A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Hospital (What I Learned From Temporary Blindness Last Weekend)

November 6, 2013

This last weekend, Sunday afternoon, I had a medical emergency.images

I was home alone, my wife out on a walk with the dogs at the park.

When suddenly, I could not see.

Now, I wasn’t stricken blind like Paul.  I could see…sort of.  But my eyesight was suddenly obscured with blind spots and auras.  The world looked like a broken mirror.  As I struggled to read WebMD (obviously, the first and most reliable course of action in any medical emergency), I realized just how severe the problem was.  I could not make out more than fragments of words and I was beginning to be overtaken by a headache.

I called my brother, a nurse, who told me that I should immediately call 911.  Now, I’ve never called 911 for myself, so this understandably made me more panicked.

The afternoon was filled with my first ambulance ride, my first CT scan, and the first time I have ever been scared that I was having a stroke.  The episode lasted a couple of hours and then went away, as inexplicably as it had arrived.

The doctor had no answer, other than that I did not have a stroke.  I chalk it up to stress, a “quasi-stroke.”  In talking with others, I learned that I’m not the first person to experience something like this.

While being transported by ambulance and laying in my first ER bed, and contemplating the possibility that I might be having a catastrophic event happening to me, I thought about these few things: about life, about suffering and about what I think of God.

“I Can’t Be a Blind Art Teacher”

It is amazing how little we think of our bodies, until they decide to malfunction.  On the ambulance ride, I thought about all the things I would not be able to do if this episode proved to be permanent.  Among all the things I feared, my livelihood was near the top of the list.  How could I go on teaching if my eyesight suddenly deteriorated so severely?

It strikes me how careful we are in our culture.  We want to protect ourselves from so many things.  We want insulation and safety (or at least the illusion of safety).  I think we are in an odd place where we are afraid of a lot of things we do not need to be afraid of.  But at the same time, our lives are more fragile and precarious than we want to think. No one honestly believes that one day they’ll wake up and have a heart attack, or a sudden case of partial blindness.

What Now, God?

I had a close call, but ultimately what happened was just an anomaly.  It scared me, but did not scar me.

But what if it had not just been a close call, but a real, life-changing event?  What if God suddenly struck me blind?  I have read the Bible over and over.  I have read all the thick books with detailed theological explanation of why we suffer.  I have read the book of Job.

But would I really be able to forgive God and move on if He suddenly took something truly precious away from me?

In my thirty years, I have struggled, but I have not experienced truly profound, life-changing loss.  But eventually, I will.  I will lose some of my faculties.  Or I will lose someone very close to me.  Something that I hold dear will be taken.

And in some way, that really is the biggest theme of life, isn’t it?  Learning to let go of things.  Eventually, life becomes kind of like a garage sale, and our lives are parceled out, bit by bit.  How we learn to deal with those losses gracefully, be they temporary or permanent, is such a monumental test or testament to our faith and character.

Suffering, Not Safety Adds Empathy

For a long time, I did not want to get older.  In my mid-twenties, I wished I could just stay.  Now that I am thirty, I actually wish I would start getting a little bit of gray hair, so people would know I have some modicum of life experience. (Because that’s what people think of men with a bit of gray hair.)

But in reality, it is not our hair or wrinkles, or our resumes, Instagram feeds, or world travels that connect us to people with true empathy.  It is how we have suffered that offers the strongest, most instant bond between two people.  It is that bond that says “I get it,”  “I know what you are going through,”  “I am here for you.” 

And so while suffering always feels like a loss, perhaps if we are willing to look, we can see what suffering adds to us.

I know, I’m still just a know-nothing thirty-year-old who’s barely been touched by suffering.  I still have a long way to go.  So help me out.  Tell me what suffering has added to your life.  How has it made you the person you are today?

11 responses to A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Hospital (What I Learned From Temporary Blindness Last Weekend)

  1. Matt, that is so scary! Glad to hear everything turned out okay, but did the docs give you any idea of what really happened? Don’t have any words of wisdom to add about suffering at the moment, but wanted to say I’m glad you’re okay.
    Lucie recently posted..What If There’s No Harvest?

  2. Damn. Losing my sight would be devastating as a musician…sure I could hear, but I could never read music again. That must have been horrifying.

