I have a beautiful tale to tell about my fourth chemotherapy today, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. I was glad that my blood counts were good enough to keep the scheduled appointment and I arrived a few minutes early. But to be honest, I was feeling a troubling resistance to this session. Already yesterday I was sensing the metallic taste in my mouth and a general dread of the effects that come after the chemo. I was struggling to find the gratitude and openness that allow the medicines to do what they are intended to do, i.e. to restore me to health.
The first “glitch” came when the nurse told me that a urinalysis should have been done with my labs yesterday because of one of the medications that can affect the kidneys. I had questioned the lab tech because she didn’t request a urine specimen but she said, “It wasn’t ordered.” Okay, I thought, maybe they are satisfied with the blood test for kidney function. So this morning the nurse apologized and said that they couldn’t start the chemo until I went downstairs to the lab for the urinalysis. I explained that I had asked about that yesterday…”I know,” she said, “It just wasn’t ordered.” So I trundled myself and my belongings down the stairs, managed to provide a sparse specimen of urine, and returned to the infusion center waiting area to wait for the results.
Meanwhile, another patient arrived who I recognized from my last visit for iv rehydration fluids after my last treatment. She had been getting her first treatment and did not have a “port” so the nurses were trying to get a peripheral iv line- with much difficulty. We had a long discussion about the benefits of having a port which makes access so much more convenient and comfortable. She expressed many doubts and worries but eventually agreed to the appointment for port placement. I offered a lot of reassurance, showing her my little veteran port-o-cath (placed in March 2008), saying that it is my little golden door that allows me to receive the gifts of healing. Today this woman would be using her port for the first time – and she was worried. “Will it hurt?” was her greatest concern. Not as much as all those sticks to get an iv! Just then my nurse called me to get started.
I settled into my chair and was ready when she came with the supplies to access my port and start the first pre-medication. Margie is new to the infusion center but has experience with inpatient pediatric oncology so I felt confident in her skill. The little poke of the needle into the port button on my chest felt right- but as she tried to withdraw blood and flush with saline she got a worried look on her face. “There’s too much resistance,” she said. She tried to reposition the needle, replaced it once with a new needle, called another nurse for an opinion, and finally said she would have to call my doctor.
I felt myself panicking. What will they do? What if I can’t get chemo today? What if they can’t get another iv? As I waited I watched my friend of the brand new port-o-cath get her first access without a glitch. Her chemo got started and she worked crosswords on her smartphone like a pro. Good for her! I thought. Then I returned to my own predicament.
I remembered the general feeling of resistance that I had to this round of chemo. I also recalled that today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and how many times I had told friends that I expected special graces with the chemo. So I asked Mary to please help me be receptive to this experience of healing, to not have any blockage emotionally, spiritually or physically. Specifically, I asked her to take care of my port-o-cath!
The doctor told Margie to start a peripheral iv to give today’s treatment and to schedule me for a procedure to see if there was some kind of a “kink” in my port-o-cath. More anxiety! Margie seemed nervous as she surveyed the veins of my right arm and I didn’t like where she was looking. So I pointed out my personal favorite in the right wrist area, known as “the intern’s friend”. Margie took my advice and got it on the first quick stick. She connected the tubing and started to infuse the first pre-medication. I asked if she was going to put some heparin (blood thinner) flush in the blocked port. She went to get the supplies for the heparin flush. Lo and behold! She got an immediate blood return and had no resistance when she pushed the heparin! “It’s working!” she said.
I knew what had happened and how. Recently I came to know about a painting of Mary that is a particular favorite of Pope Francis. Known as “Mary, Undoer of Knots” by Johann Georg Schmidtner, the painting in Augsberg, Germany shows Mary untangling the knots in a long strand of rope or yarn. Angels hold the balls of tangled, knotted yarn. My spiritual director had acquainted me with this image of Mary back in August as I waited for surgery. This morning when I faced a serious resistance to the work of healing, my heart instinctively turned to Mary, the great untangler of knots. Whatever “kink” or blockage was keeping me from receiving the chemotherapy most effectively was now removed. And I believe it wasn’t just the physical knot that was undone.
Margie gave a couple of extra flushes for good measure and then she hooked me up to the infusion machine and hung the next bag of fluids, capping off my wrist iv in case it might be needed later. It wasn’t. The port worked fine and I fell into a deep sleep for the next few hours. But not before I went online to find this prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots:
Virgin Mary, Mother of fair love, Mother who never refuses to come to the aid of a child in need, Mother whose hands never cease to serve your beloved children because they are moved by the divine love and immense mercy that exists in your heart, cast your compassionate eyes upon me and see the snarl of knots that exist in my life.
You know very well how desperate I am, my pain and how I am bound by these knots.
Mary, Mother to whom God entrusted the undoing of the knots in the lives of His children, I entrust into your hands the ribbon of my life.
No one, not even the evil one Himself, can take it away from your precious care. In your hands there is no knot that cannot be undone.
Powerful Mother, by your grace and intercessory power with Your Son and My Liberator, Jesus, take into your hands today this knot…I beg you to undo it for the glory of God, once for all, You are my hope.
O my Lady, you are the only consolation God gives me, the fortification of my feeble strength, the enrichment of my destitution and with Christ the freedom from my chains.
Hear my plea.
Keep me, guide me, protect me, o safe refuge!
Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for me
So in this week of two great feasts of Mary, the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe, I share another view of our Blessed Mother. Being an avid knitter myself, I can totally appreciate Mary’s patient and nimble fingers working out the kinks and tangles of my life. Today I am especially grateful for her handiwork. I can highly recommend this skillful untangler for the knots in your own life.