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The Big Us



The following is an excerpt from the humorous and spiritually uplifting book, Nothing Bad Happens, Ever. The book was written by Joan Fountain and published by Gold Leaf Press—the original publisher of Embraced By The Light.

BYPASS

The diagnosis was Morbid Obesity—a term that groups together all the symptoms of obesity and says you'll probably die from one or more of them soon. In my case, my doctor, Doc Lowell, said I had six months to live.
"Unless," Doc Lowell said, "you agree to a surgical procedure called an intestinal bypass that will cause you to lose weight and may possibly save your life."
"May possibly?" I asked.
"Nothing is certain. But if you agree to the surgery, we'll need time to prepare."
"For what?"
"Miss Fountain," the doc checked his clipboard, "your weight is four hundred and twenty pounds. We'll need to build a special surgical platform for you. This hospital is not equipped with surgical tables large enough for a person such as yourself. It would be a first here."
So, if I agreed to this surgery, I would be, not only the first African-American woman to certify in firearms and takedowns at Solano Community College, but also the fattest person they ever operated on at Oakland's Kaiser Hospital. At this rate I was racking up more impressive accomplishments than Imelda Marcos.
"Do it," I said. But I said it without enthusiasm because I wasn't sure I wanted him to save my life.
"Then we'll order the platform. But I feel obligated to warn you that the extent of your obesity complicates this procedure, as it would any surgical procedure. You may not live through it."
"That wouldn't matter to me, Doc," I said. "I haven't been living for the past couple of years, anyway. Really."
So, I signed the forms, returned home, and waited two weeks while the hospital constructed a platform sturdy enough to allow Doc Lowell to cut me open and tinker with my intestines and not fall to pieces (the platform, not the doctor). I decided to inform my mother about this (the tinkering, not the platform), so, late one night, I dialed her number.
"Momma, it's Joan," I said when she answered.
"Hello, Joanie." Her voice sounded distant, as if she were holding the phone at arm's length from her mouth.
"Momma, can you hear me?"
"Of course I can hear."
"I'm really sick, Momma. I'm going to have an operation. I thought I'd let you know."
"What kind of operation?"
"An intestinal bypass. They..."
"When."
"Next Thursday, but listen, you don't need to come, Momma, if…"
"I'll be sure and pray for you, Joanie. On Thursday."
"Okay, pray for me and…thank you…"
I listened for a response. I couldn't even hear her breathing.
"I'll call and let you know how it turns out."
I didn't put the phone down after we said good-bye—there was more I wanted to say. But I didn't know what I wanted Momma to hear, so when the line went dead, I felt relieved. At the same time, a hollow longing settled into my heart. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't.
A while later, I fell asleep—the phone still in my lap.

Bypass: A procedure in which a diseased organ is temporarily or permanently circumvented (see Webster's).

