Unity: Born for Adversity

Blog-Byline-RobertI reached up and grabbed a horizontal support bar on the under side of the top bunk and rolled myself over onto the beanbag chair adjacent to my bottom bunk. I couldn’t sit up, so this seemed like a smart and resourceful move for someone who felt like they had a knife sticking out of their abdomen.

I got on my feet and, in a cold sweat, stumbled down the hall of Clark Dormitory towards the community bathroom. Through my blurred vision, the walls seemed to sway back and forth. This must be how James Bond felt in “Casino Royale” after he got poisoned.

I crashed through the door, hit my knees to the floor in front of the toilet in the first stall and welcomed back the previous night’s dinner from Cantina Laredo. I still haven’t been back there.  As my body heaved and abs contracted, the pain only intensified. There are those moments where praying to the porcelain god yields relief. This was not one of those times.

I collected myself to a certain degree. The walls quit dancing, and I started to see straight. As I exited the bathroom, I saw a half-asleep and disheveled Lane Lamb wandering back to our room. Lane, who pledged with me the previous semester, is one of my closest friends and lived with me at the time. However, he had a habit of staying the night in different brothers rooms and apartments. He stayed wherever he happened to fall asleep. Fortunately he passed out on our hall that night.

“We gotta go to the hospital,” I said.

Lane called up Kurtis Freeman, our pledge captain who had just been elected president. The threeFormal Singing of us hopped into Kurtis’s car and headed to an urgent care clinic at about 11 a.m. I hadn’t planned to spend the first of my dead days feeling like I was dying. I know my brothers didn’t pencil this into their schedule either.

The doctor’s wasted little time calling me back and poking around my aching abdomen. The pain was the worst I had ever felt. The searing pain seemed to stretch from my abdomen just to the right of my belly button, down into my groin. The doctor’s assumed appendicitis.

The doctor and I called my mom, who was not at home in Houston but was instead visiting family in Galveston, to tell her their tentative diagnosis. The plan was to send me over to an emergency room. As I explained the situation over the phone to my mom, I felt the remnants of Cantina Laredo start to creep back up my esophagus. I passed the doctor the phone mid-conversation and darted to the bathroom for round two. More heaving, more pain and still no relief.

“9.”

We arrived at the ER at Harris Methodist and once again had the fortune of having my name called quickly. I got to play the pain scale game. On a scale of smiley face to I-just-put-my-arm-in-a-wood chipper face, how much pain are you in?  Between my pain tolerance and arrogance, I often have trouble providing the nurses with an accurate answer on this one-to-ten scale.

Not this time.

The pain had somehow managed to intensify as they called me back. Now it was as if someone began twisting the knife. I had never known pain like this. Through clinched teeth, I grunted out, “9.”

After the nurses went through the pain scale and some preliminary paper work, I once again found myself trudging to the bathroom thinking, for some reason, another round of vomiting might spell relief while my pain reached it’s pinnacle. Wrong again. Just dry heaves this time around.

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” -Proverbs 17:17

Lane waited by my side as they prepared to take me back to the ER. Unfortunately Lane had had a decent amount of experience with hospitals the previous summer, so he briefed me on the process. By about 1 p.m., I had my own hospital bed behind a curtain in the ER and a morphine drip. The doctors sent me for x-rays and scans, but couldn’t find any abnormalities.

An email went out to the chapter with an urgent prayer request for your’s truly. It didn’t take long for word of my ailments to spread to the chapter. As Lane and I hung out in the exam room and doctors came and went, a large number of brothers and friends outside the fraternity began to collect in the waiting room of the ER.

I hate ERs. I feel like I’m going to contract the bubonic plague whenever I have to spend time in their waiting rooms, but my brothers and friends opted to stay there on their day off from school without any expectation of me even knowing they were there.

Surgery HotelMeanwhile, Momma Bember hopped on a plane to Dallas-Love Field. Rather than trekking all the way back to the house, she booked a flight at an airport on the south side of Houston. She would beat my dad to the metroplex, who had left from their house by car. Without hesitation, a couple brothers bee-lined to Love Field to pick up my mom and bring her to the hospital.

About two years prior to that day, my little brother had been declared to be in remission after a 5-month battle with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a blood cancer. The hospital had become a second home to our family in that season. So my parents weren’t about to let their 20-year-old son walk through this alone.

My mom showed up and was given a bracelet so that she would have access to my exam room. After about six hours, Lane vacated his post. With brothers still waiting outside, Lane passed his bracelet to another brother so that he could come back and visit with me. That brother would spend some time lifting my spirits and then pass the bracelet onto another. Over and over and over again. I wish I could remember every brother who came back to say hi, but I admittedly can’t. They know who they are, and I hope they know how grateful I was for their encouragement.

The staff decided to admit me without really knowing the source of my pain. Even though my appendix looked normal, they thought it might just be best to take it out if a time slot opened up for surgery the next day. As the nurses wheeled me to my hospital room, Mike Moro, another brother, ran into us as he headed to my now empty exam room. It was 1 a.m., and my brothers were still trying to get back to see me. I was overwhelmed by their love. I thanked him for coming, and we parted ways.

