So it was a “perfect storm” of two illnesses at once…severe influenza and fifth disease…that attacked my immune system and left me temporarily unable to use my legs. The intense pain, frustration and uncertainty of those winter months seem like a bad dream now that summer is once again here in the high desert and I am able to walk again.
Looking back, I realize I have learned some very important lessons as a result of being in the middle of this personal storm:
Some doctors make diagnoses and offer prognoses only within their narrow field of study, training and expertise. I respect the time and effort required to be accepted into medical school…let alone complete the rigorous program of study and training. I admire those who go on to focus on one particular area of medicine and devote their life’s work to that specialization. That said, it was my experience that some doctors cannot see beyond the parameters of their area of knowledge.
I understand this insofar that my worldview is informed and influenced by my Lutheran theology. I look at life, events, relationships, problems, situations, challenges and questions from my confessional Lutheran perspective. For example, Luther’s theology of the two kingdoms makes perfect sense to me. I believe it is based on the truth of God’s Word and does not contradict my experience of reality. However, I have learned through the years that there is much to be gained by giving honest and open consideration to the doctrines and practices of other Christian traditions. I learned to appreciate the blessing and holiness of the Sacraments (Holy Baptism and Holy Communion) not only by reading Lutheran theology and history, but by studying the sacramental theology of the Orthodox Church. I am not a Baptist, but the autobiography of Billy Graham taught me much about some important “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to the daily ministry of a church leader.
This is why I have come to value and appreciate the doctor that finally was able to bring some hope and healing to my situation. She is a renowned neurologist. She is widely respected by her colleagues. At the same time, she was willing to look outside the parameters of western medicine and learn from those who have different approaches to the causes and treatments of many illnesses. I am currently taking herbal formulas for detoxification and microbial defense immune support. Many friends have told me that such formulas do nothing and cannot be trusted. I beg to differ. I can walk again. Not only can I walk, I can hike into the mountains with 50 lbs in my backpack. I go farther and faster on my training hikes for archery hunting than ever before. Trails that used to leave me gasping for air now feel like a walk in the park.
The gluten-sugar-soy-dairy free regimen she recommended for me seemed odd and extreme…at first. Now it is my way of life. Again, many friends said all this talk about gluten, sugar, soy and dairy is a bunch of hype: “just the latest craze.” All I can say is that I am back to my college weight, my legs are strong and pain free and I have never felt better in my life.
Do I miss my green chile, double cheeseburgers from MacDonald’s? Do I crave a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream at night? Don’t I want a stack of pancakes from Denny’s swimming in butter and syrup? The honest answer is “no.” At first I wondered if I could do this without feeling deprived. My health, strength and vitality today mean more to me than any food or treat I once enjoyed. My blood pressure is 111/62. My resting pulse is 58. My waist has gone from nearly 39” to 35”. I have lost 45 pounds without being hungry. So I am sticking with this new way of being, eating and exercising. It is for everyone? Of course not…but it is working great for me.
I learned more about marriage throughout this ordeal as well. When Kirsten and I were married and promised to care for each other “for better, for worse…in sickness and in health,” we were only 22 years old. We were healthy and strong. We did not know then what the past two years would bring our way. Kirsten was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before Christmas of 2013. She has gone through surgery and treatment…and is doing great! Even so, there were times of great pain and sadness. I did my best to be there for her. I didn’t have answers to many questions. I often didn’t know what to say. I simply loved her and stayed by her side. When I was unable to walk and the pain was beyond description, Kirsten did the same for me. We prayed “not as we ought, but as we were able” while taking great comfort in the Lord’s promise that “the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
My heart is now attuned to those who suffer with chronic illness and pain as well as those who provide loving care for those so afflicted. Until January, I didn’t know much about real physical pain. I’ve had my share of bumps, bruises, broken bones and sports injuries, but nothing like the pain that had me bedridden or in a wheelchair. I am in awe of those who move forward in faith while suffering with bodily pain and chronic illness… and I remember them in prayer each day.
During one of the many medical examinations and tests that were done, I was slowly making my way from the parking garage to the hospital. It was all I could do to put one foot painfully in front of the other as I shuffled along with my cane. It took me over half an hour to cover the distance that would have been a matter of minutes prior to my illness. As I was almost to the door, a car pulled up and I watched as a woman with both legs amputated above the knee was helped into her wheelchair. She looked at me and smiled. As her family wheeled her into the hospital, I turned away and wept. The “old Bruce” would have been in and out of the hospital before she arrived. The “new Bruce” was forced to slow down… and in so doing, received the blessing of her kindness and smiling face.
I am feeling stronger and better with each passing day. My beloved wife, Kirsten, prayed with me and for me each step of this journey. She cared for me twenty-four hours a day. When we were married in 1980, we had no idea what would unfold in our lives thirty-four years later.
Isn’t that true for all of us? We move forward, not knowing what the future may hold for us, in the promise that our gracious God goes before us and will be with us not only on the joyful mountain tops, but even in the darkest valleys.