It’s hard to go back and read essays I wrote years ago. Before the divorce. Back when I was making dinner and singing songs and baking bread. I shake my head at how naive I was. How sheltered I was. How ridiculous of me to make that much bread. The world as I knew it fell beneath me like a molten floor, and I simply crumpled in the melting.

It’s hard to dig even deeper, to when I was first diagnosed with cancer. When they told me they’d probably take out my eye, and it would ruin a perfectly fine legal career. I’d be filled with radioactivity and wonder every six months whether that melanoma would permeate my liver with death and have to look like a pirate with a patch on a Tuesday. I had needles shoved in my eye to relieve the pressure and later it was filled with oil just to hold up my stupid retina. Imagine, I told my mother. An eyeball filled with oil.

You know what else is hard? To have been strapped down to a table before surgery, because your baby is seven months along and you feel his heart beating strong. To feel his kicks and his little hands and to know you are his sole and undivided protector. And they tell you they have to operate and remove the cataract or your eye will explode but you refuse anesthesia because of him, inside of you, living. So you sweat and you can hardly breathe but for the tube and you are covered in plastic and iodine. “Whatever you do,” the surgeon said, “you cannot move.” “Oh God,” I thought. “Here we go again.”

And oh, my first born. She exploded out of me as a brilliant fire. And yet the staph infection set in, and my gut raged, and I was in and out of being present, and the pain hurt so much I didn’t even feel it anymore. They cracked me open and took out all my organs, and then put them back again, freshly flushed with a saline rinse and Vancomycin. For a month I lay there, turning and searing and begging God to someday let me see my baby. I put my lipstick on despite the raging fevers. I tried to pretend I didn’t feel the stabbing pain of pumping with a ripped-up gut in a delirious drug-induced belief that I’d go home and breastfeed my child. I cracked bad jokes to the nurses, thinking it would earn me freedom.

It’s hard to go back. To take a moment to stare at the burned parts, the ones seared into the fabric of my life. I have not just waded, but tore my boots off and plunged head-first into some very troubled waters. And each time, I asked. “God? Are you there?” All those Bible stories I learned just seemed to fade away. All the times I sat with my gloves on in church on Sunday just seemed like fools gold. Oh, God. I am too young to die like this.

There was no still, small voice. There was no Charlton Heston voice either. There were no words at all. But God spoke straight into me. I was fully loved. He was present. I did not have to handle this. And although I didn’t hear this last part, he was probably also like “take deep breaths” and “so when we are done here let’s not have any more children, K?” and “girl, that bread just goes straight to your hips so for the love of heaven eat more kale.”

Sometimes it’s okay to remember. Because in the hurt you see all the healing that’s taken place over a lifetime. You take note of the way in which it’s formed you. You recognize the power of vision – in hindsight – even with one eye.

You see for the first time how far you’ve really come.




Role Play

It’s no surprise that I went into health law. Being a natural control freak, it has been nice over the past dozen years to be the one in charge. To say to a surgeon, who is so incredibly skilled and calm under pressure, it’s okay. Let me explain how this works. Even though inside, I’m probably laughing a bit, like “this is only a deposition!  If it ends badly, what’s a half-day mediation among friends?” And yet I’m a lawyer, and this is what I know. Surgeons tell me colonoscopies are easy, but you stick me in front of some sleeping guy with a probe, I’d faint on his anesthesia-filled abdomen like a Victorian bride.

I think I’ve worked with doctors long enough to know how to relate to them. They know how to deduce and diagnose and empirically treat.  We lawyers know how to protect and defend and watch over them.  We each play an important role.  And, if my legal knowledge fails to impress a physician, I simply need to sit for an hour listening to their drug-seeking patients explain how they flushed their Norco pills down the toilet by accident while the doctor gets back on schedule.  That wins them over every time.

If you are a drug-seeking patient, by the way, let’s all just agree to come up with more creative stories.  How many times does one actually lean over and inadvertently dump an entire bottle of pills into the toilet?  Pills that are allegedly so vital to your daily survival as a human being?  If this really does happen, you should (1) create some other story that sounds more plausible, maybe one involving aliens; (2) “I left them in my friend’s car in Las Vegas” is never an acceptable substitute; and (3) try to go without your pain medication for a day so you won’t fall asleep or feely loopy while you are learning basic life skills like “hand stability” and “how to open child-safety locks without spraying pills all about the dang place.”   

