01.05.2018

Blessed is she who has believed

Blessed.

It has been on my heart to write. To get out the jumbled words, the fierce memory of pain, the rawness of life. This sort of pain only comes with a tear half fallen. The kind that wants to hold back, but can’t, because life needs to go on.

Only hope can swaddle this pain and make it precious again. Only love can breath belief into her shattered heart. Her dreams will never fall if she reaches out and believes in this Love.

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1:45

This verse struck me still as I glanced intently at my favorite priest, all snuggled in his big green nursing home chair.

An “old soul” is a lovely thing. I cherish the moments I spend with those who simply understand the wonders, depths, valleys of tears and joys of life. Its a connection where age doesn’t seem to matter. For myself, sometimes it takes great effort to understand others deep logical thoughts. But I know that just being and staying present in the moment can be just as important.
I recently visited my old priest, who has finally transitioned to a lovely nursing home. Coincidently our stories had a few similarities God wanted to point out to me.

The pretty baby pink wallpaper, the crucifixes on the wall, and the countless prayer cards pasted in the halls, were the first simple reminders of the familiar memories at St. Marys hospital in Mayo Clinic (Where I had spent the past 2 weeks) . Then there was that routine syringe injection which I didn’t mind watching, but again a flashback to the past two weeks. As I propped up his pillows, I was in reversed mode, because a week ago I was the one being propped up. We discussed pills, sleep, and daily raw frustrations. In-between silences, I listened to the softness of his breathing. I found myself slowly accepting my struggles instead of letting them strangle me like they had in the past. I saw he was content and human and not running or hiding from his illness.

Embrace now and heal

Internally I try to brush off tough stuff, saying to myself “it’s just part of life…right?” Yes of course life will be tough at times, but that also means we need to allow ourselves space to heal after. More importantly though, we need to live in the present and accept these crosse. Then “moving on in life” comes at a pace we don’t always expect. Our body needs to heal and our hearts and memories need to heal. Pain can do funny things to the brain. I feel like it can imprint deeper and harder into our memory.
I wanted to be free of fear- though I didn’t know how. I was being torn between trying to mourn the sick valley I plummeted into these past 3 months and mustering up sheer willpower to continue on. I was slipping on ice and felt like anywhere I tried to grip, I fell, I failed, I let others and myself down. What was God teaching me? God is teaching me patience and faith that the good is coming. Just like the verse “…the Lord would fulfill His promises for her”.

A timer is set 3x a day (aka beep until it drives me more crazy than the thought of taking the meds) to remind me to take the wicked nausea provoking antibiotics the hospital sent me home with. Its embarrassing to tell people I need to stay close to home.. because yep…I need a close running ground to the nearest evacuating site. I feel at times lonely and ill and unable to sometimes even muster up a morsel to say a peep to my brother in the other room. Words just escape me and my gland swells with fluid making the words feel like 1000 pins and needles stabbing my face. I never knew how words could be so special- the sound of voice and expressing of thoughts whenever and wherever is a gift. Seriously- don’t for a second take your words and ability to talk for granted.

Many times when sickness ails the whole body, talking becomes less and the person becomes more withdrawn. Company becomes more important than conversation. I have learned to simply enjoy people’s company- without words, without the muffles of lifes-going-on’s. Things became more simple. This is a gift because after all the words are stripped away, what is left is true raw love. It takes love to sit and be with a person you care about, but they cant lift their lips to say it in return. Love will accept this, say “ok these shortcomings wont define you”, and look deeply into their eyes and heart and reach them there . Its a silent Love. Its sort of like the saying ..” you know you are comfortable around someone if you don’t have to talk, but can just be”. Its all because acceptance and love has grown and words are not a necessity anymore.

The unseen pain:

I was a gradual process, but after my 2nd sinus surgery at the end of September at Mayo Clinic, I started to decline. First it was fatigue, then excessive nausea, then increased head pain/pressure. I was unable to keep up my routine and even reading got tough. Fevers every other day became the normal and it took effort to get up to eat/shower/etc. I struggled big time accepting that I needed help with tasks I loved to do just previous months before. I constantly asked myself- what is going on?
We guessed it was due to lacking treatment for my small intestine dysmobility. Or possibly my POTS symptoms were causing extra stress on my body. Or was it that I was exhausted after my Cleaveland trip?

