The Day I Broke

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Because it was yesterday.

I awakened a little troubled, because I had picked up Laura early from school the day before due to her texted complaint of a sore throat. Sure enough, when I had gone to get her, she felt a little warm and had very little appetite for a teenage girl before lunchtime. Since her pediatrician had canceled Laura’s appointment for this Friday, we just planned to go in during open clinic hours yesterday morning and see whom we could see.

That worked okay. I brought her home. I took Angi to chemo for her regular three-Tuesdays-in-a-row-one-off appointment. I got Laura’s prescription.

That’s when things got weird.

I didn’t go on to work. I had intended to. I just didn’t. I went home (thankfully). I’m not sure I knew what day it was or that I should have gone to work. I’m not even sure I was aware that I was employed, or where, or doing what.

I went home. I think I checked on Laura. Asleep again, as I recall. I helped my 94-year-old mom-in-law Harriette with her TENS pain control unit; one of the wires to an electrode was loose. I went upstairs to the bedroom.

And, as nearly as I can tell, I stared for a couple of hours.

I may have posted some things on Facebook and Twitter. Looking at them later, I couldn’t remember writing them. Or at least, writing them the way they were written as I was reading them. (I’m not sure – I think Facebook may have had some sort of retro-server malfunction too, which confused me even more. I was seeing posts from several weeks or months before, but time-stamped just hours before.)

Things got weirder.

I started remembering dreams. Vividly. From months and years and even decades before.

And I could not tell the difference between the “reality” in the dreams and the reality of my waking life. One seemed just as valid as the other. Even when they contradicted each other. I would describe it further, but that is all I can remember. The specifics are gone now.

Somehow I became aware that Angi was texting me that it was time for me to come and pick her up.

I had no sense of the time that had passed. It seemed like only seconds since her previous message that it would be at least another half-hour.

Shaken, I got in the car and went to pick her up. Except that by the time I got to the turn for Route 23, I could not remember why I was in the car or where I was going. Within a couple of stoplights, I was able to remember that I was supposed to pick up Angi. But where? The doctor’s office? The hospital? The cancer center? They’re all on 23. It had to be the cancer center.

While the chemo drip finished, I tried to collect myself. But Angi could tell something was wrong, and once we were in the car, she asked me. I have no idea what I said in the conversation that followed, and I can usually recall fairly recent conversations almost word-for-word — conditioning from years of journalism. I’m sure it was disturbing. She told me later that I had told her about the waking dream-recollections, and being unable to connect with reality.

By the time I got home, my chest was hurting pretty badly. After getting Angi comfortable on the sofa on the main floor, I went upstairs to try to nap it all away. I slept for about an hour. In the meantime, Angi called our doctor. When Harriette called up the stairs for me, I woke up — had missed Angi’s texts about the doctor being willing to see me. I called his office to confirm the appointment. I was really confused by then, and still hurting. I can only imagine what I sounded like to the receptionist. She spoke to my doctor, who told me to get to the emergency room and under no conditions was I to drive.

I had to go downstairs to Laura’s room to wake her up and ask her to drive me. I hated that. She stuck with me as I checked in. I couldn’t remember simple things that I was asked. I couldn’t remember everything that had happened earlier. I just knew that I was confused and my chest hurt and that I couldn’t remember earlier in the day where I was supposed to pick up Angi.


And my teenage daughter — bravely battling severe depression herself — had to see me break down in tears.

The hospital staff ran me through all the tests you can imagine in short order – lots of attempts to draw blood from these redheaded slippery veins of mine for bloodwork; a CT scan of the brain; a chest X-ray for the heart and lungs.

All normal. Or at least, within normal parameters for a healthy 57-year-old male.

About three hours later, my mental fog was beginning to lift. I knew what had been going on, though I was committed to stay another hour or so for a second round of bloodwork to confirm.

My chest was congested, probably from chest cold or allergies. But more importantly, I had been experiencing a silent (painless) migraine. I’ve had them before. I lose about 30 or 40 points of I.Q. when they happen to me. I can’t think. I can’t remember clearly.

But this one was clearly the worst and longest one I’ve ever had, and with perceptual/cognitive symptoms I’ve never had before. Fortunately — I think — I have only vague impressions of the lost hours and bizarre connection with my subconscious dreamworld. In college, thirty-some years ago, I did a self-study in the library to learn about schizophrenia — and a lot of what I experienced feels very similar to what I read about all those years ago.

It is no fun to feel like you are developing schizophrenia.

Migraines can be triggered by many things — including stress — and I have been doing a lot of stress lately. Look up any “stress points” chart and you’ll see that my family and I have been racking them up like we’re trying to set a new record. Severe change in a family member’s health? Check, check. Major mortgage? Biggest we’ve ever had. Buying, selling a house? Check, check. Oh, and eight months later: Check, check. Change in residence? Moved two states over. Change to a different line of work? Check. Change in financial status? Oh, yes; many medical bills. Spouse starts or stops work? Angi can do a couple of mornings a week at best. Change in work responsibilities? Yup; whole different job. Change to a different line of work? Yes, I’m trying to move from part-time to full-time employment. Child leaving home? No, we moved away from our son and left him to finish his schooling. Change in church activities? Started preaching from time to time. Change in social activities? Yes, we don’t get out anymore. Revision of personal habits? Yes. I’ve been trying to pick up the things Angi has done for years, chauffeur family members who can’t or shouldn’t drive, keep up with the things I’ve always done.

