Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Scary Reaction

Today was going pretty well. For lunch, I decided to go get my allergy shots and then grab a sandwich on the way back to the office. Little did I know, I would not get that far.

At the allergist's office, I signed in as usual and had to wait for this guy who came in before me to finish. I was called in to the nurse's station, asked the usual question of whether I had any reaction after my last shot, to which I honestly answered no. I think I've had one reaction in my life, and it was a severely itchy throat. The adrenaline given to me at that time fixed it. I have been taking allergy shots since 1983 when I first diagnosed with allergies and asthma, so the shots are no big deal to me. They also help with my symptoms.

I get four shots about every 3-4 weeks, two in each arm. There's one for trees and other pollen. There's one for animal dander. There's one for grasses, and a final one for foods. Yeah, I'm allergic to a LOT of stuff.

I got my receipt, and then I went back to the waiting room. The policy is to wait for 30 minutes to be sure that you don't have a reaction. I grew up being told that if a reaction was going to happen, it almost always happened within 20 minutes, so I wait at least 20 minutes before leaving.

Upon sitting in a chair, I was suddenly overcome with nausea, and although I did not know why, I felt I could vomit any moment. I went to the bathroom in the office, and halfway dry heaved twice. Then I started sneezing....and sneezing....and sneezing some more. The nausea passed, but I felt the need to cough. When I did, it felt like a firestorm going on in my upper lungs, and I could almost feel my alveoli closing up with each cough. The alveoli are the air sacs in your lungs where oxygen is transferred to the blood and carbon dioxide released. If those close, you're in serious trouble.

I felt that I was having a reaction, and one look in the mirror confirmed it. My face was bright red, as if my skin was about to spontaneously bleed. The whites of my eyes were red. I knew I needed to get help.

I walked out of the bathroom and went to the nurse's station. No one was there, so I pressed the button that you usually press if a nurse is not present when you arrive for your shots. A nurse was around the corner, and one look at me caused her to say, "Oh shit. Sweetie, come here." She immediately gave me a shot of adrenaline, and then took me in the back to an examining room.

On the way, the allergist was in the hall. He was not my usual allergist, but he was the partner on duty at this particular location today. He was a cool customer. I know why; the last thing you need for a patient having a systemic reaction to his allergy shots is panic. He acted like this happens every day, and asked me what I was feeling while he listened to my chest. A female med student was in the office and she listened to the front of my chest. He had me breathe deeply, and that caused another coughing fit and a round of tightening in my lungs. My cough had a raspy quality to it that almost whistled. He ordered liquid zyrtec, which is an antihistamine, and chewable benedryl. He also ordered another dose of adrenaline along with a nebulizer treatment to open my lungs. I've had those nebulizers before when I've had to go to the hospital with a bad asthma attack.

It was difficult to do the breathing treatment because the medicine was causing me to cough, and I kept sneezing with a running nose. My eyelids felt swollen. I could not breathe out of my nose, and I could not hear. My ears felt swollen and on fire. I could feel pressure building up behind my ear drums, and I had trouble hearing. My face was on fire with flushing. My blood pressure measured at 90/70....I'm not sure if it's EVER been that low. My pulse was 90. I'm not sure how I was not passing out, although the doctor kept asking if I felt light headed or dizzy. I felt slightly light headed, but nothing serious.

The doctor sat on a chair in front of me, talking with me and then explaining everything to the student. Why he asked certain questions, what the answers mean, and what physical symptoms to watch for to be sure the reaction is being controlled. He had another shot of adrenaline, half as strong, given to me again.

The sneezing finally abated, but I kept having to blow my nose. I had a light yellow liquid coming out, which is likely plasma from the increased blood flow. After a few minutes, my nose started to bleed, which was from the expanded blood vessels and the forceful blowing. At this point, my left nostril was completely swollen shut and my right nostril was probably 99% closed. Luckily, my throat was open, and the asthma attack was abated.

I called work to tell them that I was not going to make it back this afternoon, and then I had to call Daniel and Tim to tell them I was not going to be able to go with them to the Emory YD meeting as we'd planned. Even with all the adrenaline in my veins, I was feeling tired already from the ordeal, and I knew when it passed, I would not be worth crap to anyone. I also called my mom to tell her what happened, because I knew if I did not, I'd catch hell later when I told her. We are all the other has in the world, and I know if something happened to her, I want to be told about it as soon as possible.

I had an ice pack to help with the nose bleed, and it felt so good against my still-flushed face. The doctor felt comfortable enough to see other patients and have nurses keep an eye on me by visiting every few minutes. After nearly two hours, I still was slightly flushed, but my eyes were much better, and my face was not nearly as red. My left nostril was still clogged, so he gave me one last dose (1/3 the strength of the first two) of adrenaline to be safe. I was handling the adrenaline pretty well, only shaking slightly. The last shot opened me up all the way, and it made me slightly jittery.