    The suffering I have experienced with the slow death of my grandmother, whom I was very close to, has added much to my life. I learned to accept death and I realized that out of all the women in the world that I could model myself after, I wanted to live out all of the lessons she taught me because that is what her memory deserves. I learned to cope with grief logically and to comfort myself. I learned to trust in God’s plan. And though I am sad she is gone, I also learned to be glad that she is alive *now*, because when she was here, she was suffering so greatly that she felt as good as dead.

  3. The suffering I have gone through has taught me that God can be trusted, no matter what. It has made me more patient and more empathetic. I appreciate what I do have much more.
    Fred recently posted..Weekend Wanderings

  4. I need to do a blog post one day about suffering. One of my recent ones was about adversity, which at times can be the same. Without retyping the whole thing here I’ll say, my life hasn’t exactly been easy, but it hasn’t exactly been hard either. For me I think the suffering was most apparent, as it is for most people, in high school. Long story short I was essentially treated like a second-class human being there and while it really sucked in the moment. I can see now how it’s made me who I am.

    We choose what happens after suffering. Whether it affects us or defines us. It’s said that the greatest sermon in the world is looking into someones eyes and saying, “me too”. Thanks for the thoughts Matt!

  5. I had a detached retina in one eye. Because the original tear turned out to be a few small tears they were hard to see and were over looked. It wasn’t until it got much worse that they decided I did indeed have a problem.

    I can see with that eye. It is lopsided but I keep saying it is better than being blind. It is not the sort of thing that makes it easier being a visual artist.

    I am glad that you are feeling better. I also pray that you find out what happened so that you can take steps to avoid it in the future.

  6. I’m glad your sight is back to normal, how scary. I had a mini scare this week when my daughter fell and punctured her forehead on a piece of furniture – blood everywhere. We went to the ER and she had a ct scan too. She’s fine and everything s ok. Suffering has strengthened my faith. When I became a parent, life got hard, so hard. I had no place to turn, but up. I had daily battles and then depression. Looking back, I wouldn’t want to experience that again, but I see how God had to take me through something like that for me to really be able to see Him work and to see His glory. Only He could bring me through that.
    Kate Hall recently posted..I Got High on a Bag of Kit-Kats…and other stuff I did this week (Stick a Cork It! #37)

  7. So glad to hear you’re not blind.

    A little over 7 years ago we were in a near fatal car accident (you may remember my blog about it). Initially I had nerve damage to my legs and wasn’t sure if I’d walk again at first.

    As an active guy and newly married husband I was devastated at the thought of needing crutches or a wheelchair for the rest of my life.

    It reminded me to be thankful for every step and to have compassion for those who can’t get around on their own.
    ThatGuyKC recently posted..2013 Resurgence Conference Recaps #R13

  8. Great spiritual point…but here’s my medical feedback (from a non-medical guy).

    A few years ago I had what my eye doctor called “ocular migraines.” No headache, but very strange blotchy vision for a period of time. I was spending even more time than usual on the computer at work AND at home AND I needed new glasses.

    Freaky, but aided by resting my eyes and getting new glasses. Just a thought.
    JT Adamson recently posted..Chesterton says: Lighten Up!

  9. sounds scary. I’m glad it was all temporary. suffering is valuable. we never grow outside of suffering. whether it is the pain we feel when we force ourselves to study while everybody else is having fun. or the pain we feel when we say no to one thing so that we can do something else. if the condition had remained, and I am glad it didn’t, it would suck today. But someday, you would look back and realize what you learned and how you grew.
    Jeremy Statton recently posted..Take a Knee

  10. Matt, I’m glad you are okay. Those scares to seem shake us awake and remind us what is important. This so so true…”And so while suffering always feels like a loss, perhaps if we are willing to look, we can see what suffering adds to us” I’ve experienced a good deal of loss and God has redeemed those losses in the most beautiful way.
    Eileen recently posted..When We Settle for the Pool

  11. First off, I’m glad you’re OK and that it’s not a permanent vision loss.

    And I can completely back you that it’s suffering that helps develop empathy and adds to your life.

    In my case, it’s added my conviction in the truth of God and His power to transform anyone through any circumstance. It’s also grounded me further in the truth of His word and that what He says, even when/if it contradicts with worldly opinions and thus draws scorn, is significantly better than anything else.