…and that’s the TOOTH!

This might end up being kind of a downer of a post, but that seems to be the majority of what I post these days anyway, doesn’t it?

I’ve got some health stuff going on.  Over the past year or so I’ve written occasionally about having what I think have been nocturnal seizures.  Haven’t had one of those (that I’m aware of) since January, but I have been having frequent migraines.  Migraines that impair my vision and send streaks across my sight for 15-30 minutes every time they happen…and that’s usually how they announce themselves.  No other major warnings other than “I don’t feel quite right…” then my vision goes funny, I pop a couple Excedrin, and I wait it out.  It’s been happening about weekly.  My last one was on Wednesday, with light sensitivity following on Thursday.

Before anyone tells me to go to the doctor, believe me I’m planning on it.  Back in January when I went in to an Urgent Care they did a scan of my brain and it came back clean.  No masses or tumors or anything like that.  So it’s nothing like that, and the $200 I spent to find that out was worth it.  (Even though they *told* me it was going to be $100, then billed me three months later for a second deductible for the MRI visit…but whatever.  Medicine’s a scam.)  I’m not too worried about finding out I’ve got something serious, because I already know what it is…it’s my teeth.

I’ve got bad teeth.  I have for years.  It’s mostly because when my wisdom teeth came in, I didn’t treat them (ouch) so all four (ouch) came in (ouch) with no medication and three (ouch) of them impacted.  The one that didn’t impact has (ouch) since broken.  So…if it was JUST those four teeth, it’d be a lot, but the lack of treatment at the time has taken its toll on the surrounding teeth as well.  So I’ve got a bunch of decayed, fractured molars and such.  Sometimes they hurt.  Sometimes they don’t.

I noticed as far back as ten years ago that sometimes when there’s extra pressure in my mouth (swelling and what-have-you) they’ll make me dizzy or even a little disoriented.  But it passes and I move on.  And I’ve noticed in the past two years that each nocturnal seizure of which I’m aware (3) have been preceded by oral issues.  And I’ve noticed that I’ve had more frequent pain on the right side at the broken wisdom tooth before each migraine in the last month…I really think the last one was caused by me simply “chewing wrong.”  I am certain the teeth are causing the migraines.  And I think they even caused the seizures.  I’ve read up on migraines.  They can cause seizures.  I think that what’s happened to me is that I’ve been asleep, a migraine has come on, and my brain didn’t know how to process it since I was asleep, so it gave me a seizure, instead of just wonky vision and a subsequent dull thud behind my forehead.

So…why haven’t I gotten it fixed.  It’s not fear.  It’s not even money (although it’s a **little** money).  And I’ve gone in to the dentist a few times.  In fact roughly this time last year, we were taking about doing some of the needed extractions and I left it with a “let me call you to schedule it later” and I just plain didn’t.  Because of the time investment.  Because I’m going to have to miss some work.  Because I’m going to have to take time between surgeries to heal and learn how to eat with missing teeth.  Because I’m going to have to figure out if partial plates or whatever need to go in and what kind of time investment THAT’S going to take.  And because…believe it or not…up until now, it’s been BEARABLE.  It hasn’t been comfortable, but it’s been a nuisance from time to time that I’ve been able to largely ignore.  But now the headaches are making me nervous to drive.  So I’ve got to get this taken care of…and I’ve been trying and failing to do so.

I like my dentist.  He’s an old family friend and a good dentist.  Which is why I delayed at least one week before calling…  I’d gotten sick just after the funeral I posted about in my last post (with a running nose, cough, and 101.2-degree fever) and I didn’t want to cough all over him.  The cough persisted for longer than expected and I’ve actually still got it a little, but I can mostly stifle it.  So I waited that out.  Then I called…and he was on vacation.  Then I planned to call yesterday and realized I’d waited too long and his business hours were over.  Then I called today and found that he closes at noon on Saturdays and I was calling in the afternoon because I sleep late on Saturdays.  And now he’s closed Sunday and Monday, per his regular hours.  None of this is his fault…it’s just been bad timing.  But man…when it rains, y’know?

