Life Plugged In

All of life was plugged in. The unforeseen consequences of being plugged in at all times meant that three areas of life were unplugged. Three distinct aspects of life were virtually unplugged and exposed.

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Yes, that is an x-ray of my actual chest. And yes, you are indeed seeing a foreign object on the right side of the image. That foreign object effected life in almost every way possible.

On July 18, 2015, a Left Ventricular Device (LVAD) was surgically placed to assist the heart pump blood, which a weakened heart – in heart failure – cannot accomplish on its own. An LVAD is a mechanical pump attached to the left side of the heart and the aorta, the main artery. The LVAD helps the heart pump blood to the body due to the left ventricle’s decreased efficiency.

An LVAD is surgically placed with two resolutions in mind: death or future heart transplant. The “bridge to destination” option consists of temporary relief of heart failure symptoms but eventually will end with the patient’s death. The other option is called “bridge to transplant.” This obviously intends to be temporary until the patient is cleared for surgery and receives a new heart after time spent on the transplant list.

It also should be noted that the LVAD is powered electronically, so it requires an electrical outlet or short-term batteries. The two options, for all twenty-four hours, required being plugged in.

As the sedation wore off, a health care professional came into the hospital room with the hope of educating my wife and I about the newly-placed LVAD. Her name was Denise and she attempted to educate for the purpose of home care.Her multiple attempts fell short of success due to the exhaustion I experienced. I kept falling asleep during her educational discussions, and, besides exhaustion, there was no concept of what the heck an LVAD was.

As consciousness grew, there were a few things that became overt. Clearly, there was a chord coming out of my stomach (driveline), sleep was only possible in an upright position, and I was plugged into the wall. The driveline quickly became a small inconvenience, and once sleep became regular again, having to sit upright tube comfortable was another dismissed consequence of my hospitalization. But, being plugged into the wall created lasting issues.

All of life was plugged in. The unforeseen consequences of being plugged in at all times meant that three areas of life were unplugged. Three distinct aspects of life were virtually unplugged and exposed.

Pride Unplugged

Whenever the transition home was complete, I was forced to confess the necessity of other people’s assistance with my overall hygiene. This area of life occurs throughout your life without thinking, and it’s probably because you do it on your own with ease. Hygiene usually does not require too much introspection, and that commonly only arises when there is required aid from another.

Getting dressed and shaving are two simple examples. Once I was incapable of doing these two independently, pride emerged with a vengeance. Believing I did not need anyone’s help brought out the pride in my heart. Feeling the need to fight to show everyone that they were not needed to display a too high view of self and a low view of others.

But, the biggest shot to my pride was my inability to shower. This might need to be explained. Since an LVAD is an electronic machine, the external battery could never get wet. So, getting into a hot and relaxing shower completely vanished, and the only option for bathing became a sponge bath. A sponge bath can be done independently, but with the electronic equipment attached it is recommended to have help.

Pride can be described in many ways, but I believe the best definition is this: a deep feeling of pleasure or satisfaction in accomplishments; thinking of themselves as greater, better, and/or as all-sufficient. Before an LVAD was placed, there was plenty unseen pride in my life. Even though it appeared to be holy ambition, hidden beneath those good deeds was the ugly truth that I built satisfaction in myself and my “accomplishments.”

The truth burst forth through being served by others: I am weak and need God’s grace.

“But he said to me,“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

Rest Unplugged

I have always had body image issues, so the physical changes were subtlety impacted me. The physical changes can discourage a person, and slowly but surely this occurred over time. All of the physical changes were due to the equipment associated with the LVAD, and these changes created self-consciousness, anxiety, and worry.

The equipment that every LVAD patient must deal with force visible physical changes. The HeartMate II, the model of LVAD that was surgically placed, requires two individual batteries that each weighed about ten pounds, and every model of LVAD has a half-inch driveline that is attached to an external controller. The equipment, hanging on my sides and exiting out of the stomach, can hurt your image of yourself. Self-consciousness and anxiety rushed into my heart, and I restlessly worried about my appearance.

An unseen effect of the LVAD was its pressure of my lungs and ribs. When making room for the LVAD in your chest, the surgeons are forced to create a “pump pocket.” One of the major side effects of this rearrangement of your major organs is that the LVAD can lay on your lung. So, sleep was elusive and painful unless the head of the bed angled at thirty degrees. Rest was inconstant and a struggle. It sucked.

Rest cannot be simply defined by sleep. Rest can be defined in two ways: the freedom from anxiety and worry; stoppage of movement and activity for relaxation of body and mind. Rest could not be grasped in either avenue. Anxiety and worry haunted me and it was nearly impossible to experience relaxation through inconsistent sleeping patterns.

For almost two years rest could not be grasped, so I felt constantly discouraged and worn down.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Community Unplugged

After the hospitalization and rehabilitation stints, there was overwhelming support from friends, family, and our local church. Every weekday night there were different people spending time with us, but, as expected, a gradual fade occurred. Community went from a constant to almost nonexistent. Contributing factors were wide-ranging, but community became an elusive reality.

The main rule for LVAD patients requires the patient tone within a two-hour drive from an LVAD certified hospital, so most people do not travel far or to new places. The inability to travel restricts possible vacations or long trips to see friends and family. The common perspective is that it’s safest to stay home just in case there is an emergency. On top of long-distance restrictions, short distance restrictions are limited to the external battery life. The two external batteries only have power for twelve hours, which does not last as long as it sounds. Long and short distance restrictions limit any chance for quality community.

Quality community exists when quality time and quality relationships come together. If your time or access is limited for any reason, quality community suffers and it can slowly dissolve. If community dissolves, for any reason, community becomes a mere concept and loneliness develops into reality. Loneliness emerged as an everyday reality, but as of late community has resurfaced as an essential and place of true joy.

Community is subjectively defined, but my specific outlook is centered on community in a local church. Community strives to see the needs of each other while loving and serving the world. Community dissolved in my life and I felt a disconnect over time. If you unplug community from life you will eventually slip into apathy and loneliness.

Unplug community and you become a lone wolf with no clear purpose.

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

Perfect Connection

With all that said, where can we find perfect humility, rest, and community? The world has nothing to offer because everything in this world will fail us. All of us are imperfect and can not strive hard enough to acquire humility, rest, and community. We have to look to something else… or someone else.

Jesus is the only solution for our anxiety, restlessness, and isolationism. He was perfectly humble (Phil. 2:7,2 For. 8:9, Heb. 4:15, Mt. 20:28), offers true rest (Ex. 33:14, Mt. 11:28-29, Heb. 4:8), and is perfect community within Himself (Gen 1:26, Mt 28:26-30, Lk.3:22, 1 Pet 1:2). He is the source of all things, so he is the True power source for living a full and abundant life.

We don’t need to live life unplugged. We can live life plugged in.

Jacob Luis Gonzales

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