Howdy, old friends! Long time, no see, er, read. It’s been almost six months since my last post and I’m sure you’re all wondering what I’ve been up to and why I haven’t kept you properly updated. I wish I could say I’ve been busy playing on the streets of London, busy taking care of two small children as a live-in nanny and a 6-bedroom house, or even that I just blew off my blog. But, while I have been very busy with work and trying not to get myself killed (or anyone else) while driving the streets of London, they’re not the reasons I haven’t been updating y’all. The truth is – I’ve been sick. Really sick. In fact, I’m still sick. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back a bit, shall we?
Last summer, right before I moved to London, I passed five kidney stones in about a month and half, one of them (the first one) was the size of a sugar cube and had to be busted up for me to push it on through. Now, for those of you who’ve never had a kidney stone, they tend to make you throw up – a lot (besides being excruciatingly painful). I was on a popsicle diet (not as yummy as you may think) for a couple of months, and it seems my poor ol’ stomach just never recovered. After the summer passed it became harder and harder for me to keep food down. Around the first of the year (and about 30 pounds lighter) it started to get worse, to the point NOTHING stayed down. Sometimes not even water; then, I began to feel my body bottoming out (listen to your body!). So, the first thing I did, being an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was get a blessing. Consecrated oil – it works! It’s what carried me through until I could get back to the States to receive proper care. (There’s a really long explanation about why I couldn’t get it in the UK but we’ll save that for another time) The next thing I did was get in contact with my primary care doctor and start setting up specialist doctor appointments for when I arrived home in the middle of April. My first appointment was the day I arrived back home, an hour and a half after my plane landed. Talk about praying for no delays and speeding down the interstate!
So, after two doctor appointments with my primary care doctor and a gastrointestinal specialist, and three EGD’s (that’s where they send a camera down to look around your belly to see what’s going on) they found the connection site where my tummy and intestine meet the intestine has kinked and twisted – kinda like a garden hose. There’s some medical term for it, and if I had my smarty pants on I’d probably remember it, but I have my comfy yoga pants on so I don’t. THIS is why I am not able to keep anything down, my iron was at critical levels, my potassium at fatal levels, and I’ve lost a total of 70 pounds in the past five months – all the while eating anything and everything I wanted (I gotta be honest, I’m gonna miss that). The only way to fix this is with surgery, especially since there are some additional ulcers causing problems in the bottom of my stomach (I already have two ulcers on my intestine where the kink is, which the docs believe are partly to blame for this little dilemma). I’m scheduled for surgery May 14; the surgeon is going to cut and remove the bottom third part of my stomach, along with the kinked and twisted intestine, and then put everything back together. I will be in the hospital for 3-5 days, and the recovery time is around 4-6 weeks. But I only have five and half weeks, at most, to recover. Why? Good question, darlin’! Well, you see, my tummy issue isn’t the ONLY thing wrong with my body. By the way, if anyone knows how to convince my body we’re on the same team I’ll give you a cookie. Or a kidney. Even a puppy. Whichever you prefer.
Rewind to 2005 when I herniated my L4-L5 disc in my back; I had to have surgery because the nerve damage was so severe I couldn’t even skooch my feet into my shoes, and had to actually lift my legs into the car. It ended up being a huge ordeal because 4 weeks post op I woke up with 104 fever. Why? Because I had a staph infection, but not caused by the hospital stay. Nope. That’d be too easy. Come to find out I’m carrier and I gave it to myself. (See what I mean about being on the same team???) So then followed two months of nurses coming out to my house twice a day to administer antibiotics via two different portable IV’s and almost dying – literally. It wasn’t fun to say the least.
