Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mortal (Living With Cogan's Syndrome)

June 17th – 27th:

I had one week left in my high school career and not much going on. I had just finished a dodgeball tournament after school and was pulling into the driveway when I noticed my older brother, Casey, phone in hand, walking down the steps of our porch to greet me. He came up to the driver's side door, his face sullen and hesitant. He explained the accident to me and how the impact was so devastating, that she didn't feel any pain. He pulled me in and I wept on his chest at the news of my 17-year-old friend's death.

Two years later I sat amongst a small group of guys in the living room of a friend's house and listened to one of them speak.

“I have cancer,” he told us.

I watched and suffered alongside him for months as his life was eaten away by an illness that desecrated his body and left him as little more than a shell. He had been 21 for six days—five of which he spent in a coma—when I answered the phone call that I knew would come, but was never ready to receive.

I've witnessed more death and battles with health in my brief life than I care for; I've watched the agony of disease-stricken bodies, families struggling with loss, and short timetables of existence; I've felt the pain of others and dealt with my own through those instances.

These events impacted my life and helped me to realize that the life we are given is short. They caused me to put more value in relationships and the gifts of God; unfortunately, they did little to change my personal concept of the unknown. I don't often think of the “big picture” or in any sort of philosophical manner. I tend to live my life as it happens. I probably wouldn't have realized that I even think this way if my wife hadn't noticed how different we were in this sense when we first met. I didn't think myself invincible, but I hadn't put enough thought into the idea that something could actually happen to me. I'm 26-years-old and I now know that anything is possible; even disease in a seemingly healthy young man.

I had cochlear implant surgery almost two weeks ago in hopes of hearing again through my left ear. I'm now days away from having my device activated; two days away from hearing sounds and voices again; two days away from a new beginning; but the journey thus far, and more recently the past two weeks, have not been easy.

“Ready to take off the headdress?” Sarah asked as I lay on the couch with my legs over her lap.

“Yes!” I exclaimed.

I was ready. It was sunday, just two days after surgery, and I wanted nothing more than to take this next step.

We went to the bathroom and Sarah unwrapped the fixture from my head.

“Should we save it?” She asked.

“I don't know,” I said. “Isn't that kind of weird?”

“I don't think so. It's up to you, though.”

“Nah, I don't want to.”

“Really? Are you sure? It might be nice to save—to remember,” she said.

“No, let's throw it out.”

Sarah was probably right.

I took a shower—I wasn't allowed to until then—and washed off all of the dried blood that had formed to the side of my head. When I was all finished washing up, Sarah cleaned the back of my ear with hydrogen peroxide and triple antibiotic. Then she cleaned the inside of my ear with a cotton swab, removing wet and dry blood. We took a cotton ball and squeezed it into my ear to stop the red liquid from trickling down my face. This process is something that we have since had to maintain twice a day, for the past two weeks.

Sarah was able to take off work the day of my surgery, as well as the following Monday. When she needed to return, her boss allowed her to work from home the rest of the week, so that she could take care of me. This included the ever-so-delightful task stated above (cleaning my scar and the persistent drip from my inner-ear), as well as picking up treats for me: ginger-ale, rice pudding, and chocolate pudding.

Sarah and a friend went to the Greg Laswell concert on the 19th. After everything that we've been through, and all that she's had to sacrifice, I was happy for her to go and have an enjoyable night. I was still in rough shape—my balance was way off, quite a bit of pain lingered, and exhaustion prevailed due to all of the medication—so I stayed at my in-law's home that day and Sarah's mother took care of me.

I haven't been able to move around on my own too much in the last two weeks as I mentioned in my previous post. It's amazing what surgery can do to a person. The operation itself is a necessary step in ensuring some recovery; however, the effects have produced a set-back in my physical improvement; I can't exercise, workout, or drive.

I've had a lot of time to think about my situation. I had a tough time coming to terms with my illness for months. This isn't supposed to happen to me, I thought. This is not my life. These things happen to other people or they'll happen to me when I'm old. I didn't want to think this way, so I worked at getting better, striving to once again have a normal life. I may have taken a few steps back since surgery—it's a difficult ongoing battle—and I could easily wallow in my pain and circumstances; but I won't allow myself to get to that point again.

I'm 26-years-old. Having bore secondhand witness to numerous traumatic events that have helped to shape my thoughts on life, I am currently in the middle of a difficult personal excursion of my own and there is only one thing that I can do: grow. I can't sulk forever or pretend that it isn't happening. Sure, some days will be harder than others—days in which I'll be angry and want to give up—but right now, all I can do is learn from the past and the present and move forward.


  1. You have a lot of wisdom for your age,Max! I really like your attitude. You have compassion for other people who go through difficulties and you are learning to trust God through your own dificult situation. Very well written!