Chronic Pain: When Pain Management Doesn't Work

"Honey, you've got your husband back!" announced a booming voice off to my right. With my head deeply buried in my husband's shoulder it was as if the whole world had faded away and it was just the two of us, but when hundreds of people began laughing as John Arnott said, "Well, we'll just let them have their private moment," I figured I'd better accept the microphone offered and face the camera.

We were in British Columbia at a healing conference when, on the third day, God healed my husband's back following the trauma of a 3 1/2 year battle with a severe spinal cord injury. We hardly knew what to do or say!

The months following this miraculous healing sped by remarkably fast as we prepared to enter a whole new world, a whole new way of life.

We sold our house to pay for ministry schooling, left our wilderness paradise, and hit the road in our Jayco Designer RV.

All might have gone well, except that Randy really wanted to rid himself of the electronic neurostimulator that had been implanted into his back to mechanically shut off the massive pain he had endured for several years. The unit had malfunctioned within the first four months of implantation, so it was like my husband was carrying around this metallic beast from neck to hip that annoyed and irritated him to no end.

Little did we realize that we were about to enter another medical nightmare.

Pulling into traffic, we hitched our little home on wheels over the mountains and through Utah. Although our half-ton truck was having engine troubles we had a surgery appointment to catch in California, so we kept trucking, hoping we could make it. We pulled into an RV park in Bakersfield and prepared for what we were told would be a few month's of treatments, tests, and follow up. Insurance was to pay for all the expenses, and we were naive enough to believe it.

Finally the big day arrived and we headed to a hospital we had never been to before. I fully anticipated "same old, same old" since this was our 10th surgery but everything about this hospital reeked of 'foreign'... and it wasn't solely because nearly every employee spoke English with a foreign accent. The first red flag was upon admittance. My husband's pen was flying fast as he scribbled his signature on what appeared to be a whole file full of paperwork.

Picking up one of the admittance papers my scam-sniffer registered "warning, warning!" as I read that the hospital expected their patients to promise never to sue them if one of their staff members accidentally harmed them!

"Let's just get this over with," was my husband's reply, so I let the page drop onto the growing pile of paperwork. Next, we were taken into a prep area. It seemed to be either a season where a lot of new staff were being trained, or perhaps it was a training hospital - we didn't know. But when a young nurse dropped a needle on the floor and then quickly grabbed it and continued to insert it into the patient's arm next to Randy, we gulped and hoped she'd do a better job next time.

We could have been in a foreign country, because the surgical team were all speaking in a language we could not understand.

A staff member arrived with Randy's 'cocktail' of drugs to put him to sleep before his final surgery. Just before dozing off, Randy remembers his gurney falling to the floor and the nurse having to get duct tape to repair a broken piece. While stationery, Randy noticed blood was spattered on the walls and it was the last image he saw before waking up.

I settled in for a long wait. We knew it was going to be a tough surgery.

The trick would be to remove all the wires and electronics without tearing the spinal cord. They would have to leave a good portion of the stimulator inside because it was too dangerous to remove the whole machine. By the end of the day, with no word coming out of surgery, I decided to ask how my husband was doing. I discovered he had been sent up to a private room. That didn't make sense, because it was supposed to be out-patient surgery.

Arriving at my husband's room, I found two nurses having a very personal conversation about their private lives. At least they were speaking English! Then a curious thing happened after they left. A woman arrived to announce it was time for my husband's surgery! Randy was a bit groggy but he was able to tell her that he had already had his surgery. She argued, pointing to her clipboard, that it was time for him to go to surgery. I intervened and assured her that my husband was all done with his surgery. I showed her the staples.

Needing to find someone in charge of releasing my husband, I summoned the floor nurse. She was a very large black woman with a gorgeous smile and a contagious giggle. She was the same nurse who had been gossiping when I first entered the room.

"Oh, you don't need to bother with this man leaving the hospital today... just leave him to me. I'm going to take him home with me!" announced the nurse, with a giggle.

