One year ago, I was in the midst of my 40 day hospitalization, and at the lowest point of my life.
I was in the worst pain I'd ever experienced, and wanted nothing more than for the pain to stop.
It wasn't that the pain was under-treated; I was on pain medications in liquid, pill, patch, sublingual, topical and IV form; a regimen that included narcotics, three kinds of nerve pain meds, three kinds of muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory meds, and high dose steroids. My nurses had to administer medications at least once an hour all throughout the day and night. I used bags of ice, heating pads, stretching, guided relaxation, and even aromatherapy!
And none of it was helping.
I continued to run fevers and my white blood cell count was so high that the doctors could not safely discharge me (for those of you who are medical... the elevated white count began prior to initiation of the IV steroids, didn't respond to broad-spectrum IV abx, and the differential was not consistent with a steroid-induced leukocytosis), yet all their searching for a source of the "infection" yielded nothing. My muscles were in such severe pain that I literally hadn't slept in days. This was a different and worse pain than I'd ever experienced. I would have traded practically anything for relief. I bawled my eyes out and writhed and paced my tiny hospital room endlessly. I couldn't imagine how things would ever get better: if the most powerful medications that man had to offer couldn't take the edge off my intense pain, how could I continue to live? I couldn't imagine remaining in this much pain for another hour...much less the rest of my life. I also could not imagine how I could possibly be glorifying to God in this position where all I could do was cry from pain.
In the middle of the night, I read these words from Psalm 42 and 43: "Why are you in despair, O my soul? ...Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him..."
My soul was in such deep despair. I hope and pray that I never experience that degree of pain and despair ever again in my life. But even then, in the darkest moments, God was there. Maybe things weren't going to be good again today or tomorrow or next week. But I would one day again praise God for the help of His presence. One day, God would bring deliverance.
If you've read Semi Colon for awhile, you know that "HOPE" is "my" word. Romans 5:3-5 are some of my favorite verses, encouraging me to rejoice in my sufferings, because suffering produces endurance; endurance, character; and character, hope. It isn't a vague hope for a better tomorrow, it's the kind of hope that is an anchor for the soul. It's the sure knowledge that my eternity is secure in Jesus Christ, that no matter what this life brings, I have a savior who has poured His love into my heart and has reserved a spot in heaven for me where I will be with Him and without sin forever.
So being reminded to HOPE in God, and promised that I would again praise Him was exactly the reminder I needed.
That morning, a doctor who didn't know the details of my case walked in. He told me that nothing was wrong with me; I'd just been laying around in bed and not eating enough. If I would just get up out of bed, get moving and eat good food, then I'd be perfectly healthy.
This unfortunately wasn't the first time I'd heard this rhetoric (and sadly, it wouldn't be the last time, either). During this hospital stay, I was called a drug addict, accused of being lazy, malingering, depressed... I had nurses (and charge nurses) who walked in, observed my extreme pain, and turned on their heels and walked out, ignoring my pleas for help. But I also had wonderful caregivers who believed me and didn't give up on me. Nurses who came and sat in bed with me and rubbed my painful back and shoulders and wiped my tears during the long nights. Techs who brought me snacks (when I was able to eat) any time of the day or night to feed my steroid munchies in the hopes of offering me some distraction from my pain. A doctor who came by to encourage me even after I'd been discharged from his specialty's care. A nurse practitioner who thought outside the box and tried every conceivable combination of meds on the planet in order to get my pain down.
Anyways, at that moment, however, that one doctor's words were all that seemed to matter. They were the straw that broke the camel's back, and after he left, I dissolved in a puddle of tears and begged my mom to take me home (against doctor's orders)... nothing they were doing in the hospital seemed to be helping, and if I were at home, at least I wouldn't have to put up with misinformed doctors coming in and telling me I was faking it. I felt trapped; I was in unimaginable pain, but the doctor said nothing was wrong with me... no one believed me... they would make me continue to live in agony... I had already been threatened with being sent to drug rehab or the psych ward (I'm not kidding!)... then I remembered the words I'd read in the night. My mom (bless her heart) listened to my tears and exhausted words with a discerning ear and comforted me.
And slowly... things began to look up. We listened to a sermon online. I took a walk. I talked to my "steroid buddy" on the phone. A dear friend came to visit and gave me a massage that brought some relief and brought a bag full of AWESOME bracelets that said "Hope" and "Romans 5:1-11" on them. And we decided to start a new medication. To say that this was a medication of last resort would be putting it mildly. There were many, many reasons to NOT try this medication, and there were few reasons to believe that it would work. It involved accepting that I needed an intense long-term, round the clock regimen of pain relief. I would have to be monitored very closely as the medication worked its way into my system. It was such a big decision that I saved the little blister pack that the first dose of the medication came in as a memento of the occasion.
And.... God allowed the new medication to bring relief. After a day or so, my pain went down enough that I was able to sleep. And I awoke the next morning feeling a bit more like myself, and a bit less like the drugged, crazy, stoned-yet-sleep-deprived-and-in-horrible-pain Hannah.
When the pain management nurse practitioner came in that day, the look on HIS face was also a new way to spell relief. He told me that he had never seen me look that comfortable (probably because I had always been in such intensely unbelievable pain since we'd met). When I told him that I was feeling some relief for the first time in days, he let out a huge sigh, and admitted:
"Good. Because we didn't really know if this would work, and if it didn't work, we had no idea what else to do."
Not very reassuring.... but it made me even more thankful that God allowed the last-ditch, what-the-heck-might-as-well-give-it-a-shot medication to work! Within the next few days, my pain went back under control, I was able to come off many of the other pain medications that weren't working anyways, and I was finally on my way home. The doctors ended up concluding that my body had a delayed intense autoimmune inflammatory reaction to the surgery, causing the high white count, fevers, and crazy pain (I was pretty darn sure it wasn't in my head - although c'mon, doctors, patients' minds cannot cause fevers, high white counts, swelling, redness and heat in every joint in their body...). This has been the reason that JP Dr, my Rheumatologist, believes it's so important to be very aggressive in treating my arthritis/autoimmune diseases with methotrexate injections, Cimzia, and steroids - these systemic inflammatory reactions can be very dangerous and are very, very bad for the body. We would all like to avoid them as much as possible.
So... here I am, a year later... I still face many challenges, take many medications and daily battle pain. In fact, I am currently in the midst of a pain flare. But - the intensity of my pain is much less than it was, and the overall health of my body is much, much better than it was a year ago. By the grace of God, I have not been admitted to the hospital since November, nearly 7 months ago. I have not had a surgery since May 2012, which is the longest I've EVER gone without a surgery since I started this blog in 2009. I just started back to school, pursuing the dream God has placed in my heart from the age of 3... and although school is a huge challenge, I face it one day at a time, praying for the strength to accomplish whatever God has for me that day.
One year ago, I could not imagine what life would look like the next day, let alone the next year. Today, I am praising God for the changes He's allowed in my life. I praise and thank Him for the trials, for the pain. Were it not for the suffering He's allowed, I would not have seen fulfillment of the words I read a year ago:
"Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, and my God." Psalm 42:11