Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cuffed Trachea

Thursday, September 21, 2006 Observation:

I believe one of the most frustrating and terrifying experiences a person can have is not to be able to communicate, and because of it, to not get the help or reassurance needed to be comforted, and at peace.  The Lord gives little babies the ability to cry, really the only way they can communicate their needs, in order for them to receive the help or reassurance they need to be comforted and at peace.  A baby's cry, though oftentimes annoying to adults, eventually gets their attention and is a vital tool of communication given to each baby by a wise Heavenly Father.

While I was in the hospital a week or so ago the doctors felt it important to put me on a "cuffed trachea" while they put the scope down my throat to see what was going on inside my stomach.  A cuffed trachea has a little balloon-type device which when inflated allows no air to escape between the ventilator and the lungs.  The problem with it is that no air goes by the vocal cords making it impossible to speak, nor can one eat when on a cuffed trachea. 

Being paralyzed from the neck down and on a cuffed trachea makes any form of communication almost impossible, except for the blinking of the eyes which doesn't really work very well.  Approximately 18 years ago I was on a cuffed trachea for almost a month, and not being able to communicate almost cost me my life several times.  Early one morning, for example, I was running a fever and when I get overheated I begin to experience an anxiety attack similar to claustrophobia.  I was in the ICU of a trauma center and nurses were everywhere, but because I couldn't communicate my need to them, they really weren't paying much attention to me. I got to the point that I thought I would die if I did not get some kind of relief.  Just at that moment a good friend walked in, came to my bedside and looked into my eyes, felt my face, and instantly knew the problem and how to resolve it.  She got a container of ice water and with a washcloth began to bathe my face, arms, and legs.  The nurses quickly caught on and began to assist as well, and as my temperature went down so did my anxiety and I was soon comfortable and at peace once again. 

It is impossible to describe the desperate feeling that accompanies the feeling of needing help badly, and not having the power to express that need.  Several weeks ago now when they put me on a cuffed trachea to do the scope it was "deja vu all over again".  The doctors felt it would be wise to leave me on the cuffed trachea until the next day in case I started bleeding profusely once again.  Imagine being totally paralyzed, unable to communicate in any way, and then having Jo Anne finally asked by the nurses to go home.  The nurses were attentive thankfully, but I felt extremely vulnerable all night long -- a very long night -- and was so grateful that I did not experience any pressing need or life-threatening situation.  What joy to finally have the cuffed trachea removed later that day, and to be able to talk and even cry out for help if the need were to arise.

Our good friend Ken Rogers, fellow Central American missionary, BYU roommate, and best man at our wedding, during a conversation several months ago, perceived how dangerous it was for Jo Anne to leave me alone in the van while running into a store, even for just a few minutes.  Ken, an electrical engineer, wanted a day or two to think about the problem, and then he drove to our home in Tustin from San Diego with some small handheld radios that are able to transmit an astonishing distance.  Mine is voice-activated as I speak into the microphone which is part of my headset. Now, Jo Anne can leave me in the van with confidence for a few minutes, while she takes care of business in her favorite stores.  It is comforting to me to be able to say, "Jo Anne, where are you?"  More often than not she replies, "I'm at the return desk!"  I ask, "How long will you be there?"  She responds, "Just a couple of minutes" -- translation -- probably 20 or 30 minutes.  We are even getting the hang of radio talk.  I usually say "ten four" (I have heard radio people use that phrase; I'm not sure what it means but it sounds very authoritative and knowledgeable).  Jo Anne responds with "seven eleven" which to me makes more sense than "ten four".  When I am finished talking I always say "Roger, over and out!"  I don't know what that means either, and I like Jo Anne's response better than mine as she counters with, "Roger, In N Out".

As I have thought about our need as human beings to communicate, to be heard, and to receive a response, the principle of prayer has come powerfully into my mind.  Even with a "cuffed trachea" we can thankfully communicate our gratitude, and the needs we have to a loving Heavenly Father.  When on a "cuffed trachea", my prayers, though silent, have been fervently offered, and I have been blessed with peace and comfort beyond my ability to describe.

One of my favorite biblical figures is Joseph who was sold into Egypt by his brothers.  He was a young teenager at the time, torn from the loving arms and influence of his father, and placed in a radically different and worldly culture from which he was accustomed.  I would imagine there were those days that Joseph would have given anything to have talked to his father, Jacob, and to have received his assurance that all would be well.  However, Joseph was in Egypt and Jacob was in Israel, and no communication between them was possible.  Joseph prospered in Egypt as we know.  Although the scriptures are silent regarding the frequency and intensity of Joseph's prayers, there is one verse that explains his success, and I believe the peace and comfort he must have experienced as a slave and prisoner: "And the Lord was with Joseph..." [Genesis 39: 2]   

I believe the Lord "was with Joseph" because Joseph plead with the Lord in faith for his help.  Prayer can bring to us the comfort, sense of well being, and assurance we need so that we never have to experience the terror of not being able to communicate our urgent needs to someone who can help.  Not even a "cuffed trachea" can keep us from calling upon Heavenly Father from the depths of our souls.

What the Lord told ancient Israel applies to all of us today: "But if ... thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation ... if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice...he will not forsake thee..." [Deuteronomy 4:29-30]


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