It was a surreal moment... I looked at Randy, and even in his groggy and pain-filled eyes I could definitely understand what he was silently saying, "Get me out of here!" A second nurse arrived and knelt low to take my husband's pulse. The first nurse began purring about her special patient and the second nurse smiled and began petting Randy's hand. When a third nurse arrived with a walker, Randy became fully awake and indignant and demanded to be released. He was NOT going to walk up and down the hall with a walker and he was not going to sit and listen to nurses talking about taking him home with them - he was going to go home!

It took a few phone calls, but I finally got hold of the surgeon's assistant, who authorized Randy's release. We were never so glad to leave a hospital - it was certainly a very different experience than any place else we had ever been. We made the trip from Los Angeles to Bakersfield in record time, since it was well past rush hour. It felt so good to be 'home'!

The next day I received an email stating that the insurance company was declining paying for services. I asked about the follow up appointment and received the same negative answer. Ten days later it was time to remove the staples, so again I asked if we could have an appointment, but was denied. So I went to a couple pharmacies to purchase a staple remover, and no luck... it turned out you needed a prescription to get a staple remover... so I tried getting a doctor's appointment, and no luck. Finally, I found a place on the internet that would sell me a staple remover and FedEx it the next day!

So I removed Randy's staples... but by then fever had set in - not in a normal post-surgery way - but it came and stayed... and stayed. And the pain did too... even to the present!

By then we could no longer afford to remain in California, so I scoured the internet for a close enough RV park with affordable rates. After a 5-hour drive we landed in the John Wayne RV Park just over the border, in Arizona.

We soon discovered that the RV park, located outside of town on the edge of the desert, was the historic rendezvous point for illegals crossing the border. It appeared whole families made the trek across the desert, from the discarded clothing we discovered... including diapers, shoes, and even an old mattress. Drugs and various other trades were common, it soon became apparent.

A kind neighbor thoughtfully warned me that many women get raped in that area, so it might be a good idea to stay in the RV and not venture out.

Randy couldn't sit or lay down without tremendous pain, so he walked out in the desert for hours at a time. Within a few days he was slowing down and after a couple weeks he could barely stand up. Insurance was still balking about any more medical appointments, so we felt it was time to hitch up and return to Montana, where at least we knew our country doctor could help!

On my way back from the RV park office, an RV park resident approached me saying, "You know, after your husband dies? Well, you can come and live with me in my RV." He reeked of alcohol, yet nevertheless I did manage a polite "thank you" and ran home!

Insurance finally did agree for Randy to receive follow up treatment, but by then massive scar tissue had already built up. The first doctor, in follow up, exclaimed, "Who's in charge of this butcher job??" The second doctor, a homeopath several states away from the first doctor, told us, "Whoever did this surgery forgot the inside stitching!"

Even when life gets totally ridiculously insane, there is still Truth and Beauty everywhere we look.

Sometimes it's just a little harder to ignore the Resistance. So every night we were careful to enjoy the astonishing Arizona sunsets and then to bask under the black, starry sky. Our neighbors in the RV park seemed to be quite a bit worse off than we were, so we gave them rides to the local WalMart and to the hospital when they were sick. No matter how mad or bad life gets, we can always choose to switch our focus and to get our eyes off of ourselves.

We can focus on what is Beautiful, Trustworthy, True, and of Good Report!

When Resistance gets this thick, you can be certain you are on to something HUGE - a big part of your destiny! If there were no Resistance in your life, then (ho-hum) you can enjoy the peace and quiet (or boredom??) and hopefully not fall asleep during the most important lessons of your life!

What is the most difficult circumstance you have had to overcome in your life? How about your parents and/or grandparents? Have you ever asked them this question? It's amazing the conversations that open up when you learn how to ask the right questions and then put the duct tape over your mouth to really listen in!

Thanks for hanging in with me in reading this 3rd installment in the "Miracles" series! If you missed part 1 and part 2, you're welcome to catch in previous articles! But more importantly, let's get YOUR stories written!

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