Chronicles of a Miracle

On a very usual Sunday, April 10, 2005, my brother and his family had gone home after a wonderful visit.  We so thoroughly enjoyed my nieces.  It was the best I had felt in years.  I didn’t hurt anywhere, I could even walk around the block with my sister-in-law and Daisy, her dog, something I had not done for 3 years  For reasons I did not know and could not explain at the time, over the past three years I had gradually lost my strength. I felt weak and sluggish.  I would attend school board meetings, and not really be able to tell anyone what happened even the next day.  My thinking was an effort, and things that used to come naturally to me, like phone numbers I could never recall.  The arthritis had set in my knees and I tore the cartilage just walking in both my knees.  An annoying headache started about noon, and progressed without relief despite trying many medications and treatments.  By 9:00 PM I couldn’t stand the pain.  Having never had a migraine, I thought this might be one.  I called my friend Iris, a board-certified Emergency Room doctor.  She asked me one question, “Jan, is it the worst headache you have ever had?”  Indeed it was.  She told me I must go to the ER.  

My dear friend and companion, Millie, took me to the hospital, where I writhed in pain in the waiting room; unable to stand any light or any noise, and could not find a position of comfort.  Within moments I was escorted to a dark room.  The nurse said she would be back.  She asked me questions about my headache, and started an IV.  She said the MD would see me soon.  It seemed like forever, but it must have been only five or ten minutes.  During that time, I called out to God to take away the pain.  “Please dear God, just take away the pain.”  It seemed like my prayers were falling on deaf ears.  The nurse was back and gave me three medicines in my IV.  Using the pain scale, my pain had been a ten, the worst possible pain and with the shots had dropped only to an eight.  

Soon Millie joined me in the dark room.  I was crying because my head hurt so much, but I had no tears.  I was so thirsty.  Soon they took me to the X-ray department and did a CT scan to see if I was having a stroke. I wasn’t, thank God.  The nurse came back with more medicine for my IV, and the headache finally started to subside.  I was given a prescription for pain medication and sent home.  Diagnosis:  probable migraine.

When I woke the next day, the vicious pain had returned.  I tried the medication but it did no good.  I went to urgent care, and with my pain at a level eight, I received two shots that brought the pain down to a level six.  I felt like I had been hit by a truck.  Day three of the headache sent me to my primary care MD and he gave me still stronger pain medications.  By the sixth day of pain, I knew something else must be going on.  The headache was gone, but I couldn’t move without pain, I had no appetite, I was thirsty all the time, and I had no energy.  I saw my MD the next day and he ordered an MRI.

On April 25, I had an MRI scheduled at 7:00PM, just 8 hours after my father was taken to the operating room for a quadruple bypass and right carotid artery surgery.  At age 89, I was more concerned about him, even though we prayed, and had many praying for him.  I got to see him just before I had to leave for the MRI.  The MRI technician was good, explaining everything to me.  But when she pulled me out to inject contrast, I said “Oh this is special, he is looking for a tumor.”  I learned the next day that my pituitary gland was tilted, and another MRI was done on April 27.  The next day I was informed that I had a pituitary tumor that had hemorrhaged, or bled, and I needed to find a neurosurgeon, a neurologist, and an endocrinologist in order to pursue a treatment plan.

My brother flew in from Louisville to see my Dad and to be with the family.  By Sunday May 1, I couldn’t walk across the street to get to the hospital to see my Dad.  I called my brother and told him to come and get me in a wheelchair.  My parents knew something was up, but didn’t ask, so I didn’t tell them.  I explained to my brother that it appeared that I had a brain tumor on my pituitary gland and I needed to see some specialists.

Thoughts of panic tumbled through my brain: How can this be?  What will I do?  Who is going to take care of my parents, my friend?  Where shall I start?  This is bigger than anything else I have ever faced.  I am supposed to be the one that helps others, not the one who needs help.  

