Romantic Love Produces Strength in Weakness

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Summer 2019


“The greatest of these is love.” ~1 Corinthians 13:13

***

I was in a hospital bed in the ICU. I had a breathing tube in my mouth. The scene was all too familiar. I could see a ventilator next to the bed and IV pouches hanging on thin poles behind me. I’ve seen this movie before, only this time it was slightly different. Instead of being in a private room, there was a patient right next to me. The patient was my nephew Stevie.

I remember being in the same situation years earlier after a heart attack. But, I didn’t know what happened to me this time around. A doctor dressed in a white smock came into the room and explained to little Steve what was ailing him. I had a bunch of questions and tried to get the doctor’s attention, but I couldn’t move my hands or talk. The doctor walked away as soon as he finished treating my nephew. 

I had no clue why I was in the hospital and on a ventilator again. I turned to ask Stevie what the doctor said, but he was sound asleep. I knew what happened to me last time. I had a heart attack, went into cardiac arrest, and my lungs stopped working. Was it happening again? Could I still be in the ICU because I never recovered from the incident years ago? Was I having a nightmare? Feeling scared, confused, and lonely, I started to get really anxious. 

Just as the full-blown panic started to ravage my mind and body, the doctor returned and said, “Mr. Garcia, your family is here to visit you.” When I turned to see who it was, Sandra’s beautiful smiling face leaned toward me. I suddenly felt safe and slowly closed my eyes to fall into a deep and comfortable sleep.

***

The passage above is in italics because it really didn’t happen. It was a hallucination caused by a condition called ICU Delirium. Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes ICU Delirium, but they think it’s related to physical restraints and heavy sedatives used when putting a patient on a ventilator. Since the dreams are based on actual events, the vivid images feel terrifyingly realistic. The combination of those factors creates a psychological nightmare for patients. 

If you’re interested in learning more about ICU Delirium, go to this link https://www.statnews.com/2016/10/14/icu-delirium-hospitals/ for a great description of the condition. This article has special relevance today when ventilators and lung ailments dominate the news.

I suffered ICU Delirium twice, once in 2010 and again in 2018. The hallucination described in italics above occurred during my second time in the ICU. The numerous delusions I experienced both times had a common theme: I was stuck in a strange place unable to move, talk, or call for help. Just as panic and desperation set in, Sandra showed up to let me know that everything would be okay.

Sandra stayed by my bedside throughout both ordeals. When she left the ICU to visit the waiting room, eat, or shower, I must have sensed that she was no longer in the room even though I was nearly unconscious. The loneliness of her not being nearby played out in hallucinations caused by ICU Delirium. The connection the delusions had to reality is without question. 

In my last two posts, I discussed how Affection (family love) and Friendship have played roles in saving my life during my decade-long health crisis. Both terms were introduced by Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves. The incoherent visions I shared in the accounts from the ICU demonstrate how Eros (romantic love), the third type of love described by Lewis, has helped me live longer and thrive.

Lewis explains that in the modern sense Eros is far too often connected with sex. I can say with some authority that most men can’t disconnect the two. Lewis clarifies for us that romantic love is “simply a delighted preoccupation with the Beloved.” While attached to life-support machines and drunk with heavy sedative medication, I had an intense romantic desire to be with Sandra. Not desire in the sexual sense, rather in the spirit of C.S. Lewis.

In The Four Loves, he wrote, “If you asked (a man) what he wanted, the true reply would often be, ‘To go on thinking of her.’” Surviving those scary dreams in the ICU brings to mind St. Paul’s assurance that suffering, endurance, and character lead to hope. Thinking about Sandra during my weakest and most vulnerable moments gave me hope and inspiration when I needed them most. 

As singer Tina Turner rhetorically asked, “What’s love got to do with it?” As it turns out, love has everything to do with surviving and thriving through life’s challenges.

The lessons I learned can be used to help weather nearly any storm that causes people to suffer. We must take into account the definition of Eros in its totality, not just from the perspective of sex. Romantic love is the foundation of a strong relationship. Bonded by this strength, families can face the toughest of challenges.

Managing through the current era of isolation and social distancing is a good example of how Eros can be the difference between mere survival and triumph over tragedy. While we’re “stuck” in the house with our beloved, nerves are frayed and patience wears thin. But, we persist in social distancing because, according to Lewis, we have a “steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good.”

Psychologically and emotionally, I’m struggling with the pandemic. Images of COVID-19 patients on ventilators brings back dark memories of my own experience on life support. My compromised condition calls for me to stay isolated in the house, especially when Sandra and Erica were fighting colds last month. These measures run contrary to my natural desire for social interaction.

Sitting down for dinner, even if more than 6 feet apart, or taking a walk wearing surgical masks and staying a safe distance away from each other justify the hours of isolation. I know that I’ll be okay. I’ve done this before. Love produces strength from moments of weakness.

