Monday December 22, 2008

**Disclaimer** I have my friend’s permission to write about her.

The day after Thanksgiving, a friend of mine wasn’t feeling well and she finally decided she should go to the ER because she was having chest pains. Fully expecting it to be anxiety attacks or something simple like bronchitis, I was really surprised when she was admitted. I knew that she probably needed help so I went to her mom’s house in another town to pick up her toiletries to take them to the hospital.

She ended up being in the hospital for five days where she endured several tests, including a fairly invasive biopsy of her lymph nodes and lungs. This required her to have surgery. I tried to visit her a couple of days, or at least check in on her. I was there the day when she had the biopsy. Since she’s been out of the hospital, my friend has learned that she doesn’t have cancer, which is a good thing. But what she does have will affect her for the rest of her life. It’s called sarcoid, or sarcoidosis. It’s an auto-immune disorder that no one seems to know a lot about, except that it’s not fun. She’s missed a lot of work all without pay. We had a benefit for her at work last week and she’s been blessed by a wonderful church family so I think in the long run she’ll be OK as far as getting most her family’s needs met (she’s a single mom with three kids).

Anyways, watching her go through this has been strange. In some ways it’s been inspiring because she’s been really brave even through her fear. She’s kept her spirits up as well as she can and has not given up. The weird thing is, I haven’t really known what to do with myself as I’ve watched this. As most of you know, I’ve had a lot of health problems in my life. I’ve had 17 surgeries, I have a birth defect, two auto-immune disorders and lots of other “issues.” So I’m used to being a patient.

That’s just it. I’m used to ME being the patient. While it’s not a role I especially enjoy, it’s something I UNDERSTAND. This business of watching another person I love go through this, that I don’t really understand. This thought would hit me every time I would see her in the hospital or as I was waiting for her surgery to be over.

As I’ve watched her go through this, I’ve had questions running through my mind: What do I do? What do I say? I kept trying to put myself in her shoes, since that was a place where I normally am but even that didn’t work. It’s like when people who use a wheelchair for a broken ankle suddenly think they GET what a lifetime of being disabled is like. They have no clue. Well that’s what I thought it must be like for my friend, but in reverse. I’m USED to being in the hospital and she’s not. So what I would be used to, she might be terrified of experiencing. The whole thing was just really strange and continues to be strange as I try to be supportive as she works through her illness.

That brings me to another issue that I’ve thought a lot about as I’ve watched my friend go through this. It’s taken me back to three years ago when I was diagnosed with one of my auto-immune disorders. I was diagnosed with diabetes about six years ago, but that’s in proverbial remission (I’m no longer considered diabetic even though technically the condition can never fully go away). Anyways, I felt like I “DESERVED” the diabetes because I was morbidly obese. I brought it on myself and somehow it was my punishment, I believed.

Well three years ago, I was diagnosed with the Graves Disease and ended up having my thyroid ablated with radioactive iodine. That was one of the toughest, most emotional things I’ve ever faced in regards to my health. I mean with the birth defect, I’ve had my whole life to deal with that struggle and I now see it as something God can use for good. The diabetes, well, as I said before I felt like I “deserved” it so all I had to do to deal with that was to feel guilty for screwing up. But with the Graves Disease, there was no rhyme or reason as to why I got it.

As I adjusted to the idea, I really went through something similar to the grieving process. I was in disbelief, then I was angry, then I was just heartbroken. I couldn’t understand why I had this disease that caused so many problems for me. Although I don’t think it’s the REASON God allowed me to get the disease, I was able to later understand how what I went through benefited me. Six months or so after being diagnosed with Graves disease, I had gastric bypass surgery. I think what I went through emotionally and physically with the Graves made it much easier for me to deal with the after effects of the surgery.

As I continue to help my friend deal with her illness, I don’t really know what God has in store. I do know he’s in control, and that’s a comfort. Perhaps he brought us together for this BECAUSE I have the prior medical experience? Maybe that will help me be a better comfort to her? I don’t know, but I hope that can be true. Sometimes I think I’ve managed to scare her though!

I guess time will tell …

1 comment / Add your comment below

  1. Autoimmune is nothing to take lightly. The lupus is something that continues to give me problems. I do hope your friend finds a good rheumatologist. I also hope she applies for disability right away if her doctor thinks that this might keep her for working. It takes a long time to be approved and they usually deny the first time someone applies. Please tell her not to let this keep her from trying to get it, if denied just get a good disability lawyer!

    Blessings on you as you try to help your friend with her new diagnosis!!!!  

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