Thirty years ago in April, my life spun out of control. I had lived with the severe digestive problems caused by pseudo-obstruction for the last 7 years. Every day I spent at least 12 hours per day connected to an intravenous pump and gave myself all my nutrition through a permanent IV catheter. Complications abounded along with the debilitating symptoms of this rare motility disorder. My intestines went from paralyzed to working backwards to spiraling forward at ridiculous speed. My regular doctors worked in San Diego County, but the specialists at UCLA oversaw the intravenous nutrition. My complicated lifestyle impacted my husband every day, but he stayed beside me throughout it all.
So the doctors in San Diego decided to try one more test to look for anything else to be wrong with my digestion. Something that they might be able to cure or at least treat. This test left my large intestine rock-solid full of barium. As the pain became increasingly impossible to bear, Gary took me back up to UCLA for a consult. This time the recommendation came for surgery and reworking my intestines to include an ileostomy. Since I worked for 5 years as a nurse's aide, I knew exactly what they proposed and I wanted nothing to do with it. God, however, had another plan.
After a week in the medical center with nothing working to remove the barium, the surgeon came to my bedside on a Friday afternoon. "I need a decision whether you will agree to the surgery or not, Linda. I will be back on Sunday morning to put you on the surgical schedule for next week if you agree." I understood that they had tried all other options and if I didn't agree to surgery all they could do was discharge me.
When Gary came to see me that evening after a week of work, I explained to him what the surgeon had told me. He asked me what I would do and I had no answers for him.
We talked about it, but still I could not decide. After he left to go to my brother's house to sleep, I continued to wonder what to do. I accepted Jesus as my personal savior 5 years before, still my path seemed impossible to tread. I wished I had my Bible, but Gary had forgotten it in his hurry to come and visit after a week of separation with him working in San Diego.
I laid in pain, calling out to God for answers. My prayer over the previous 7 years had always been the same. "Lord please let me eat!" Every time I despaired, every time I wanted to quit, every time I rode beside Gary in the car to another ER visit, my prayer remained the same. It is said that God puts all the words to our prayers even as we struggle to find a way to verbalize our need.
So I called out to the Lord and reliably He found a way to answer. My roommate's family had stayed beside her all day. They left late and shortly thereafter a private duty nurse entered to sit with their mother all night. When the nurse entered, I noticed that she carried a large satchel which I guessed contained knitting, books, and other things to occupy the long night hours. When she passed by the foot of my bed, I dared to ask,"You wouldn't happen to have a Bible with you, would you?"
"Well course I do honey, would you like to borrow it?"
"Oh yes!" And soon I followed my mother's advice to open the Bible anywhere and just start reading. An answer to my problem would make itself known as I read. And when the Bible fell open, I found myself early in the Book of Job. I turned to Chapter 1, Verse 1 and began reading. As the time passed and I read more and more of Job's trials, I realized I wasn't the first person on earth to endure torment. Some of his trials I related to immediately, like losing everything in life. Pseudo-obstruction had robbed me of my work, strength and dreams. Relying on pain killers to endure the unbelievable agony of this disease no longer worked. My body now too tolerant to receive any relief from the medical profession's strongest medicines. The only escape came with sleep and I had no desire to sleep my life away.
Sometime during the early morning hours while reading, I fell into a deep sleep and when I awoke, the nurse and her Bible had disappeared. I envisioned her gently lifting it off my chest and whispering a prayer to help me through. Saturday brought another visit with Gary and all the normal routines of hospital life. I watched the hours ticking by and tried to sort through what I had learned about Job. He never cursed the name of God, no matter what the provocation. I resolved that I could do that too.
Another private duty nurse entered our room near midnight, much like the one who lent me the Bible the night before. More boldly I asked her if she might have a Bible with her. And one more time God provided. I leafed quickly through the parts of Job that I remembered, discovering that the best had been saved for last. I turned into the next book and found myself in Psalms.
So unfamiliar, yet the words so comforting in the storm surrounding me. I found myself drifting to sleep with the rhythmic, sing song of the early Psalms. But then I came to the 23rd and I used the bed controls to sit up straighter and pay attention to the words. And all of the sudden I understood what God was asking of me. He wanted my trust. He wanted me to set aside logic, He wanted me to set aside the world, He wanted me to forget what I thought I knew. He wanted me to submit to Him and His Plan.
Mom said the Bible would help me decide and now I understood her words at the deepest of levels. God had placed me in this circumstance at the finest of medical centers with the best that the team of doctors could provide. All that was left for me was to trust in His plan and not my own. I continued reading the Psalms and drifted off to sleep with the words resounding in my mind.