Now fast forward to the present. Well, wait. First, I gotta mention – when you hurt your back, if you’re looking for a pain-free existence you’re looking for something that doesn’t exist. You just have to learn to function with your injury – and that includes the pain. If you lost your leg in a car accident you wouldn’t sit around waiting for it to grow back before trying to walk again, would you? (I hope not) But around 3 years ago the pain in my back changed (remember what I said about listening to your body??); so I went to my primary care and he did an MRI, which found my L4-L5 disc was gone causing the vertebrae to be misaligned and bone on bone. Then, the L5-S-1 disc had herniated pushing on the spinal cord nerves causing them to efface (turn upwards). I had a really AMAZING primary care then (and I do now, thankfully) who sent me to the doc who did HIS back surgery for the same thing. The doc he sent me to was an orthopedic surgeon that was pretty phenomenal. If you’re in Arkansas and looking for an ortho who is good AND cares about your well-being, I can hook you up! (FYI, I tend to be pretty picky about doctors after being pre-med for so long)
Anyhoo, for my consultation the ortho looks over the images and gives me an exam, coming to the conclusion my spine needs to be fused. Now, I was told at the age of 26 I was going to have to have this done SOMEDAY, but this is typically done on patients age 50+, not 30. In fact, the doc even mentioned how young I was and wished there was an alternative, but there was just too much damage to my spine. I should interject here as to WHY my spine was/is so messed up. One word – genetics. My mom had to have back surgery at the age of 22 and dealt with back pain her entire life. My back just decided to go the extra mile with nerve damage and degenerating. Ok, back to the ortho 3 years ago. I didn’t have insurance at the time and a spine fusion surgery is ridiculously expensive. The rods they use are $5,000-10,000 a piece and I needed at least two. But I gotta give it to this doc and just how incredible he was. You know what he said to me? I’m paraphrasing, of course, but something along the lines of, “Look, I make enough money, so I won’t charge you for the surgery since you really need this. I can check you in through the ER and we can get it done that way. BUT, you’re going to leave the hospital owing for a lot more than just my fee. Plus, the recovery time for this procedure is 3-6 months and you need to make sure you’re able to sustain yourself during that time and have a good support system.” How freakin’ awesome is that?! Have YOU ever had a doctor tell you he makes enough? Or help you work around the system to see you get the treatment you NEED? Amazing. Three years later and I’m still in awe.
Well, sadly, I didn’t have a job then offering short-term disability so I had no way to support myself for those 3-6 months, nor did I have any family or a good support system to care for me. It was always my mom and I growing up, and by this point in her life she was extremely ill with being on dialysis from her kidneys shutting down due to diabetes, along with a laundry list of other health issues including a pacemaker and neuropathy (which is what I’m currently in danger of getting with the nerve damage). So, I just got a TENS unit (it’s a machine that sends little electronic pulses to your muscles and helps with pain), did physical therapy, got some meds, and learned to deal with the pain. That worked for the last 3 years and, while I’ll admit the quality of my life could have been better, I still lived an active life. But, I gotta stop here and tell you why or I’m afraid I’ll give the wrong impression that I’m some super tough chick and not give credit where credit is due. If you’re not a spiritual like me, you may wanna skip this part, but I’d really love it if you’d let me share this with you.
I learned long ago that pain – emotional, physical, mental, you name it – is a part of this mortal existence and, believe it or not, every painful experience we go through is specifically custom-made for each of us because who we are, what we need to learn, and who we need to become. For me, these are serious health issues, including physical pain. They’re what keep my testimony strong and converted unto the Lord, which means more to me than anything in this world. So if that means having to deal with health issues the rest of my life, I’ll do it. Gladly. Because there’s only so much a doctor can do, only so much pain a drug or exercise or procedure can take away, and only so much comfort a loving soul can give. At the end of the day, especially those days where I can’t bend over and even laying down brings shooting, burning pain down my legs, the only One who truly understands, who’s been there too, who can give the only comfort that will truly succor is Christ. Because of what He went through in Gethsemane He KNOWS what I’m going through, the emotional and mental toll it takes, and how sometimes you just have to endure. But these moments can also be a refining fire, if you let it, that will you bring closer to Him and to Heavenly Father, and help you to feel Their incredible, infinite love for you. A love that will always be there, no matter what happens or what you do. So, I learned to pray on those days where I thought the pain would break me for Heavenly Father to take away the pain that He could, but for the pain He couldn’t to help me bear it up with the help of His Son. Matthew 11:28-30 is a very dear and personal scripture for me as I KNOW His yoke is easy and his burden is light – much lighter than the ones we try to carry around. All we have to do is lay our burdens at His feet and He will trade with us. It’s pretty incredible when you really think about it.
And that, my dear friends, is HOW I’ve been able to live a relatively ‘normal’ life the past 3 years with a debilitating spinal injury. Well, a few months ago, the pain changed AGAIN, but this time I noticed my feet and legs going numb for no reason. I knew this wasn’t a good sign. So, along with all the specialist appointments, I had my primary doc schedule a new MRI. Thankfully, now I have insurance because of Obamacare; I’m one of the ones it helps. A LOT.
