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.