Everyday I felt worse and worse.  I had called in sick at the clinic where I work as a Nurse Practitioner responsible for some 800 patients with chronic illnesses, and took off the whole week I had had the headache.  I had taken time off for my Dad’s surgery.  And now I couldn’t even walk the length of my little house without feeling totally drained of all strength.  I felt compelled to try and go to work anyway, and went in on May 2 and took care of my morning patients.  At the end of the morning, I couldn’t remember who I saw or what I did.  I went to the charge nurse, Jo Ann, and said that I had to go home.  I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, and I hurt all over.  I was crying, and couldn’t stop.  I went home, took a nap, and then got a call from my Dad.  He was being discharged from the hospital.  I had no strength to go to see him and get him set up at home for his recovery.  My Mom couldn’t do it all.  My Aunt Jerrie stepped in and got them set up.  

I have always been a very private person, never wanting anyone to know that I had any weaknesses, always appearing strong and of good spirit and courage.  I plucked up enough courage to tell a few people about what was going on.  So my Pastor, a few people in the church, and a few friends knew.    I tried to pray, but all I could do was cry.  I was so weak in spirit and in body.  I don’t know how my friend Millie put up with me.

My friend Iris, the ER doctor, sent me on the first step of my journey to treating the tumor by giving me the name of a good neurosurgeon.  I couldn’t see him until May 19th, his first available appointment.

While I waited for that appointment, I arranged to have blood work done and it showed that my pituitary gland wasn’t working well in several areas.  I had little production of ACTH, the hormone that helps the body make cortisol.  That was why I had no energy and hurt all over.  I didn’t even have the energy to think.  I couldn’t move my arms to drive, I couldn’t stand up in the shower, I couldn’t walk 25 feet without needing a nap.  I had no appetite, I craved beverages I never wanted in the past like ginger ale and carbonated beverages with sugar.  I felt like the wicked witch from the west in the Wizard of Oz, melting, melting, melting.  I had razor sharp shooting pains hitting my legs and arms.  All I wanted to do was sleep.  I tried to pray, and all I could say was help me God, I don’t think I am going to make it.  

I saw a neurologist, and he did extensive testing and ordered massive doses of hydrocortisone.  I was scared by his approach to my condition.  I set the bottle aside, and even threw it out one day.  Then I saw an Endocrinologist, and he said I didn’t need any medication, and certainly no hydrocortisone.  I was confused, and for a person who could not think straight to begin with, I was terrified.  “Oh God what should I do?  Sustain me till I find the right answer.”

I had to give up my work on the school board at the beginning of May, and started to tell the story about the tumor.  I hadn’t been able to go to church.  I was too weak.  Many friends from church called and as they called I opened up to my sisters in Christ.  I told my pastor, and the school board, asking only for prayer.  This was the biggest thing I had ever faced and I didn’t know how I would do it, all the time knowing deep inside that when I am small, Christ is big.  

At last May 19th came and I could see the neurosurgeon.  I felt like I could trust him because he was recommended by my friend Iris the ER doctor.  My friend drove me to the office, dropped me off so I could get a wheel chair, parked my car and we headed for the office.  I brought copies of my MRI.  He showed me the pituitary gland, and the tumor, and the debris from the hemorrhage.  I was shocked to see that the tumor was as big as the pituitary gland itself.  He prescribed prednisone and hydrocortisone to get me back on track, stronger and able to think again.  He referred me to an expert at University of Illinois hospital to do my surgery.

About 3 days into the medication, I began to feel like a person again.  That weekend I drove to my parents house about 30 miles away.  My Dad was recovering slowly, my Mom was tired.  They knew something was wrong, and finally asked.  I told them about the tumor, the hemorrhage, and the surgery I would need.  They were worried, I could see it in my Dad’s face, and my Mom cried.  I, being the strong one, assured them everything would be fine.  They were still skeptical.

I saw the neurosurgeon from U of  I, and knew that he was not the one I wanted to do my surgery.  The one thing I did learn from him was that while I was so busy praying for God to stop the pain when I was initially in the emergency room, He was busy stopping the hemorrhage to spare my sight.  If the hemorrhage had move even 2mm more, I would have lost my peripheral vision.  I had prayed that I would have peace when I met the surgeon, and I had no peace.  Now what?  I asked a friend at work if she knew of a good neurosurgeon, and she said that if she needed anyone to work on her brain, she would go to Loyola and gave me the name of a most trusted and competent surgeon.  I met with him on June 1 and knew immediately that he was the one I wanted to do my surgery.  He explained that he does about 400 cases like mine each year.  The procedure involved going thru my upper gums and drilling thru my sinuses to get to the tumor.  He would then remove the tumor and the debris left by the hemorrhage.  The surgery would take about 4 hours, I would be in neuro-intensive care for 2 days, and home in a total of 4-5 days.  As with any surgery there are risks and complications.  After he told me all of this, I still had peace.

