Surviving the Unexpected

“Though the human body is born complete in one moment, the birth of the human heart is an ongoing process. It is being birthed in every experience of your life. Everything that happens to you has the potential to deepen you. It brings to birth within you new territories of the heart.”

John O’Donohue, A Journey of the Heart

It started Friday morning when I discovered a curious round red rash on my upper abdomen. It wasn’t painful or itchy. “Hm,” I thought, “I’ll have to keep an eye on that.” I went about my day as if everything were normal.

Things were not normal, though. Saturday morning there was another smaller rash and some mild discomfort. A trip to the ER confirmed it…I had shingles! What????

I’d been thrown off by the fact that there hadn’t been the excruciating nerve pain that was shingles 8 years ago. A shot on the first day had taken care of everything that same day.

There was also the reality that two years ago, I’d had the miracle Shingrix vaccine which is 90% worth of protection for us old folks. I’d had no qualms about taking the two shots. I remembered that excruciating pain and was not about to take any chances.

When I got home with my new horse pills for the shingles themselves, I had time to process this latest assault to my poor body, “born complete in one moment.” I would usually cry pathetic tears in this kind of situation, overcome by the injustice of it all and by the fear of what this, now, would become. But I was just plain mad.

I had a short, expletive-laden talk with Life and settled in for the journey ahead. I was so straightforward and matter-of-fact that I was surprised by my sudden acceptance of what had befallen me. That’s not like me.

“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”

John O’Donohue, “A Journey of the Heart”

When you have made it through a journey with cancer, the river is not really so surprising any more. Perhaps that is why my dismay fell so quickly into acceptance. I have made it through before, and I’ll make it through again.

“It is what it is,” was my father’s favorite saying late in his life. I’ve adopted the grace of its truth.

So I’ve got my medication chart on the counter to keep track of when I take each pill: there are 5 kinds! One of them makes me really sleepy, so I have to do battle with that so I don’t sleep the day away. I survived all the cancer pills; I can do this one, too. This is my work now for a while.

The pain is not excruciating, but it is considerable without medication, and so far it has not abated. I may be one of those for whom it does not go away – who has PHN, Postherpetic Neuralgia. It is what it is.

“Okay, Martha, let’s make this a great day!” is my mantra as I get up in the morning. Simple, but it’s working!

“Nothing seemed certain any more. Before 9/11 we’d fallen, as people always do, into merely living. But 9/11 reminded us, as death always does, that life must not be taken for granted. By 9/12 we were remembering what life was for again.”

Mitch Teemley, in his incredible blog on September 9, 2021

Life is for living. For living fully. Including all of the surprises that kick us in the shins. Joy and grace and hope and a faithful endurance are all there for the taking. They are all a part of the surprise of the unfolding river of life. Bringing new birth and a deepening of the heart. I do not intend to take it for granted. The Spirit has never deserted me, and I can feel that sacred strength as part of the river of life as it is right now.

And I am very okay with that.

17 thoughts on “Surviving the Unexpected

  1. I’ve been putting off getting my shingles vaccination, just because of all we’re dealing with in coping with my husband’s cancer treatment. But now that he’s had a clear scan (yea!), it is time for me to put on my big girl panties and go get the shots. That being said, I’m SO sorry that you have shingles again….after getting the shots…and after all you’ve dealt with in the past year. This is unfair, anyway you look at it, and you’re entitled to rage a bit. Still I’m glad that you’ve made peace with the situation and sincerely hope that the medication keeps the pain at bay!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First – hurrah for your husband’s “all clear”!!! I’m so happy for you both! Then next – oh, yes, get those shingles shots as soon as you can. Especially your husband. Our compromised immune systems last longer than we might think – thus, my shingles. I was doing really well and congratulating myself for missing the bullet, but last night I had an “event” that required some ibuprofen. So life after cancer can maybe be tricky – I’ve been given the third dose of the COVID vaccine because of it. Best wishes to you both as health problems take a back seat to trees down in your yard and uncooperative business people!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry to hear that you’re dealing with shingles, Martha. Reading your post (and the reference to Mitch’s 9/11 post) brought home once again how I do not take my life for granted. It’s too easily taken away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Liz. The shingles have improved markedly. You have learned the lesson of not taking your life for granted earlier than I, but I’ve got it planted deeply now!!


    1. So we are part of the very large community of the unlucky, I guess. 9/11 was hard enough without being in that kind of pain! Even 20 years doesn’t wipe that memory out, I’m sure. Hoping that it stays a very distant memory for you!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m sorry about the shingles. They can be very nasty. I’ve had two cases, each very different, the second one being very mild as we got meds for them early on. My two cases have been on my head and face.

    My doctor said there was no point in getting the vaccine. I was one of the 40% who would get shingles more than once. The shot wouldn’t make a difference. A second doctor has since agreed with that assessment. You may be in that 40 percentile, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had these twice, but you obviously came through them with flying colors. Lovely to be part of the 40%, isn’t it? Puts us in a special category! I did get started on my medication in time again so that the case would be milder, but this week has still seen some challenging pain. Doing better today, though, so hopefully it’s done its thing.


  4. I am so sorry that you have revisited shingles after the shot. I also had shingles a few years ago and have started the shin Grix shots . Your post really is an eye-opener about this miserable infection. I so enjoyed reading the John O’Donohue Quotes. He is a very comforting writer. Take good care of yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your support, Bernadette. I’m glad to hear you’re taking the shots. Mine didn’t keep me from getting shingles again, but this time it’s been less painful, which is saying a lot. I’ve wondered if my cancer this past winter made me more vulnerable, even though I came through it just fine. I’m glad you enjoyed the John O’Donohue. He is one of my most comforting writers. His book, “To Bless the Space Between Us” is the most beloved, and I draw from it often. It’s a series of poems looking at many phases of life. Just beautiful. Many of them can just be googled.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the O’Donohue title. I was thinking that perhaps the treatment for the cancer may have compromised your immune system. Take good care.


  5. I hope that you feel better with your shingles. I had a bad case a few years ago…I love the image of all that rolling water in a river compared to life. You are so right. As people immersed in faith, we know that God is there with us, come what may. There may be a log up ahead or something we have never seen before, but God is there ahead of us. He guides us through the mighty river of life from start to finish…until we reach our heavenly home and a new journey begins.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I love the analogy of the river, Martha! Your grace and strength are so apparent in your words. Sending great thoughts for quick healing!

    Liked by 1 person

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