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A harrowing ER visit reminds us that from fear, we can find our way to empathy and joy

I had just walked in the door from being at the horse races. Tired and a bit fuzzy headed, I was looking forward to a drowsy Sunday afternoon of watching sports. My wife walked through the door shortly afterward.

“We need to meet Ellen at the emergency room right now,” she said. I was stunned and disoriented. On the ride there, she explained the severe involuntary twitches on just one side of our daughter’s body.

Seeing it in person was more disquieting. After hours of waiting, we finally saw a medical professional, who ordered an MRI. We were told it could be a number of things, including a brain tumor, MS and other serious complications. The unspeakable was now out there out in the open to contemplate.

“Who will take care of my son if something is terribly wrong?” she asked, weeping uncontrollably. (Since last fall, she has been fostering an 11-year-old with hopes of adoption). The world stopped and tears flowed. Nothing else in the world mattered in that moment, and I don’t know if I’ve ever squeezed anything tighter than her hand that day.

I know the first thought in both parents' brains was “Why can’t it be us?” We’ve both suffered losses of family and friends, but this? One of our own children? Thoughts went to dark places I hope I never have to visit again.

After 11 hours of waiting, we received the news of a clear MRI. That positive information alone caused the spasms to decrease, and new tears … of relief. Walking out of there, though, the world looked different.

Since that day, I have thought a lot about those who deal with such unfathomable loss. There was a shadow over my work week, and things that would have been funny prior just weren’t for several days.

It took me a while to digest it all, and as encouraging news kept coming from successive appointments, the darkness lifted. What I never want to lose, though, is the clarity of purpose and importance I felt in those hours in the ER. Nothing else mattered. Nor do I want to lose the empathy I felt walking out for those who received a very different message from their doctor. I understand maybe a bit more of their pain.

I also thought of the unnerving screams and moans I heard throughout the day, and yet there was that group of professionals going in there each and every day to deal with life and death events. How do I reconcile such feelings?

Later that same week, I came across this following paragraph in a New York Times column:

"Alessandri asks: “What if truth, goodness and beauty reside not only in light but also in darkness? What if believing otherwise has been a huge mistake?” She examines the work of philosophers throughout the ages and rejects what she calls the “brokenness story,” the narrative we tell ourselves when we can’t smile through pain — when we start to feel as if our brains are broken if we can’t find the sunny side of everything."

There was no sunny side or smile for any of this in that first day, or several after. But somehow, some way, I now see the truth of those emotions — of what is important versus what I thought was prior. Of the goodness in those professionals that have assisted us through this journey, and the beauty … the unequivocal beauty of having something so profound in one’s life to love so deeply. I thought of Winnie the Pooh’s quote “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."

Fortunately, we did not have to say goodbye. But oh my, have I found so much more joy in my hellos.

Brian Fogle is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

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