Ash Wednesday 2019

On Ash Wednesday 2019, I had a very unusual experience. I’d been unwell with a virus for several days, although I had still been able to potter around the house.

At about 9.30 in the morning that day, I was suddenly overtaken by a sharp, stabbing pain in my right side, just below the ribcage. It came again and again, with growing intensity, until, within a minute or two, it was continuous, and I couldn’t speak or move. My breathing became very shallow, and my lips, face, hands and arms began to tingle.

My husband immediately phoned for an ambulance, whilst I wailed and panted like an animal. I wasn’t afraid, just utterly overwhelmed by the intensity of the pain. I was sitting down, bent over the kitchen table, with my head turned to one side, so I could see the shopping bag he put beside me, into which he was quickly throwing everything I might need in hospital. I was fully aware that I could be dying, and saw how my soul would simply slip away, leaving behind the bag, my husband, the room, and everything I had ever imagined would make me happy.

The ambulance arrived quickly, and the staff were wonderful. They helped me to slow my breathing, and ran through various tests. All my vital signs were completely normal, although my pulse and respiration rates had been very high when they first arrived.

Gradually, the pain retreated, and I could speak again. They said it was a panic attack, but this didn’t ring true for me at all, as I have had countless panic attacks, and none of them in any way resembled what happened that day. After some discussion, we all agreed I could stay at home, as long as I saw my doctor in the afternoon.

The GP diagnosed an acute attack of pleurodynia (also known as Bornholm Syndrome, or Devil’s Grip), a chronic condition I have had for the last 25 years. Acute attacks are generally triggered by respiratory infections. However, even at its very worst, it has never remotely resembled what happened that morning. A second doctor thought it sounded more like a pleural rub, highly characteristic of pleurisy.

After two weeks of rest, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and steroids, I’m slowly starting to resume my normal activities. However, a troubling question persists at the back of my mind, though I hardly dare express it. The strange attack, which lasted three hours, felt exactly as if I were experiencing the moment when the spear pierced Christ’s side to ensure he was dead. So, was it a symptom of a physical illness, a spiritual experience, or perhaps a combination of both?

References

The soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out (John 19:32-4; NLT).

If we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering (Romans 8:17; NLT).

Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often (Luke 2:19; NLT).

Dreams and nightmares

Like many people, when I’m dealing with significant emotional issues, I often have disturbing dreams.

Last night I dreamed I was walking along a street with my mother, saying firmly to her, “You usually yelled at someone on journeys.” She laughed heartily at this, as if I were joking. “That wasn’t a joke,” I continued, very seriously, “You did usually yell at someone on journeys.”

As I woke, still talking aloud, I was left wondering whether the fact that journeys with my mother were so incredibly tense and stressful had anything to do with the development of my agoraphobia.

Dreams and nightmares

Father,
Without dreams and nightmares,
Trauma would fester
In my unconscious mind,
Generating panic attacks
That seem to strike
Out of the blue.

Instead,
Through dreams and nightmares
You help me confront my demons one by one,
Learning new ways to handle them,
As I slowly come to terms
With my past.

 

References

A dream comes when there are many cares (Ecclesiastes 5:3; NIV).

I have had a dream that troubles me and I want to know what it means (Daniel 2:3; NIV).