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Facing Rheumatoid Arthritis

My story begins in 1971. I was born in Lethbridge, Alberta into a farming family. My parents were farmers but they also knew that someday they would be called into full-time ministry. My life was pretty typical for a young boy. Running, playing, enjoying sports were highlights of my early childhood. I still remember being chased around our old white farmhouse in Coaldale, Alberta by an adult friend of the family. I thought I could run so fast and remember teasing him that he would never catch me. It seemed my life followed a pretty normal path. When I was six and just beginning grade one, my parents moved to a little town in central Alberta called Killam. This was to be the start of their pastoral ministry.

 

The time and grades rolled by quickly. My parents took over as the pastors of Killam Pentecostal Tabernacle after we lived there for a year. It was in grade 4 that my life would change forever. Up until this time, scraping my knee or bandaging up a cut from wiping out my bike seemed to be the principal medical emergencies I ever faced. Little did I know that would change and how quickly it would change.

 

I still remember the night when I apparently sprained my ankle skating. It was a beautiful winter evening and my best friend and I had walked down to the pond, which was really a swamp, behind the small elementary school we attended. The community used to clear the ice so that everyone could enjoy using it in the winter as a skating rink. Nearby, there were a couple of old benches usually put out to sit and rest or to put on your skates. My friend and I laced them up and went out and had great fun zipping around on the ice. We walked home as usual after with little thought, except we dwelled upon the fun we had. It was a day or two after that night I noticed that one of my ankles was swollen and extremely painful.

 

My mom took to me to the doctor and the conclusion was that I had an extreme sprain. It seemed that I might have hurt it while jumping, spinning and doing the crazy things boys do while skating. Being it was a little country hospital, they kept me in for observation for a couple of days. They also probably wanted to ensure that I wouldn’t try to go running around on it. I enjoyed being in the hospital at that time, getting popsicles and star treatment from the nurses went over well with me. Soon it was time to go home and I left the hospital on crutches with an expectation that in a couple of weeks I would be as good as new.

 

A few weeks past and I remember sitting on my bed looking down at my feet and then calling my mom. My question to her was, “Which ankle did I hurt?” It seems now that both were swollen and extremely sore and I couldn’t tell which ankle I had injured. Immediately my mom took me to the hospital to see the doctor. I remember the serious expression on his face as he told my mom to drive me immediately to a specialist he had arranged for in Camrose. My mom and I got into the car and headed out on the forty-five minutes drive to see this specialist. I don’t remember a lot being said in the car, but I do remember my mom looking worried and I remembered her saying let’s pray. In my mind I thought, we would go and visit this doctor, and then I would return home with my mom.

 

The doctor brought me in and examined me. He ran tests and did all that doctors do. I don’t remember much of it except for the fact that rather than going back home, he immediately admitted to the hospital. I spent two weeks in that hospital and this time hated every minute of it. I can’t imagine the thoughts that went through my mom’s head as she drove home that night leaving her little boy behind with uncertainty of what was going to happen.

 

It seems that disease attacked me quickly and I could no longer walk. In fact, in the hospital, I would crawl along the floor to move around. It is a blur today, but those two weeks in the hospital felt like an eternity. It must have been extremely hard on my parents to travel 45 minutes one way, often day after day to see me; but they did.

 

I don’t know what triggered it, except it felt like the doctor had given up on me. However, my release came two weeks after my admittance. I wasn’t getting any better; in fact, things were getting worse. But, the doctors decided they were going to let me go back home. I still remember sitting with the doctor as he gave me instructions on how to breathe. I didn’t understand why, until much later in my life when my parents told me about the expectations the doctor had for me. It seemed the arthritis had affected every joint in my body including the joints of my rib cage. As I grew, my rib cage would not form or grow properly which in turn would put pressure on my organs, especially my lungs. My lungs would grow but would be restricted because of my rib cage and in effect, I would slowly be unable to breathe properly until I would die. This is why the doctor gave me breathing exercises.  As a child, I never thought it was the end, but for my parents, it was a very real reality that they had to face. Their boy who was healthy and strong, just 3 months earlier, was now facing a life-threatening disease. So my parents took me home and that is when I really began to experience hell on Earth.  The arthritis took a ravaging grip on my body and threw the full weight of its attack against me.

 

I began to run extremely high fevers and had excruciating pain in all my joints. I would run fevers that would cause me to sweat so badly, that my bedsheets and clothes would be soaked as if someone had dumped water on them. I remember my parents filling the bathtub with cold water and dumping ice cubes into the bathtub, and then lowering me into this freezing bath to hopefully bring my fever down. My parents told me how I would cry for them not to touch me because it hurt so bad whenever they would move me or touch me. Having two daughters today, I can’t imagine how it would feel to not be able to hold your child when he or she is in pain. As a parent, you want to hold them to give them comfort and love. Unfortunately,  my parents couldn’t do that.