C.S. Lewis said it more eloquently. He wrote that love “will not be broken; it’s unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

 

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Spring 2020

 

Friendship is a Special Kind of Love

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I ran into Rudy on my daily walk – Fall 2019

Okay. I admit it. I’m obsessed with COVID-19 hysteria. On any given day, I normally tune into cable news, mostly to follow national politics. Now, the pandemic is the news. The stories of fear and anxiety caused by instability are especially interesting. On a very personal level, there’s a reason why this global news story is compelling. 

First, COVID is a respiratory virus that attacks the lungs. That hits close to home. During the horrific summer of 2010, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome attacked my lungs due to a complication from cardiac arrest. I needed mechanical ventilation for nearly 6 weeks. Images on the news of people on ventilators with breathing tubes inserted into their mouths bring back uncomfortable memories of that time. 

In 2018, during heart pump surgery, my lungs again decided to be uncooperative. I was connected to a ventilator for 5 days at that time. My family anxiously camped out in the waiting room until the lungs cleared. The pain I see in the faces of sick patients’ families on TV reminds me of what my family must have endured twice over the course of 10 years.

Second, for those who survive ventilation in the ICU, recovery will seem almost impossible. That was the hardest part for me. They will surely experience a condition called ICU Delirium. It’s caused by sedative medicine and being cooped up in the ICU. As the medication wears off, the mind plays tricks on patients. Weird and sometimes scary hallucinations create confusion and fear.

I’ve written about this experience in past posts (for example, see https://esereport.com/2016/11/02/summer-in-the-waiting-room-how-faith-family-and-friends-saved-my-life-excerpt-65/).

Third, the health crisis I survived helped me develop tools to weather storms of uncertainty. I hope to share these ideas with readers who feel like they have no control over the growing pandemic. These tools can also help with other seemingly hopeless situations life puts in our paths. I’ve become a big fan of the Buddha and ancient Stoics like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca. Do yourself a favor and Google them.

They all have pretty much the same message about suffering. No one is immune to it. There are things that are unexplainable and just out of our control. To get through tough times, they advise us to stop trying to manage what we can’t control. It sounds easy, right? Like my mom used to say, “it’s easier said than done.” 

Perhaps, my biggest influence is St. Paul the Apostle. His letters on the meaning of Jesus’ teachings and ministry are still relevant nearly 2,000 years after he wrote them. The core message is in his First Letter to the Corinthians. To endure suffering, he said, “three things remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.”

I’ve written much about faith and hope. Faith is accepting that which we can’t control. Hope is being certain that God will determine the outcome of an uncontrollable situation. To understand how love fits into that equation, I turned to the great 20th-century Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis. I found answers in his book, The Four Loves, published in 1960.

Lewis describes 4 types of love: Affection, Friendship, Eros (romantic love), and Charity (God’s love). In my last post, I shared about how Affection played a role in my post-health crisis spiritual journey (https://esereport.com/2020/03/31/my-first-love/). Friendship has also impacted my spiritual, emotional, and mental healing after both bouts with extreme respiratory problems. 

In its purest form, friendship is “the happiest and most fully human of all the loves,” according to Lewis. He believed that Friendship is a special bond that’s held together by mutual interests, similar worldviews, and common experiences not related to procreation or sustaining life. He wrote, Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” 

Friendship, as defined by Lewis, has played a significant role in my life story and spiritual journey. Paraphrasing the author, my close friends weren’t necessary for me to survive a heart attack in 2010, but they’ve given value to the rest of my life. One such person who comes to mind is a friend named Rudy. 

We met in the 7th grade playing baseball and basketball at lunchtime while in middle school. Our early friendship is a classic coming-of-age story. I was a bookworm, the ”schoolboy” among our group of friends. We both played on the high school baseball and basketball teams. While carousing around town as young men, got ourselves into and out of many sticky situations.

Later in life, Rudy connected with his spiritual inner-self by turning to God and the church as I worked tirelessly trying to create my own destiny. My professional aspirations came crashing down after spending the summer of 2010 in the hospital. Seeing Rudy’s boyish round cheeks and happy smile was one of my first memories when I emerged from the fog of an induced coma.

Sandra later told me that he visited me nearly every one of the 100+ days I had been in the hospital. In between visits to my bedside, he made the waiting room howl with laughter retelling stories of our youthful shenanigans. He also led evening prayers before heading home for the night. For 5 days in November 2018, he played the same role. 

For nearly a decade, I’ve wandered through books learning about faith, hope, and love. What I’ve seen along the way has been eye-opening. Rudy’s heartfelt belief has shown me how it looks in real life. The journey began because of my mom’s love and encouragement to trust God. It continues in part because of my friend’s love and infectious belief in God’s grace.

So what does friendship have to do with COVID-19, especially when we can’t gather as friends? It reminds us that true friends bonded by mutual interests, similar worldviews, and common experiences bring value to our lives. As C.S Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, “friendship is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”

We will survive the current crisis. God and the universe will make everything okay. Maintaining social distance is critical. Healthcare professionals will be there to help those of us who get sick. Even though friendship won’t directly keep us alive, when it’s all said and done, it will play a meaningful and loving role in our survival.