CARRIED AWAY

Thursday came, and at dawn, my roommate Lynette and I began our drive to Oakland. I'd had two weeks to consider my feelings about the operation and was surprised that morning to feel hope rising with the sun. I'd come to believe that obesity had been the cause of my troubles all along and that if surgery could make me thin forever, I might finally be happy.
At the hospital, Lynette helped me through admittance, then an orderly wearing a white baseball cap brought a wheelchair to take me to my room. He quickly realized that no way was I going to squeeze my butt into that chair, and he spun around and disappeared back down the hall. He returned a minute later pushing steel gurney with sturdy looking wheels. The contraption wasn't wide enough for me to lie on, but riding sidesaddle in the middle of it might work.
"This should do it, Miss," he said and cranked the handle that lowered the bed. He maneuvered the gurney behind me, and I plopped down. The braces squeaked, but they held. The orderly didn't attempt to crank the bed back up, but he said with a cheery smile, "You see?"
Lynette hugged me. "You're on your own from here," she said.
"Go ahead. Abandon me," I replied.
"No one deserves it more." She smiled and then waved as the orderly wheeled me off—my sandals dragging across the tiled floor.
For the next few hours, I sat half-on, half-off a hospital bed that threatened any moment to collapse while two nurses prepped me for the operation. They washed me, took blood samples, and measured my vital signs. By Doc Lowell's orders, the nurses refused to feed me—in fact they had to administer three enemas to eliminate what I'd eaten the day before! It was humiliating. I got through it only by reminding myself repeatedly how great I'd look a year from then with a body like Goldie Hawn's on Laugh-In. In fact, I thought, this entire scene belongs on Laugh-In, and I double-checked the room for hidden cameras.
At noon, I gazed longingly at the lunch belonging to the woman in the bed next to mine. It was a meager snack really—a cheese sandwich, applesauce, and a cookie—but I would have eagerly endured another enema for it.
A male nurse came in with orders to insert two IVs—one on top of my wrist and one under my clavicle. First, he tried to find a vein through all the flab on my wrist, but his failure to do so was not due to a dull needle. Poke and miss, poke and miss—and he cussed at every miss. Finally, he gave up and called for the nurses to assist. With efforts from all three, they cut a slit in my arm which reached two-inches in length before they hit a vein large enough to make blood squirt across the bed and onto the wall. They stuck the IV in that hole and taped it shut. They tried the same trick with my clavicle but couldn't make my blood spurt far enough. They ended up sticking the IV under my collarbone instead. I was a bloody wreck by the time the anesthesiologist showed up.
"Hi, Joan," she said. "My name's Doctor Yee, and I'm going to give you a sedative to knock you out for the operation."
"Too late," I said. "They've already operated."
She laughed and prepared her rather long needle. "This won't take effect immediately," she said, and I felt a sting in my thigh. "We don't want you falling asleep until we've got you positioned in the hoist."
"Positioned in what hoist?" I asked.
"The industrial hoist Doctor Lowell ordered. We would never get you onto the surgical platform with a hoist." She jerked out the needle and patted my thigh.
Hoist, I though. Did she mean crane? Great. They'd hired a crane to come in and lift me onto the table—probably operated by some guy named Mack with hairy arms and a beer-stained tank top.
I hope this sedative is strong, I thought. I don't want to be sober for this.
The orderly in the white baseball cap showed up smiling at the door. "You ready, Doctor Yee? I've brought the gurney."
"Yes, Mack," she answered, and my eyebrows shot up. "Let's take her down."
A few minutes later, Mack wheeled me into the operating room, and Doc Lowell and his assistants slapped electrodes onto my bleeding body. Then they helped me to maneuver myself onto a wide platform suspended by metal cables. A hoist would lift this platform with me lying on it, carry it to the center of the room, and bring it to rest atop a receiving platform which sat solidly on eight sturdy legs.
However, as it turned out, the hoist would carry me farther than that. Much farther. Just as I got seated on the platform, Dr. Yee's sedative suddenly took effect, and I went limp. I fell backwards, landing solidly on my back in the middle of the platform. My vision faded to black.
Fortunately, I had fallen into perfect position for the operation. Unfortunately, by the time the hoist carried me across to the receiving platform, I had died, and the room erupted with alarms.


