Sunday, May 24, 2015

My Health Recovery Journey, Part 2

(Read Part 1 first. if you haven't already)
As I mentioned before, we got the name of a new doctor (Doctor number 6). The stories we had heard from friends were that he was unconventional but had helped some very hard cases. He basically used 1 day a month to treat patients who preferred as much homeopathy as possible. I went to see him and told him my entire history that you have just read. He gave me a new, more in depth name for what I was dealing with. Yeast overgrowth was certainly a significant part of it, but he said it had gone beyond that, to an Environmental Illness. That the combination of genes, and all the other effects I had already learned about (overuse of antibiotics and steroids, stressful events in my life, leaky gut syndrome) had created a cascading effect that set my immune response into a downward spiral. Basically I was allergic to everything in the world at this point. Seriously. I would react to everything I came in contact with, and everything I put in my mouth (even gluten free grains) except for a small handful of things (about 5) that caused less of a reaction. I would go outside for less than 5 minutes and react for an hour. He said it would only get worse not better, if I didn't get help. He advised me to start rotating several different probiotics, and anti-fungals, because doing the same ones over and over would create an immunity in my system to them. He said he could help me to improve but he could not get me well. (Kudos to all the doctors who were honest with me! We need more like them!) He felt my case was too far gone. BUT. He knew of 2 doctors in the country that he was confident could help to restore me to complete health. One was his mentor, a Dr. Lieberman at the Center For Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Charleston, SC. Here we come back full circle, because I was about to change my life dramatically again, by visiting this doctor, that February.

Dr. Lieberman's treatments were mostly not covered by insurance, but thanks to the generosity of family I was able to see this amazing doctor. Here is the first post I wrote following my initial visit there: "I can hardly believe all that has happened! As it turns out, my visit to see Dr. Lieberman last February was monumental. We were there for 2 solid weeks. I have met with him over the phone long distance since then every few months, and he has adjusted, added, or eliminated treatments or medications. After our first long conversation, he looked at me and said, "Ok, if we can lighten your allergy load, deal with the yeast and treat your staph, would you be happy?" He has done so much more though. As we continued to meet, and he was able to study the results of my blood work and hormone test he began to realize my thyroid was hypo-active, I was severely hormonally imbalanced, my adrenals were taxed, and I was allergic to approximately 85 things. At his office, they have a testing lab like only 2 others in the country. You are injected with a particular dose of your suspected allergen, results are noted, you are re-injected with a different dose every 8 minutes, and this continues until you have reached a dose that your reaction has neutralized at. I sat there for over a week, with a timer, a pen, and clipboard. I would start out with a huge whelp on my arm with intense itching, and end up with no itching whatsover. It was amazing! The final dose levels are put in a vial that is customized for you. You then give yourself injections. First for 10 days straight then down to 2 times a week. I was also given customized drops in their lab for staph infections, a nickel sensitivity, something to reduce inflammation, and something to neutralize a reaction (like benadryl). About a month or so later he added 1 hormone cream, then 2, and after much trial and error of trying different natural thyroid meds, he started me on some synthetic ones. I began to finally piece the puzzle together, now that I had more information on my health state. I did some research on hypothyroidism, and saw that inability to regulate body temperature, fatigue, and hair loss were all symptoms. Fast forward a year from all of this. My energy level is almost back to normal. Space heater is only used in winter months. My itching does not happen every day and is very minimal. Middle-of-the-night hour long itching sessions are a distant memory. I have been able to add back to my very restrictive diet about 15 items, and I haven't had a staph infection in several months. I think I can confidently say I will be completely well, within another year. Thanks be to God!"

