I’ve been in painful health sojourn lately, and while it physically broke me, my cries to God were heard. Not in the way I hoped, but we don’t always get the answers to the questions we ask….
Backstory first, of course: I was diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis, an auto-immune disorder, in January 2015. In the subsequent 7+ years, I have only been in a brief remission once, have damage in dozens (or even hundreds of joints), have failed off every medicine available out there, and have had my diagnosis changed to the following: Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Pseudo-RA, and Pseudo-Gout (only with calcium crystals instead of uric acid).
I have endured a lot of pain, but the last three months have been brutal, and I have been pushed based my breaking point. It started the evening of Valentine’s Day, just hours after an appointment with my rheumatologist where we celebrated that I was doing well. That evening, my left foot and ankle started hurting. Three days later, I was in the middle of a debilitating flare that took away my ability to walk temporarily. For weeks, I suffered, and it took high doses of corticosteroids to get me under control. I had to use a mobility cart, and I even had to trade in my SUV for a car that would allow me to more easily get around (not that I’m complaining, because I LOVE my Mini Cooper Countryman!) During that time, my rheumatologist decided to move to a new medicine, delivered via infusion, called Rituxin. On April 15, I had my first (and only) treatment. Within 45 minutes of the drip starting, I was having an allergic reaction that involved coughing, trouble breathing, itchy scalp and, later that evening, blood pouring from both of my nostrils at the same time. The medicines they had to give me caused additional side effects, including a face so swollen from steroids that it hurt. At the same time, I developed an infection in a wound that required strong anti-biotics. All those things together broke me… and then, I woke one Friday in late April with a big nodule on my left wrist and swelling in my left hand. I went to urgent care, who told me it was a ganglion cyst, nothing could be done, and I would be fine. I know my body, and I knew that diagnosis wasn’t correct. Three days later, the nodule was basically gone, and my hand and wrist were so swollen that I had no use my dominant hand. After seven years of dealing with this illness, I was beyond help. I took a leave of absence from work (crying in the middle of conference calls due to pain isn’t a good look) and bounced from doctor to doctor because my rheumatologist is on maternity leave. Only today, May 15, do I have use of my left hand again. I’m only at about 50% of where I was, but the swelling is down (thanks to HIGH, HIGH doses of Prednisone). I’ve also developed a flare in my left pinky, but I’m dealing with it the best I can (again, through Prednisone, immobilization, and Voltaren gel). In the middle of all of this, I have been dealing with unrelated knee pain. A visit to an orthopedic doctor this past week determined that, at 43 years old, I have no other option but to have both of my knees replaced, starting with my right knee. This is on hold until I get healthier in other areas, but it’s also on my mind as I prepare to return to work tomorrow after more than two weeks off.
When my hand was at its most swollen, the pain was beyond what I could endure. I couldn’t use my hand nor make a fist nor pick up a tissue without throbbing agony tearing through me. I would sit with my hand either wrapped in a heating pad or covered in an ice pack, and I would sob. My husband stood by helplessly, doing everything humanly possible for me while not being able to take away my pain. I begged God many, many times to reveal to me what I had done to deserve so much pain. How had I offended Him? What could I do to garner His forgiveness and relieve this pain? My doctors could tell that, while my physical issues were bad, my mental health issues were equally as damaged. I continued to cry out to God, again and again, for relief. For answers. For comfort. For help. FOR ANYTHING to help me. And for a bit, I felt like I wasn’t heard. I believed that God was there, but I asked myself many times if He really was.
And then He showed up. First and foremost, through my husband, who showed me in a thousand ways that he meant the vows we said all those years ago. He cooked (which he can’t really do but had re-learned a bit), he cleaned, he took care of the dog, he did all the garden planting I couldn’t help him with, and he did every tiny thing I asked, including tending to a wound that I couldn’t reach myself. Through doctors who listened to me and realized that I need strong medicines because I don’t respond to low doses. Through friends who were praying for me. Through Sunday sermons I watched online (1 | 2 | 3). And of course, through my Bible – through His words. One day, I woke up and the pain was… manageable. With each passing day, the pain lessens (although the side effects from strong Prednisone doses are TERRIBLE).
Now that I’m on the other side of the worst of the pain, I realize that I wasn’t being punished, after all. I gleaned a few things from this experience.
- it was a wake-up call that, while modern medicine might not be my answer, perhaps other lifestyle changes – mainly to an auto-immune protocol (AIP) way of eating – might give me answers. I need to heal myself from the inside out. I’m also returning to my favorite rheumatologist, who is 60 miles away and I haven’t seen for more than 3.5 years, but I preferred him and need a fresh set of eyes.
- My health is not solely related to stress, as my current rheumatologist has been telling me for years. She blamed my employer for my health, but recent x-rays have shown that it’s not stress but a lot of calcification on my bones that is primarily the problem (aka pseudo-gout). That helps me mentally and will hopefully make me resent my employer less (as I need that excellent health insurance!)
- It was a time of spiritual warfare. I know not everyone believes in that, and that’s fine, but I know without a doubt that, since rejecting Judaism and returning to Christ, I have felt challenged and attacked in ways I never did when I was living a Jewish life. (This is an area I need to explore more). As I sat there sobbing, begging God to tell me what I did to offend Him, I had very real, very dark thoughts about taking my own life. They were fleeting, but the idea of being free from that pain was attractive. I had to fight those feelings and that darkness, but I know I let the darkness seep in and take me places I had no business going, even if only temporarily.
- It was also a period that, even though I felt God was punishing me, He was drawing me closer. I’ve used these few weeks to explore my own personal theology and what the means considering I’m a “new” Christian. I prayed recently about how I can more fully worship Him and spend time in the Word, and I got a very clear, distinct response: “Go deeper.” If that means in terms of biblical ready or prayer or liturgy or ritual, I don’t actually know yet, but the place I have found I want to spend the most time is in the New Testament. It’s the book I denied had any validity for years, and now it’s the book I simply can’t get enough of.
So, while my physical body is very much NOT healed, and I still feel broken, but I know without a doubt that our God is a God that is real and present and living, and when I cried out in Jesus’ name many times, He listened. He answered through love and support and quiet strength. My body is healing, my head is clearer, and my soul has been sutured back together. The hope of Christ still thrums within me. That’s enough for now.