I’m going to get something on the calendar on Tuesday.  And I’m going to go in and tell him which tooth has been the worst offender and he’s going to pull it.  And I hope that stops the migraines at least for a while.  Then I’ll go back to get other teeth pulled, but I know for some of them he’s going to bring in an oral surgeon because he doesn’t think he can get a couple of them himself.  I think I’ll ask to be knocked out for those.  I’m not scared of the dentist…but that sounds scary.

And I’m hoping that at that point I start to feel better.  And I don’t just mean the headaches.  And I don’t just mean the seizures.  I mean that from the moment my first wisdom tooth came in in 2006 (possibly earlier–can’t recall)…I haven’t felt good.  I’ve been in pain for at least 11 years.  I haven’t ever said it that way, and probably no one realizes it…but I genuinely can’t remember the last time I went a week without flinching at a tooth pain or feeling lightheaded or feeling disoriented or feeling grumpy because of oral pressure or feeling nervous because I don’t know when the next tooth problem is going to happen.  11 years of that.  For some reason it took me that long to choose to feel better.

I wonder who I’ll be after that…

On Larry Doggett

The first conversation I ever had with Larry Doggett came because he was a professor at the college I’d chosen to attend.  I didn’t know anything about him, but recognized his last name. And because he seemed kindly and approachable, I walked up to him after class and said, “Hello Professor Doggett, my name’s Derek.  By any chance, are you related to Tim Doggett?”  And Larry said, “Well kind of, he’s my son…”  At that time Tim and his family were in the Congo, where Larry had worked for nearly 25 years prior.  We talked for a few moments, then at the end of the conversation Larry said something that I’ve carried with me…  “Don’t try to impress me by becoming a missionary.  Be who God wants you to be.”

Then over the next 17 years, we moved from professor/student to colleagues to friends.  In that time, I’ve heard Larry tell stories of being in the Congo and having to flee because the war shifted a number of times, carrying only what was most important to him.  I’ve heard him tell the story of his daughter in law saving his life in a plane crash a few dozen times.  I’ve heard him talk about the painting that sat in his basement that “one of the Africans” did with house paint; a copy of which Larry presented to the President of Burundi.  I’ve heard Larry mention in passing on his way to other topics that he was responsible for taking the first printing press into the Congo.

And yet, he told me all of that without any of it coming across as bragging.  I had to get details on all of those events that to most would be life redefining from other parties. Larry would mention those things, but only because that’s how the story went…he wasn’t trying to impress anyone. (I’ve said for years that the only reason his name isn’t in history books is because he didn’t want it to be.) The only time I heard Larry brag was when he talked about his wife, his kids, or his grandkids.  I said to his wife today that every time Larry told me a story about Africa, he included the words “…and NANCY…”  In a world where we all want egalitarianism, a man in his 70s/80s always went out of his way to point out how strong his wife was and how much he leaned on her.  That’s something.

Larry signed my ordination certificate when I “officially” went into ministry.  A lot of people can say they’re in ministry because of Larry Doggett…  I’m fortunate enough to have it in writing.  Larry told me he was proud of me on a few different occasions.  I’m glad to say I also made it clear to him that I considered it an honor to call him “bwana.”  He called the people he particularly cared for “bwana.”  I knew that was his habit, so the first time he did it to me, I was so touched I failed to ask what it meant.  It’s Swahili.  The only colloquial definition I’ve found is “master” or “sir.”  Apparently it’s also sometimes used to refer to “God” when uppercase.  Regardless, it seems to indicate a show of respect from the person saying it.  Larry didn’t brag about much…but that he called me “bwana” is something I’ll brag about for the rest of my life.  And I’ll wave my ordination certificate around while I’m doing it.

Larry also used to punch me in the shoulder as hard as he could at infrequent but recurring intervals.  He sometimes did that to people he cared about too, if he thought they could take it.  I’d seen him do it to others before he did it to me, so I was prepared the first time it happened.  And prepared for the smile and laugh that came with it.  He never announced it.  I’d be standing there talking to someone else, and Larry would saunter alongside me, just outside my field of vision, and punch me in the shoulder.  I don’t really have anything else to add about that.  But it used to happen.