But as weeks went by, my neck got very stiff and my jaw was in alot of pain. I got a mouthguard made because I was clenching my teeth so fiercely. Still God had me wait for answers, I continued to do my best with what was in front of me. But I was getting frustrated because I knew something was up! Eventually my family practice doctor and surgeon concluded it was due to a sinus infection and chronic fungal infection from my surgery. My eye started to become chronically swollen and a red peeling rash spread across my face. So another round of antibiotics was the treatment. My physical therapist was noticing a decrease in my neck mobility and I too was getting so uncomfortable that driving became too hard to do. She agreed it seemed like an infection and made a comment that stuck with me “maybe you just need a power dose of something to reach the infection..has anyone ever considered iv antibiotics?”

I was not up for seeing my ENT surgeon at Mayo Clinic (its a 2 hour drive), so I was referred to a local ENT dr. She was very smart and thoroughly scoped through my sinuses. It was not clear that I had an infection but my consistent fevers, rash and swelling were red flags. She was worried about the possibility of meningitis because I had neck stiffness and a chronic headache. She actually suggested that I go to the ER because my symptoms looked pretty bad and she didn’t want to play around. Again another comment that struck me was “you know.. Mayo Clinic has an ER and its attached to their hospital (who has all your records), this would be the best place to go.”
I wanted to pull my hair out because I was thoroughly exhausted and had just canceled my appointment with my ENT surgeon there. Though its not the first time someone has mentioned that if I ever needed an ER, Mayo Clinic was the place to go. Logically it never made sense to me because it was a 2 hour drive…but something struck a cord inside and a voice was whispering “go, it will be ok this time, trust the people around you.”

As I walked out if that appointment ready to pull my hair out, I decided now was the time to have courage and listen. I walked into the waiting room where my mom was actually sleeping and remembered all the times doctors told me to “just try out the Mayo clinic ER”. I was afraid they would send me away because a sinus infection isn’t life threatening. But something felt much worse and my bones were begging for relief. So after contemplating my thoughts for a good 5 min next to my sleeping mom, I woke her up. She quickly asked “how did it go?” and I calmly said “I think it’s finally time to try out the Mayo Clinic ER”.

God prepares us in amazing ways. The sheer instinct to let my mom nap, the openness of my heart to accept a hard task, and the gentle words placed in the mouths of wise medical professionals was all His doing. My moms response was like a hug that became words. She knew my fear of possibly being sent home even if we go to Mayo ER, but I think her instinct from God was the same. “Go and go now”. She offered to take us home to pack a bag incase, but I said “If I go home, I may change my mind, so its best we go now”. And off we went driving to the Mayo Clinic ER.

When we got to the waiting room, we needed something to eat and drink, so my mom dropped me of to wait. The waiting room was packed full and I waited for 4 long hours. I befriended a family there and shared a few hospital blankets and benches to use for resting. I was dosing off in sleep and exhaustion most of the time on the bench that was just a foot too small. My mom was again listening to Gods instinct grocery shopping for various foods and even went to walgreens to pick up overnight necessities and a discount clothing store for pjs.

The ER #1

Finally I was called back and placed in a pediatric ER room. The ER is connected to the bottom of the St. Marys hospital (this is the hospital Mayo clinic uses when their patients need procedures). They did various scans and tests and called in a specialist ENT doctor. Everyone was so incredibly kind there and we both had tremendous peace and confidence we were in the right place. We waited eagerly and intently through the wee hours of the morning.

I glanced through my watery eyes at my mom sleeping in the chair next to bed. She was beautiful sleeping there, such courage and patience. It was a dreadful wait thinking we would need to drive home at 4am in the morning with no sleep if they discharged me from the ER. The thought of it made me silently cry. It wasn’t until a nurse walks in with 2 syringes of fluid and a full iv bag. She looked me in the eye and apologized for the wait but the radiologist and ENT medical team were carefully examining my case and CT scan that was taken hours ago. She explained they saw what looked like a parotid infection (its the biggest saliva gland located in the cheek). It was swollen and inflamed and they decided its best I start on iv antibiotics. Actually my sinuses were healing quite well and its no wonder doctors have been confused with my symptoms. A wave of relief washed over me and it felt like God had finally answered my plee for help and relief from pain in my head from these past 3 months. So she started the 2 iv injections of antibiotics and they bundled me up (my temperature was teetering on 94 degrees) to wheel me upstairs to the hospital rooms.

The hospital stay #1

We got a private hospital room so my mom could stay on a cot overnight in the room
as well. It was so comforting to know she would be there understanding the process as I have never been admitted into a hospital overnight before. It was about 5:00am and we honestly just wanted to sleep at least an hour, so thats exactly what we did until we were awoken from the nurse to get my vitals. My mom decided it was best to get a few things from the car for herself and I, and while she was away, the first medical doctor came in to take a overall exam.

