As you start this blog, please be aware that it concerns much more than stories about our physical ailments and the meds we take for those maladies.
Back in 2003, a throbbing pain in my right calf, not caused by injury, prompted a doctor visit. Tests exposed three blood clots in that lower leg. He put me on two medicines: a couple weeks of injections in the stomach, which I gave myself, and three months on a blood-thinning pill. When the clots dissolved, he took me off the medicine. He had initially warned, “Your life may depend on whether you take the medicine consistently.”
Did I miss an injection? Did I treat the blood thinner casually, as if I could take it or leave it? Not on your life! (Or mine!)
Fast forward to the summer of 2014. For six weeks, three symptoms nagged me, the third surfacing in the final week: difficulty getting a deep breath; extreme fatigue; and sharp pains in the left side, at the edge of my ribcage, pains that jabbed like a knife every time I breathed in. I had no idea what was going on. The answer surprised me, since the symptoms were far different than in 2003.
I almost waited too long to go to the emergency room. After a lung scan, the doctor said, “This is extremely critical. You have multiple, large clots in each lung.” He hospitalized me immediately. The emergency room physician didn’t even take the time to count the number of clots he saw on the scan.
He informed me that I’d be taking a blood thinner prescription again, this time for the rest of my life. Within days of returning home, another symptom emerged. I’d get up out of the recliner, walk through the house, and I’d suddenly feel woozy and out of breath. I’d hold onto the wall or kitchen counter for support. You’d think I had just sprinted several hundred yards.
Diagnosis: irregular heartbeat, or “A Fib” (Atrial Fibrillation).
Apparently, this first-ever episode of A Fib was caused by the clots, which the doctor said would take a couple months before totally dissolving. After a cardioversion, an outpatient procedure where you’re put to sleep and your heart is electronically zapped back into regular rhythm, I was given sotalol, and told I’d take it daily for the remainder of my life.
Sotalol helps to regulate heartbeat. Being in an episode of A Fib, even when taking a blood thinner, increases the likelihood of clots forming in the heart and going to the brain, resulting in a stroke. Without taking a blood thinner, the risk of a stroke when you’re on A Fib is about 500% greater than with those who take the blood thinner. The sotalol is simply an additional measure that could be life-saving.
Do I take my blood thinner pill every day? Like clockwork.
Do I take the sotalol daily to minimize the likelihood of my heart scooting out of rhythm? You bet. Twice each day, since sotalol leaves your system within twelve hours. I don’t know how long the Lord will let me live, but I want to serve Him as long as possible, and I want to see my eight-year-old grandson grow up.
But some medicines are for the soul, not for the physical body.
Medicines for My Soul
“Terry, how healthy is your soul this week?”
“Terry, how is your time with the Lord?”
“Are you in the Word to feed yourself, when you aren’t studying it to teach others?”
“How is your prayer life and private worship times?”
Those are the type of questions my accountability partner asks me, when we meet or chat on the phone. Too many times over the past year, I’ve had to admit that my soul seemed dry or crusty, like a field or lawn than isn’t getting enough water.
Oh, it isn’t, nor has it been, desert-dry and cracked from a total lack of rain. I pray most days, and read the Bible devotionally a lot more often than not. But neither is the soil of my soul ablaze with lush green grass, flowers, or crops.
Did you notice the inconsistency? “I pray most days. I read the Bible for the purpose of feeding my soul more often than not.
I don’t take the blood thinner most days. I don’t take the sotalol more often than not. After all, it’s my life we’re talking about here!
In other words, I miss a day of devotional reading and unhurried prayer now and then. I’m too eager to get to my Columbia International University office where I prepare sermons for pulpit supply in churches, or craft Christian blogs, or work on a book about faith sustaining us during pain.
You’re right. I should know better. Yes, I’ve warned my students for decades about this tendency to become a “professional” Christian who loves the Lord’s work more than he loves the Savior Himself.
But give me a break….I’ve only lived for 69 years. Habits take time to cultivate, you know.
During my lifetime, I’ve typically been more consistent than recently. Oh, what intimacy with the Savior I’ve enjoyed at times, delving into the Word, digesting the wisdom of Puritan devotional writers such as John Owen, and taking my burdens to Christ. For years, I even lived by the motto, “No Bible, no breakfast.” But that resolve petered out some time ago.
It is interesting that I don’t sense the same degree of urgency about taking meds for my soul that I do about taking meds for my physical body.
The more inconsistently I feed my soul, the more vulnerable I am to stress, to a critical spirit, to complaining, and to other forms of sin. The less fuel my soul receives, the more difficult it is to handle a deep depressive episode. Sin on my part does not typically cause my bouts of depression. Yet despondency does increase my vulnerability to certain sins.
I don’t need to feed my soul daily so I can check off another item on my “spiritual obligations” checklist. I need to do it so I will enjoy more intimacy with my Savior. To guard my mind and heart against the world’s values and the inevitable attacks of Satan. It isn’t something I have to do for God to love me more or to keep my salvation. It is something I desperately need to do so I’ll love Him more, better reflect His character, and serve Him more fruitfully. Paul put it bluntly to Timothy: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7).
Hmm…what if I committed to taking unhurried time for soul meds each day before taking the meds to prevent blood clots and an irregular heartbeat?
Dare I make that decision? What if I don’t follow through, and in an effort to keep my word, wind up not taking either kind of medicine? What if I fail, and a few of you contact me and ask my about this new commitment, holding me accountable to follow through. Why, it would be downright embarrassing to say I’ve failed.
Nah, such a resolution is just too drastic.
Yet, if I do not make such a commitment, wouldn’t I be saying that the care of my physical body is more important than my soul?
I can talk or teach or preach or write all day about the eternal being more important than the physical or material realm. But do I really believe what I say I believe?
Perhaps both kinds of medicines are a matter of life and death.