And now I am at 2 years after. How am I? Well, I will never be able to go back to how I used to eat before I got sick. I still have to rotate my foods, take my allergy shots, adrenal supplements and thyroid meds, and keep to mostly natural, whole foods. However, I am reacting only occassionally, and in comparison to before, very mildly. The seasons of spring and fall are still challenging, and I usually take an over the counter allergy med to get through it, but before I just couldn't be outside during it at all. Now, I can leave the house, do things with my children, help out in the community we are in, and live life again. My life has been completely changed. Before, I truly thought I was a hopeless case. I was woken up by this experience. I realize now that every food choice I make, has a consequence. I was only given one body, and I have to be a good steward of it. I learned not to take at face value what any one doctor or health coach or anyone, says. Each body and health journey is unique. Everyone has something to teach you, if you are humble and willing to listen.

The following, the final part of this story, is the spiritual journey I was going through while enduring all you have just read, so many hidden jewels in the midst of this trial.....

The Spirtual Journey

I was raised Catholic by my mom, and have had a prayer life and what most Christians would refer to as "a personal relationship with the Lord" since I was about 13. Never have I had doubts about God's loving care for me. And though I have had "dry spells", times when I did not feel consolation in prayer, I had never reached a point of feeling totally abandoned. I reached both points somewhere in the middle of this trial of suffering. I knew God had a plan, but my faith was seriously tested for the first time. As Catholics, we also believe there is a redemptive purpose to suffering as there was in Christ's suffering (Col. 1:23-24, 1st Cor. 3:9, and 2nd Cor. 4:8-12 are a few scriptures that might help in the understanding of this). This more than anything, got me through it. I was also blessed to have stumbled upon a spiritual treasure, a formation called Disciples of Jesus and Mary and the priest who wrote it, now deceased, God rest his soul. Some of the principles from this, based in scripture that helped me so much were: Nothing is an accident, everything is a providential gift of God, and since everything is a providential gift everything has a purpose in your life. Even the bad stuff. Suffering was a way of life for me, and I had to know God had a reason for allowing it.

My beloved husband, a precious gift from God, listened to my doubts, my rants and ravings, and very calmly replied that he knew God had a purpose, that he felt he was going to heal me, and most of the time, he just listened and held me. He was Christ to me, as a spouse truly should be, and often had faith for me when I could not. At one point when things were really bad and I was on my 2nd or third healing service/novena/etc. I had decided to do a novena to St. Thérèse, "the Little Flower". 
St. Therese in My Health Recovery Journey, Part 2

Maybe you have heard of her. She was a very young saint. She didn't do anything spectacular, just offered up every little thing she did for souls and for love of Jesus. But the Church decided her "little way" was so spectacular, she was not only declared a saint, but a Doctor of the Church, which is basically like saying she has a doctorate in holiness. On her death bed, she promised she would "spend her heaven doing good on earth, and send a shower of roses." So there is a novena you can say and at the end of nine days, receive a rose in some form as answer to your prayer. Sounds kooky, I know. But I have done the novena several times, and on all occassions I did in fact receive, a rose. In each circumstance, I was the only one aware I was looking for it. The best way I can explain a Catholic's reason for doing such a thing is this: First of all let's get this out of the way, we don't worship saints. Ok? We know they are people like us. But this life is tough and was not meant to be done alone. God made us to be in a family, on earth, but also in heaven. We need our family and friends to get us through, right? Well, the saints are like our big brothers and sisters who have won the race and are on the other side (Heb.12:1) AND they have connections. They are right there at the throne and are just waiting to help us out and intercede for us. Do you ask your mom to pray for you? your best friend? sister? I asked my heavenly sister to pray for me. 
So, at the end of this novena, my husband comes home from work and puts my ipod in the dock. He had been working on a special playlist for me and wanted to share. Now, I am a musician. Music is my passion. If a song touches me, I cry. Ask my children. The first song that played was "a Rose" by Susan Ashton. The tears were flowing. That night I can't explain it, but there was a release. A cloud of despair lifted. And even though things were still bad, somehow I knew it was going to get better. I sat there on the couch with my husband and just cried my eyes out, but they were good tears, tears of relief. One song that has stayed with me the most from that night is this:

