I was sitting in a coffee shop getting ready to blog and I overheard the conversation next to me. One man tells the other about how he hasn’t experienced much joy in the last couple of weeks due to some sort of struggle with his job. The other man replies, “It’s a season of life. An episode. It’s like when you have strep throat or the flu. For awhile you feel under the weather and you rely on antibiotics. Then you get on the other side of it.” I’m going to use this blog post to document something that I experienced in watching Reece’s struggle with his health.
I remember having a conversation with someone when I was middle school-aged regarding sin and living in a fallen world. We were discussing how every sniffle, every cold, every illness was a result of man’s sin stemming from Adam and Eve. That once sin had occurred, illness entered with world (as did many other things). (We discussed the general category of sin itself–not that each illness you get is a direct “punishment” for something you have done. I don’t believe we are struck with illness as punishment for our specific actions.) I remember thinking, “Yes, ok. But surely we’re talking more along the lines of the big illnesses…cancer, HIV…the life-threatening things. A cold is minor; a cold isn’t a big deal, it’s just inconvenient.”
Fast forward many years and we are now in the hospital with Reece. While we are treating him for MDS, we are running day-to-day interference on germ-control in the environment (hand sanitizing, sterilizing everything, wearing masks if we have even the hint of a sniffle) to prevent common illness from entering Reece’s body. This proves to be an impossible task that nearly drives me crazy. Everything in any environment is literally crawling with germs. It’s no different from those 20/20 episodes you have likely seen where they shine a black light in a hotel room to highlight the filth. Still, we do our best to manage the germs in an effort to help Reece avoid getting an infection.
While we haven’t yet heard the results of Reece’s autopsy, one thing we do know, is that he was quite sick at the end of his life due to adenovirus. In a healthy person, this virus may set you back for a few days, but a person with a normal immune system can generally handle it. In an immunosuppressed person like Reece, this virus can be lethal. Since Reece’s passing, I’ve done a great deal of thinking about this. The doctors have always told us that while we took preventative measures to keep the environment clean, the biggest threat to Reece was organisms already living in his body and that adenovirus was not likely to have been given to him in passing, but rather it was something that had been in his body for years. As I contemplated this, I considered the conversation I had all those many years ago. I never considered how our bodies work and fight off things that we call “the common cold” or “a stomach bug”. Actually, without an immune system (a system which you don’t have to render any conscious thought to operating), these seemingly harmless–albeit annoying–germs are deadly. And the really amazing thing is, God didn’t create sin and illnesses, but he gave us bodies equipped to deal with them. That’s a big love offering, if you ask me.
There were many times in Reece’s last weeks of life where I would watch him breathe on the ventilator and think, “He looks so peaceful and calm.” Other than watching his vital signs, you would have never known the battle that was going on internally with these infections. The truth is, once his immune system was wiped out, there was no perfect way to make up for it. He took 75 doses of various oral medications every day to try to prevent illness, but it still didn’t replace what God gave him to naturally fight off germs and diseases. Other than this hospital experience, he was hardly ever in the doctor’s office for sickness–a healthy kid. And while we have these “advanced” drugs to fight off infections, I will never again mistakenly assume that it is the drugs doing the work. A drug is always a sidekick to the robust immune system designed by the loving God to protect us all every single day from diseases that plague us, but stealthily move about under the minimized guises like “the sniffles” or a “sour stomach”. These only seem minor to us because we can automatically manage them and get rid of them. And “getting on the other side” of any illness is purely a function of God’s sovereignty. We wouldn’t be here if we were relying solely on antibiotics to get us through things like strep throat. God didn’t create the sin and illness, but he knew we’d be dealing with it. So, being the responsible and loving Parent, he gave us a way to deal with it so that we can have the opportunity to live in health, experience joy, and move about the day without giving much thought to it.
I’m in awe of this and humbled.