I have told Larry a couple of times that I’m honored to call him my friend.  He was humble about it.  Almost dismissive.  I think he found being praised a little embarrassing.  But I told him how much I thought of him more than once.  Larry knew I respected, appreciated, and celebrated his accomplishments on the mission field and also here in the States.  Aside from the fact that we didn’t see each other enough in these last few years, I have no unresolved issues with Larry Doggett, and I’m very, very grateful for that.

Larry Doggett passed away early Monday morning.  His funeral was today.

The funeral wouldn’t fit in a mortuary.  It wouldn’t fit in a church auditorium.  It took place in the gym of the college where Larry worked up until the end of his life.  But even that didn’t contain it.  There were also phone calls from colleagues of Larry’s from Africa that played over the sound system.  There were prayers in English, Spanish, and two different African dialects.  There wasn’t room in the whole COUNTRY for the people mourning Larry today.  As his granddaughter pointed out, there were people on “at least 6 of the 7” who mourned with us today.

One of Larry’s daughters spoke briefly and asked all of Larry’s family to stand.  It’s a large family, but comparatively made up a small percentage of the room–there were hundreds of us there; one family member posted on Facebook that the estimate was around 700 in attendance.  She then asked that if there were any who considered themselves spiritually part of Larry’s family to stand.  If anyone of the hundreds of people there were left seated, I think it must have been that they didn’t hear the question.  She got pretty much the whole room on that one.  Her name is Jenny.  She serves and lives in Mexico.  She’s the first member of the family to recognize me, walk over to me, and give me a hug.  We hadn’t seen each other in probably ten years.  I hugged several Doggetts (and spouses, etc) that I haven’t seen in ten years today…and each of them were kind, generous, and welcoming.  Must run in the family.

It was a beautiful service.  There were sad moments and also happy ones.  There was some congregational singing…but little of it was sad and teary as you’d imagine of a funeral.  The songs were of the “I’ll Fly Away” variety for the most part–complete with people clapping along on the wrong beats.  It was in some ways a joyous event.  The family made it clear from the start that they did not wish for it to be called a funeral.  They wanted a celebration.  Larry’s wife preferred the phrase “Larry’s HOMECOMING.”  That’s such a strange concept for anyone outside of the Christian faith.  And also for some of us who are in it.  But if they wanted a celebration of Larry’s life…they got it.  Yes, there were tears in many eyes…but they were tears because Larry lived a life that earned the celebration; while we were sad to be there, we were happy to give it to him.

When I heard that Larry had died, I was sad, but content in knowing there was no unfinished business between us.  I only had happy stories.  I was carrying that with me all week.  I was happy to have known him.  Then walking in today, I was half way to the door when I felt the weight of knowing that Larry would’ve been the first person to welcome me if he knew I was there.  He’d come over, call me “bwana,” punch me in the shoulder, and make sure I was comfortable and welcomed.  And it hit me that he wouldn’t be doing that today.  I walked a little slower, then made it into the room, a little unsure of how I was going to do with it.  Then I found others who I knew, and we all had happy stories.  And we all greeted EACH-OTHER and made sure we were comfortable and welcomed.  And it was all okay.  Larry wasn’t there…but he was…

I’ve said that I didn’t have unfinished business with Larry.  And that’s a good place to be.  There was, however, someone there with whom I did have unfinished business.  A LOT of unfinished business, dating back probably a decade or so.  We’d been in the same room a few times over the past ten years, but avoided one another.  There have been events where we’d both be present, and when we’d make eye-contact one would head for the nearest exit.  We made eye contact today and in a moment that I can only think Larry was helping to orchestrate, my thought wasn’t “where’s the door?” Instead I was struck with just one word… “Enough.”  I walked over to the person with whom I’ve had 10 years of anger and hurt, stuck out my hand, and said, “I know the last time we spoke it wasn’t pleasant.  For my part, if anything I said or did made anything hard for you or your family, I am sorry. Life’s too short to keep carrying it.”  Within a few moments, we were hugging.  I went today to bury a friend…and while I was at it, I got to bury a hatchet.  A burden was lifted today.

And maybe that’s the best representation of Larry’s legacy I can offer.  Larry always pointed people toward reconciliation; with God, with one another, with their own past…  Larry wasn’t there today…but he was…  And I think he was probably happy.

I will miss Larry Doggett.  But I’m so glad we met.

Thanks for everything, bwana.