- This week I met my match. I dealt with a medical issue that put me into a temporary state of shock- at least I hope it was temporary.
While Johanna was in the shower, one of the scabs on her head opened and washed away as the water hit her head. Immediately I noticed that the opening revealed a part of her skull. I was stunned. As I helped Johanna out of the shower, I carefully explained to her what happened.
Johanna is used to the ups and downs of wounds healing. Surgical staples glistened like a tiara on her head many times over the past 17 years. Because of the number of brain surgeries, the skin on her head is thin and heals slowly. This past year was a tremendous challenge with close to 10 surgeries since March 2013. Despite this, I was concerned that seeing her own skull in the mirror would be shocking for my lovely daughter. I gently suggested that she might not want to look in the mirror when she got dressed. Then I left the bathroom and went into the bedroom to call the neurosurgeonʼs office. As I spoke to the doctorʼs office, I felt disorientated, like someone punched me in the stomach.
Returning back to the bathroom, I found Johanna examining the wound as she put on her lipstick. I almost fell over. She caught my look in the mirror as she shrugged her shoulders and said, “I have to put on my lipstick”. The words I have uttered for so many years came to mind in that moment. “When I grow up, I want to be just like you”.
We were still in Chicago, visiting the CCM3 Clinic. Thankfully the office agreed to see us and bandage Johannaʼs head so we could fly home the next morning. The doctor confirmed the bone was exposed and dressed the wound so we could get on a plane. The next morning we flew into Islip. I picked up my car at the airport and drove to the ER at NYU. They admitted Johanna and scheduled her for surgery the next day to repair the wound and cover the skull with synthetic skin. While Jo was in surgery, I walked to the chapel near the hospital. I felt the impact of what had happened in the past 48 hours. Then I thought of how many times Johanna had surgery in the past year and how difficult it was for her wounds to heal. The shock I was feeling paled in comparison to the wounds my daughter has endured.
The next morning I woke to a group of young doctors standing in the room. Exhausted from traveling half way across the U.S. into the operating room, Johanna and I slept in till 6 a.m. Imagine that. The doctors discussed Johannaʼs wound and what they did to repair it. They also told us that the cultures revealed some bacteria that needed to be identified and treated so the wounds could heal properly. Somewhere in the dawn of that day, I began drawing comparisons between the healing wounds on Johannaʼs head and the healing of the human heart.
All of us have wounds in our hearts that refuse to heal. Like an infected scab that festers and fails to protect our deeper parts, wounds of fear, unforgiveness and judgment need to be cleaned out and restored through the power of forgiveness and love. If we try to ignore the wounds, even a minor conflict, like the pulsations of hot shower on a scab, may cause the wounds to reopen.
It took disease specialists three days to clearly identify the bacteria infecting this wound on Joʼs head. Thankfully it responds well to an IV antibiotic that I can administer at home. Her head is bound in a tight compression dressing in hopes that the wound will heal and new skin will begin to grow. As we drove home, Jo and I blasted Taylor Swift and sang out loud as we danced in our seats. While I drove and we sang, I glanced over at Johanna and noticed how beautiful she was with her sparkling blue eyes peering out from the tight head covering that was holding this compression dressing in place. I admired her brave and resilient disposition and found myself praying that I could be so brave in the face of my own wounds. I thought of how I had tried to protect her from seeing the opening to her skull and how I found her examining it in the mirror. Then, after she examined it, she put her lipstick on to get ready for the day, while I nearly fainted.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent and that means that there is only three more weeks to Easter! Hopefully it will be spring by then! I didnʼt give anything up this Lent. I decided I was going to spend these days being attentive to my own heart and work on forgiveness. Little did I know Iʼd be offered a real-life example. What Johanna has done in the natural, I am going to let God do with my own heart.
I am going to see what the Holy Spirit is uncovering beneath the wounds in my heart. Iʼll spend a little more time with the Lord in Mass and daily prayer and let His love clean out the wounds. I will repent of my sins and receive the Lordʼs forgiveness as the healing balm for my wounds.
And when I find myself afraid to look at the wounds that become exposed, I am going to think of Johanna, attentively gazing in the mirror at the gaping wound in her head. I will look at my heart a little closer and if it gets too hard to handle, Iʼll just put on my lipstick and smile.
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at FreeIndeedFreelance.com.