When I went to see my doc to go over the results he AND his nurse practitioner came in to go over them. Why? Because I’m an ‘interesting’ case. Let me tell ya, you don’t want to be ‘interesting’ to a doctor. That means not only do you have something wrong with you but you also either have something RARE wrong with you and/or SEVERELY wrong with you. Me? I have both. What can I say? I like to keep things…..interesting. The results showed my L4-L5 vertebrae have rubbed against each other for so long they’ve developed bone spurs which are pressing into my spinal cord nerves. But, wait. That’s not all! The L5-S1 disk has now completely ruptured on both sides (looking like an angry octopus, in the words of my roommate) causing severe nerve compression on both the left and right side. There’s also some height disensation (I’m shrinking), a lot of arthritis, and a few other technical terms I don’t remember. For those of you who are visual, here are a few photos to help you see what I’m talking about.
After going over the results with my primary doc, I went straight downstairs and made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon he referred me to. Again, I’ve been blessed with another wonderful doctor! After reading the MRI report, he looks over at me wide-eyed and says, “This A LOT for someone as young as you.” I just smiled and replied, “Well, I try to keep it interesting. Go big or go home, right?” He smiles and continues with his examination and questions. He was very through, answering all my questions and concerns, showing me specific aspects of the MRI, and coming up with a treatment plan. I was really, REALLY hoping I could do a disc replacement instead of fusing my spine, as that’s less invasive and not so permanent. And doesn’t involve steel. Unfortunately, I’m not a candidate, because putting in artificial discs will increase movement in my spine (good) but on the other side of my vertebrae, where the joint is – mine is riddle with arthritis – increasing movement will increase the pain (bad). So fusing my spine it is! Since I have such severe nerve damage I really can’t wait any longer to have this done. The longer you wait to correct this the more permanent the damage is. That’s no bueno. If it were just pain, I’d deal with it, but I’d really like to be able to walk properly and skooch my feet into my shoes. You know, it’s the little things.
My back surgery has been scheduled for June 23; this will hopefully be enough time for my body to recover enough from my stomach/intestine surgery to be strong enough to go through another, more intensive surgery. Let me tell you, I’ve had to do a lot just to have the first surgery. My iron and potassium were so depleted from malnutrition I’ve had to have transfusions twice a week for the past month. Also, I’ve had to drink high protein drinks to try to get my protein levels up to be able to sustain surgery. I will have to continue this after the first surgery because all the protein I’ve built up will be used on the first surgery and I’ll need to build my levels back up in time for the second one. It’s crazy, I know. But, hey, that’s life and I’m wearin’ my seat belt – bring on the roller coaster rides!
Now, there are two reasons I’m blessed enough to even have these opportunities to get all of this taken care of (and, yes, all of this is a BLESSING – I’m finally getting proper care and treatment instead of just suffering); first, as I mentioned before, I have insurance. Second, and most importantly, I’ve been blessed with loving people willing and WANTING to help and care for me. There was a YSA (young single adult) missionary couple (the Ainsworth’s) who served in London while I was there; we became close during that time and, when I came for my visit, I brought them some personal items. While we were catching up I shared with them the details of my current health situation and the possible outcomes. Since my mom passed away about a year and half ago, that’s left me without ANY family. That’s hard for most of my friends and the people I know to wrap their minds around and I understand that. My church is so family oriented (which I LOVE) that when someone comes along with ZERO family to call on, it kinda takes them back. It kinda takes me back some days, too.
So Sister Ainsworth asked what she could do and I honestly didn’t know. I don’t EVER want to be a burden to others, particularly those I care about, and asking for help is something I REALLY struggle with. I’m the type of person who tries to walk across the desert without any help. Alone. With no water. Yeah, I don’t get it either. It’s dumb. And so NOT in line with Heavenly Father’s plan for us. But, that’s the way I tend to try to get things done (Effective, said no one ever). But, this angelic couple just pushed right past that and Sister A said, “You’ll come here to recover from your surgeries.” I told them this could go until the end of summer. Ok, no problem. I could barely get the words ‘Thank You’ out and just sat in their kitchen, crying tears of gratitude while she hugged me (Don’t ever under estimate the power of a hug – they work magic). I’ve NEVER had that before – being cared for during/after surgery. I’ve always taken care of myself in that regard. Actually, I’ve been taking care of myself since I was 15, working full-time and everything. I still don’t know how to process what it will be like. I’m looking forward to it, though.
