No One is Immune
No family is immune from hardship in life. For some, it’s the loss of a loved one; for others, it’s a broken marriage. Some families struggle financially while others deal with abuse. No matter how hard we try, trouble comes our way. It’s during these times that we are tested to see what holds our families together.
Today, I want to tell you about a tough time in my life that I continue to battle. My hope is that through my story you will find encouragement and strength to help you through whatever it is you are facing.
When it all Started
Seven years ago, I was doing Tae Bo with my wife, Cheryl. I was not too excited about exercising but agreed to do it because I knew it was good for me. I was unemployed at the time. Cheryl wanted to make sure I was exercising because she knew it was one of the things that helped to keep a person from getting depressed.
We stretched and she started the video. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I twisted my left elbow to my right knee. As soon as I did this, I felt something pop between my shoulder blades. That was the end of the workout for me. I immediately iced it and it seemed to calm down after a while. My “injury” wasn’t a very big deal. It would get flared up at times when I would throw the football with the boys. Besides that, I really didn’t even notice it.
Fast forward almost a year and a half. After a couple of days of being violently ill, I had to have major exploratory abdominal surgery. The doctors told me that they took my intestines out of my body and laid them on a table so they could go through them and figure out where the problem area was.
Sure enough, I had scar tissue from a previous surgery that had wrapped around my intestines and caused a blockage. As if the surgery wasn’t bad enough, I had an allergic reaction to a medicine called Reglan while I was still in the hospital. I shook with severe tremors for six days before a doctor figured out it was the medicine. It was the closest to death I ever came. I spent 26 days in the hospital altogether. My recovery from this surgery was slow. I missed 7 weeks of work in all. The good news was that I didn’t seem to feel my back pain much because of all my stomach pain…that is, until my surgery wound started to heal.
The Pain Came Back
It’s hard to say when exactly my back pain returned. It was sometime in the summer of 2011. This time, instead of a minor pain in my back, the pain was significant. On top of it, I couldn’t raise my left arm because my muscles in my left shoulder were so tight.
I started by going to a chiropractor. Unfortunately, this only made it worse. Finally, I broke down and went to a medical doctor. I showed him my back/shoulder problem and he immediately ordered an MRI for me. I was convinced the MRI would come back showing something. The pain was too great. There had to be something wrong.
I had 4 MRI’s that fall. I had one on my cervical spine, my thoracic spine, my brain, and my shoulder. To everyone’s surprise, none of them showed anything although my pain level continued between a 6-8 out of 10. There was no stop to the pain. It was constant.
Off to Duke
Our next step was to go to Duke. I saw a spine doctor and a shoulder doctor there. Both doctors were baffled. The shoulder doctor even told us to try eastern medicine. He had never seen a shoulder and back do what mine did.
We came back home and looked for a pain doctor. Thankfully, we found one who was willing to think outside the box. This doctor tried everything he knew. I had steroid shots, Botox shots, and cervical epidurals. They helped a little but didn’t cause the pain to stop.
In 2012, we moved to Chicago for me to begin serving as a worship pastor at Evangel Church in Hanover Park. By the grace of God, I pushed through the pain for the first 18 months or so. Unfortunately, the pain just wouldn’t subside.
We took a trip to Mayo Clinic in the summer of 2013. Surely, we thought, someone up there would be able to tell us what was going on with my body. Mayo’s diagnosis was that the muscles in my back and shoulder had become dysfunctional and needed to be rehabilitated. They suggested that I enter into a pain management program closer to my house.
Soon after, I went to see the doctor that would assess me for the program. He was baffled by my symptoms as well and tried doing shots in my labrum (part of the shoulder). This helped a little but the pain continued.
Everything came to a climax in January of 2014. My pain got so bad that I became bedridden. I was vomiting from the pain for weeks. On a scale of 1 to 10, my pain was a solid 8 and sometimes even pushed to a 9.
Finally, we heard about an opening at a 21-day pain management program. It was nearly an hour away from my house. Thankfully, one of the elders from our church drove me every day. He would drop me off at 8 AM and then go for walks or read a book until I was finished at noon. He would then drive me home. What a gift! I am so thankful for all he did.
Back to Work
The program helped me to get my pain level down enough that I could go back to work. My pain was still bad, but at least I could get through a day of work. Still, I would spend the rest of the day in bed until I got up the next morning for work to do it all over again.
From the beginning of my severe pain, I tried physical therapy and even saw some really weird chiropractors. Most of the time their treatment just flared me up worse. I tried all kinds of eastern medicine including acupuncture. Nothing seemed to make sense. The things that were supposed to help me made me worse.
I must mention that I have had believers pray for divine healing from the beginning (and still do). I have been anointed with oil on many occasions and even had people pray for me who had the gift of healing. If you aren’t familiar with this, read James 5:14 and 1 Corinthians 12:9. I believe wholeheartedly that God still heals people today. In fact,
As time went on, it became harder and harder to work. The pain was debilitating at times. By 2015, I had a total of 10 MRI’s, 3 EEG’s, a bone scan, and all kinds of other tests. Every test came back negative.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
During the first part of this past year (2016), I received a diagnosis: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). I didn’t have all the symptoms of CRPS, but I had enough to qualify for the diagnosis. For those of you not familiar with CRPS, it is caused by an injury followed by some sort of trauma which causes malfunctioning of the peripheral and central nervous system. It usually affects a person’s limbs, hands or feet, although there are rare cases where it affects other parts of the body.
CRPS is characterized by prolonged or excessive severe pain and changes in skin color, temperature, and/or swelling in the affected area. The pain from CRPS is severe and feels like an intense burning.
The McGill Pain Index shows it as a pain that is worse than childbirth.
By March of 2016, my doctors at my present pain clinic were ready to give up. They referred me to RUSH University Medical Center in Chicago to consult with a doctor about the only other option doctors had for me. It was there that I had what Cheryl and I felt like was the last-ditch effort. In June of 2016, I had surgery to have a spinal cord stimulator put in. Once I recovered from the surgery, it helped me at lower pain levels. Unfortunately, it did not cut the pain when it spiked. The device did not help me enough to be able to function at 100%. By this point, I had lived in constant and severe pain every day for 5 years.
In July, our family visited my extended family in Fort Mill, SC. It was obvious at this point that I was not bouncing back very well. I spent most of my vacation in bed.
After a lot of prayer and discussion, Cheryl and I decided it was time to move home to be closer to our family. She would become the primary breadwinner and I would have more than just her to take care of me.
We began the process of moving east. We informed our pastor and congregation and put our house on the market. In the past 6 months, God has done one miracle after another to get us to Fort Mill. I can’t wait to tell you how it all happened.
God has also taught me and my family so many things through all of this. In fact, I have so much to tell you that I’m going to write it in the next post.
There is Hope
Before I end this post, I must tell you something very important. I don’t share any of this because I am looking for your sympathy. Instead, I want you to know that I find my strength in the Lord and you can too. I don’t know how I would have made it this far without him.
The scriptures tell us in Isaiah 40:29-31 that, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.”
God will one day deliver you from whatever you are facing today. If he chooses not to do it immediately, he will give you the strength and the grace to endure it. With God’s help, you can find joy even in the most difficult times.
Be encouraged, my friends. God is for you and not against you. Put your trust in Him and you will never be disappointed.
Look for Part 2 of Kens’s blog next week!
For information about Ken’s website, Families of Influence, please click here: www.familiesofinfluence.com