four-inch needle to get the job done. Never had he seen The Best bested.  And never had he been so close to demanding respected colleagues to get out of the room.  Now.  Five years later, he still recants this story.

“If someone had told me then, that you were now going to climb Mt. Everest, I’d say, ‘Of course she is.’ ”

* * * * *

But you see… the thing is, I’m not really that strong.  I’ve had my few tenacious moments, but I simply wasn’t capable of breaking all hospital records for tolerance.  Not even in perfect health.  The reality was I had hit my very real, very human threshold days before, during that first long night.  Everything beyond that, I had not handled on my own.

Beyond the threshold of our limitation there is no need to fear, for beyond the threshold of our limitation there is God.  He was waiting at the ready, waiting for me to cross the plane.  And when I did, it was He who carried me through.  In the coming days, He would show up again.  And again.  And again.  Until it finally set in… He would handle those things that I could not.

"make no mistake, it takes everything you have, but know deep down, you have enough"

©Lynnea Washburn

Glass plate from the Living Victoriously collection by Boston International (see Links).

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