I feel I should be honest with you about something else, too. While I am at a loss of words to describe the gratitude I feel to have this opportunity to heal, feel the love and encouragement from so many people, and have the chance to live a healthier, better quality of life I also struggle with other not-so-great feelings. Once everything set in the day I met with the ortho and the feeling of relief from final gaining some resolution subsided, I ended up in the Target bathroom crying to my roommate. I couldn’t help feeling resentful that I have to have such an invasive procedure done to fix such a serious problem at my age. I’m too young to be this sick. It’s not fair. It truly and genuinely isn’t fair. And, I’m scared. This back surgery is kind of a big deal, with a long recovery time where I won’t be able to work or support myself. I’ve been working since I was 15! Not working for that long is mind-blowing. It also means that I’ll need help. A lot of help. (Don’t forget about that trek across the desert I keep trying to go on) I don’t have an income during this time but still have things I need – prescriptions, food, medical bills (my coinsurance is 20% and my back surgery alone will be at least $75,000 – that’s $15,000 I have to come up with) toiletries – I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture. I know the Ainsworth’s will help, they’ve already started, and my roommates have done what they can, but I’m really big about doing MY part and what I can for MYSELF. Being self-sufficient is really important to me and a fundamental part of who I am. And I’ve already mentioned about not being a burden. So this whole experience is also turning into an excellent learning opportunity for me for not only learning how to ask for help, but also for accepting it. I always want to be the one helping, serving, giving. Being on the other side takes some adjusting. It also takes swallowing my pride (which I never realized was there before).
I want to go back to something I said earlier – that what I’m going through isn’t fair. And it really isn’t. But, life isn’t about being fair. It’s about getting back home, using this time to learn and grow and become who we’re meant to be. To do that, to truly become our best selves, takes ‘unfair’ circumstances, adversity, pain, tears, and challenges. It’s during these times we learn, we grow, we become better. The other day I was taking my roommate to work and I saw a young woman walking across BYU campus with two prosthetic legs. She was amazing!! And I want to whine because I have to have my spine fused? Um, no. Just no. Yes, what I have to go through is tough and it’s hard and it’s painful. But, guess what. I’m not the only one. And I can promise you I can find someone in about 2 minutes going through something a lot harder than I am. “The Son of man hath descended below them all. Are thou greater than He?” Nope. So I’m going to beat back those feelings of resentment and anger. With what? Gratitude. And I’m going to continue to pray Heavenly Father turns my fear into faith. I know He will. If I let Him.
Now, I counseled with my bishop, my relief society president, and a couple of friends about what I could do to help with my financial needs. First, we thought of doing a bake sale or a spaghetti dinner or even a yard sale. But those take a lot of time and I don’t know anyone right now who has the time to give. Instead, they thought the best way would be to do an online fundraiser. This is a really weird idea for me but I’m willing to do whatever I can to take care of myself and do my part. So my friends came together and created a fundraiser on Give Forward. There’s a MUCH shorter version of what’s going on and you can make a donation. It can be $5. It can be $20. It can be $100. Whatever you want! Or, if you’re not in a position to give a donation, you can share it on your Facebook page or on Twitter. Or send an email to your friends and family. Whichever way you choose, it will help me out so much. To say I’d be grateful would be like saying the ocean is wet but it’s true! Admittedly, this is a hard way for me to help myself, as I want to go to work, but since I’m physically unable to right now, I’ll listen to the counsel I’ve been given and do it this way. I’ll post a link at the bottom of this post.
I’d like to wrap up this novella of a post with my testimony because I feel so strongly the Lord’s hand in my life right now. I KNOW Christ lives, that’s He’s the savior of the world, and has atoned for each and every one us. I know that the love Heavenly Father has for us is infinite, unconditional, and real. I know He loves us more than we could possibly fathom and His dreams for us go far beyond the ones we have for ourselves. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is His true and living church upon the earth today; restored by Joseph Smith who is a true prophet of God, just like President Thomas S. Monson. I know through true repentance not only will we be completely forgiven for the mistakes and sins we make but will become a new person, from the inside out, through the miracle and precious gift of the Atonement. I know everything we go through in this life, the peaks and the valleys, is because Heavenly Father wants nothing more than for us to return to Him, to come home, and live in His kingdom forever. I know that through sacred ordinances families can be together forever and that having a family is a beautiful and precious gift – whether you’re family by blood or just love. I know the Book of Mormon to be the true word of God, along with the Bible, and that if you read them you will come to find God and have peace. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Thanks so much for reading this and being with me on this journey! I PROMISE to keep updates and will post as soon as I can post surgery. God be with you till we meet again!
Go here to donate or share the website! http://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/cnk4/rally-for-rebecca-s-recovery