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  • Marie Trout

Living in the 10%

One year ago, Walter and I spent our first whole day at the Nebraska Medical Center. He would undergo thorough testing for them to evaluate, if he could qualify for getting on the waiting list for a liver transplant there. We had left our home and our kids behind in Southern California. I was devastated on so many levels. Every waking moment of our lives was spent in fear. At night, sleep was a luxury that rarely lasted long.

I felt like I had taken a stupid risk by bringing my deathly ill husband on an airplane with an uncertain outcome. I felt like I let my kids down by not being there for them. I felt overwhelming gratefulness for the money that was coming in through the fundraiser. But I didn’t know if all the money we spent on travel and medical expenses was going to make a difference. I couldn’t be sure Walter would make it. What if all that money had been raised in vain? I felt I should be able to control this, and guilty that I couldn’t.

I felt weighed down. Circumstances will do that. There are burdens in life that are so heavy to carry that it is almost impossible to put one foot in front of the other. And this was one of those times. There were challenges in front of me that looked mountainous. I couldn’t plan anything, because our lives depended on the next blood test; ultimately it depended on what was a game of Russian roulette. It was called “finding a donor match.”

I had no control over 90% of what would determine the eventual outcome of this journey to Nebraska. And no amount of positive thinking could make me feel in control.

I could pray. But honestly, I felt too distracted to really get in a meditative state where prayer would support me. I could do the “request prayers.” And that felt like I just wanted God to side with me. The reality was that if the hospital in Nebraska accepted Walter as a patient, someone with a healthy liver would have to die in order for Walter to be saved. How could I pray for that?

I watched spring happen around me, when I walked at the river every morning. But my mental state was in a state of perpetual winter. I clung to my measly 10%. I was determined that what little I could do, I would do. If I could help affect the outcome by staying completely on top of what were pros and cons of various medical procedures, and what kinds of medication were used when, I could help inform the doctors of the chronology, past experiences with other procedures, etc. I learned how to be a valued and informed caregiver, not simply a desperate wife. I learned to trust my kids. I learned to trust the community. I learned so much from making the most of my 10%.

The biggest lesson was probably to accept: to let go of the illusion that my worry could control the 90%. In fact, when I lived in the “what if’s” and the “should’s” I lost control even of the 10%. I would become despondent, distracted, and disillusioned and feel that 10% wasn’t going to matter anyway.

Most of the time, I clung to my 10% by doing what little I could to the very best of my ability. I fought daily to become accepting of my limits and to treat my inability to do more with compassion. That was the only way, I would have enough strength to get through. When I would beat up on myself, I instantly lost what little power I had.

I didn’t believe in a God that took my side. But I know that God held me. I felt it in the force of the goodwill and prayers that came streaming at Walter and I through other people – and they helped me see the reality clearer: We were in a very difficult situation.

Held by compassion, the 10% became my rescue boat – and it sailed on the ocean of love and support of fellow human beings. Against all odds, Walter and I sailed in this little vessel without sinking.

The lessons of this time are many. Today I still blame myself for not being in control of everything that happens in my life, or in the life of Walter, or our kids. It is a lifelong journey. But I will always have the memory of that little life boat that made it across. And as I survey the view from dry land at the moment, I am just so very appreciative of the solid footing under my feet. Now having control over even 20% of what happens in our lives is a luxury that I will never again take for granted!

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