As many of you know, I’ve been battling Crohn’s disease for seven years now. Most recently I’ve been struggling through a flare up that has lasted over a month now. I’ve been treated as an outpatient for this flare up with antibiotics, steroids, and painkillers. This past Thursday I had an appointment with my gastrointestinal doctor. I want to add that this was a very timely appointment for if I had not been going to see this doctor I would have been going to the hospital because I was in so… much… pain… The doctor came in and asked about my medications and I told him I’ve gotten worse since being on them. He saw the amount of pain I was in and within one minute of him seeing me he said, “I’m sending you to the hospital.” My doctor’s concern was that I may need to have an emergency surgery to remove this section of my intestines (which doesn’t necessarily fix the problem in the long run anyways, 50% of the time the Crohn’s returns). On the drive to the hospital my mind started to feel overwhelmed and I told my wife, “I’m so tired of being in pain…”
My doctor was kind enough to call the emergency room prior to us leaving his office to notify them that I was on my way. When we arrived all I had to do was tell them my name and that I was a rush admittance. I waited for no more than two minutes and they got me into an ER room. They hooked me up to a saline/potassium IV and gave me a morphine injection to help the ease my pain. The next moment they brought me my
favorite, beloved, most hated hospital beverage–vanilla flavored barium (for my CT scan I was about to have). Barium is disgusting. Leah (my wife) sat by my side and encouraged me the whole entire time. Mid-drink Leah told me, “We’ve still got to see this as a blessing, Max.” This statement has dominated most of my thoughts since that Thursday morning.
I recently wrote a blog post on the blessings of having a disease. It’s so easy to look back on to something and try to pull the good out of it. It’s hard to look forward and expect bad things to happen and to pull the good from it then simply because the definitions of the situations have yet to be set, it’s unknown. The hardest thing to do is in the midst of pain, look at yourself, keep a straight face and tell yourself that you honestly believe that there is good in this. The morphine didn’t do much for me in the ER. Not much longer than fifteen minutes after my first injection I needed another. The nurse told me that I had been given enough morphine to hold me over for two hours.
Allow me to give a context for my pain levels this past month. I don’t quite know how to compare the actual physical pain to something more recognizable but I’ve always said it’s like digesting glass or someone reaching into your gut, squeezing intestines and twisting them around. My mother has recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s (she was diagnosed this past month amidst all of this). She has said the pain is similar to child-birth (and I’ve heard many people compare the pain to child-birth as well). Anyways, the pain has progressively grown more in frequency and intensity in the last month. Sometimes the day would be great with minimal problems–others a blur from coping with it. I went through three bottles of [prescription] pain killers in one month trying to deal with this. The last week leading up to this most recent hospital visit got so bad that I started to develop back pains. I’ve had back pains in the past so I figured it was just another problem that could be treated with back rubs and Icy-Hot. I soon came to learn that my back pain was from Crohn’s.
Well, to resume the story, I wasn’t in the ER very long at all and I never did get my [needed] injection of morphine. While in the ER the pain got so bad again that I gave myself a fever. I arrived at the hospital with a 98.6 degree temperature. Modestly, I wasn’t in the ER for over an hour. By the time I got to my room I developed a 100.4 degree fever. My RN came into my room as I was being wheeled in and she promptly went to get me some morphine and made a comment to someone roughly similar to, “Why are they not giving him morphine? Do they not see how much pain he is in?” You couldn’t have played Bach’s Fugue in C-Sharp Minor and tell me that this nurse’s words weren’t sweeter music to my ears. My nurse told me that my fever was developed by my attempts of dealing with the pain. When I was being wheeled into my room that first time I noticed that I was on the oncology floor. I asked the nurse if she knew something that I didn’t and why I was on the oncology floor. She said that the oncology unit specializes in pain control and that it was the best place for me to be at the time. She made me smile at that (which also helped remove oncology-related questions and concerns).
My mother-in-law came to visit me within the first few hours of my stay and while she was there I was wheeled out for my CT scan. She stayed with Leah in the room while I made my way to X-Ray for the scans. CT scans aren’t my favorite but they don’t last very long. To help with imaging they inject a radioactive contrast moments prior to the scan. While being scanned you get a metallic taste in your mouth, a sensation similar to wetting yourself (I don’t know what it is but if they hadn’t warned me about that the first time I would’ve thought I had actually wet myself…), and a feeling of intense heat running through your body. Well, I got my results later that afternoon. My intestines had become so inflamed that it had put pressure on and displaced my kidney. My kidney was responsible for my back pain (lower right back) and the inflammation, directly or indirectly by the kidney, put pressure some nerves, which intensified the pain.