I am usually a very private person, and don’t like to talk about my troubles.  But this seemed bigger than I could handle.  I needed support and had to turn to family and friends and of course Jesus.  I felt like I needed people to pray for me to leave this burden with Jesus and to pray for a good surgical outcome.  When I told my friend Shona about the surgery, the first thing out of her mouth was that she would pray that when they did the MRI on the day of surgery, the tumor would be gone.  Others assured me that they were praying for me.  Many later told me that they prayed too that the tumor would not require surgery.  I asked many to pray for a good outcome from the surgery, and to guide the surgeon when he was operating on me.  My friend Gustavo also prayed and fasted on the day of my surgery.  He goes to the Fox Valley Hispanic SDA Church and enlisted the prayer warriors there to pray for me too.  Later I learned that people in Japan, the Philippines, Africa, England and Mexico were praying too.  

Around this time, I attended the Northern Illinois SDA Camp Meeting.  My friend Shona’s daughter, Joanne, played the flute at camp meeting.  I knew then that when I was on my way to surgery, I would be listening to her playing The Lord’s Prayer.  Time passed and many friends and family stood by me.  It was about this time that those rubber wrist bands came out.  I bought a bunch of them and asked those who received them to pick out the one they could wear for me.  The bands had words like hope, peace, love, strength, and faith.  I went to dinner one night with my childhood friend Donna Spandikow, and despite the wonderful time we had together, the thought crossed my mind that this could be my “last supper” with her.  I tried to draw closer to Jesus, and trust Him.  The closer it came to the day of surgery, the more restless I became.  Now I prayed that Shona would not be disappointed.

On June 27, 2005 Millie and I arrived at the hospital at 6:45 AM to get my MRI.  They shaved my head in strange places and put stickers on my head with metal markers.  Since my surgery had been postponed to 12:30 PM, we decided to sit in the car and listen to music, read the Bible and pray.  Finally at 10:30 AM it was time to go check in.  I did so and soon my parents, my cousin Cathy, my childhood friend Debra, Millie’s granddaughter Lori and her daughter Brittney were there.  The hospital personnel took me back to the place where I would change, and my family and friends could join me.  We were all talking, and I said to Millie, “we have to sing our song”.  We started to sing “It is WellWith My Soul” and when we finished, I could see tears in many eyes.  I couldn’t leave them like that.  So I hit my forehead with the heal on my hand and said, “wow, I could have had a V-8 instead of brain tumor”.  Everyone was laughing and they came to take me to the holding area.

Now things were starting to move.  The anesthesiologist put in two IV lines and one arterial line.  I had never had an arterial line, and the thought crossed my mind that this was bigger than I thought.  Soon the neurosurgery resident came to tell me what they would be doing in surgery.  I listened for a brief moment, heard more than I wanted to hear, and started listening to Joanne’s flute music to drown out the unwanted information. Then a nurse curiously approached my bed.  I recognized here immediately.  It was a colleague of mine from 20 years ago, Lori Campbell.  She would be my surgical nurse.  We reminisced for a while, and I had comfort knowing that someone who knew me as a person and not just a pituitary adenoma would be with me during the surgery.  I was given some medicine through one of the IVs to relax me.  The medicine didn’t take any edge off, only prayer and listening to the music in my head gave me any measure of comfort.