 

My parents were instructed to give me 2 extra-strength Tylenol (500mg)  every 4 hours, day and night. In the middle of all this, my father was a pastor. I remember lying in bed every Sunday morning and watching my family leave for church. Our church was right next to our house; as the church had a parsonage for the pastor to live in. I have often thought about what a struggle my dad must have had to go through.  This being in terms of having to go to church and pastor and minister to the people, as well as to tell his congregation about God loving them and God being good, while in the back of his mind, his son was at home dying.

 

This would go on for weeks and months. For me, it now feels like a completely different lifetime.

Then one night came and I laid in my bed. My fever was extremely high and things were really bad. I remember my parents did everything they could and were instructed to do to bring me relief, but nothing worked. I never knew the full events of this night until I became an adult and my mom had shared it with me. My parents left me in my room and went to their room with very little hope. They felt it was near the end and so they began to pray. They prayed, “God if it’s your time to take our son home tonight, we give him to you.” Even as I write this, I have tears, not because my parents gave up, but because I can’t comprehend praying that over any of my kids and the heartache it would cause me. So they prayed and probably laid there thinking, it’s over.

 

Well clearly God had other plans otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this today. As they were in their room, I was in my room and God showed up. Let me describe my room a little for you. It was a small room painted light blue, and the doors and trim were a dark brown wood grain color; like a dark brown leather jacket. As I lay in bed, I began to sense I wasn’t alone and then I really knew I wasn’t alone. I saw someone in my room against one of the walls, but I couldn’t see him very well. He was somewhat transparent and it appeared he was wearing a light blue gown that blended in with my walls. I asked this person can you move in front of the doors so that I can see you better and the person moved. There standing in my room was an angel. I guess the sudden understanding of what I was seeing grabbed me a little and I quickly began to call my mom and told her that someone was in my room. She came and turned on my light and the angel disappeared.

 

It was also at that moment that I turned over and threw up all over the floor. Both my parents had volunteered as ambulance medics in Killam and had seen some gross things. However, when I had thrown up they told me that they had never seen something that gross come out of a person. Immediately the fever left me and I turned over and fell asleep.

 

That night changed my life. I wish I could say I was healed completely that night, but it didn’t happen. I do believe God sent an angel to save me from death and to begin the work of healing in my body.

 

I still couldn’t walk, but things began to improve as I started to feel stronger and better. I went to the specialist and he confirmed that he felt I was going to live. However,  he told us that I would never walk again, but in fact, would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. He also said that I would need to be measured up and fitted with a complete body brace so that the deformation that typically comes with this arthritis could be limited. I still remember lying down on the table and being measured for that brace.

 

Praise God, He touched my body and He gave me a strong stubborn spirit that wouldn’t give up. I was going to walk again no matter what. I am not sure how long it was, but I remember the two defining moments when I knew I would walk again. The first came during a time my sister and I were staying at a friend’s house as my parents were away on a two-week trip. I was determined to walk to them when they returned. I remember as they entered the kitchen of the house we were staying at; I told them to stand still and then I weakly and slowly walked over to them. It still took a lot of time and plenty of physiotherapy, but I knew I was going to walk and run again. The second time was when I ditched the crutches for good. I had begun using crutches to help me up until that time. I was sitting at home on my bed getting ready and I needed to go to the bathroom really bad, so I just got up and almost ran to the bathroom. Finally, the day when I could walk again had come.

 

As for the body brace, I have never seen it. I rapidly began to improve a lot  that the doctors never, in fact, made me wear it. I don’t even know what it looks like.  Everything seemed to be going really well. I was soon improving, getting stronger, as well I started regaining much of my flexibility. I had a limp, but I walked and could even run. I began to play sports again and it felt like my life was heading in a good direction again.

 

Then we went back to see the doctors. This time, they had some more good news. I was going to live and walk, however, there was another concern. JRA can affect the eyes; in fact, certain forms of JRA can cause inflammation of the eyes and could result in cataracts, glaucoma and even blindness. The doctors were certain that due to the severity of the disease in my situation, I would be blind by the age of 18. Today at the time I write this I am over 40 years old and I still have perfect vision and do not require any sort of glasses.

 

Although I have lived a good life, I wish I had a complete happy ending to this story.  But, I have since been hospitalized a couple of times because of pneumonia. The most recent took place in the late summer of 2008 because of a C-difficile infection. Each of these situations has brought an onset of arthritis again.

 

Today I am still suffering from the effects of arthritis and have limited mobility and movement. Since getting sick again in 2008, I have faced many physical challenges.

 

Which has led me to this point; I know what the word of God says. I believe what the word of God says and therefore I am going to pursue that until I see it fully manifested and evidenced in my body and life.

I know this is not from God and is an attack on my body, just as every sickness and disease is. God is good and wants us to live an abundant life that is healthy, strong and well.

 

My goal is to inspire others who are facing similar situations to pursue God and His promises. I have seen the healing power of God work in my life, to allow me to live, to allow me to walk, to allow me to see and I know that God is not finished, but will bring complete healing.

He is not finished with you and wants to bring complete healing to your body and life as well. I trust and hope my story builds your faith to not give up, but to look to God for your salvation. God’s plan of salvation not only includes eternal life and the saving of your soul but also includes healing for your physical body. So go after it.

My Testimony of Living with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
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