 

I was assigned a whole medical “team 1”, which is common at Mayo clinic (when minds work together-awesome things happen!) They continued to poke and take vitals and ask every question under the sun. Every day 3 nurses rotated shifts so there were a lot of personalities to interact with. Though everyone was incredibly nice. I never slept more than 1 hour at a time that Tuesday, but continued to follow the hospital schedule. I knew it was hard, but in the end this would lead to recovering from the deep parotid infection. Tuesday afternoon rolled by and my mom showers me with gifts that the local church gave me. A St. Therese rosary, 2 books, prayer cards, lots of prayers, and a mass offered in my intention from our dear priest.

Throughout the day I texted my family a few updates but was so exhausted, I was counting down the hours until I could sleep and be left alone. We slept Tuesday night and on Wednesday I finally realized that the antibiotics were working. The pressure was decreasing and even though I still was in pain, I started to have hope that indeed this was getting to the root. Wed afternoon my medical team again came in to talk about my treatment and discharging me from the hospital. I thought inside it seemed a little soon since I just started to feel inklings of feeling better, but they seemed assured the oral antibiotics they would send me home with would cover it. And so by 4:00 on Wed we got to go home!

Going home?

I was feeling more alive than I had in months so it wasn’t even an option to skip the John Paul 2 relics at my home church that evening. With the same clothes on our back from Monday, we walked in that church and prayed with the nuns as we touched the blood that once belonged to Saint John Paul 2. What a wonderful life long dream this was. He is my favorite saint and I felt as I touched his relic that God whispered into my soul “all is well”.

A few days into the oral antibiotic, I started to feel that bone tired fatigue, but chaulked it up to catching up on sleep. It wasn’t until Sunday evening that my temperature went to 99.5 degrees (thats high for me) and my face started to swell up red again. I knew something was wrong and cried as I slowly got dressed and tiptoed downstairs to ask my family to drive me to the local ER. I was devastated but I knew the oral antibiotic they sent me home with was not working (it was completely different from the 2 that they used in my ivs at the hospital). Typically a parotid infection can be caused by step or staph and its generally not necessarily to take a biopsy, so doctors treat one or the other.

Again, not thinking I would be more than a few hours at the ER to change the antibiotic, I slipped on my pjs and headed for the door, eagar to get the correct medication and relief. Though I suddenly walked backwards, grabbed my vitamins, an extra shirt, toothbrush and a few random overnight necessities. This was probably my guardian angel tapping me on the shoulder saying “this may not turn out like you are expecting”.

The ER take #2

And so once again I walk into our local ER and explained I was just in the hospital and probably needed someone to reassess my symptoms and possibly medication. The doctor agreed that the infection looked like it was not being treated properly and suggested we take another CT to compare to the one done a week ago. It was going to be the best diagnostic tool to see the infection. I did decline the IV injection which is typically used to highlight the infection, because I have neurological side affects from IV contrast. Sometimes you have to speak up, even if a nurse is giving you a hard time *lesson learned *. My brother and dad and mom sat in a row of folding chairs next to my ER bed. They made me smile and pass-by the time. My brother had brought 1 thing. His bible. Gosh, I love him to pieces, and he knows how to trust God with all his heart! We told each other our favorite bible stories and it was probably the best family bonding time we have had in a long time.

After awhile my brother and dad left to sleep, and once again it was my mom and I dosing off into the late hours of the night. At around 12:00 the doctor walks in very concerned. She explains my neck is fractured. I told her, yes I knew this and Mayo clinic did a full workup and determined its old from falling out of a tree at 2 years old and it’s stable. But she insisted the scan their radiologist read had a new fracture possibly life threatening and wanted to know if I had a hard fall in the past week. “No I had not!” I was a little surprised but didn’t panic and asked about the gland “does that look any different from last week? Is it still infected?” She said it looks about the same (swollen/infection) but decided that since my neck was “in-stable” and my infection had not resolved, I needed to go back to Mayo clinic. This time I was placed in a neck brace because they were not going to take any chances and they put an emergency code on the ambulance to get me down to Mayo asap! What usually takes 2 hours to get there, took 50 min by ambulance. Yes I did get to ride in an ambulance with sirens on and everything (secretly I always wanted a speeding ambulance ride and felt like Madeline).

