Sunday, February 27, 2011

Not Feelin' It

My grandma has lived with us since she had a stroke about three and a half years ago. Over that time, her ability to function has drastically declined; she has been diagnosed with more strokes as well as vascular dementia (similar to Alzheimer's).

This condition has completely altered her personality, compromised her ability to reason and think, and made her unable to deal with basic daily tasks such as the toilet and bathing. At this point, she requires 24-hour care and supervision so that she does not accidentally hurt herself or others.

Today I spent the afternoon and evening with her. She was having hallucinations the entire time, but she talked about them to me as if they were very real. Among other things, she saw a dog, a girl, a baby (behind her pillows), two mice in her bed, needles, water on the floor, threads, and her sister from out-of-state.

Every time she would reach for something that wasn't there or ask a question about an invisible visitor, I responded by telling her that these things weren't real. She knows that she has had a stroke, and so I explained over and over that she was having some trouble with seeing things that weren't there and that she was safe from mice and whatever else she was concerned about.

I thought this would calm her, but she continued unfazed, often telling me I was wrong. My words of comfort and reason meant nothing.

Grandma: Is it raining? (holding her hand up to feel for water)
Me: No, we're inside.
Grandma: Yes, I know, but do you feel rain?

Grandma: Is the little girl ok?
Me: There's no little girl. There's no one here.
Grandma: Yes, that's right, only you and me.
Me: Right.
Grandma: I think I should check on the little girl.

These conversations can become very sad and difficult because there is no communication happening. She refuses to believe that what she perceives could be faulty.

While I was watching her pursue investigations into people whom I assured her were not there, I was struck by the thought that it's human nature to trust what we see and feel over all else - even testimony of the truth.

In times of darkness, when I feel so alone and don't sense or see God moving, it's very easy to rely on my own perceptions as reality. I can often be overcome by the feeling that there is no end to our trials, that no one will ever understand, even that God doesn't care. And I can start to lean into that, even in the face of scripture that refutes me entirely. How many of us trust our own feelings and experiences over what we read in the Bible?

If I think about my experiences with my grandma, I can recall the many times I've lovingly tried to calm and correct her by exposing the deception of her hallucinations and revealing to her the truth of reality. I have been rejected repeatedly as she persists in trusting her feelings over my testimony of the facts.

It is convicting to me that during times of darkness when I read God's Word, I must trust in what it says above all else and not let my heart or my eyes lead me astray. The world is full of deceptive messages, false claims, hollow philosophies, and circumstances that are confusing. My heart is full of wrong ideas, flawed logic, misguided justifications, and the insidious influences of human sin. The only way to get through this dark time is to trust the light of the only pure truth there is in this world, the Bible.

When I look to the Bible, I see example after example of people in dark and hopeless trials - Abraham who had no child, Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers and landed in prison for a crime he didn't commit , Esther who risked her life to approach the king and save her people from mass murder, Ruth who lost her husband and followed her mother-in-law in poverty, Job who lost it all but refused to curse God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who were about to be burned alive for their faith but held firm...

These people all had no reason to feel hopeful, but against all hope they believed God and were not put to shame. It is to our great advantage in the darkness not to trust our own flawed sense of reality to guide our choices. Doing that is like relying on a broken compass in order to get us to our destination. Instead, we must trust in the Word of God above all else, like a lighthouse that is shining our way safely home.

"Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who wait for me shall not be put to shame."
Isaiah 49:23

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Living Better with Dysautonomia (Help #4: Compression)

Help #4: Compression Stockings

POTS affects blood flow. Because my body does not respond properly to gravity, blood that should be circulated into my head ends up pooled in my legs and abdomen when I am upright. This leaves me feeling lightheaded with a rapid heart rate and low blood pressure - perfect ingredients to feel faint and ill. When I put on compression hose, the stockings squeeze the vessels in my legs to keep blood from settling there. This increases my ability to stand and sit up and helps get more blood/oxygen where it's needed most - my head!

Never fear! You won't look (too) weird in these. :) When covered by pants and socks, they are hardly noticeable.

The best part about compression stockings is that they are constantly working. Unlike medication that has to be taken on time and can wear off, these stretchy socks remain tight and effective for as long as I need to be upright.

Summertime used to make me hesitate to use compression hose. For one thing, I wanted to wear sandals, and for another, I didn't want to feel too hot. But without compression, I found that my ability to stand with minimal symptoms was severely limited. Support stockings are worth the sacrifice to remain vertical. I have invested in lightweight crop pants and a cute pair of closed-toe summer flats that look just as nice as sandals; these enable me to wear my compression hose inconspicuously even in warm weather. Another alternative is to purchase open-toe stockings.

For special occasions like a party, I like to switch from the knee-high to the full-length hose. That extra support on my upper legs and abdomen is noticeable and helps me to remain more clear-headed when trying to keep up with conversation. I won't lie and say that the full-length are easy to put on, but once the wrestling is over, it's well worth the sacrifice to have that extra boost to my blood flow all day.

Now, the main questions I had when first buying compression hose are:
"what brand?"
"what strength?"
"where to buy?"