They came to take me to the surgical suite.  I got off the cart and onto the operating room table.  They had a warm blanket for me as they strapped by arms down.  They put an oxygen mask on my face, and EKG leads on my chest.  The anesthesiologist was getting ready to give me some more medicine, when I heard a voice say, “don’t put her out yet.  The doctor wants to talk to her first.”  Tears welled up in my eyes, thinking the worst, that the tumor had grown, was inoperable and I was going to die.  By the time this thought raced through my mind, I looked up and my surgeon was at my side.  He said, “there’s been a substantial change in the tumor.” And with a long pause, he said, “the tumor is gone.”  The first words out of my mouth were, “ praise God.”  I started to cry tears of joy, and my surgical nurse friend was jumping up and down praising God saying, “it’s a miracle, it’s a miracle.”  She wiped my eyes with gauze and hugged me.  The surgeon said there was no evidence of any debris in the area.  He mentioned that we could still go in and see what happened, but didn’t think that was in my best interest.  My friend in the OR hugged me, we both were crying now, and all I could say was, “thank you Jesus, praise God.”  I was sent back to the recovery room, since I had been given some pre-sedation medication.  I told the recovery room nurse what happened.  She too said it was a miracle.  I was glowing in the awe of all that had happened, and my friend Shona, the one who had prayed that the tumor would be gone when they did the MRI on the day of surgery, came into the recovery room.  I told her God answered her bold prayer.  We were hugging and crying and smiling all at the same time.

Soon I was dressed and reunited with my family and friends.  I heard the surgeon had met with them to tell them what had happened.  I learned that they were on their way to get a bite to eat when they were called back to see the doctor.  I was told they feared something bad had happened, otherwise why would the doctor want to see them when he should be doing my surgery.  The surgeon told them that the tumor was gone, that he had never seen anything like this happen, and that he had no explanation for how the tumor disappeared.  But we knew … it was a miracle.  

On the drive home, I called my brother and some other friends that I knew had prayed earnestly for me.  I heard them shout with joy over the news.  They couldn’t wait to tell others they had enlisted in my prayer army.  Once at home, I felt peace, an overpowering peace like nothing I had felt before.  I called work told them of the miracle and asked for the rest of the week off so I could absorb all of the events of the past months.    

A new doctor to my church heard my testimony and I asked her if she thought she could help me.  She said she could, and in a few months, I was on a path to work with a pituitary gland that didn’t function anymore.  Under the care of Dr. Anette Mnabhi, I have been able to learn how to adjust the medications I need to take for the failed master gland in my brain.  Neurochemical and hormonal reactions in the body that God planned to come naturally were now my responsibility.  Once again, I was reminded how “fearfully and wonderfully we are made.”  

Gustavo invited Shona and I to share my testimony with his church.  My cousin Cathy told me that God gave me this miracle because He knew I would tell it wherever I would go.  I have been given the responsibility to carry His message to the world, and the shy nature of keeping my problems a secret was gone.  He continues to transform me with His loving kindness and mercy.

I sent out an e-mail giving account of the events of June 27 to those whom I had asked to pray for me.  These are some of the responses I received:

Dear Jan- What an amazing experience.....as nurses it is hard to believe these things happen. I know it is God's work. You are a very special person and have many things left to accomplish on this earth. WOW!!!!!
xoxoxo   Deanna

Jan - you just gave me SHIVERS!!  I am so happy for you, and thankful to the Lord!!  Keri

God is with you.....so glad to have heard. it is so nice to hear that miracles can happen!! (especially to someone so nice).  Denise

Dear Jan:  What a beautiful testimony, God is so very good.  I will share this letter with the Illinois Conference Office today in our morning worship, I am sure they would love to hear this testimony since we have been praying for this for a few weeks now.  We are so very thankful to our Lord.  Sandra

God's not done with you yet.  He does have a sense of humor though, waited till you got to the OR to stop it!  You are a miracle.  Cathie

It has been 48 months since the tumor hemorrhaged.  I continue to struggle with doing the work of my pituitary gland, the work that God so sensationally orchestrated to be automatic.  I am back to work, able to do the things I need to do each day, and even some of the things I want to do as well.  Our God is an awesome God.  I have another MRI in 2 more years and if that one is normal, I will no longer need follow up with the neurosurgeon.  Each and every day is a blessing, and it is my mission to continue to share God’s story and to be a blessing to those I meet.  I look forward to His soon second coming when I will be restored and renewed in His likeness.