Three Bottles

03 Mar

Three bottles.

It wasn’t until that moment that I realized where I was, where I was going, what this was really about

It’s been thirty-four years since I was discovered with the genetic condition we now know affectionately as FAP (familial polyposis – if you have the intestinal fortitude, you can check it out on Wikipedia). It resulted in the removal of my colon. Well, most of it. They left about an inch and a half. I was told then I was literally on the very edge of cancer. Just in time.

In the following three and a half decades I’ve been scoped probably close to a hundred times. Monthly ritual. Then quarterly. Then twice annually. Then annually. Always searching, fulgurating, snipping, biopsying a veritable field of polyps. Always clear, always benign, no changes.

But always the possibility. Always the shadow.

About six years ago they began scoping the upper intestinal track – all the guts I have left. Research was showing that FAP can manifest there in different ways, but more as a threat for blockages, not cancer, we were told.

And this week, for the first time in thirty some years, two blips in that upper track.

Ongoing fatigue, heart palpitations, dizziness and sudden weight loss led to the discovery of severe anemia which in turn led to the discovery of the latest stage presence of FAP in my life.

Two blips.

From those first images from the pill camera I swallowed last week, I had the impression they could be removed, the bleeding stopped, all my problems solved through an extended endoscopy scope, all neatly tied up in one afternoon. But they couldn’t get around the final bend. Only to the outskirts of much larger blips than I had understood were there. And then the word.


They couldn’t verify it. The biopsy from the border was benign. But they assured me cancer was in the middle of this. Surgery lay ahead.

But it didn’t hit me until I sat in that medical imaging waiting room the next morning, staring at those three bottles in the lab assistant’s hands.

Barium Sulfate.

It’s been thirty years, but I remember this. The CT scan. The pre-surgery ritual one week before my surgery then. Only then I remember one huge bottle for oral consumption and one for – well, one for consumption through another orifice. Chalky. Thick. A barrel of nauseating nastiness.

They’ve come a ways in three decades.

But here it was in the form of three bottles. Each a little smaller than a one liter bottle of Coke.

I had an instant internal reaction. Run. Escape. Hide. Brave Sir Robin. But I sat still. Impassive. Staring at those three bottles, listening listlessly to the verbal instructions. Drink each bottle slowly, evenly, steadily over fifteen minutes. Don’t chug it. Slow down if you get nauseated and let your stomach settle. You vomit, we reschedule and start all over.

I unscrew the first lid. Pull off the protective seal.

I stare down at it.

Creamy, white, liquid, soaplike. I can think of another comparison, but I won’t go there.

I stare down at it.

And with each drink it dawns on me. In drinking those three bottles, slowly, evenly, steadily, I am being given the opportunity to drink the one cup being passed to me. There is no space here for “let this cup pass from me.” It’s passed for three decades. Thank you. And now the three decades yield to three bottles. And each drink becomes an increasing affirmation.




Finishing the third bottle forty-five minutes later, the “yes” becomes an audible, “l’chaim!” A toast of trust. What can there be but trust in One who has been so kind all these years, even in the darkest night? What can there be but trust, a yielding to any and every potential outcome?

Here I am.




Posted by on March 3, 2012 in musings, Suffering


Tags: , , ,

15 responses to “Three Bottles

  1. Sally Hoff

    March 3, 2012 at 7:42 am

    We call on Jesus, the Great Physician. Pastor Mike, you are surrounded by prayers by all who love you. You are in God’s Almighty Hand. You and your family can rest in His Provision, His Love, and His Healing. We lift you up, in Jesus’ name!!

  2. wordhaver

    March 3, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Thank you, Sally! We all be in good hands…

  3. Steve Peisner

    March 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    I read this last night and again this morning. I would say that you are a different kind of Tevya – modern, post-modern, trans-modern, ancient and ancient-future with the same propensity for musing, questioning and ultimately accepting – but with a prosaic bent. The prose in the post is beautiful, but even more so when one realizes that this is the way you see the world. You definitely wear “prose colored glasses,” and always have, at least as long as I have known you. I have always admired this in you. You see the world in rhyme, meter, metaphor, simile, color, texture, vibration, energy. You see connections among things that most would miss, treasure where others would never think to look, and meaning in the things that most would discard. All of this is so profoundly evident in your post, “the three bottles.” Keep writing; you must share yourself with the world in more complete ways. I am confident that you will have time to do this. Sometimes these life events have the effect of re-orienting us toward a deeper expression of why we are here.

  4. wordhaver

    March 3, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Wow. Is that me? Wow. Thank you, Steve. And yes, to all you have said. You bless me :o)

  5. Marty Seghetti Kennedy

    March 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    My dear friend and brother…my prayers are with you and the family as you go around this bend, again. I pray the Son continues to shine on you! Your perspective is such a reflection of the depth of the love you have for the Father. Once again, I see Him in you. Praying that His strength gives you perseverance through this season and for healing, quickly and completely. Know you are loved and that we have you covered in prayer.

  6. Robin Lee Hatcher

    March 3, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Praying for you, Mike. For healing. For health. For wisdom. For peace.

  7. wordhaver

    March 4, 2012 at 12:00 am

    Thank you Robin – I would love to catch up with you, hear how the conference went, hear how you are doing. Stop by the bookstore tomorrow if you are able. I’m going to try to be around.

  8. wordhaver

    March 4, 2012 at 12:01 am

    Ahh, Marti – I do know and feel it. You guys bless me in a bond through which few spoken words are needed. :o)

  9. Birgit

    March 4, 2012 at 1:51 am

    (((Mike))) – praying…

  10. Heidi Tucker

    March 4, 2012 at 2:54 am

    Rabbi, you are in our prayers. We thank God for you and the inspiration and teacher that you are in our lives. We claim His healing for you! Blessings.

  11. Honor H Harris

    March 4, 2012 at 6:35 am

    Echoing Steve up there! How ironic to be so profoundly blessed, inspired and encouraged while at the same time feeling saddened and concerned for you. I wish the cup could have been passed from you for 30 more years or longer yet I know THE CUP offers you the faith, hope, strength and peace beyond what I could ever imagine to offer. Nevertheless, Havering, this is what i pray for you and your family.

  12. Eric D

    March 5, 2012 at 4:06 am

    Pastor Mike,
    I am sorry to hear this. Please know that our family is praying for you. We love you.

  13. wordhaver

    March 5, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks, Eric!

  14. Sevana Saroyan

    March 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Pastor Mike, Thank you so much for sharing your analogy of the three cups. I love that the third cup represented trust, how inspiring! For me, that third cup can be a very BITTER-sweet cup. So although I’d like to say it’s easy to swallow, it so often is not. My prayer for you is that you will find that third cup of trust growing sweeter each and every day. And that through your unwaivering rest in God, you will find complete healing. We Saroyans have so much respect and admiration for you and your family, it’s an absolute honor to join you in prayer. Thank you for sharing.

  15. wordhaver

    March 5, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Thank you so much, Sevana! Looking forward to seeing your husband on the stage in the upcoming Easter play…


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