We tend to take so much for granted. Don't we? When we're young, we give little thought to what our health will become after time goes by. Youth usually grants us the privilege of freedom of movement, adequate lung capacity, and a strong, regular heartbeat. Seldom do we stop to think we might wake up one day and find everything has changed. What we once thought would last forever—at least until we are well on in our golden years, suddenly proves to be a force to be reckoned with. What went wrong? How did this happen? Why? These are questions we ask, with usually no real answers to satisfy the long rocky road one now faces. My journey to earnestly seeking good health started about 20 years ago.
My daughter and I were adjusting to our new lives unmarried. I was growing in my walk with the Lord and loving our new home with almost 7 acres of undeveloped land. I felt as if it were heaven on earth. At least for the moment.
I loved working on the land. The land was covered with large, tall pine trees and some hardwood. I tried to sell the 20 tall pine trees to make a little extra money of the land. I called a man who came highly recommended who used a horse-drawn wagon so as not to tear up the land while cutting down and removing the trees. My contentment was short-lived after being given $5.68 for one tree. I was told the price for trees just wasn't very high. (I was previously told a tree of that size would sell for about $100.00 a tree for the lumber, after the cost of removal). Oh. No. Uh Uh. Not me. Not on my watch.
Hmmm...well...I guess you could say I got a little twisted and decided I wasn't going to stand for profiteering on my land. I decided I'd cut down the trees and burn them myself before I let someone take advantage of me like this. I hired a teenage boy to cut down the unwanted trees and I used a chainsaw to cut the tree into manageable pieces. Then with a tractor and chain, I pulled them to a burn pile. I cut them up into smaller pieces and put them on the fire. This went on for a few weeks. My daughter and I had a great time roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. Yum. Yum. Hmph.
I loved working on the land. It was great therapy for me. I don’t think I’ve ever before appreciated my dad as much as I did during that time of my life for teaching me how to take care of the land I had been blessed with. Over the course of our first year there, I not only cleared the trees, cleared underbrush, I managed to underpin my doublewide and even built a small deck on the back side of the house (with a little help getting it squared up). Yep. I had a lot of anger issues to work on after the divorce, and the sledge hammer, drill and saw became my battering rams to the future with a hope I was striving to obtain. My next project was to clear out a section in the back woods close to the back yard and make a prayer garden full of blooming flowers and a soft water fall. In the meantime, I put in a large above ground swimming pool for our first summer on the property, with some pleasant side effects for my daughter. My daughter soon found she was pretty popular in the neighborhood, as she was the only kid with a swimming pool and what kid doesn’t like to go swimming in the summertime? Life was looking better all the time.
Winter came and after working so hard, I had achieved fairly good physical condition. I even managed to lose a few unwanted pounds. Since I didn't want to lose momentum, I sought to start an inside work-out. My daughter was in gymnastics at the time and I bought her a thick, folding gymnastics mat. Our living room was long, so we moved the furniture to one side and began tumbling, cartwheels, jumping jacks and whatever else we could think to do within our new "gym." We had a lot of fun. It was hardly noticeable we were actually "working out." Then overnight, life as I knew it would never be the same.
I've always led a fairly active lifestyle, although I've never trained, or aspired to train as a serious athlete. Nevertheless, I stayed pretty mobile. I enjoyed stretching. It felt great and my body always let me know what needed to move to stay conditioned. Although I've never been one to study or explore the art of Yoga, I did love how some of the movements made my body feel—strong and agile. One day, I tried to do a stretch I had regularly done some years before. You lie on your back and lift your legs over your body, as if you are going to touch your head with your toes, only you curl your back and rest your feet on the floor above your head. It stretches almost every muscle in your body and opens up your spine, stretching and relaxing the muscles. Sadly, on this particular day, my body let me know it had been a little too long since I had regularly stretched in this manner and it put too much pressure on my neck. I felt a pop in my neck. There was no instant pain, only a little feeling of stiffness.
I woke up the next morning and I could hardly move. I couldn’t sit up. I had to literally roll out of bed. Upon moving, I felt pain like I had never felt before. I couldn't lift my left arm and the ring and pinky fingers on my right hand were numb with a lot of tingling going down my arm. What on earth happened? I went to my chiropractor who did everything he could but nothing seemed to help. I had two slipped discs in my neck. The pain was excruciating. I couldn’t find relief with anything I tried. I couldn’t sit—the pain got worse. Standing was difficult, although it was more bearable than sitting. I couldn’t eat much—it was difficult to feed myself, which was actually okay to some extent, as I had lost my appetite. When I went to bed, I had to lie flat of my back and I used a heating pad. In this way, I was at least able to get a few hours of sleep. The pain and discomfort went on for months. At one point, the muscle spasms got so bad I felt as if my chest wall was caving in. And Oh! How I hated taking medicine! I couldn’t stay doped up on pain meds because I had to drive and go to work, and at home, I had to be alert for my young daughter. I tried every natural approach I could find and solicited every prayer warrior in the area. We are told by the stripes of Jesus we are healed. And yes, we are. I did give in and graciously accepted the relief from the severe pain through mild pain medicines and muscle relaxers at night. Looking back, I wish I would have sought a neurosurgeon immediately. God definitely sustained me on my sick bed.