But whether you’re a doctor or lawyer or rocket scientist, it’s never fun looking at life from the vantage point of a patient.   When I was lying there in a hospital bed in a paper-thin gown so many times, staring at water-stained ceiling tiles, I felt helpless. I hung onto my physician’s every word.  I tried to understand the things they were all collectively telling me, but it all sounded so strange.  You have a detached retina.  You have an unexplainable infection.  Your heart stopped. You have cancer. Those statements were harsh and foreign to my ears.  I wasn’t trained at this.  I was out of my comfort zone. All I saw was a doctor’s mouth moving, throwing my entire world around like balls in the air.  Cataracts and cancer.   Bleeding incisions and scars.  Bouncing up and down, up and down, up and down.  Crazy words I couldn’t control.

Then I realized we are most scared of what we don’t understand. I understand how to be a lawyer.  Pediatricians understand why children get sick.  Surgeons know how to cut. But put a doctor on the witness stand, or try to explain a complex Rule 11 agreement, or why a counter-claim is necessary, and a doctor looks more like a patient who has been told they have a tumor.  What?  Come again?  I’ve not researched that.  I’m not trained in this area.  For this, I am not prepared.  And that’s terrifying.

We all want to feel comfortable.  Some are experts at making an Americano with two raw sugars and a dash of steamed milk.  Others can peel cysts off an ovary with their bare hands.  Others still can argue a case in front of a Federal Judge and an impaneled jury.  But put any one of them in different shoes, and there would be mass hysteria.  Vascular surgeons building houses?  Internists writing contracts? Lawyers fixing air conditioning units?  Unacceptable.  Type A people like us need to be in control.  That’s why we chose a career that only some can attain.  Multiple degrees somehow shield us from failure.   From attack.  From fear.

But to be a child of God, we must strip off the titles.  It doesn’t really matter whether you pour coffee or set broken bones.  God doesn’t give you more points for writing contracts than for fixing sewer lines.  We all simply have a role to play in this world.  Trust me – if a thoracic surgeon is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he is no better off than a gardener or a street sweeper.   Titles nor residency nor a thousand letters of reference matter.  They all just float like dead leaves to the ground.  People crunch atop them on the way to their office buildings and news stands and subway stops.  Student loans and years of education are useless, ready to be bagged up and thrown away, never to be thought of again.

Self-importance has no role to play in a Christian’s life.  We aren’t meant to find our worth in a material world.  Through our titles or careers.   Through our lineage or trust or years of service.  We are simply designed to serve.  To seek God’s truth and wisdom as vigorously as we pursue our degrees, and when we feel that we know enough, realize that we have so much left to learn.  After all – we all have scars, and bleeding incisions, and cancer that invades our purest intentions.  We are all drug-seekers of some kind, although our drug is power and control and feeling too comfortable rather than something we abuse in pill form.

Someday, in the blink of an eye, it will all be over.  On that day, we walk in tandem. The drug seekers.  The doctors.  The lawyers.  The latte makers.  We are all on the same level field, playing a role until the curtain comes down.

lucky one

I remember the marble being such a pretty color, peachy with ribbons of coral running through it.  It was everywhere.  Marble tub.  Marble sink.  Marble floor. “That’s a lot of stinkin marble,” I thought to myself as I was lying there, half-naked, face-down on the floor with a nose that might be broken. I was only sixteen.  When it happened– the familiar burning and surging and cramping in my abdomen– I’d carry pillows with me to the toilet.  I figured that if I passed out, they would break the fall.   It never worked, and I never learned.

Once, after waking up on the floor in a public stall, I simply wiped my face off and headed back to Chemistry class.  My friends in college all freaked out in that dramatic, ohmygodshe’stotallygoingtodie way, as supportive as newly formed friends who share a common dormitory can possibly be.  The doctors never figured out why the pain caused me to pass out.  The neurologist ruled out epilepsy, although according to some probe-strapping test, something was definitely a “bit off” with my brainwaves.  That explains a lot.  But one day, I had a beautiful little girl and I never passed out again.

My life doesn’t exactly follow the odds.  I guess you could say I’m lucky.

▪               Ten years ago, an oncologist told me I had a chunk of melanoma living in my eye socket.  Eye cancer is very rare, as it turns out.  One in a million.  Who knew I’d get to travel to Philadelphia and have surgery in one of America’s oldest cities?  As it turns out, I love cheesesteak and Thomas Jefferson.

