This weekend I have been suffering from intense neck aches (probably from sleeping on a different bed/pillow) which have kept me up late at night and have woken me early in the morning. This morning I lay alone in the dark trying to find a way to get comfortable, I realized that today marked twelve years to the day of another terrible neck ache and for some reason I felt I should write about that experience. Warning: it will get churchy.
When I was in labor with my third son, the anesthesiologist administering the epidural had a lot of trouble getting the needle to go where it needed to go. He tried once and hit a vein, tried a second time and hit the dura tried a third time unsuccessfully, then finally hit the jackpot on the fourth try. The process took about an hour and all the while, I was sitting curled into the letter C, with the doctor yanking on my neck repeatedly to get me to fold over enough. It was not a pleasant experience, but without the epidural I don’t know how I would have survived the long labor and delivery of a nearly ten-pound baby.
Because the needle had punctured the dura and spinal fluid had leaked out, I was told that there was a possibility of me having a spinal headache so they would be monitoring that. As my hospital visit progressed, I didn’t suffer from a headache at all, but my neck was killing me. The hospital staff told me that could also be a spinal headache, but I was sure my neck hurt from all the times the anesthesiologist yanked on it during labor.
My labor was induced ten days early because I had a fever, and because they were worried the fever was because of some sort of infection, they kept my baby in the NICU to monitor him. Every time he needed to be fed, I had to go to the NICU and walk past preemies half his size. As I looked at him sprawled out like a giant next to the other babies, I thought, “I should be worried about him, I guess, but he looks pretty healthy to me.” Each time I tried to feed him, it took all the effort I had to lift my chin off my chest because my neck hurt so much.
The night before I was supposed to check out, the staff kept trying to convince me to have a procedure called a spinal patch to patch up the hole in the dura and get rid of my spinal headache. They told me that if I didn’t do the procedure, it could take up to a month of me lying flat in bed before the pain went away. I stubbornly insisted it wasn’t really a spinal headache and that I would just check out the next day without the procedure.
Early the next morning, I was lying in bed trying to get comfortable and started to wonder if I was a big dummy for ignoring what the medical experts were telling me. I prayed to know whether I should actually go through with the spinal patch or just go home as planned.
As I finished my prayer and lay there in the dark room, I thought of a card game I like to play. Set is a game that, for some reason, I always win. I’m so good at it, my husband doesn’t like playing it with me. He even wrote in Sharpie “Watch Kristen play” above the word SET on the package. As I lay there, I thought of the times I tried to teach someone how to play the game. The main rule when looking for a set (three cards that have either all the same or all different of several possible attributes), is “If two are and one isn’t, it’s not a set.” Whenever someone tries to learn to play the game, they usually come up with different ways to explain it to themselves, usually incorrectly, and they need to be reminded over and over: “If two are and one isn’t, it’s not a set.”
Then I remembered all the times I had insisted it wasn’t a spinal headache because it was in my neck and the staff had to repeat over and over, “If it hurts when you sit up and doesn’t hurt when you lie flat, it’s a spinal headache.” As I lay in the dark in that room with my bed completely flat because that was the only way I wasn’t in terrible pain, I realized that they had been right, that I did have a spinal headache, and that I needed to have the procedure.
The Spinal Patch was one of the most painful experiences I’ve gone through – they stick another needle into the hole in your back, pump blood into the dura, and then make you lie flat for an hour while the blood clots. The pressure was so intense and having to lie perfectly still while experiencing that much pain was so awful, I was only able to endure it because my husband had his little MP3 player with him and put this piece on repeat over and over for the full hour.
This morning as I lay in the dark remembering this experience, I realized once again that the Lord answers our prayers in ways that we will understand. Thinking of the rules of a card game helped me to understand what I needed to do at that time. It was exactly what I needed to be reminded of in that moment. It was also totally random and would mean nothing to anyone else in the same situation. I received an answer to my prayer in a way only I would understand. It was an experience that taught me how personal personal revelation really can be. It reminded me of John 14:26: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
Thinking of it this morning reminded me that everyone experiences answers to prayers in ways only they can understand and that I can’t judge the way others come to their own understanding of tricky questions. There have been two issues in the last month causing a lot of conflict among members of the church with a lot of discussion online filled with assumptions and accusations about those who disagree. One of the issues seems very simple to me and I find myself wondering how anyone could possibly think differently than I do. Another issue has caused me a lot of pain and introspection and hard work to feel any peace and I have found myself annoyed with those who are quick to claim that it is a simple, black-and-white issue.
I realized this morning that things I’ve experienced in my life, the places I’ve been, and the people I know and love all come together to contribute to the way I view the world and explain why I think the answer to one of the issues is so simple and another is just so hard. I have been simultaneously patting myself on the back and being annoyed at other back patters. And with the way I’m feeling today, patting myself on the back sounds like a pretty quick way to get a neck ache. I can only try to work through my own issues on my own and love others as they try to work through their own.