 

I rode in the ambulance by myself and arrived straight into the St. Marys ER. They were quick to help me and the neurosurgeon soon walked in. He said that my scan looked the same and the radiologist was just being safe. Though actually the fracture is indeed old and I can take off the brace! Whew, glad that was cleared up fast. But that chaos sure got me down to Mayo and the care I needed asap to finally resolve the infection once again. Again I felt in such good care at Mayo and they had access to all my records and everyone thoroughly knew my case since I had so much documentation.

A young doctor walked in and determined that the infection was possibly a staph strain due to the nature of a parotid infection and how my skin looked. My mom finally met us in the room and the doctor explained that I would again need to be admitted into the hospital for more IV antibiotics and this time to treat it more thoroughly.

The hospital stay #2

So again I was bundled up and wheeled to a hospital room on the second floor- Francis floor 2 (named after st. Francis). We passed by various Catholic paintings and crosses as I was wheeled through the hallway at 4:00am in the morning. The Catholic influence in this hospital is amazing and so comforting. My room had a nice window view of downtown Rochester and of course a cross hanging on the simple pastel colored wall. This time we didn’t get a private room so my mom pulled up a lounge chair to make into a bed. I definitely felt this was a little bit of de-ja vu from last week, almost funny in a way. We made the most of the stay, despite still being in pain. I knew the ins and out of hospital life so I was more comfortable and confident as to what to do and expect.

The routine injections, the hourly doses of iv antibiotics, the nausea- it all was familiar. I drank a considerable amount of lime water to promote saliva flow to heal the infection. They were so impressed that I didn’t need the iv saline bag like last time. Though this time around, eating anything was particularly difficult and I remember on the second day when we transferred rooms (they had to eventually give me a private room because I was at high risk for MRSA) the movement made me so nauseous I darted for the bathroom and the nurse became genuinely concerned. The day-nurse I had for this stay stayed consistent for each day, which I found very nice and less questions were asked because he knew me better.

The priest

On this stay I was offered a visit with the hospital priest by the hospital Chaplin. The priest patiently waited for the doctor to finish his consult with me and then walked up to the side of my hospital bed. He was a littler guy but had a big sincere heart. He was a Franciscan Priest, so the rest of his “work” involves serving in his Franciscan community. Once a week he comes to Mayo Clinic and visits the patients. Today he offered confession to me, which I happily accepted. Afterwards he gave me a healing blessing with some oil that smelled of cinnamon and spices!

The time he gifted me was priceless. He could see my struggling spirt, having dealt with illness and pain for so long. Though he also knew deep down that I have what it takes to move on, to carry on, and to fight with the God given strength and endurance that God has given me. He said it perfectly when he mentioned “do you best, and leave the rest to God.” He instructed me that I am to try at every task even though I may fail. I was to simply try with my best ability and not be scared of failure. Its like he knew I was afraid of recovery- of the body I was living in- and how it’s different from months ago when I was more vibrant and healthy. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. To face reality that I had to take more rest days, to space out activities and take life at a slower pace. He knew this heartache was painful but he put faith in the Almighty God and that ahe will bless me and do great things with me.

The priest said I have a mission, one of serving, one of Love. Its a different kind though, because I’m not always physically up for service activities. Its a service of self. Of a smile, a handshake, a hug. Its the way I can be present and care genuinely for those around me. Its the words I speak that are filled with Gods love and the stories I tell that fill others with hope. Its these blog posts, my way of sharing of Gods love and Mercy for everyone. Its how I believe that YES God is healing me and I choose to let him bless me. “Blessed is she who has believed.” These words are true and powerful. Believing in something better and something unseen. This something is God and all of his goodness. I choose to cling to hope and confidence that God is healing me, despite unusual infections, hospital stays and diagnosis’s.

Heart and Soul

Have you ever asked a sick person about their heart and soul? Their body may look weary and worn, but their soul may possibly be healthy and strong because Gods healing has touched the most important aspect of them. Its all up to God and his timing.

 

She knows the Lord.
She hears his voice.
She will not fear.
She chooses joy
…and carries on.

And so the little priest left through the same door he came in. But he left me with a gift, one of renewed confidence in Jesus and healing. Soon after, the nurse came back to finish moving me to a room across the hall because I possibly had MRSA which put me under an “infection code” and yellow protection gowns were needed. At least we got a private room and my mom could sleep on a cot this night. (I didn’t end up having MRSA but it was still a necessity precaution).