On Sunday morning I awoke with the Bible again vanished, but confident that I had a decision for the surgeon. In a way, it really was no decision at all because all I was doing was trusting that God had me exactly where He wanted me to be in that very moment. The very best "belly surgeon" stopped by my bedside shortly after I opened my eyes.
"I need your decision," blunt and to the point. Surgeons in my experience kept an emotional distance from their patients.
"Put me on the schedule and do what you need to do," I answered.
The next two days of prepping went by in an eye blink. Gary had returned to San Diego and another week of work. The hospital routine filled my days and nights. I clung to the promise that "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." Rarely could I remember the other words except "He makes me lie in green pastures." You just don't see much green in hospitals, or any other color for that matter. I envisioned vibrant greens swimming below bright skies of blue. Better days with laughter and tears, good and bad, and balance that I craved to have returned to my life.
Gary took the day of surgery off and returned to my side. He cuddled me as we waited for the surgical techs to come in their dusky green uniforms, masks and hair nets in place, looking like nothing I ever wanted to see again. The anesthesiologist greeted us in Pre-Op and asked me how I was doing. I told him I was scared and he promised to take care of it.
Surgery is a strange kind of nothingness. I was there one moment, then everything I anchored reality in life to disappeared as the drugs took affect. But waking up afterwards is a nightmare and waking from this surgery was worse than the 4 previous surgeries put together. As my clouded mind searched for consciousness, I saw Gary. But that pain from the surgery immediately demanded that I search again for the peace of sleep.
We were practiced at this and he knew when the surgical nurse brought medication, I would soon be back asleep. He kissed my forehead and told me he would see me again on the weekend. He and my brother Greg had decided that Greg would come to be with me the next day after work. I floated in a sea of pain, one time touching my abdomen and proving to myself that the surgeons had done the deed. A strange appliance, plastic and foreign, rested on my right hip. I thought I knew pain, but all the nurses could do to help was sedate me. I begged the doctors for an electrical stimulator called a TENS unit to distract me from the pain.
It arrived quickly and now I had a small measure of control over the pain. I could adjust the controls to the electrical pads along the incision. All my insides had been removed, inspected and dissected from the parts that had no muscle tone. It felt like all inside me had gone through a rock tumbler, but the polishing had not worked. My brother came by the next evening and tells me I beat him at Acey Duecy, but I could not even remember playing the game much less winning.
The next morning the surgeon stopped by with orders that I had to get up and get that barium out of my intestines. The nurses helped and I went to work as ordered. Slowly but surely, the barium began to come out. And unknowingly, my miracle began to manifest itself with every passing day. The nurses made me cough, get up to use the bathroom and even begin walking in the hallway, IV pole dragging behind.
One morning the surgeon stopped in and asked me how I felt. "I am hungry," came my ready reply.
"Hungry?" he asked in disbelief.
"I wouldn't let you eat yet if you were normal," he said dismissively.
Day after day, our interchange remained the same. My sister-in-law, Vicki, called and she asked me what I wanted to eat. I craved baked chicken and mashed potatoes.
"Don't you worry, Linny, I will make that for you as soon as you get out of the joint!" Vicki could always be counted on to make me laugh.
Greg strolled up and down the hallways with me in the evening, but Friday was the day I anticipated most. Gary would be there tonight after fighting his way north through the traffic.
After a week, the surgeon relented. "You can have some clear liquids, but take it easy will you?"
And so I did, but oh did those liquids taste so good. The nurse stopped in shortly after the tray arrived. Proudly I showed her that the ileostomy was functioning and would need emptying soon.
It took two weeks post-surgical for me to come to realize the miracle the Lord had wrought in my life. The dreaded ileostomy provided the answer to my prayers, "Lord just let me eat, please." Challenges faced us still, but joy came through the very act of partaking of the table the Lord laid before me. And the very next visit to Tom and Vicki's house found a feast awaiting me of baked chicken and mashed potatoes.
Yes, I was hungry. Hungry to take up my life again and return to school for my BA in Communications. Hungry to renew my strength through studying taekwondo eventually earning my black belt. But most importantly hungry to embrace the miracle the Lord worked in my life and praise His Name endlessly.
The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want. Thirty years of living with an ileostomy seems like the smallest of prices to pay for His Healing Touch.
View a video of my story as I spoke it at CoffeeBreak in 2012 at
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