After four months and continued treatment, my neck finally began to heal enough the pain was not so sharp and eventually I did regain feeling in my hands. Good chiropractors are a God-send. However, my life would never again be the same. I became unable to work on the land I so dearly loved. I was careful with every step I took and prayed more earnestly than ever before that nothing would slip out of place again and praising God for my healing—without the need of surgery.
It seemed this was the beginning of another great era of life crumbling around me. It was soon after this I became engaged to a man by whom I got pregnant. And, you know the rest of that story.
Time went on and I learned to adjust to life not being quite so active. I finally finished school and was looking forward to the bright future ahead of me. A new job at a multi-specialty clinic with good salary and benefits, all the while doing what I trained to do in medical transcription, as well as doing what I love the most—serving as the church pianist and working with the worship pastor in the music department.
With no explanation and no warning, I woke up on a Sunday morning seven years after the accident that caused two slipped discs in my neck and once again, I could hardly move. My left arm felt like I was swinging dead weight at my side. My right arm was tingling with numbness in my fingers again. Flashbacks of seven years earlier flooded my memories. I went to church and barely made it through the song service with the piano.
The next day, I was at my doctor’s office. With one x-ray, she immediately set me up with an appointment with a top neurosurgeon and highly recommended by her. Next stop—an MRI. When the MRI was completed, the technician asked me, “What happened to your neck?” I explained to her my story and she simply shook her head. I asked her to tell me what she saw, but of course, she was not allowed to do so. So, I awaited my neurosurgeon’s appointment.
My doctor took me into the viewing room and showed me my neck on the MRI. It looked as if there were two rubberbands wound tightly around my spinal cord in two places. In both places, I could see gross narrowing of my spinal cord. He said, “It’s not good.” Ankylosing spondylosis is what it was called. Basically, arthritis set up in two of the vertebrae and my spinal cord was severely impinged. I know God is my healer. I considered it a miracle I was walking. I was scheduled for surgery, but it would be two months before there was an opening in his schedule. Since he was rated one of the best, I trusted God and waited—with caution and an assortment of muscle relaxers and mild pain meds, I waited.
The year was 2004. That year proved to be a challenging year to say the least. Soon after neck surgery was scheduled, I developed another abnormal symptom. The index finger on my right hand became swollen like a sausage. I could hardly bend my finger and it was difficult to type. Yet, I was determined nothing else was going to go wrong with me. Again, I saw my doctor, who immediately referred me to a rheumatologist. Indeed, I was learning a great deal about disease processes and the human body, but perhaps I was in denial. Why did I need to see a rheumatologist?? One look at my finger and a couple of blood tests, and the doctor said, “You have rheumatoid arthritis (RA).” I was only 40 years old. I was in shock. The only thing I knew about this disease is that a person with it would become crippled. You can’t walk. You can’t use your hands. You end up in a wheelchair for the rest of your life and I wasn’t going to have any part of it! I immediately began declaring healing scriptures and let the devil know in short order that God gave me my hands to bring him glory playing the piano and I was going to continue to do just that. I would not give in to this! It wasn’t mine and I demanded it leave me.
I had what would be my first injection to my finger (very painful), after which I vowed I would get to the bottom of why this decided to invade my body. I searched genetic reasons. There is no family history of this disease in my family—as far back as four generations that I know of. We might get some osteoarthritis when we get older but we do not have rheumatoid! In the meantime, I was placed on very strong medications that would diminish the effects of RA but would not provide a cure. Plus, it could adversely affect your eyesight. Ugh. And on top of that, I would be having neck surgery in a matter of only a few weeks. I was determined I was not giving in to any of this.
Finally, the day had come. June 28, 2004. Time for neck surgery. They would replace the two vertebrae in my neck with cadaver bones and fuse them in place. Thank God I would not become prey for a metal magnet! Healing was slow and painful. At least I was able to go to my mother’s home to recover. There, we had plenty of room for the kids to play and we were close to family for the help we needed. The quietness of the country was what I needed to relax so my body could heal.
God is good and does not withhold good from us. Even so, the choices we make leave a footprint on our lives and the lives of those around us. I have since learned that in our best efforts, we can, by no real fault of our own, really miss the right way to go. I was so fortunate. I was so blessed and protected by God to not have suffered anything worse than I did. I still exercise and stretch regularly. I still have to be cautious with my choice activities and use wisdom. I refuse to give in to defeat, but I will always know God kept me, sustained me and healed me. Now, I go forward using more guided wisdom. God is truly, my best friend.
One down. One to go. Now…about the RA? That’s a story that begins another chapter of my journey of grace, healing and recovery.
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