▪               When I was in the hospital after the birth of my daughter, first a week and extending to three and then four, undergoing multiple surgeries and stabbing myself with blood-thinner injections, I was told it wasn’t exactly normal.  I tried to put on lipstick to make it all better, but with a four-week-old child at home I’d barely begun to hold, Chanel can only do so much.  Don’t get me wrong – it can do a lot. But there are limits.

▪               Most people don’t pass out after having their wisdom teeth extracted and have CPR performed in the oral surgeon’s office lobby because they had some extreme reaction to Demerol. Lucky for me, they had some sort of anti-Demorol agent locked away someplace they stuck in my arm.  I remember getting to drink juice when I woke up. But then again, I’ve woken up from loads of surgeries, so I might be getting them all confused.

▪               Before the birth of my son, right after the spinal tap was placed and the medicine was slowly crawling through my veins toward the arteries of my heart, it stopped. The monitor would just so naturally flatline, because that’s what luck I have.   But like I arose from the marble floor, so too would my heart begin to beat.  After, of course, the chest compressions, the stabbing of epinephrine, and some other medication that apparently gives you dry mouth.

So it wasn’t all that surprising that our house was struck by lightning.  And instead of killing us or burning our house to the ground, it instead wiped out all our plumbing.  “That’s very rare,” the fireman said.   Yeah.  Welcome to my life.  Things happen to me.  Things that don’t happen to normal people.

I can’t help but think God has some grand scheme behind all of this, like there is some grand point to be made.  In response, I’m actively searching for what that is.  What role I need to play in the universe in return for my good fortune.  I’m open, as they say, to change.

I am truly grateful for the moments in which we are tested.  To see what’s most important.  I am grateful for a faith, true and honest, despite all reason to the contrary.  I am grateful for this body, as battered and broken as my insides might be.  I am grateful that I’m not married to some boring widget of a man, but a man bursting at the seams with heart.  I’m grateful for my children, deep in character and beauty.  I’m grateful that we are living in a rental, with Goodwill furniture and mice in the garage, because we are together. And laughing.  Last night, I fell asleep holding my husband’s hand.  And today, my daughter told me she’d give me hugs and kisses even when love got so sweet it turned rotten.   I’m a lucky, lucky girl.

I think I’m going to buy a lottery ticket.  I’d probably lose.  Just my luck.

scratching and hatching

As it turns out, a scratch on one’s eye does feel like salty glass being scraped across an open wound.  I bet they teach in torture school.  Scratch their eyeballs.  That’ll get ‘em talkin.  Maybe I was just hormonal, using pain, blindness, and random arm-flailing (in order to find light switches) as a feeble excuse for solitude.  Anything is possible, especially since I did spend days in the dark, shunning light like a vampire.

It all started early on a Monday.  I got a call from the day care, informing me that my daughter had head lice.  She needs to be picked up immediately, the teacher said in her best sing-songy voice.  I always interpret that phrase loosely, like “pick her up before the world ends” or “really whenever is convenient in-between your 3 o’clock meeting and nightfall.”  They might not mean it just that way, but I figure the school has band-aids and gauze and are trained to pull out bee stingers.  They can administer Tylenol.  Give ice packs.  Perform CPR.   When you really think about it, they’re way better qualified to handle emergencies than I am.  After all – what else are they going to do with my daughter who is allegedly infested with head lice but stick her in a quarantined colony to play with paper dolls?  That sounds fun.  So I called my husband and said he was on lice duty since I was off to a meeting to train two hundred doctors.  “Is it something you can cancel?” he asks.  Not a chance.  Two words, buddy.  Nit comb.  Embrace it.

Later that night, I was standing next to the bathroom mirror inspecting my own hair.  What if I got it too?  What if I had to treat it, making my hair all nasty and greasy?   What if I didn’t get them all and they start hatching in the middle of a deposition?  We’d have to go off the record while I sprint to the restroom and start smashing the little buggers between my fingers.  I was in the middle of my daydream about hatching lice and freaked-out court reporters when I suddenly feel something in my eye.  My right eye.  The only eye not destroyed by cancer-killing superpower radiation that’s usable for actual vision.  I begin to peel my top eyelid over my bottom eyelid in a frantic effort to remove the foreign body that was apparently boring a hole in my eyeball with a jackhammer.  I tried to tell my husband, but he just ignored me.  I think he was still bitter about the nit comb.

“Oh my gosh, I have something in my eye,” I said.


“No really.  It feels like there are little elves dancing on my eyeball and stabbing me with little daggers.  Fiery poisonous daggers.”