That first night in the hospital, Thursday, I was being taken well care of by the nurses and doctors. I can honestly say that I’m very impressed with the Lynchburg General Hospital staff. I had a fairly liberal amount of morphine at my will when needed. My way of testing my pain levels was taking in a deep breath and trying to sit up. Breathing in caused the rest of my organs to move around just enough for my intestines to be irritated and sitting up moved my back enough to cringe. My last injection was at 10 PM Thursday night when I wasn’t feeling much pain any more. I love my pain killers but I love getting rid of the pain over masking it and I became determined to get out of the hospital. The rest of my stay was wait-and-see. I was being pumped full of intense treatment, which was a couple different antibiotics and steroids. The next day, Friday, the doctor was surprised to see how far I’ve come with all the pain. He thought for sure I would be in the hospital until at least Monday. I had an early discharge from the hospital Saturday morning–no surgery needed.
Leah has been such a blessing in my life. I love my wife so much. This was the second flare up in six months and she has been by my side every step of the way in prayer and support. She slept over every night and the last night there she was so worn out from working a fourteen hour work day that while she was cuddling with me in my hospital bed she fell asleep with me in that tiny little bed the whole night. The nurses thought it was the cutest thing ever. My mother and her fiancé, Howie, visited me Saturday afternoon, which was quite pleasant and needed. I love my family so much.
Well, though my physical pain has passed away for the time being, my emotional and spiritual pain has intensified. I started putting my mind in the way of hard questions. I don’t want to say I started doubting but I wanted to keep my mind balanced. I needed to check my balance between my emotions and my academics/intellect. I started asking questions like: “Is there a God?” and “Why would God allow this?” Despite my situation, the questions weren’t too hard to deal with and I credit having a strong foundation in my faith to not waver in the trials. That’s not to say I didn’t have hard questions because I did. The hard questions and struggles came when I realized that I started living in fear of pain. I didn’t want to eat anything because I was afraid of the pain. I likened myself to Dr. House who always seeks a way out of his problems in efforts to avoid his own pain (both physical and non-physical pain). I was pleading with God to just give me a break. ”God, please, no more pain!” I pled with God to just let things going right for once. I had an emotional break down that night and wept. I wanted to be done with pain. I wanted to not worry about finances and whether or not I can afford to have a sandwich with a buddy and not throw off the budget. I wanted to be able to drive across town and not worry about the gas. I wanted to have our two vehicles we once had instead of one. I wanted to have a job with normal work hours or to not stretch for overtime because I know we need the extra money. I wanted to not be on medicine and if I had to be on medicine, that it not have the side-effects that they do have (breaking out, bloating, digestive problems, mood problems, etc.).
There were so many problems running through my head that I just wanted a break from! I then stopped and thought about my situation in the bigger scheme and got mad at myself for complaining about it. I have a house that I can get mad at when the weather rips off the storms windows. I have family that I can bicker with. I have a car that I can
curse at yell at when it stalls in the middle of an intersection almost causing an accident. I have a job with great employers and coworkers who bend over backwards for me and visit me in the hospital. I have medicine to treat my problems. I have a great argument for every problem I have as to why it shouldn’t be a problem to me. But still… I asked God, in my context, I would like things to go smooth just for a while…
This is where I am right now. I’m trying to work all this out, hoping for things to smooth for me. To not have these stresses build up causing me to break down every once in a while. My life is good, it’s real good. God has been so great to me. The hard thing is being okay with it in my own context. I know that the prayers of family and friends are what God used to expedite my care this past hospital stay. I thank all of you so much for it. I love you all. Please continue to pray for me as I deal with the questions and that I will be sensitive to God’s work in me, that I may have His perspective on things and that I not get too entangled in my own sight and contexts. I said earlier that the hardest thing to do is in the midst of pain, look at yourself, keep a straight face and tell yourself that you honestly believe that there is good in this. I’ve come to learn that in the midst of pain, it’s easier to not look at myself, but to look to my heavenly Father and tell him that I honestly believe that there is good in this… even if I can’t see it right now…