Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Road Not Taken

I’ve come a long way since undergoing brain surgery to remove a large benign tumor this past July. It has been a long four months, but I’m feeling much more myself. To wit, I’ve experienced a remarkable increase in my physical stamina (my mental endurance is getting up there as well). I still can’t drive until mid-January, so I rely on friends for transportation.

My wife starts her mornings at a local elementary school. As the gym is on the way there, she usually gives me rides if I have an early morning workout. I pulled on my hooded sweater and trench coat over my shorts and t-shirt to keep me warm on the way over.

It was in the forties outside that morning.

As we turned into the gym’s parking lot, my wife casually asked who was picking me up that day.

“Oh, I’ll find a ride,” I replied.

With a hurried goodbye, I made my way into Gold’s and proceeded to prepare for my routine. I used to go six times a week (pre-seizure), and am back to going about every other day. One of the most difficult things I’ve discovered about recovery is that you need to let your body (as well as your mind) REST.

I was a couch potato the first month out of surgery. After seeing my neurosurgeon for the three week follow-up, he was amazed at how much I had progressed. He gave me the all-clear to return to my previous activities “as tolerated.”

The next few days I returned to Gold’s with a vengeance and began walking on the treadmill. A few days later, I was on the elliptical. I was still a little shaky on my feet, but I knew I would quickly return to form.

I started going back to work at the Library, began writing and started to plan on resuming pastoral duties at The River.

That’s when my speech began to regress.

We immediately made an appointment with a neuro-oncologist at UVA. He asked what I was doing. I told him about Gold’s, the Library, writing, and planning for The River.

“What?” he replied, “You’re two months out of major brain surgery. You’re taking on WAY too much at once. Take it SLOW,” was his recommendation. We scheduled a neuro-pysch test to determine if there were any neurological deficits.

That test (which took three hours of my life and made my brain feel like jell-o) was administered and we found out a week later that I had no significant neurological deficits.

The advice that I received from the doctor who gave the test was simply to ease my way back into doing my day to day activities and not to worry about regressing. “You’ll do fine, just take lots of breaks.”

As the weeks have turned into months, I definitely began to feel like myself again…that is, until I went to the gym and noticed that I was pear-shaped.

That freaked me out. Time for me to cut back on the burgers and start some serious cardio.

I began walking two miles a day on my non-gym days.

As I couldn’t drive yet, I was faced with a dilemma as I stood outside of Gold’s Gym on that cold morning.

Walking home.

Could I? Should I?

Now, by going up West Street and cutting across Yowell Meadow Park, it’s just two miles from Gold’s to my doorstep.

My first leg of the journey took me to CVS where I picked up a prescription. The second leg took me north on West Street to my office at The River where I worked on a few things. The last leg of course had me cut across Yowell Meadow Park, up and around the path, and onwards home.

It was on Virginia Avenue, just a few blocks from my townhouse, that my eyes met with a curious sight.

It was a smallish animal, with a furry black coat, and it was facing away from me. At first glance, I thought it might be a pig, but then it turned and I immediately recognized it as a pug.

A pug (which coincidentally is spelled the same as “pig” except for “U” instead of “I”), is a smallish-sized dog which appears to have its face pushed in.

“Oh, it’s just a pug,” I thought, then proceeded to walk past on the sidewalk. It paid no attention whatsoever to me.

“ROGER!” I heard a lady shout.

As I turned towards the voice, two snarling fawn-colored pugs ran towards me.


The lady (who was suffering with a cold) asked me to stop walking or else they would follow me.

I complied; and she stooped down to pick one up. As she rose, the little animal made a ferocious snarl (obviously empowered by her owner) and snapped at me. The black pug (which had been ignoring me till this very moment) now decided that he didn’t like me at all, and so he growled as menacingly as a dog that’s only a foot high can.

“ROGER!!! COME BACK HERE!!!” she yelled at him.

Roger was too busy snarling at me to pay attention to his owner.

Normally, I would patiently wait the situation out, and assist the lady. But I had just had brain surgery, and it takes a while for your brain to rewire itself.

I had had enough.

So, I just started walking again. I didn’t care.

“ROGER! ROGER!!!” I heard her shriek as I rounded the corner.

I turned to look back, but there was no pug, just empty street.

“Well,” I thought to myself. “This little episode has given me something to write about.”

And here it is.

I have driven on these streets hundreds if not thousands of times in the five years that we’ve lived here. But I’ve only walked these paths recently because of my need to get from point “A” to point “B”.

Robert Frost’s poetic masterpiece, The Road Not Taken, ends with the following lines:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

Throughout the course of my recovery from this brain tumor, I have felt an overwhelming sense of peace.

Supernatural peace.

I have truly learned how to depend on God when I could hardly take care of myself. I have learned what it means to walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear.

He is in control and I am not.

Many of the plans I had for this year have had to be postponed. No matter. God is not done with me yet!

He will give me just enough light to see where my next step should be.


Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 18:1-6
I love you, LORD; you are my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety.

I called on the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and he saved me from my enemies. The ropes of death entangled me; floods of destruction swept over me. The grave wrapped its ropes around me; death laid a trap in my path.

But in my distress I cried out to the LORD; yes, I prayed to my God for help. He heard me from his sanctuary; my cry to him reached his ears.

Psalm 119:105-112
Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again: I will obey your righteous regulations. I have suffered much, O LORD; restore my life again as you promised. LORD, accept my offering of praise, and teach me your regulations.

My life constantly hangs in the balance, but I will not stop obeying your instructions. The wicked have set their traps for me, but I will not turn from your commandments. Your laws are my treasure; they are my heart’s delight. I am determined to keep your decrees to the very end.