Tuesday rolled around and I actually started to feel slightly better despite the strong hourly iv antibiotics pumping through my system. It was still unsure why I got this parotid infection and I was soon going to rule out Sojourns syndrome on Wed. If I continue to have symptoms and by the end of Dec have no relief with the oral treatment, a cheek biopsy may be needed. The main internal medicine doctor was very kind, though and compassionate. He worked closely with the infectious disease department to determine exactly the course of oral antibiotics I needed to treat this over the next few weeks. It is not going to be an infection that clears us quickly, due to how inflamed my parotid gland looked. But he assured me that I can call anytime once I’m home and the Mayo Clinic team will get to the bottom of whatever is causing these reoccurring infections in my face (sinus, ear, and parotid). The possibilities could be an immune system disorder or even a genetic disorder, which will need further testing.

Really going home

Tuesday afternoon I felt more confident with my Mayo Clinic’s team plan. Even though I had a good month or two of healing from this infection at home, I was not in a dangerous situation with a spreading infection. On Tuesday I even got a visit from one of our good friends at our home parish who coincidently had an appointment at Mayo herself and she so thoughtfully stopped by my hospital room. Again during this stay, I had good friends and family praying for me back at home. Knowing this was so reassuring that God would hear our prayers, and had this whole situation in control. There is always room in suffering for God to make a greater good of it, if we submit to His will. I felt renewed hope in my body and spirit that God has a mission for me.

Thank you God for getting the infection under control this time! Amen.

I got discharged from the hospital at around 5:00 after my last 2 doses of the IV antibiotics. My mom and I stayed overnight at an air bnb blocks away from the hospital so we could easily get to my 7:30 am blood draw before my rheumatology appointment in the Mayo clinic physicians building (The hospital is separate from the doctors offices, they are down the road from each other in Rochester MN.) The Rheumatologist ruled out sjogren’s syndrome and said that my reoccurring face infections would need immunology, ENT and genetic work ups. So its definitely not the end to solving this, but I feel confident in Mayo Clinics care and plan for my health. Feeling worn out from having very little sleep and food, my mom and I booked it home for the 2 hour car ride. I think I cried when I got home and saw my own bed. Inside I was little defeated that I didn’t have solid answers, but I knew in my heart that I had to trust and believe in God’s promises for me. In the scilence of my prayers God is leading me and preparing me for something beautiful. He guides me to explore life with eyes of hope. I know I have a mission and even though I don’t have a clear answer, I will continue to live one day at a time loving others like Jesus did.

 

The top print from etsy

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Comments

  1. Dear Caroline, I have been reading of your journey for years….I have never written to you, but this time I am inspired to tell you: You ARE beautiful, and you ARE inspirational! I would choose physical healing, RIGHT NOW for you , but over the years I have seen you grow so much Spiritually, so I can see healing taking place. After all, we are body/mind/spirit, even tho we humans focus on the division. In your weakness, HE is manifesting His strength, and no telling to how many you are ministering. Your surrender to Him, and your vulnerability and honesty to your readers, are a beautiful testimony that God is ALIVE and ACTIVE!

  2. Darcie says:

    Dear Caroline,

    I read your latest post and decided I just had to write you. I want you to know how God is using you to bless and encourage others that you may never get a chance meet in far away places. I live in northern BC, Canada and came across your blog about 2 1/2 years ago when I developed allergic-type reactions to many things (latex, foods, pollen). I found your post about cross-reactions very informative and helpful.

    I have been reading your blog steadily for the last year and am so sad and worried about your health. I had been thinking that you likely have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, even before you wrote that a doctor suggested it to you. If you do have it, I really hope you can get a diagnosis soon and be able to get treatment for its related disorders (POTS, Mast Cell Activation Disorders, Immune Problems like CVID, GI issues etc). If you do have Common Variable Immune Deficiency or an IGg sub-class deficiency, hopefully you can be given IVIG very soon, so you don’t have to suffer all these infections.

    I have been ill for a long time and know what it’s like to watch your siblings grow up around you, get married and develop productive careers, while you are still weak and ill. Your comments about God being able to use a person in other ways than they had initially planned really struck a chord with me. I was in college when I became too ill to continue. Now, instead of helping others through a health care profession, I am happy to help in other smaller ways. I am content to be doing housework and little chores for my family and sister (who is a lawyer) because this is where God has placed me and the work He has given me to do.

    I am looking forward to reading more posts from you this coming year and truly hope and pray that you will get a complete and accurate diagnosis with good treatment plans.

    May God bless you abundantly in 2018!

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