I’ve been running into lots of old schoolmates lately, both in the community and through Facebook. Almost every single one I’ve met exclaims, “You look great!” That’s because the last week of high school I did a pretty darn good impression of the skeleton that hung in the science lab.
Some said I was anorexic, the ones who never saw me gobble up entire large pizzas single-handedly. (Wish I could still eat like that!) No, I’d been battling Crohn’s disease for five years. In a nutshell, Crohn’s inflames parts of the digestive tract so food can’t be absorbed. I was a pathetic 89 pounds, pale and sickly. In fact, in my old prom picture I look remarkably like a twig someone snapped off a tree, stripped down to white wood, hung with pink satin and topped with big hair. And I missed graduation completely – I was in a coma.
When I was 15, my doctor told me that if I was to survive, I’d need surgery to remove the diseased areas, but at that age I wasn’t ready to accept the illeostomy I’d need to wear afterwards. By 18, I was so sick of being sick, I finally agreed. I underwent a successful surgery two weeks before graduation and made it to baccheloreate, only to succumb to a secondary infection that nearly claimed my life a few days later. I woke up the next week in a hospital room adorned with decorations from Grad Party which, of course, I missed.
That was undoubtedly the hardest week of my life, and a pretty young age to face mortality. I understood about heaven and hell. I knew Jesus conquerored sin on the cross and death through his resurrection. I had placed my faith in Him at age 11. But it’s still pretty shocking to wake up from a coma to find seven days had passed, that you’d missed out on a chance to say good-bye to some lifelong friends, and then be told you almost hadn’t made it at all. But you know, it’s times like that God really gets your attention. I can’t even discribe the peace that came over me, a complete calm I’ve never experienced at any other time in my life. All I can say is that God was holding me in his hand.
That week, while I was in the hospital, a particular nurse came into my room and asked if she could do anything for me. A Bible passage I had read the week before sprang to mind and, unable to talk for the tubes down my throat, I pointed to the Gideon Bible in the bedside table and opened it to Psalm 116. She read it to me:
“I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD: “O LORD, save me!” The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The LORD protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living.”
Those were some pretty powerful words at such a time! And it was exactly what I needed to hear.
A few days later I told my mom about it. She got the strangest expression on her face. “I’ve been here around the clock for days,” she told me. “You never had a nurse that looked like that.” You can form your own opinions, but I maintain that “nurse” was sent to me special, and not by any doctor.
I recovered quickly. By the time I started college that fall, I had gained twenty pounds and was able to participate in the activities I missed out on for years. I had almost forgotten what it was like to have energy and feel well! I joined the cross country team and promptly smashed all my high school times (and wondered what the hometown record board might have looked like if I’d had surgery sooner). My junior year, I ran the Riverbank 25K. I ran it again two years later, and again at age 35. I’ve been able to teach, to have a family.
Yes, I am healthy again. I feel great, and I’m loving life! Crohn’s never really goes away. There are aspects of it that I still battle today. But those difficult days in the hospital are a distant memory. The lessons I learned there, however, formed the bedrock of the faith I stand on today. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.