What I Learned Through Suffering

The past week I traveled to the great northwest to spend some time with my wife’s side of the family near Seattle, Washington. We hopped in our SUV and started the 13 hour journey with grand visions of a fun road trip filled with songs, laughter, and great fun and food with the family…

Everything was going well at first. We got up extra early so we would arrive at my wife’s sister’s house early in the evening. I broke out the Goldfish crackers and started snacking away and the kids started watching Sesame Street on the DVD player. It was a great start to the trip.

When we were about 3 hours from our destination near Seattle Washington, our little 5 year old Ellie said to us that she didn’t feel good and hurt everywhere. We told her she was probably just feeling the effects of being in the car so long and not to worry about it. Of course she was just imagining this stuff because she is a kid right?

Well a few minutes later we hear a gurgling gag sound and then the spew of various acidic and icky contents fire out of her mouth and on to her seat and the back of my seat which was in front of her. We stop and pull over and frantically grab baby wipes for our 2 year old daughter to try and clean up the mess. It’s tough work.

Another hour later (with a barf bag in hand), Ellie does it again, mostly getting it in the bag, but still missing a little bit. We stop and do clean up duty again. In the back of my mind, I realize we are being directly exposed to something probably icky, but my wife, Heidi, and I try to talk ourselves into it being that she was just car sick.

We finally arrive at our destination and do some real cleanup with cleaning supplies that decontaminate the hazard zone in our SUV. We meet with all of Heidi’s family later that night to get together and just enjoy each others company. All is well…

Until the next day when several others are puking their guts out. At this point, I know something contagious is now spreading and I have a very deep phobia of vomiting to the point I have to fight off panic attacks. I hope that just a few people are going to get it.

But it was not so – Our 2 year old Sienna, while watching TV, unleashes contents like a dragon onto the floor and cleanup again begins. Let me take a little pause and share one of the lessons I learned from this nasty stomach virus, from my young children.

Both Ellie and Sienna handled the whole thing extremely well. Ellie started eating grapes in the car right after her release of vomit and was laughing and singing right after. Sienna, our 2 year old, only became quiet and reserved a few moments before her dragon-like spew, and then moments later was running around playing and eating. Both my children handled the adversity like true pros in life – like it didn’t even phase them.

Nearly everyone had been sick by mid-week, including our hosts, my wife’s older sister and her husband who spent two days suffering in quiet and feeling the exorcism that was this plague. I, on the other hand, still had not been sick. For a couple days later in the week, I felt a little dizzy and wiped out and felt my stomach churn. My response was basically fasting for the last four days of the week.

Saturday night, the day before we left to come back home, I felt like I had a real chance to avoid this plague and considered myself fortunate to only have a couple days of illness that didn’t cause me to vomit. As we left our hosts and started to drive home from Washington (a 13 hour drive), within minutes I felt really sick.

I asked my wife to pull over and stepped out to walk around. “Why is this happening now?” I thought to myself as thoughts raced through my head about how I was going to manage a 13 hour drive feeling intense shaking and chills with the nauseating pain and stomach aches. I got back in the SUV and sat down with great apprehension about how to get through the drive. My wife was going to have to drive the whole way if I didn’t get better.

I, unfortunately, got worse. The pain in my stomach wracked me and I really felt like it was going to be my turn to hurl within a couple hours of the drive. I had a barf bag handy read to do the deed, but I am very resilient to actually doing this due to my phobia. Hour after hour went back as I watched the clock hoping that I could make it home somehow in one piece.

Each stop I would lay down and try to breathe in the fresh air to cope. To make matters worse, my poor wife, who had only gotten a few hours of sleep like me, was having difficulty staying awake on the drive. I did my best to watch the kids while she took quick naps in the car at rest areas.

Later in the afternoon, after many hours of constant pain, I broke down and started crying. Nothing was easing the pain – not praying, not meditating, not medicine – nothing. I also did not have the guts (no pun intended) to gag myself to try and release whatever was building up in me to end the torment.

I think back to how my daughters handled this and have to hang my head in shame a bit. They simply ejected their contents and continued to go about their lives. Sure, I could have gotten a worse strain of the virus than them. But the principle of how happy and solid their demeanor was through this is a testament to the joyous nature that children experience and can lose as they become adults and switch their view on the world.

The last few hours in the car, I closed my eyes and simply focused on one thing – getting home and lying down. Nothing else mattered. Each minute felt like an eternity, but eventually we did make it home to our house where I promptly took our large container of Pepto Bismol, took a swig in a cup, and layed down on the bed. This continued for all of the next day and even as I type this now, I feel completely wiped out. I never did vomit…

What is there to learn from this nasty stomach virus that took out me and all of my wife’s family? Is it just part of life and something to deal with? Was my response to it inadequate? Should I toughen up and learn to just get it out of my system?

I find myself marveled by the way my children handled this illness. It’s as if they don’t even realize fear or suffering as they take things in stride moment to moment.

I also find myself marveled at while I was sick, I didn’t care about anything else except getting better. I didn’t care about my Android Calculator app, I didn’t care about my bank account balance, I didn’t care about anything – except getting better. I’ve learned that I can get pretty distracted by the busy things of life and learned this great lesson from the illness.

That life is worth taking and enjoying moment to moment. That every second with family and those you care about counts, even if you are all sick and suffering. I learned that I have a wonderful family and a wife who drove the whole way from Washington on a few hours of sleep and managed our two kids all while I was out of commission. I’m going to work on the experience of life more and try to take in and process each moment more effectively.

Have you had an illness or injury so severe that you felt true and real suffering? Did it change your outlook on life at all? What did you learn from it?

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4 thoughts on “What I Learned Through Suffering

  1. Oh goodness. Your kids are troopers! I hate vomiting too. But I’d rather blow chunks if I can than stay stuck feeling sick. I actually felt sick to my stomach all day today, and wanted to throw up to feel better, but my body wouldn’t do it. There must be something still going around.

    I remember throwing up a lot as a kid when I’d get sick. I guess that’s just part of building our immune system. Being sick is the worst and I can empathize with just wanting to feel better and how everything else takes a back seat. I was really sick at the end of the summer for several weeks and it was tough. I had no energy and it was hard even getting out of bed.

    I’m glad you made it home safe and I hope you’re feeling a lot better now!

    1. The kids are such troopers :) Part of the learning experience is being more thankful for my health after being sick. I sometimes wonder if illness/sickness are there just to remind us of what we should be thankful for.

      1. I know. I’ve still felt sick for the last several days and can’t wait until it’s all gone and I’m back to normal. I really miss feeling healthy! I just have to make sure that I keep my stress in check as that tends to weaken my immune system. This month is just crazy!

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