Hope for healing
I’m thinking about my good friends, Neil and Emma, a lot today. Wednesday is their second wedding anniversary. Wednesday, Emma undergoes brain surgery.
This is both good news and hard news. It’s good because Emma has suffered from debilitating headaches, loss of concentration, and other concussion-like symptoms for four years now, ever since a wire clothes-lined her off the back of a cattle truck on a mission trip to the remote mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. After the fall that damaged both her head and her shoulder, it was many hours before Emma received quality medical care. For years, doctors have thrown up their hands, not really knowing what to do for her pain, or what was really causing it. Finally, this year, as part of a brain study, specialists identified at least part of the problem. It has an impressive sounding name but, basically, her brain has been stuffed down into the base of her skull like a stopper in a bathtub. It is preventing the needed brain fluids from flowing around it, resulting in her massive and nearly constant headaches. One of the reasons it wasn’t identified earlier is because Emma is a rare case in medical science. Most people who suffer this type of brain injury don’t survive the initial trauma. It is rare to find this condition in someone who is still walking around.
So, the good news is simply that a problem has been identified and there is something that can be done. After four years, there is a glimmer of hope that her pain can be relieved. The hard news is that it requires serious brain surgery. Vertebrae will be cracked and removed. The opening at the bottom of her skull will be routed out to make it larger. And her entire brain will be lifted — she described it as a bit like a face lift, but for your brain. Areas of the brain that aren’t supposed to be exposed to air, will be. The recovery time is estimated at three months.
I met Emma at church soon after I moved to Pittsburgh. At that time, she was a student at Pitt, an avid member of the Oakland Zoo (Pitt basketball cheering section), and a crazy sports fan in general. But she is also what one might call an “old soul.” She has wisdom, maturity, humor, and selflessness that are beyond her years. She had just started her career as a nurse when the accident occurred. She had to give that up. But through it all, Emma never lost a love of life that is contagious. She is a person with a great faith in God and compassion for others. She and her husband Neil have known each other since grade school. They are Pittsburgh through and through.
Emma started a blog as part of her therapy: Em-anating. It’s on my blog list over there. Another portion of her therapy has been running. Doctors thought the endorphins or something might relieve her pain. Part of her blog details how she and her husband are trying to run in a 5K race in all 50 states before the age of 50. Running through the pain has been yet another chore she has endured. In her last post, she describes her condition and procedure better than I have. There are also some wonderful pics of her and Neil. (Like the one above, which I blatantly stole.)
I can only imagine what (beside pain) is going through Emma’s mind today, the day before everything changes. I’m sure that her thoughts are a strange mixture of hope, fear, dread, anticipation, and a resolute determination to get this damn thing over with. Her stalwart husband Neil will be taking over her blog as a way to update people on her surgery and recovery. In the coming months, they are blessed to have tons of family and friends surrounding them and offering support in any way.
But on Wednesday, I guess I’m asking if you would send your prayers, thoughts, wishes, positive vibes, or whatever it is you do, in Emma’s direction. I believe it makes a difference. It’s going to be rough, but there is no one I know who is tougher, more pain-tolerant, or more determined than Emma. In my last Email to her, I adapted a quote from the esteemed Dr. Venkman from Ghostbusters: “See you on the other side,” my friend.