All of us have our medical stories. Some of you suffer from severe physical ailments. Others are more fortunate. But even in the worst of times, when the outlook is darkest, there is always hope for a miracle recovery of some sort. A little more than twenty years ago I had that sort of experience.
During the first week of September 1995, just after my 66th birthday, I became aware of a certain numbness and tingling sensation in my fingers and toes. When these symptoms persisted, and became more noticeable over the next few weeks, I went to see my family doctor. He referred me to a neurologist.
All during the months of October, November, and December 1995 various members of the medical profession examined me, punctured me, X-rayed me, CT-scanned me, MRIed me, myelogramed me, electroshocked me, spinal tapped me, and subjected me to various other procedures adapted by modern medicine from the techniques used in medieval torture chambers. I believe that some of these procedures owed their latest refinements to a medical monograph produced by the Marquis de Sade. All this was in search of a diagnosis.
In the meantime, I was going steadily downhill.
By mid-October I was having difficulty in walking.
On November 3rd, I went into the hospital for shoulder surgery because of a problem entirely unrelated to my neuropathy. After the surgery, my arm was in a sling for the next month, and I was unable to drive an automobile. Finally, on December 5th, my orthopedic surgeon cleared me to drive again. Unfortunately, I was unaware of how much my legs had deteriorated during the preceding weeks, and within several hours of leaving the surgeon’s office I had wrecked my car because of my inability to move my foot and find the brake pedal. I remember my wife Ann and I standing beside our wrecked car on Rolling Road waiting for my good friend Bishop Daniel Cox to pick us up. We were a miserable looking pair. We had been on our way to church to deliver some things for the Christmas program, and the good Bishop was kind enough to pick us up and give us a ride home. That was the end of my driving for many months.
By mid-December 1995 the numbness had crept from my hands all the way up to my shoulders and neck and from my feet up to my abdomen. It felt like there wasn’t much of me left, and I didn’t know where the disease (whatever it was) was going from there. I could walk only with a cane, and with great difficulty. Standing was also difficult. The only way that I could sing with the choir for our Christmas concert that year was to sit in a chair and not process in and out with the others. My hands were so weak I could no longer open a coke bottle, and my writing had become illegible.
In late November I had been referred to neurologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, and sometime in mid-December they arrived at a tentative diagnosis for my disease — they said it was polyradiculopathy caused by a polyclonal myelin associated glycoprotein. Sounds radiculous, doesn’t it? Anyway, what it meant was that my nerve roots were being attacked by my body’s own antibodies, and this was causing progressive weakness and a gradual loss of feeling in my extremities. The cause was unknown, and the medical prognosis was uncertain, but there were a number of treatments that could be tried. My main concern was that the disease might eventually effect my ability to breathe.
In the meantime, what was my spiritual condition? First, let me say that in October, shortly after the onset of my illness, Bishop Cox and Pastor Paul Matthews came to my home, anointed my head with oil, laid hands on me, and prayed for my recovery. Almost every week Ann and I met with the Thursday morning prayer group in the church parlor. Other members of the congregation were also praying for me, as were friends in many other churches. Believe me, I was aware of those prayers, and I deeply appreciated them. Because of these prayers and the loving support that I received, I never really became discouraged. Of course, I got tired of the treatments, and I struggled with the physical symptoms, but I never felt that God had abandoned me. And even in the darkest moments I remembered Job’s words, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
Beginning in late December 1995 there were frequent visits to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore — inpatient sometimes but mostly outpatient. First, they tried intravenous immune globulin. That didn’t work. Then they tried plasmapheresis. For two months beginning in early February 1996, I was taken to the hospital two or three times a week for my blood to be pumped out, filtered, and pumped back into my body. Each procedure took about three or four hours. After six weeks of this treatment a slight improvement was noted, but when I stopped plasmapheresis at the end of March I soon regressed.
In mid-April my doctor decided to try prednisone, though it was rather obvious that she had little confidence that it would help and was more inclined to resume plasmapheresis. For myself, I looked at plasmapheresis as a palliative, not a cure, and I was eager to try something else. Anyway, I started with a very high daily dosage of prednisone, but by mid-May my condition had further worsened, so my doctor instructed me to start backing off the prednisone and scheduled me for more plasmapheresis treatments. Suddenly, on the very day I went back to the hospital for the first of what was to be a new plasmapheresis series, I started getting better. As feeling returned to my arms and legs it was as if a switch was being turned on. Praise God! I was on the road to recovery.
In May of 1997, more than a year after beginning prednisone therapy, I came off medication entirely, and there has been no re-occurrence of symptoms — nor is there now any trace of the disease in my body.
And what was the mysterious affliction that crippled me for so long? The physicians were never entirely sure of their diagnosis, but the disease that most closely matched my symptoms is known as chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, an ailment so rare that the average family practitioner never sees a case in a lifetime — and cures are a hit or miss proposition. By the way, I’m told that if any of you pronounce the name of that disease correctly three times in succession they will give you credit for a full semester of Pre-Med!
The prayers and words of encouragement from members of my church meant so much. And I was also thankful for the loving assistance of my family. My wife Ann was a wonderful nurse, so patient and kind and helpful and understanding. Then there were my three sons who lived in this area — Robert and Eric and Stuart. Without their untiring help — bringing in the groceries, helping us with things around the house, and taking me to and from the hospital through some of the most miserable winter weather in our history — I don’t know how Ann and I could have managed. Then, of course, there were my physicians – all of whom were professional, knowledgeable, and caring — especially my family physician, Dr. Scott Maurer, and my neurologist, Dr. Charlene Macko of the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Finally, above all, I thank God for my healing and for his goodness and loving kindness to me and to my family. Praise be to God! To Him alone be the glory.