“Dude,” he says.  He flips over in bed and puts the pillow over his head.  “You are so dramatic. Just rinse it with water or something.”

But showering, eye dropping, squeezing, and simply not blinking were all wholly ineffective.  There was a vague sensation of placing my eye directly in the pathway of shredded scrap metal. Finally, at 3 am, I tap gently on my husband’s arm to inform him that perhaps he might want to clear his schedule – senate hearing be damned – since it appears he would be taking me to the eye doctor at dawn. He’s used to me, so he just nods in his sleep like this is completely normal.

The next morning, the doctor tells me it’s nothing to worry about.  Just a scratched cornea.  Better in a few days!  I had a burning desire to let him know about the lice.  To tell him that some little disgusting bug with lots of legs had landed in my eye and buried itself down into my eye-goo to have babies.  Lots and lots of babies. But I didn’t have the nerve.  After all, he was wearing designer jeans under his white coat.   I didn’t figure his kids ever got head lice, so he couldn’t relate.

The next day, I sat around helpless and blind, my eye completely useless.  I could slightly open my gimp good eye and could look only to the right, but every blink still felt like sandpaper.  But I crab-walked around the house while organizing linens and making large labels that said DIAPERS and WIPES like everyone else in the house was also blind and could only read letters the size of sandwiches.  I vacuumed and mopped and did all sorts of really exciting things that could be done while staring aimlessly and vaguely over my right shoulder.

By Friday, I was sick of being home.  I didn’t have lice, which was the highlight of the week, and to this day we wonder if our daughter did either.  I schlepped around in t-shirts, not being able to read cereal boxes or watch television.  I needed to get out.  I needed for my friends to be available for long talks and send me books on tape.  I needed ice cream.  Finally, on Saturday morning, I’d had enough.  I called the emergency line and demanded the retina doctor see me regardless of it being Saturday and regardless of the fact that he was probably at Nordstrom buying more of those jeans.  He obliged.

As it turns out, whatever (icky, disgusting lice bug) was in my eye had promptly caused a massive scab under my eyelid.  Which isn’t that big of a deal unless it’s, say, scraping up and down upon a scratched cornea, making healing impossible and re-injuring the scratch with every.  single.  blink.  “No wonder it isn’t better,” said the doctor.  Note to self.  Don’t go to doctors that wear designer jeans.  Choose those with grey hair and nerdy shoes.  He whips out some scraping device, gets out the scab, and informs that it now actually might heal, which of course is great news.

It does heal, thank the Lord.  I’d be a horrible vampire.

So I had some time to think as I lay around wondering if I needed a seeing-eye dog.  I thought of how close I was to blind.  I thought of how a little tiny scratch can put one, who is normally incredibly active, totally out of commission.  I thought of how I take my eye for granted, like a good friend you just assume is always going to be around when you need them.  I thought of how life-changing it would be to not see my children grow up, or not see the dresses at the Oscars, or miss that sideways glance from my husband at a party that says man, I love you.  I’m so glad you’re mine. 

I felt a little lost, really, like the time I was lying on my back in the hospital after my daughter was born.  After the massive infection that made me so sick I thought I’d die. Or the time I flat-lined on the table after my son’s birth or when I lost consciousness in the oral surgeon’s office.  Or when I heard those dreaded words – you’ve got cancer.  All of those times, I felt I was losing.  All I’d worked for in this life could so easily vanish.   I wanted to win.  To be successful.  And yet at every turn, I was rendered blind so suddenly, I didn’t expect it.

Sometimes, I think of God in human form.  Beaten.  Taunted.  Rendered blind and bleeding, with nails and thorns tearing through his flesh and his body hanging on a ruff-hewn cross.  I’m just a wretch that didn’t deserve saving, with my un-plucked eyebrows and arrogant laugh and one barely-working eye.  But he did save me, and he constantly does, and I’m forever grateful for it.  Maybe I needed to be blind to actually see.  Perhaps God’s grace really is that amazing.

Now, I’m all shiny and happy again.  And I can see, which helps with driving and simmering onions.  But I’m so thankful for the moment in time when I couldn’t.  A moment to realize that all we do individually is really quite worthless, but in God, and through his love, all things truly are possible.

When I look back, I don’t think a lice bug can actually survive in a human eye, although secretly, now that I have a little boy, I was hoping so in order to have a good story to tell my son when he got older.  Oh – your mom has diabetes?  That’s nothing.  My mom was blinded by hatching lice eggs in her eyeball. 


Try topping that one.  I dare you.