Daiquiri Tie Party

As I struggled to come out of my anesthesia-induced daze after surgery, the nurses wheeled me back to my room. I saw from down the hall that my guests were overflowing into the hallway. I could make out some faces, and still vaguely remember some of them.

In her infinite wisdom, my mom asked, “Do you know what they did to you?”

Tie PartyNope. That’s the beauty of anesthesia; you don’t know what the surgeons are doing to you. Even with the anesthesia hangover in full affect, I knew two things. First, the pain had gone from my insides to the cuts around my belly button, so whatever they did to me worked. My astute observational skills also quickly deduced that I had tubes in places I’d rather never have tubes again.

When I shook off the anesthesia, the staff got me up to speed. They did take my appendix, but they also found a birth defect in my small intestine that had become inflamed, so they cut that out and had to put my small intestine back together. The procedure was far more serious than anticipated. The recovery time would be much longer too. On top of that, I couldn’t eat for a week. That doesn’t bode well with someone who doesn’t miss a meal.

The surgery was over but the struggle wasn’t. I struggled to take a deep breath with my abdomen looking like Zorro got a piece of me. My back began to ache severely from the bed and lack of movement. There were mornings the nurses woke me up saying that they would take my morphine away if I didn’t start squirming around to get my heart rate up. The hospital stay took a major emotional and physical toll on me.

About halfway through my stay, my IV came out. After not eating, drinking or moving around, my typically evident veins disappeared under the skin, presenting the nurses with a challenge. I felt helpless as a few nurses held my arm down for about 15 minutes and conducted a sadistic treasure hunt, digging around in my arm with an IV needle.

With the sleepless nights, aching body and mending wounds, the mental and physical anguish of poking around for a vein pushed me to tears. As soon as the nurses set the IV, in walked JT Carney and Chris Blake. I don’t know what went through their head when they saw me, completely defeated and trying to hide the tears, but I’m glad they stopped by.

My intestines did a number on the fraternity’s GPA since the brothers opted to visit me at the hospital over the library during finals week. Not a day went by where multiple brothers didn’t come by to see me. They saw me at my worst and still loved me selflessly.

Impromptu “tie parties” became the thing to do within our chapter. The BYX apartment, Britain 102, invited anyone and everyone over for these tie parties. All you needed was a tie. It didn’t matter if you were wearing a T-shirt, polo or dress, you were required to wear a tie for entry.

Fortunately hospital gowns function as suitable tie party attire. Lane, Kurtis, Justin Stevens, Greg Nord and James Gleaton came marching through the hospital hallways with a blender, ice and virgin daiquiri mix, plus ties for themselves, my mom and me. They brought the tie party to me at Harris Methodist in an effort to keep my spirits up.

Beyond just visiting me, my brothers bent over backwards for me in other ways. Jonathan Hall, who had been recently elected as vice president, worked at a hotel in downtown Fort Worth. He arranged for my parents to have a discounted, maybe even free, room. Lane and a number of brothers helped move my piles of possessions in our dorm over to the new suite on campus we would be living in for the spring semester.

I had nothing to offer these guys. They didn’t come visit me in the hospital because I was the life of the party. I sucked. I practiced taking deep breaths by sucking on a plastic device. I hadn’t shaved or showered in days. I peed in a bag attached to the bed. I was disgruntled and frustrated more often than not, yet these brothers loved me unconditionally and kept coming back for more.

So what?

So why did you just take time out of your day to read about a week during my sophomore year that consisted of puking, crying and smelling like a foot? Because in my time in BYX, there has been no more perfect display of unity than during that miserable, beautiful hospital stay. BYX exists to foster brotherhood and unity, and it is of utmost importance.

Yet for some reason or another, brothers are content to place a greater priority on themselves than on their brothers. Every day, brothers decide that the world has something to offer that their brothers can’t.

“A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” -Ecclesiastes 4:12

For those that decide they’d rather abuse alcohol rather than aligning with the Honor Code, think about this: where will that bottle be when your world collapses? Where will your political stances, your hard-nosed non-essential theological beliefs or sexual desires be when life inevitably has you in a strangle hold. I’ve seen first-hand how these issues hinder chapters and individuals.

If the unity of this fraternity is not a top priority, it’s time to re-evaluate. Cole Crawford, a member at the Missouri Chapter, implored the brothers in an interview at the COR Leadership Retreat to start living a brotherhood lifestyle now. He could not have said it any better. Brotherhood and unity is a lifestyle.  Don’t wait for a catastrophe to shake you to an understanding of how valuable this fraternity is. Embrace it now.

When everything falls apart, I know that those same brothers who were there for me six years ago will once again come running. The Lord has done a great work in uniting me to incredible men of God through Beta Upsilon Chi.

As the semester progresses, we look forward to sharing more stories pertaining to the core value of unity within this fraternity.

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