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  • Reverend James Squire

I Can't Breathe

The month of August included four assaults on my body. The first was a heart procedure which left me vulnerable to three other medical issues. During the month in and out of the hospital, it was the first procedure with a lot or chest pain and an inability to get my breath that set the stage for what was to come. I have been actively exercising and running for some forty years. The inability to take a full breath was a new experience for me to say the least. No matter what was happening to me in my life, I could always breathe and with that go out for a run or exercise.

I remembered that when my ethics classes would address end of life issues in a bioethics section, that the class and I addressed the issue of what would be the worst death that they could imagine. They covered the water front on what was to be avoided at all costs including to die in a fire, to die in extreme pain, and many more examples that had never dawned on me. They did have one common way that they never wanted to die. It was to die by not being able to get much air and struggling to breathe whether it be drowning or through an illness.

When the doctors would ask my chief complaint, I would always respond by saying, “I can’t breathe.” Obviously, I thought of George Floyd each time that I made that response. I should have said that I was having trouble getting my next breath. As those of you who have been reading my posts know, I have a couple of mantras that I preach such as “life is to be either enjoyed or learned from”, “see all challenges as temporary and not permanent,” realize that “This Too Shall Pass,” “Yea, though I walk through the valley of death I will fear no evil,” and St. Paul’s words, “Nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ.” Somewhere in there are Churchill’s words, “When going through hell, keep on going.” But August taught me one attitude in addition to the above that has made a difference in my ongoing recovery. What was missing was “context.”

It is the reason that people with a serious illness such as terminal cancer always ask the following questions. “How much time do I have left? Will it be painful at the end?” Context puts reality into the mix of phrases that I mentioned above. What do you do when what you usually do doesn’t work?”

Make sure your context or expectations are not relegated to a back seat of your attitude. That helps all of the other phrases above come into your psyche and soul. My expectations and context were unrealistic. My spouse and the doctors said that this was serious stuff that assaulted me.

I had a real dose of reality when I went for my first walk/jog! How quickly we lose our physical fitness.

I am back on the road to recovery pushing hard. I know that is who I am. I have no interest in changing that part of me. The breathing is coming back! This August also had a silver lining. I am much more grateful and take nothing for granted. Those two factors are also a key to moving forward when life hits you with a one/two/three/ four punches!

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