THE GRAND KEY

I had gotten into the habit of sleeping sitting up, and it had been nearly two years since I last laid flat—a detail I had forgotten to tell Doc Lowell. Now, my large chest pressed heavily on my lungs and heart. They couldn't sustain the weight. I flat-lined (so to speak) as I smothered beneath the bulk of my own fat. I'm told that Doc Lowell's team snapped into action and within minutes resuscitated me, then proceeded with the operation. But, of course, I wasn't aware of any of this. I experienced something the surgical team was unaware of and which—to this day—I can't adequately describe.
Most of us have become acquainted with the term "near-death experience," and I suppose that's what I had. I saw no tunnel, no bright light or angelic beings—I just fell backwards and landed into a soft, black void rather than onto the hard surface of the platform. Normally with a fall, I would have tried to catch myself because even fat people have reflexes. Sensing I no longer had a body that could get hurt, I just went along for the ride. And what a ride! I'll tell you, you never feel so good as when you're dead. I wanted to let out an infinite sigh of relief. Every pain had disappeared. All my hunger and self-doubt were simply gone. I was a being of spirit. I felt wholly myself—my natural and true self. I was in my prime. I don't mean to brag, but in the spirit, I possessed a truly celestial physique! I showed no trace of my tubby tummy, thunder thighs, or beluga butt.
Jenny Craig, you should know, girl, you'll need a new job when you get to heaven.
Not that I believed I was in heaven or anything. But when I looked around me, a billion-billion stars blinked on, and heaven seemed close enough to touch. I shifted my body and flew to the blackness beyond the stars and then truned to catch the view. And what a Kodak moment! The entire universe—our beautiful, abundant universe—spread before my eyes in an immense, white-fired sphere.
But more than my eyes took in this sphere—all my senses took it in, as well as my awareness. My spirit drew the universe inside of me, or the universe drew me inside of it. However it happened, I knew all of creation from every perspective at once—top to bottom, side to side, outside to inside. I knew the broad reaches of the galaxies, and at the same time, I knew the hidden hearts of the tiniest particles.
With this view, I understood at once the order of the universe. Its composition, dynamics, and rhythms of operation became clear. I saw that, as The creator's handiwork, our universe is vast and grand but also simple and obvious and sublime. I saw that everything echoes everything else throughout every level of the universe. In fact, everything IS everything else. And I grasped this key to creation's mystery:

We are all the Big Us—miraculously created, inseparably connected.

I didn't have long to consider this. The instant it occurred to me, whump! I fell back into my body. Just like that—whump!—as if my mortal body carried a pull of gravity too strong for my spirit to resist any longer. It was like Dorothy's house crashing to the ground in the Land of Oz—unceremonious and sudden. My body still slept under the effect of anesthetics, but my spirit remaind aware for a moment. The surgical room lights glared white hot. Tubes ran down my throat. Two of Doc Lowell's team supported my leg in the air while a third wrapped it with ace bandages. "Hurry that up," the doc said to them. "I'd like to get started here." Then I blanked out.
Later, when I slid open my eyes, an oxygen mask rested over my nose and mouth. I lay in a double-wide bed—or maybe two beds pushed together with the heads raised so I could breathe. Doc Lowell was standing nearby.
"Hi, Joan," he said. "We're going to keep you here in the recovery room through the night. Everything went fine with the operation, except that we lost you for a minute before we got started."
"You loshed me?" My lips were like lead.
"Yes, but we got you back. You're a strong woman."
"You shaid to hurry wish my legsh."
"You were out cold—how did you hear that?"
"The bandagesh..."
"To prevent blood clots. You get some sleep, now. I'll check back later."
He crossed the room, passing five other recovering patients, and walked out the door. I didn't call him back to describe what happened from my perspective when I'd "died." He would probably call my flight to the edge of creation hallucinating, and I didn't know how to argue with that. It was reality, and I shouldn't have to defend it to anyone. Besides, though I had become one with the entire universe, I didn't feel that the experience was meant to be universal. It felt private. Just me and the universe. Until I knew what good purpose sharing it would serve, I decided to keep what I experienced to myself.
But I had other things to think about. The surgery was behind me, and realizing that my body would now absorb only a portion of what I ate made me smile under my oxygen mask. I closed my eyes and tried to count all the ways my life would change. I got to sixty-three before I fell asleep.
Sometime in the night, I woke up when a nurse in blue entered the room. She moved from patient to patient, checking each one's condition and jotting down numbers from electonic monitors that beeped and hummed near every bed. She worked through the room purposefully, and yet this nurse was not just making her rounds. She spent an extra minute at each bedside to arrange the blankets of those who slept, dim the lamps, review each patient's face. She made personal, caring contact with each one, and the words "We are all the Big Us" came to mind.
She arrived at my bed, and after updating my chart and checking the fluid in my IVs, she tucked the blankets in along the side of my mattress. Her hair—black, streaked with gray—was tied back with a wide, white ribbon. I wondered about the mirror, the bathroom, the house where she had tied that ribbon on. I wanted to know her, everything about her.
"Are you comfortable?" she asked.
I nodded.
Then she rested her hand on my shoulder, and through her touch, I felt compassion flow. "Rest easy," she said and moved on to the next bed.
Words from the past rang out in my head: no use for you. But this time I dared to shout back, Who has no use for me? Not Lynette or this nurse—they have use for me. They care. Even my gurney-driver, Mack—he's kind to me and doesn't judge me for my problems. So there's three people, at least, with use for me in their lives. Not to mention The Creator, who must have some use for me. Why else would He make me one with the universe and then let me live to remember it?
What a concept. The Creator had use for me!
I snuggled into the warmth of my blankets to relish the feeling, and waves of wonder washed through me. They rivaled even the thrill that one day I might become Goldie Hawn's black twin!
See what caring and kindness lead to? The Creator uses the touch of others to let us feel His touch. The nurse in the white ribbon helped to heal more than just my body that night in the recovery room. Her caring showed that she already knew The Grand Key to the natural universe. Her touch reclaimed the mortal me as part of the Big Us.