There is something else I learned from this experience. Sometimes we have a problem with other people's problems. When someone asks "How are you doing?" we don't always really want to know. From the Christian point of view, somehow, we have gotten this idea that, we are not supposed to have a hard time if we are followers of Christ. We think that we should always be happy no matter what. And you know what? That just isn't realistic. Jesus wept when his friend died, and he knew he was about to make him rise again. And I am pretty sure he wasn't hanging on the cross with a big smile on his face. It has taught me to really think when I ask someone "How are you doing?" to want to know and to care, and to listen. This song spoke to me in the very depths of my aching heart, when I was suffering so much, and at times felt abandoned by God:

When you are going through something really hard, it is ok to question God, it is ok if all you can do is cry sometimes. I hope with all my heart that when someone unloads their problems on me, I will be willing to hear them, cry with them, and be compassionate, as my husband, family, and very close friends have done.

There were little jewels that God dropped down into the midst of the most intense suffering. I was given the gift of a spiritual director who I still have the privilege of meeting with. She helped me through the deepest struggles of my faith during this time. There were 3 priests who prayed for my healing, both in person and from afar. One priest, who is now in heaven but still very much in my heart, became a spiritual father to me and taught me so much about being a true disciple. Another priest, an exorcist and missionary, came to my house when I was bedridden, prayed with us, gave us many spiritual insights into our personal family life (that no one else could have done without the help of God), and gave me the Sacrament of Annointing of the Sick. This experience had such a profound impact on my husband and me, I can't even express it in words. 

As a couple and as a family, prayer became no longer a nice thing to do, but a must do. My children learned to help a lot more because I simply was unable to do a lot. They learned to think outside of themselves, and to step up to serve their younger siblings and me when I was in need. They learned a lot by watching me just be human. My daughter once sat with me on the floor and hugged me, while I cried through a difficult reaction. My husband too, took on a lot more burdens, and had already been doing a lot as a husband and father to 5. Sometimes it takes a good deal of hardship for our souls to grow, stretch and wake up a little. Sometimes we are only ready to receive God's gifts when we are broken.

I am happy to say that although I have been faithless many times and questioned God repeatedly, He has been faithful still! Over all, the greatest fruit I have seen in myself, and that I know beyond any doubt having gone through this: God is faithful. This last song was a theme song to me until the end, and sent to me by a dear friend:
Blessed be God my Father, who is faithful always, even when we are not!

7 comments:

  1. Oh my, Virg. What an ordeal. While I don't live with this type of chronic illness, I have been dealing with my own heal issues for the past several years. I'm so glad you have found some relief....thank God!

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  2. We all take our health for granted, until we don't have it. I always assume that docs know everything, but so many issues mimic one another. I'm so glad that you are doing so much better now and had a supportive hubby. For that you are blessed. Hope you continue to stay well.

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  3. Thank you Sarah. Thank you Candy. :)

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  4. Virginia, you have no idea how much of your struggle mirrors mine. Mine isn't allergies or any of what you've been through, but something as intense and debilitating. So much of your spiritual journey speaks to my heart too, so much so that I am sitting here weeping. I am still in that place where I feel abandoned and without consolation and nowhere near healed. I am so glad that you have found some healing and peace in your spirit. St. Therese is a favourite of mine and I've done that novena twice. The first time I got a rose and he's laying here asleep and snoring (and like your hubby C he's been so faithful and supportive and loving). I'm still waiting on the second rose. :( God bless you, my friend!

    +JMJ
    Valerie

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  5. Valerie, I will be praying for you. God's timing is so different than ours. And it is so hard when you are in the thicket, with no answers! But I know His reasons are for great love of us.

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  6. Oh, Virginia. Thank you so much for sharing. I knew a lot of your story, but not all. It gives me hope that I will get well. These last two years have been so full of fear and suffering, physically and mentally. But, like you, I have been blessed with an amazingly supportive husband who stands by me no matter what. He insists that he believes I will get well eventually. God bless you, and please pray for me.

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  7. Frances, I am so sorry you are suffering. I definitely will be praying for you to find answers.

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