There I was, stomach down on the operating table, in only a hospital gown and my underwear, and I found myself doing the one thing I hadn’t sincerely done in months.
I was praying.
With my whole heart, my whole being, and my whole soul, I was saying the most earnest prayer I could remember saying in a long, long time.
“Dear God. Please, please, PLEASE be with me right now. Please, whatever happens, please do not let them hit a nerve. Please God. I could not handle it if that happened. Please God. You are the only one I can ask for help right now. I need you. I need this. Please help me.”
It was my second trip to the Mayo Clinic and I was in the midst of what was supposed to be a 10-minute epidural that had passed the hour mark. The original doctor had been unable to get the needle through my spine in my middle back, and another doctor had to be called in to consult.
Eventually, they decided to go through my lower back, but to get the medication in the right place, they had to thread a catheter tube up my spine — no easy task. They kept threading it to the left when it needed to go right, and so they had to keep pulling it back down my spine and out of my body and redoing it.
In case you’re wondering, it really hurts when they do that, and you can totally feel it.
Before the procedure, everyone I talked to, from the nurse who checked my blood pressure to the actual doctor slated to give me the epidural, had assured me seven ways from Sunday that this was going to be a quick and easy procedure.
They told me there was no reason to give me any of the sedative I had been given when I had undergone a similar procedure awhile back, because this one was just going to be so dog gone easy.
I should have known then that it wouldn’t be. But I nervously took them at their word.
Eventually though, as I heard the doctor tell his resident, “I’ve just never seen anything like this before,” I started to worry that this whole thing was going to be full of worst-case scenarios. One of which was that they could hit one of my nerves during the procedure, which could send a shooting pain down my leg, that, from what I could gather, would hurt like hell.
So, as more and more things went wrong, I lost more and more faith in the doctors poking me in the spine. And eventually, I turned to the only one you can turn to when there’s nobody else left to ask for help — God.
“I’m so sorry that we haven’t talked much in the last few months. I am so sorry that I haven’t been going to church. I swear, I am,” I prayed silently. “I just really need your help right now. Because I am going to freak the eff out if they hit my nerve. I’m telling you, I could not take that.”
Eventually, about 90 minutes after I first lay down on the table, they were done. The doctors had managed to get the medication into the right spot without hitting any of my nerves.
I could barely walk out of the room to where my clothes were, and it felt like someone had just stuck a bunch of needles into various parts of my back — mostly because they had.
All I could think about was that prayer though. I hadn’t prayed like that in such a long time.
So many people write how having a chronic illness strengthens their faith, how it brings them closer to God than they’ve ever been. But I have no idea how that happens. For me, it’s made me a little bit more of an atheist every day.
When I first got sick, before I was on any medications that helped at all, before I had any idea what might be happening to me, I would lay in bed at night, unable to fall asleep because of the pain, and I would literally cry out to God.
And in those moments, when the pain only got worse, He seemed so silent.
Then, when it became clear that I would have to resign my role as the youth leader at the church I was attending, I started to question whether this whole thing was somehow God’s way of telling me I wasn’t doing a good job leading the youth.
I know, I know, that’s probably not true. But when something like that happens to you, it’s impossible not to have those thoughts.
From there, I started to wonder how any God could ever let one of his children suffer the way I have.
And then, one night a few months ago, I was up all night in such severe pain that the next day the doctor gave me a shot of Dilaudid. Unfortunately, instead of relieving my pain, it promptly made me start vomiting uncontrollably. I literally threw up all night long, with barely enough time to catch my breath between each time.
It was the worst 48 hours of my entire life. And it was then that the questions of where God could possibly be during all of this really started to take root.
I really do believe that life with obscene chronic pain is the worst life imaginable, and I don’t understand how it could possibly lead anyone to have a closer relationship with God. For me, it has only made Him more and more distant.
Maybe I am angry or just confused. And maybe one day everything will become clear. But for now, I am in too much pain to make sense of the fact that a supposedly loving creator would let one of his creations endure such a thing.
And yet, there I was, on the operating table, praying with such a sincere heart that I barely recognized myself.
So I guess when it comes right down to it, I still want really want to believe. I need to.
Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared as a column on the National Pain Report.
The pain in my ribs has been particularly horrible the last few days.
I’ve rarely been able to get out of bed or off the couch. I’ve been absent from conversations. And I’ve been trying to sleep whenever I can because it’s the only relief I can find.
I don’t want this life.
I don’t really much care if “God has a plan for me.”
I don’t really care if I’m “still needed.”
And I really, really, really don’t care if I’m supposed to “learn something” from this awful experience.