I mentioned that my reentry into my body was like Dorothy's house landing in Oz—but the analogy doesn't end there. Compared to the world beyond, Earth can seem as unreal and disorienting as Dorothy found Oz to be. This is not our natural home. It would be nice to just click our heels together and go to our real home where nothing impedes growth and joy. However, I've learned that there are good reasons for having no easy outs. We must progress here while we're here and—like Dorothy's friends—acquire hearts that love, brains equipped with wisdom and truth, and courage to find and follow our yellow-brick roads. By gaining any measure of these, we grow. But to gain the full measure, we must lend our strength to others. Remember The Way of the Universe: life nurtures life. Creation must nurture creation, or everything reverts to chaos.
So, no matter how far on this journey we think we've come, it's never ours to say we've come far enough. Only God can make that call. Like the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion, we don't own magic slippers that can end our journey by a click of the heels. This is because we're meant to learn by staying behind, linking arms and helping others along the road. My nurse knew this. She new that loving is the most natural act of all.

THE CLUE IN THE VOID

Through all my desperate years I had many times prayed for God to swallow me into the void. That day in surgery, He did just that. But He pulled a fast one and brought me back! Now I've got Him figured. When He says no, He actually means yes—but yes to something far finer than what we know to ask for.
It's like praying to tour the neighborhood on a new pair of in-line skates, and The Creator says no because what He's got in mind for you is a flight on the space shuttle. Talk about touring the 'hood! Your lips will never flap again about not getting that new pair of skates.

With God in the bargain, never doubt you got the better deal.

Let me give you some advice. When you pray to The Creator, pray this: "Okay, I admit it, I'm clueless and you're The Clue. So let Your will be done. Not mine." Believe me, you'll be better off for it. You and I are creators, too—capable of creating lots of good or ill by our own efforts. We produce wonderful, joyful creations when we persist in things that make our spirits thrive. On the other hand, we cause pain by our creations which conflict with the natural tendencies of the spirit. Either way, the Master Creator honors our efforts. It would break natural law for him not to.
I used to believe that nothing existed in the void between the stars. I was wrong. For one thing, scientists have discovered something there they call "antimatter." (It was probably me they detected.) But scientists will never discover such a thing as "antilife" because The Creator is life, and His gentle, life-sustaining influence is everywhere—even in the void of space. I know. I went there. I felt Him in every particle and at every level of His creation. The amazing thing is that even the inanimate elements love Him and serve Him perfectly by aligning themselves with His will. Likewise, I'm convinced that the only perfect use of ourselves, our lives, is to bring about The Creator's will in us. It makes natural sense, doesn't it? I mean, after all, we are His creations and:

He is in charge.


(Joan Fountain eventually went on to lose 260 pounds, not as a result of surgery but of gaining self-worth and of learning the joys of becoming what God wanted for her. She eventually created a company and became a top-paid consultant and key-note speaker for many Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, American Airlines, Turner Broadcasting, and Westinghouse. Through this and her appearances on Oprah and other national TV and radio shows she shared her life story and her mix of wit and wisdom with millions. She was happiest when helping others to grow spiritually. In 1997, Joan Fountain suffered heart failure, and this time she did not return. She was 47.)

 

 
   
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