  • My preferred brand is Jobst. (comfortable and hold up very well)
  • My doctor recommended 15-20 mmHg strength for me. (could be different for you!)
  • My preferred store is

BrightLife offers a variety of brands at different prices and allows you to try on and return stockings that don't fit. Through their site, I found athletic knee-high socks which are a nice change of pace from the pantyhose version. I was also able to try two brands of full-length stockings to determine which sheer style worked best for me.

Ideally, it's good to replace your stockings every 4 to 6 months (since they get stretched out), but I've found that with good care and rotation of multiple pairs, I can use them longer, understanding that my older socks aren't quite as effective as my newer ones.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What's the use of praying?

Here is a funny story I heard on Friday:

there was a teenage girl in the dentist office yesterday
she was waiting with her mom, texting like crazy
and her mom's phone beeped
and her mom ignored it
and she's like "moooooooom. You got a text"
and she's like "well I'll get it in a bit, it's probably not urgent"
and the girl said "MOM, when you get a text, it's ALWAYS URGENT"

There is a false sense of urgency when it comes to communicating with technology today. It used to be that when you left the house, no one could reach you until you came home. Voicemail, email, instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook, and texting have changed all that. As I think about how quickly I respond when my phone beeps, it makes me consider how my expectation of instant feedback influences my perception of prayer.

The new pastor at my church once compared praying continuously to God to texting regularly throughout the day. It's an interesting comparison to be sure, but do we need God to respond immediately for us to feel he's heard us? What happens when God makes us wait for our answers? Do we slow down sending our messages or give up altogether?

I have always been taught that a regular prayer life is essential to following Christ, but I have struggled at times with keeping a dialogue going with someone who doesn't audibly speak back. During times of darkness and suffering, praying becomes even harder for me. Not only am I not hearing anything, but the stakes are much higher. I'm not asking for nice weather on a vacation or a convenient parking spot. Requests made of God during suffering are serious and, in my opinion, urgent.

This past week was an especially difficult one for me. I had come to the point where I felt like my prayers did not matter, my opinions and feelings disregarded, my messages to God pushed aside. It was as if I had inwardly given up on the power of prayer, going through the motions but feeling defeated before I began. This inward sense of halfhearted begging seemed insurmountable to me until I read about David's prayers for his firstborn son with Bathsheba.

God had already told David through a prophet that his son, the product of an adulterous affair, would die. David, repenting of the affair and of murdering Bathsheba's husband, prayed to God to spare his son's life. He didn't just bow his head and ask quietly. He fasted, wept, and threw himself on the ground in complete desperation. Why did he bother when God had already spoken? After his son died, David explained that while his son was still alive, he thought there was a chance God could relent and spare the child.

The Bible study I'm doing caused me to stop and think about the boldness of that prayer. David had committed the sins of adultery and murder. He was obviously in the wrong and had not repented on his own for many months. God finally confronted him, showed him mercy by sparing his own life and his kingdom, and still David prayed for more mercy. As it turned out, God did indeed give David blessing through another son born to Bathsheba - the future King Solomon.

If I had been David, I think I would have simply grieved the inevitable. God had spoken. Who am I to try to ask for more? To try to avoid my consequences? This is how I pray now - as if the Lord has spoken and I am a passive object with no say in the matter.

The study notes pointed out that we all should pray passionately as David prayed.

  • "Through David's crisis, he was reminded of all he knew of God's ways. David did not plead with God out of ignorance or naivete, but out of his intimate knowledge of God. God does indeed hear our prayers and reserves the right to relent if the change does not compromise an eternal necessity."

For proof, I was guided to look up the story of Moses interceding for Israel in Exodus 33:3, 15-17 as well as Hezekiah pleading for God to extend his life when he was about to die in Isaiah 38:1-5.

These stories of God responding to human prayers gave me renewed strength to pray. This time, I am praying with boldness and expect to be heard and for God to respond. Maybe he won't respond as quickly as I feel he should or in the ways that might seem most obvious, but I'm newly motivated when I read that God's heart is moved to action by faithful, fervent prayers.

The study went on to summarize:
  • "David knew something about his God that we need to realize as well. God did not create man in His own image to be unaffected by him. More than any other creature, we are products not of His head, but of His heart. Numerous times in Scripture God responds to the needs of His people with the words, "I have heard your cry."

If you have run out of steam in your prayer life and feel that God is ignoring your urgent messages to him, don't fall for the lie that your prayers aren't making a difference. Jesus encourages us to be persistent in our prayers - to always pray and not give up.

And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.
Luke 18:7-8

Monday, February 7, 2011

Living Better with Dysautonomia (Help #3: Water)

Help #3: Water

It's very important to stay hydrated when dealing with POTS/dysautonomia. When you struggle with low blood pressure and high heart rate like I do, having water on hand constantly is essential.

Why drink smartwater? Smartwater is purified water and contains electrolytes - potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Granted, the small amounts of these electrolytes aren't going to replenish the body like a sports drink. However, smartwater contains no sugar or dye, has a fresh, clean taste, and is vapor distilled to eliminate contaminants that are found in tap water.

Personally, if I am going to have to drink water constantly, I want it to be safe and to taste good. I also want it to be easily portable. I take these bottles with me everywhere. Since the environment is a concern, it's important to note that the bottles are recyclable and reusable.

I've been drinking smartwater since my doctor recommended it years ago, and it has definitely been worth the investment (about $1 per liter) in terms of taste, portability, and health benefits.