I think I’ve pretty well popped the stress cork with the sum of those points.

I exceeded manufacturer’s recommendations.

And I broke.

I’m much better today. Still trying to clear out the chest with Mucinex. Still having a few disturbing flashbacks to the missing hours yesterday; little glimpses with greater clarity into the Great Unclear.

I happened across my family doctor in the local grocer’s this evening and caught him up. He seemed relieved. He’s just a couple of years younger than me. He’s seen a lot.

For no better reason than “I want to,” I’ve chosen to take comfort in that.

You can look at troubled life and say, “It could have been a lot worse.”

You can look at troubled life and say, “It could still get a lot worse.”

You’ll be right either way.

For the past few days, I’ve been reading blogs and sites and posts by people who have struggled with crisis and tragedy in their lives. I’ve posted honest comments. I’m struggling, too. I don’t yet have a Unified Field Theory for the problems of theodicy. I don’t know anyone who does.

I continue to believe God is good, even though He permits good and bad to happen to good and bad people. I don’t know why. I think bad things happen to people at the instigation of Satan, the accuser. He lives to hurt and torment because he hates people to the core. I don’t know why. I am convinced that it all somehow has to do with a greater good, a level playing field for the fair competition between good and evil in this world and each of us chooses the outcome of her/his own personal game.

I understand that you can quit, give up, give in, give out, stop giving, surrender. That’s how you lose. You lose faith. You lose hope. You lose love for God, for others, for self, for life.

I could do that. You could do that. Anyone could, given enough stress points and the will to choose.

But it’s a zero-sum choice. If I give up on faith … on life … on God, well, as the Zack Mayo character in An Officer and a Gentleman so eloquently paraphrases Simon Peter:


I hope I remember that.

17 thoughts on “The Day I Broke

  1. I so get this. Been there, done that, can’t afford the T-Shirt. In February i went to the Er with a heart attack. It wasn’t. But it was a 1.5 month long anxiety attack that finally reached it’s highest and worst point. I so resonate with what you are feeling. After our tragedy, I lost everything–job, career, house, insurance (still getting astronomical hospital bills and don’t have a clue what to do) etc. The ripples will never end. I find myself at almost 51 years of age having to completely start over–trying to jump start a real estate job, a writing career. And I am very fearful. But enough of my pity party. I am praying for your peace just as you have prayed for mine! Love you! Les

  2. Before I was in ministry, I was in psychology and as I read what you wrote here it reminded me of a dissociative experience (look up dissociative fugue). These are often associated with extreme stress and your mind finally just breaking away from it all. Not to diagnose you over the internet or anything because that doesn’t always work very well! I pray you are feeling better!

  3. Brother, I’m no electrician, but I know that when wires get rubbed raw, they short out. I think you’ve had a little short out. If the Lord can be the Great Physician, He can also be the Great Electrician. Let Him insulate you and be your circuit override–or something like that. You are in the middle of a Job trip–only with much better and vastly more spiritual friends. Hang in there with Job faith. “Curse God and die” is not an option. Your redeemer lives. Love, Sis

  4. Don’t ask me why I noticed this, KB, but one more minute, and the time stamp on your hospital bracelet would’ve been 3:00 p.m., the customary hour for prayer (Acts 3:1).

    And that’s all you’ve got from this blogdaughter, prayer after prayer for you & yours. Love you, brother.

  5. Wow! My brother I suffered a stroke last year. I suffered similar symptoms. I understand some. Your in my prayers. May God continue to hold you in His hand.

  6. Pingback: An Incredibly Bad Day . . . Yet |

  7. We are all broken. Some of us are just aware enough to realize it and honest enough to admit it. Fortunately, God’s light shines from jars of clay. Thank you for shining. The cracks in your clay are beautiful! Praying for healing for all of you.

  8. Very glad it wasn’t your heart but, in many ways, it really is. I have been down this road and thought I was beyond the bend but now have had a head-on collision with another life-altering, devastating event that has put me on the mat and my whole family with me. God is holding my hand but I’m feeling pretty weak and alone. He’s wiping my tears. I know he has given me the best gift of all, my husband’s life, so I have to find a way to trust that He’ll see me through the rest of the way. I’m just frightened and weary and I know you are too. All we can do is ask the Lord to get us through it one day at a time. Don’t think of taking on more than the day that you’re living in right now. It’s the most important “now” that you have- together. (You and your family are in our prayers every single day!)

  9. Keith, every time I read something from you or a report on Angi, I am amazed at the continuing faith of the Brenton’s! Your spirit lifts me. You are both a blessing and my guess is you dont realize the positive impact you have on folks like me. I pray that you both remain at peace . . . . the brave journey is not in vain.

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