Since I had not eaten, the doctor told me to get food, and that would help with my body metabolizing the adrenaline. I stopped for lunch on the way home, and then went to bed. I could only lightly rest though, because the adrenaline had my heart racing, and my arms were hurting from all the shots.

I'm still tired, and I'm pretty amazed at how QUICKLY the reaction came on, and the severity of it. They asked all kinds of questions to explain how I had a reaction THIS time, when I have always handled the shots well. I had not been drinking, angry, running, excited, or exposed to an allergen in the last day or so. I did not take any aspirin, ibuprofen, or Tylenol. There was nothing to explain why I had the reaction this time. I will be back in about a month for another set of shots, severely decreased I'm sure.

This was a frightening episode, but I find that when faced with a crisis, I become extremely calm. I focus on doing what I need to do at the time, which in this case, was getting help. I do not know why I am like this, but I am quite grateful for it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Good Fight

I got an open letter from Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire today. He wrote it to all the LGBT Community, especially those of us in the Episcopal Church. Many have been upset that our bishops did not give the finger to the Global South and tell them to F*ck Themselves with their ultimatum of "repress the gays or else". I felt the communique from the New Orleans meeting was a restatement of the status quo. It appears that +Gene would agree. His letter is excellent, so I'm copying it below. If only the conservatives were able to be so Christ-like, we'd all be better off.

An Open Letter to the LGBT Community
from Bishop Gene Robinson
October 9, 2007

Now that the Church has had some time to absorb and consider the recent meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans and its response to the Anglican Communion, I’d like to share with you what I experienced at the recent House of Bishops meeting, and where I think we are as a result.

There is NO “mind of the House” nor a “mind of the Episcopal Church.” In fact, we are a House and a Church of many different minds. We are in transition from the Church we have been called to be in the past, to the Church we are called to be now and in the future. We are not there yet.

I value highly the thoughts and needs of my brother and sister conservative bishops, who have no intention of leading their flocks out of the Episcopal Church, but come out of dioceses which, for the most part, find the Episcopal Church’s actions of the last four years troublesome and alarming. I listened to them when they voiced the fears of their people that changing our views on homosexuality is a precursor to moving on to denying important tenets of our orthodox faith, from the Trinity to the Resurrection. We worked for a statement which would reflect the diversity we recognize and value as a strength of our Episcopal communion. It was our goal to describe the Church as it currently is: NOT of one mind, but struggling to be of one heart.

My own goal – and that of many bishops – was to do NOTHING at this meeting. That is, our goal, in response to the Primates, was simply to state where we are as an Episcopal Church, not to move us forward or backward. Sometimes, “progress” is to be found in holding the ground we’ve already achieved, when “moving forward” is either untimely or not politically possible. And, doing nothing substantive respects the rightful reminder to us from many in the Senior House that the House of Bishops cannot speak for the whole Church, but rather must wait until all orders of ministry are gathered for its joint deliberations at General Convention.

While many of us worked hard to block B033 and voted against it at General Convention, it IS the most recent declaration of all orders of ministry gathered as a Church. The Bishops merely restated what is, as of the last General Convention.

Yes, we did identify gay and lesbian people as among the group included in those who ‘present a challenge” to the Communion. That comes as a surprise to no one. It is a statement of who we are at the moment. Sad, but true.

Many bishops spoke on behalf of their lgbt members and worked hard to prevent our movement backwards. We fought hard over certain words, certain language. We sidelined some things that truly would have represented a movement backwards.

I want to tell you what I said to the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the course of his comments, it seemed to me that the Archbishop was drawing a line between fidelity to our gay and lesbian members, and fidelity to the “process of common discernment,” which he had offered as a prime function of a bishop. I heard him saying that gay and lesbian members of our Church would simply have to wait until there was a consensus in the Communion. When we were invited to respond, I said something like, “Your Grace, I have always respected you as a person and your office, and I always will. But I want you to know and hear, that to me, a gay man and faithful member of this Church, this is one of the most dehumanizing things I’ve heard in a long time, and I will not be party to it. It reminds me of Jesus question ‘Is the Sabbath made for man, or man for the Sabbath?’ Choosing a process over the lives of human beings and faithful members of this Church is simply unacceptable and unscriptural.” The next morning, the Archbishop tried to assure us that he meant both/and rather than either/or. I tried to speak my truth to him.

On the issue of same sex unions, I argued that our statement be reflective of what is true right now in the Episcopal Church: that while same sex blessings are not officially permitted in most dioceses, they are going on and will continue to go on as an appropriate pastoral response to our gay and lesbian members and their relationships. Earlier versions of our response contained both sides of this truth. I argued to keep both sides of that truth in the final version, providing the clarity asked for by the Primates.

