Wanted: A Healing Handbook



When I was young, I enjoyed reading the Boy Scout Handbook. You could always find something useful there: things like how to tie a bowline on a bight, or what type of clouds predict thunderstorms, or the precise thirteen steps required to fold a flag properly. What I need now is some answers that aren’t in any handbook that I’ve ever come across: how to get better when your body doesn’t seem to have a clue. What I need is a manual that hasn’t been written yet: The Old Scout’s Healing Handbook.

This is a strange moment for me. After ten months of dealing with colo-rectal cancer, I’m thinking it’s time for me to be well again. I long to get better, but my body seems unable to do one simple thing, and that is to heal. But healing’s not all that simple for me now. For seventy-two-odd years, healing was a straightforward project for my well-functioning body: a little patience, a little rest and I’d be sure to be back on my feet. Not any more.

Although it’s been nine weeks since my last chemotherapy treatment, in all that time I feel like I’ve made little or no progress toward restoring my heath. I just don’t know what it’s going to take for me to get well. Throughout this illness I’ve experienced a good deal of pain. That, at least, I’ve pretty much learned how to handle. But this low-level, grinding malaise that depletes my strength and saps my spirit remains a complete enigma. 

“Listen to your body,” people tell me, and God knows, I’ve tried. It’s like listening to a little-known, inscrutable symphony whose complexities are beyond my understanding. This once-dependable body is not giving up its secrets any more and I no longer trust my too-dull instincts to show me the way through. These days, every day is different and totally unpredictable. I never know whether I’ll be up or down.  I remember visiting elderly parishioners as a young pastor. Whenever I’d ask how they were doing, they’d inevitably say, “Well, I have good days and bad days.” I recall vowing to myself then that I would never personally use that overworked phrase, but here I am owning it as probably the most accurate description of how I really am doing these days!

The big issue is that everything is on hold until a fistula heals. Fistula, which is the word for “pipe” in Latin, is the medical term for an abnormal connection that exists between my colon and an abscess in my sacrum, the ‘holy bone,’ as it’s called. This unholy, once-infected passageway was discovered on Christmas Eve last year and here we are now in September, still trying to get it to heal up. Meanwhile I have undergone thirteen CT scans, endured five successive drains inserted into my backside, and acquired two other reversible appliances in this all-out campaign to get me to heal. The result is that I now have near-constant fatigue, receding strength and a sense of making very little, if any, progress toward getting better. On any given day, I’m unsure whether to rest, to exercise, or to do both. Yesterday I walked three miles; today, I can’t manage getting out at all.  

The truth is that most days I feel chronically weak and only sporadically energized. I don’t think that I’m any better today than I was two or three weeks ago.  Chemo-induced neuropathy, usually in my feet and hands, sometimes spreads all over my body, making me want to jump out of my skin. I just wish I had a manual that would tell me how to handle all this while showing me the quickest way back to health and vitality. Instead, I’m stuck with a body I hardly recognize, that’s full of inscrutable needs and that functions, (or malfunctions), in entirely unpredictable ways.  

What will it take to see me through? Maybe it’s just a matter of time and patience plus a positive outlook. Or perhaps things are growing more difficult because I’m now inside the ten yard-line where the going gets tougher the closer you get to the goal-line. Could it be something physical? Am I following faulty medical advice? Do I need what would be, not a second, but actually a fourth medical opinion? Is it something I lack? Greater faith? Deeper trust? Will it finally be up to me to write the user’s manual for this body that’s stuck between ill health and healing?

People never stop asking me kindly how I’m feeling these days. To be perfectly honest, I’m thinking of telling them that just now I feel like an overgrown boy scout without the right handbook who’s struggling with a once-reliable body that seems to have forgotten how to heal.

6 Thoughts on “Wanted: A Healing Handbook

  1. BobBuntrock on September 5, 2018 at 7:44 am said:

    Hang in there, Ed, you will heal.

  2. Dianne Allen-Pierce on September 5, 2018 at 9:31 am said:

    Edward, You continue to be in our prayers. Dianne and Don

  3. Bettina on September 5, 2018 at 9:40 am said:

    Good morning, Edward. Just read your missive. ARGH!!!! Hope is a thing, expectation a completely other thing. Expectation comes from a three mile walk, then the next day, as you say, disappointment. You have embraced the mystery of faith, this very real and present “thing” is certainly a Mystery. Embraced sometimes, Struugled with at other times. It will not be predictable. Sometimes it fosters hope, sometimes it just kicks you down, hard. I am so sorry you have been in this difficult and unpredictable relationship with this mystery for so long. We really only know the exterior facade of our bodies. What goes on every day inside is a mystery. And that doesn’t even consider the other very complex creature, our brains and emotions! Nothing about this is fun. I am so impressed by your tenacity, hard fought faith and belief system and your honesty. It is exhausting……..and then you walk three miles! I hope to see you in the next few weeks. Bettina

  4. Julie P. Nicholson on September 5, 2018 at 10:21 am said:

    Good Morning, Edward, You have no idea how my heart leaps up every time I see an Essay from Johnson’s Point! So my thoughts today are that though your body may be failing, your soul is expanding . We are two different entities – soul and body . Of the two, the soul is far more important, and perhaps it is the wilting body that is showing the soul the new heights to which it should aspire.

  5. Philip M. Howe on September 5, 2018 at 1:28 pm said:

    Ed, What a challenge. Your insight, sharing your frustration, pain and disappointment is your writing for us, your readers, the Handbook you seek.
    Thank you so much.

  6. Bless you today, Edward, so powerful in the vulnerability of it all. . . .Maybe you’re writing that handbook with your life. I know that when I was battling fatigue every day for two and a half years during prostate cancer treatments, all I could do is listen to prayerful music as I lay on the couch or the radiation table, and pray the mantra, “burn away everything that is not love”. That’s about all I could do, to start from nothing and nowhere and be grateful for every little “something” that arose. It’s hard. Love and blessings to you in each moment.

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