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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Doing Well at Being Sick" (Wendy Wallace)

TITLE: Doing Well at Being Sick: Living with Chronic and Acute Illness
AUTHOR: Wendy Wallace
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 2010, (240 pages).

We have all experienced terrible illness from time to time. It can be a simple bout of flu, or a tummy ache. It can also be due to some accidental fall or a crazy migraine. Usually we get well. With medication, we can often deal with the symptoms and with rest, to let our bodies take care of the longer term healing. What if chronic illness hits us? What if the cherished recovery takes so long time to come, that we fear it may never ever come? What if the sickness is so bad that we not only struggle with pain and depression, we lose our hope to live? What if you get not just one sickness, but multiple problems plaguing you over and over again? By the age of 47, Wendy Wallace has gone through heart attacks, lung cancer, chemotherapy, lupus, arthritis, colon cancer, multiple surgeries, and several more ills. It seems too terrible to be even true, but yes. Wallace lived through it all and from the depths of her despair and the heights of her hope through faith in God, she has given us a book to share her journey with. In this book, she deals with questions like:

  • Where and how do we find strength in our weakest moments? 
  • What about the guilt that patients feel when they see their family members, loved ones, and caregivers suffer because of them?
  • Where is God when everything seems to be going wrong?
  • How can family members cope?
  • What about cases when medical professionals make mistakes?
  • What can we do to assist the healthcare given to us?

This book is soaked with the author's experience through her own physical ailments. Just seeing how Wallace was able to overcome the many struggles through illnesses from A-Z already humbles any reader. Yet, she points out that although she is a person with many illnesses, these illnesses do not define her. It is God who defines her. With that knowledge, she is able to develop an attitude of gratitude away from self-pity to other-centered; to spend whatever gifts and time she has wisely, instead of complaining about the things that she does not have. Readers will learn about the relationship with our caregivers and our families. Sometimes, it is our own family members who are having a harder time grappling with our own illnesses. The part about shifting our trust from self to God is soul warming. While humans tend to think short term, God is mindful of all terms. Whatever God does, is always for the eternal good. In illnesses, we learn what being broken and trusting in a more unique way.

The book also deals with how patients can relate to their doctors, even though some doctors are downright arrogant, to the point that their actions may endanger their very patients they are supposed to help. The key is to work together, and not totally (or foolishly) think that doctors are our saviours. They are not. They make mistakes too. By working with them, patients can take responsibility for their own health too. She even goes through a list of the different kinds of doctors who are specialized in very specific areas. Know what is an Otolaryngologist or Nephrologist? There is also a chapter on how to work with hospitals, and to be prepared with a medical list of essential information so that medical professionals can react rapidly to time-sensitive emergencies. The last three chapters of the book will be helpful to those who are going through pain and physical suffering. Physically and practically, Wallace shows us how to live with pain, from pain relief to self-care; from preparation to actual implementation; from moaning about our pain to trusting in God. Mentally, she gives tips on approaching life with a more positive attitude, one that is mature and life-giving not just to self but also to others. Spiritually, she shows us what she has done in her journey of faith and trust, meditating on Scripture.

There are many precious gems in the book.
  • "Most medical personnel work extremely hard to keep us as healthy as possible. But they all make mistakes along the way, and we need to forgive them.."
  • "Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of what you already have."
  • "One of our tasks in learning to live well is to learn the truths that will set us free to be well in sickness."
  • "In all of life’s difficult situations, God often allows us to stew in these stages until we are ready to accept the fact that He has been in control all of the time."
  • "If I had simply acknowledged that God was in control of my life and looked for His lesson in the situation, I would have moved more quickly out of my grief to a place of contentment. Instead of asking, “Why did this happen?” I should have been asking, “What do you want to teach me now, Lord?” I had no way of knowing God’s plan for my future, but I could have simply trusted that He had one that was being worked out."
  • "We search for happiness through fame, fortune, serial relationships, and acclaim. Yet daily we read reports of the suicides of rich people, the painful ending of yet another celebrity marriage, or the downward spiral of someone who was once at the top of whatever game he or she played. The “saints and poets” Wilder writes about have the opportunity to “realize life” because they see their lives through God’s eyes. God clearly teaches us that “me first” always leads to despair, and the only important thing we do with our lives on earth is to love God and others."
  • ...
If you are sick, or know someone who is sick, this is one book that you must pick up. Wallace covers a lot of areas, but one big area that will need more coverage is in the area of finance. As many societies around the world age, and with the costs of healthcare going up every year, chances are, financial pressures are going to impact our overall state of health too. Sometimes, the lack of money or the stress of it all only goes to make one more ill. Health is a big area of concern for many. In the Bible, healing is understood more of being made whole rather than just a specific area of cure. Healing is about the whole person, not just a discrete part of our body. This book, though not a full healing manual, points us to a wide variety of areas that we can pay attention to. Ultimately, there is a need for hope, that is regardless of positive or negative prognosis. Even if one has only a few months left to live, if one can make these remaining months count, that will be a life more well spent. A healthy person may have many more years to live, but if his life is without purpose or hope, without meaning or love, is that life a better one? 

Let me close with a quote from Mitch Albom's "Tuesdays with Morrie."

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Discovery House Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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