Others made the argument that to state that “a majority of Bishops do not sanction such blessings” implied that a minority do in fact sanction such blessings, and many more take no actions to prevent them. All this without coming right out and saying so. That argument won the day. I think it was a mistake.

Another issue to which I spoke was this notion of “public” versus “private” rites. I pointed out on the floor that our very theology of marriage is based on the communal nature of such a rite. Presumably, the couple has already made commitments to one another privately, or else they would not be seeking Holy Matrimony. What happens in a wedding is that the COMMUNITY is drawn into the relationship – the vows are taken in the presence of that community and the community pledges itself to support the couple in the keeping of their vows. It is, by its very nature, a “public” event – no matter how many or how few people are in attendance. The same goes for our solemn commitments to one another as lgbt couples.

I suspect that these efforts to keep such rites “private” is just another version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” If avoidance of further conflict is the goal, then I can understand it. But if speaking the truth in love is the standard by which we engage in our relationships with the Communion, then no.

Let me also state strongly that I believe that the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and Primates MISunderstood us when they stated that they understood that the HOB in fact “declared a ‘moratorium on all such public Rites.’” Neither in our discussions nor in our statement did we agree to or declare such a moratorium on permitting such rites to take place. That may be true in many or most dioceses, but that is certainly not the case in my own diocese and many others. The General Convention has stated that such rites are indeed to be considered within the bounds of the pastoral ministry of this Church to its gay and lesbian members, and that remains the policy of The Episcopal Church.

Lastly, let me respond to the very real pain in the knowledge that the change we long for takes time. This movement forward is going to take a long time. That doesn’t make it right. It certainly does not make it easy. Dr. King rightly said that “justice delayed is justice denied,” but that didn’t stop him from accepting and applauding incremental advances along the way.

We have every right to be impatient. We MUST keep pushing the Church to do the right thing. We must never let anyone believe that we will be satisfied with anything less than the full affirmation of us and our relationships as children of God.

BUT, I will continue to try to remain realistic in my approach. I work hard, and pray hard, to find the patience to stay at the table as long as it takes. And I hope we can refrain from attacking our ALLIES for not doing enough, soon enough. The bridges we are burning today may turn out to be the bridges we want to cross in the future. Let’s not destroy them.

We need to be in this for the long haul. For us to get overly discouraged when we don’t get all that we want, as fast as we want, seems counterproductive to me. We should never capitulate to less than all God wants for us, but to lose heart when we don’t move fast enough, and to attack the Church we are trying to help redeem, seems counterproductive.

The two days of listening to the Archbishop of Canterbury and some members of the ACC were the two hardest days I’ve had since my consecration. (It was a constant and holy reminder to me of the pain all of YOU continue to experience every day at the hands of a Church which is not yet what it is called to be. Ours is a difficult and transforming task: to continue serving a church that seems to love us less than we love it!) I was comforted by the support I DID receive from those straight bishops who spoke up for us, and especially by many of the Bishops of color, who implicitly “got” what I was trying to say and defied the majority with their support of me and of us. I was even encouraged by many conservative bishops’ willingness to work together to craft a statement we, liberal and conservative alike, could all live with.

I believe with my whole heart that the Spirit is alive and well and living in our Church – even in the House of Bishops. I believe Jesus when he told his disciples, on the night before he died for us, that they were not ready to hear and understand all that he had to teach them – and that he would send the Holy Spirit to lead them into all truth. I believe that now is such a moment, when the Church, in its plodding and all-too-slow a way, is being guided into truth about its gay and lesbian members. It took ME 39 years to acknowledge who I was as a gay man and to affirm that I too am considered precious by God. Of course, the very next day after telling my parents, I expected them immediately to catch up to what had taken me 39 years to come to. Mercifully, it has not taken them the same 39 years to do so. The Church family is no different. It is going to take TIME.

I voted “yes” to the HOB statement. I believe it was the best we could do at this time. I am far less committed to being ideologically and unrelentingly pure, and far more interested in the “art of the possible.” Am I totally pleased with our statement? Of course not. Do I wish we could have done more? Absolutely. Can I live with it? Yes, I can. For right now. Until General Convention, which is the appropriate time for us to take up these issues again as a Church, with all orders of ministry present. I am taking to heart the old 60’s slogan, “Don’t whine, organize!”

I am always caught between the vision I believe God has for God’s Church, and the call to stay at the table, in communion with those who disagree with me about that vision – or, as is the case for most bishops, who disagree about the appropriate “timing” for reaching that vision of full inclusion. In this painful meantime, please pray for me as I seek to serve the people of my diocese and you, the community of which I am so honored to be a part.

Your brother in Christ,