Where Does Strength Come From?

keep goingI’m not sure if you noticed, but last week, no blog from me. I was in the hospital. Semi-not AS related, but come on, everything is AS-related in our bodies. I was MIA or as I like to say in-Kaiser-ated because my immune system allowed an insignificant insurgent bacteria to grow and duplicate and multiply and get way out of hand.
Did it do this because it has been brainwashed to pay attention only to my spine or sacroiliac? Did my immune system miss a red flag when my armpit began to swell, redden and in the course of one day, a tiny boil became a huge abscess because it was so concerned with the laying down of bone in my plantar facii?
Did it really take 5 days in the hospital, 4 kinds of antibiotics and gallons of IV meds to remind my immune system that it needs to fight the cellulitis that had now taken over my right arm?
Get out your Number 2 Pencil and fill in the correct bubble—All of the above.
I found out this last week that the nerve cells in our skin never turn off. That’s why shingles hurts so much, that’s why people who lose a limb have phantom pain, that’s why cellulitis hurts like a humdinger.
Cellulitis hurts so much that doctors offer up morphine without asking. They shoot dilaudid right into your IV when it comes time for wound care…they give you little pills called oxycodone every 4 hours, without missing a beat. These drugs, man they were awesome and for a few days I believed that they gave me strength, strength enough to beat this episode, strength to take on the world, strength enough to semi-levitate around my hospital room.
For a little bit of time, I was okay believing that the meds were the root of my strength, until the morning that we were debating surgery to remove a section of my arm. The concept of surgery meant no food and no meds. No food meant a grumbly belly and no meds meant excruciating pain. Now, let’s be honest, if you have A.S. you know what pain is. You know what deep down pain in your bones feels like, deep in the structure that is responsible for your ability to stand, move, sit and live.
Through my non-scientific study, I have learned that a majority of people I know with A.S. have a high tolerance for pain…perhaps the continual exposure simply raises our bar or maybe it’s just how our bodies react. I don’t have the answers, I just have questions.
So where does strength come from if not in the form of medicine?
So where does strength come from if not in the form of medicine? Does it come with personal willpower? Is it granted to us when we have faith in a higher power? Is it coded into the DNA that builds us into individuals? Is it only present when we are flush with adrenaline? Is it laced into our moral code of honor? Does is come from the web of connections that we have with our loved ones or community? Is it a byproduct of the fibrinogen released by our platelets when they are working to keep us from leaking? I was desperately searching for my Number 2 pencil —I really want to fill in the “All of the above” bubble, but I couldn’t seem to find that options. There is no universal answer to the question, “Where does strength come from?”SometimesIPretend
During my hospital stay, a dear friend told me, “You are so strong.” I nodded. My husband whispered in my ear, “You are the strongest woman I know.” I smiled. A nurse remarked that I was a strong patient. I demurred.
As I lay there on Day 4, I held my good arm out, extended the palm to the ceiling and closed my eyes. I imagined that every red blood cell that passed by my wound, picked up a bit of debris, tucked a small morsel of infection into its donut depression and carried it away from my right arm. The blood cells traveled through my veins until they stopped at the transfer station that I imagined was now in my hand. I conjured the idea that the infectious contents were dumped into a pile, as if I had employed one of my son’s sand toys from years ago. Next, I imagined a kindly nurse, old school in white with one of those nurse caps circa 1962. She used tweezers she stole from the Milton Bradly classic game, Operation to take each fragment of infection away. This visualization, this meditation, this rumination gave me strength. The concept that I could willfully do something about this mess I was in, gave me strength.
For a few moments, I let go of the reality of my situation and imagined myself buoyed in a state of being strong, in the position of having power. I had force enough to remove the infection. I possessed courage and determination. I had some influence over what was happening to me. I had resources to heal myself. I had numbers on my side; 30 trillion red blood cells scooping up infection and dropping it off like crumbs. I had command. I had strength.
This is not the first time that it has been noted that I am strong. For me, strength comes from living my life and learning lessons from the numerous consequences of my actions. I learn from both the positive and negative consequences. Do I have a guardian angel on my shoulder? I doubt it. Has my life’s plan been written in stone, with no chance to use my brittle willpower to make editorial changes? No, that’s not what I believe. Has God guided me through the forest and perils of my life, only to forsake me when I developed Ankylosing Spondylitis? Perhaps, but I am skeptical. Was I born with a keen ability to understand the intricacies personal relations? You betcha. It’s a skillset that I have honed. Does my strength come from the years I have lived and the education, both formal and informal, that I received? Yes, clearly.
Does my strength look like your strength? Nope. We may have similar markers and junctions, but just like our treatment plans or A.S., we are all different. Can my strength be measured against yours? Absolutely not; there is no feasible way to measure the substance of your strength vs the contents of mine. Is it possible to honor the divergent characteristics that lead to your strength? Indeed!
The key to strength is that you honor what works for you. In kind, I honor your strength and the roots from which it grows; the spring from which it has sprung. Maybe it is based on the old Greek myth of Clotho, she’s been busy spinning the thread of your human life. She’s making all the major decisions. Perchance your strength comes from your higher power, knowing that the suffering here on earth will be terminated once you are welcomed to the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps your strength comes from all the elements that make up the universe; you are ethereally connected to all that has come and all that will be. Possibly you are part of the web of interconnectedness; your strength comes because you are part of the divine.
Your strength is your strength. Own it.

One thought on “Where Does Strength Come From?

  1. Carrie Kellenberger says:

    Hi Karen,
    Last week’s ordeal sounds perfectly horrid. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. People tell me I’m strong all the time, but deep down, I don’t think I am. I try to power through things, but too often, pain overwhelms me and I lose it or become completely overwhelmed. I’m sure you know the feeling. Despite this, I still feel that I own my pain, even if I’m deep down in my own little world. I think my strength comes from not liking to lose, but it also goes hand in hand with acceptance of my condition. Feel better soon. Sending love and light from Taiwan.

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