I started taking Cymbalta about a month and a half ago, and I have to admit that it has curbed the visceral suicidal thoughts that started about 3 weeks after the pain started. The ones I was having on an almost daily basis. The ones I used to wake up with and go to bed with. The ones that used to linger in my head as I’d contemplate things like whether I should try to live through the next week to see the next episode of “The Good Wife,” or whether I should just go ahead and slit my wrists in the bathtub that night.
But even though the Cymbalta has helped with primal urge to end it all, there are still plenty of other suicidal thoughts lingering around.
Reason is enough of a reason to want to kill myself. I ration that if I have to endure this horrible pain for the rest of my life, then I don’t want to live the rest of my life.
I start to think that I might have the horrible misfortune of both never being cured and living for the next six decades. And I come to the conclusion that taking a bottle of pills all at once would be better than bearing that.
It’s hard to explain to people just how quickly pain makes you crazy. How quickly it makes you want to give up.
If I had been asked a year ago how I would react to something like this, I would have assumed everything would have been so different.
I would have thought my faith would have given me the strength I needed to get through it. I would have thought that my friends and my family would have understood just how horrible the pain really is and that they all would have rallied to support me. And I would have imagined that I would have been able to go to a doctor and get some sort of relief.
But I would have been so very wrong.
I can understand euthanasia now. I can sympathize with those patients.
And I can’t help but wonder if some of the thousands of deaths each year caused by accidentally overdosing on prescription pain pills are no accident.
When you’re enduring horrible, horrible pain on daily basis, it’s as if your body is hard wired to assume you must be close to death. When you aren’t though, when you just keep on living, day after day after day, well, it makes you crazy.
But then, just when you’re about to give up, just when you can barely breathe, you inhale a gasp of air.
My brother and my grandma and I were in the living room the other day. And we were talking about my other grandma, on my dad’s side of the family, and how devastating it was when she died. And I turned to my living grandma and said, “When you die, it will devastate this family.”
And my brother turned to me, as if he’d been waiting for the right time to tell me this, because he knew where my thoughts had been, and he said, “Crystal, if you die, it would devastate this family for years. You are the rock that holds this whole family together.”
It’s just enough to air help me breathe a little while longer.
I’ve gotten into a circle of asking “why” lately.
As in, “Why the hell is this happening to me?”
I know. I know. It’s cliche.
But I just. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why this is happening to me.
I hate it so, so much.
Last night I did too much, and I was sitting in my car, and I still had to make the hour-and-a-half drive home from the area where I work, and I was in seriously excruciating pain, and it was just radiating throughout my right ribs, and I just wanted to die so, so much and all I could think was, “Why?”
Did I do something to deserve this? Was I an awful person at some point, and this was my punishment? Was I mean to someone and I didn’t realize it, and now I’m going through this as a result of that?
Am I paying for the sins of my youth? For all the stupid mistakes I made in my 20s?
Because if I am, I am truly, truly repentant.
People are always trying to find the good in this. I don’t blame them. I want to find good in evil too.
But I don’t see any good in this.
I play out crazy scenarios in my head where I start foundations and help millions of people with similar problems, but then I just think that even that is horrible because those people shouldn’t ever have to go through something like this. It is so, so awful.
Or, maybe I will sue the hospitals that have brushed me aside and ignored my cries for help and misdiagnosed me and I will get millions of dollars. But trust me, I would rather have my health any day of the week.
Last night, the pain was so horrible and I found myself thinking about driving off the road again, wishing I was dead. Praying for an end.
Someone actually told me recently that I shouldn’t kill myself, because if I commit suicide I’d go to hell and that would be worse than whatever I’m enduring now.
How horrible is that?
Do you think that’s true? I’m seriously in so much pain that I pray to die every day, and I can’t even kill myself because God would send me to hell to be tortured more? How awful is that?
Methodists don’t believe that. I used to attend a Methodist church, so I guess technically I don’t believe that either.
But I feel like I don’t know anything about God these days, so who knows.
Because what kind of God would allow this to happen to me? Or anyone? What kind of God would let someone suffer such horrible physical pain day after day after day? With no cause, no cure? No relief?
I had to fly to a business trip last week, and I looked out the plane at all the little houses on the ground, and all the cars on the road, and everything looked so tiny. And for the first time in my life I thought, “Maybe God isn’t really involved in all this. Maybe it’s all too much for Him. Maybe we are really just super selfish to believe that one creator could possibly be involved in all of our stupid little lives.”
I have to tell you, I feel pretty alone right now. Like I’m fighting this one without any help from up above.
And the idea that maybe I’m just a meaningless speck on this little blue planet is starting to make more and more sense.
I still pray before dinner. I still listen to Christian music.
I still want to believe so, so, so bad.
But I’m feeling pretty deserted at the moment.
And I just can’t understand why this is happening to me. Why this would happen to anyone.