Donna Weston, Founder and Executive Director
Collateral Beauty – the Gifts in the Midst of Pain
Isn’t it astounding what life can sometimes throw at you? You think you have gotten a rhythm down. Sure, life is still complicated, but you think you know what to expect, what is considered within the range of your “normal”. Then comes the “curve ball”!
Our “normal” for our son Ryan’s medical issues have been mostly centered around his heart. (To learn more about our story go here). So, imagine our surprise, when, at 5:30 am one Monday morning not too long ago, we find out that Ryan had a mass in his brain!
There is a movie coming out this month called Collateral Beauty. I have not yet seen the movie, so am not endorsing it; but, the title caught my attention. So often, when awful things happen, we notice the collateral damage – unintended harm that is done to individuals or property as the result of a catastrophic event. But what about collateral beauty – the unintended gifts inside the pain?
So, as we are waiting in our local hospital’s Neuro ICU for a transfer to a larger medical facility that can handle Ryan’s level of complexity, he and I go for a walk down the corridor. We are having to walk arm in arm (collateral beauty #1) as the mass is causing pressure in his brain which is affecting his vision, making him unsure where items are in space…or even where the floor is. He then starts to imitate Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks (collateral beauty #2). I will never forget the smiles and giggles of the nurses as they watched this young man with a mass growing inside his brain acting so silly and with such apparent joy of life (collateral beauty #3).
It got worse before it started to get better. The pain in his head grew as the mass increased in size and the swelling increased, with us waiting for days for a bed to open up in the larger, better equipped hospital. The pain continued after the neurosurgeon drained what turned out to be a massive abscess in the parietal lobe of his brain. The swelling actually continued for days in response to the trauma of surgery. Then there was the painful insertion of a PICC (intravenous) line in his arm to make possible the weeks of IV medications that would be necessary.
While Ryan was being treated in the hospital post-surgery, I met another mother with her son in Neuro ICU. He had a broken neck from a car accident caused by his twin brother falling asleep at the wheel; a tragedy in multiple dimensions. When I told Ryan about my encounter with the mom, he expressed tremendous compassion for this suffering family. Oblivious to his own trauma, he insisted that the next time I saw her I needed to pray for her out loud because “it would make her feel better” (collateral beauty #4). He got out of the hospital late the Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving (collateral beauty #5). Though dealing with a PICC line and staples in his head, Ryan went to church that Sunday with a big grin on his face, just happy to be there and enjoying being with others (collateral beauty #6). He is the most resilient person I know (collateral beauty #7)!
Each one of these collateral beauties were gifts in the midst of the pain and difficulty. Other gifts: a neighbor who took care of our dogs, friends who brought me lunch as well as their companionship at the hospital, regular communication from those concerned with Ryan’s progress, and a completely cooked Thanksgiving meal provided by good friends and co-workers at Discovery Therapies. That last gift took me off guard. It was the day before Thanksgiving. We were home from the hospital and I was in the midst of trying to coordinate meal preparations, Ryan’s new medicine regimen, and settling back in at home after being gone for several days with Ryan. It was a kindness that triggered the reality of what I had just been through and that I didn’t need to continue being strong and do, do, do. It gave me the moment I needed to grieve before I had to be “on” again to give Ryan his next IV antibiotic.
I know that there were even more incidences of collateral beauty, just as there continues to be more today. What I want to leave you with is a quote from the Collateral Beauty trailer: “Just be careful to notice the collateral beauty. It is the profound connection to everything” - life, love, and joy in the midst of the chaos. Have a blessed Christmas season…and look for the collateral beauty.
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