Sara burst through the door of my clinic one recent morning and exclaimed, “I’ve been working on a testimonial for your website and the Google reviews, but there’s so much I want to say.” She paused for a breath. “How long am I allowed to make it?”
I laughed. I knew she had a lot to say about her time with me. Five months ago, she entered my clinic in a wheelchair to which she had been confined for 2 years. Today, she was happily roaming our city’s trails and trying her legs at jogging.
In 2018 she experienced a severe form of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Initially presenting as intractable foot pain with no apparent cause, the pain climbed her leg, settling into her hip. Her entire leg was on fire, endlessly. With imaging revealing no injury to musculoskeletal or nerve tissue, the diagnosis was CRPS. Changes in her leg’s skin texture and temperature, thickening and tightening of her joints and connective tissue, poor circulation, and wasting of her muscles all strangled the life out of her leg. The incessant pain, however, hi-jacked her life.
By 2020 she was fitted with electrodes inserted into her spinal cord that created tingling sensations to help block the pain signals and normalize her sensation. The working theory is C- nerve fibers in our bodies relay noxious stimuli along certain pathways in the spinal cord. The speed of transmission is slower than other more pleasant stimuli, like tingling. The thought is the tingling sensations will arrive at the brain first, knock on the door, and when the brain invites the “visitor” in, shuts the door, leaving the C-fiber’s noxious message out in the cold.
This theory is not new, having been around since the Roman civilization B.C. and has proven useful and effective to varying degrees over the millennia. In Sara’s case, it helped significantly. Until she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). More pain. She had been sitting with that diagnosis for about a year when I met her.
Her goals were to be able to comfortably wear regular shoes and be able to rest her foot on the ground when sitting. That was it. She had given up on the dream to be standing and functional, which was heartbreaking to me because she was married and had 2 young kids of 10 and 7. Life experiences had struck her down and by age 28, nearly paralyzed her body and mind in a wheelchair.
Intuitively, I understood her unspoken harsh history. “This sounds so much like emotional trauma. I am deeply sorry for whatever you have been through that helped bring this about.”
She looked up, suddenly feeling heard. “You mean a messy divorce is considered trauma?” she asked.
I nodded. “Absolutely.” Taking a breath and pausing, I continued. “You have been grieving and working through so much pain these past four years. And I don’t just mean physically.” I knew there was more to her story.
Tears welled up in her eyes. She pressed her lips together, repressing the unspoken. Clearly, no one in medicine had spoken to her like this before. That, or she was just now able to hear this message.
We talked a little further and I explained how trauma could trigger her immune system with the RA. Mindfulness and prayer could help with that.
“Oh, I’m not religious,” she was quick to say, then added, “But I am open. I believe in a Higher Power.”
Something about that statement revealed the painful presence of deep wounds, which I later learned had been inflicted by “the church.” I also sensed the presence of a seed of faith. She still believed in God and His promises. Despite evidence to the contrary by a church who rejected her.
A question formed within me: what if God wished to give her what she dared not request? Fully believing so much more lay ahead of her, I asked, “Would you like to walk again, Sara?”
Her eyes widened. Clearly, she had thought she would never be walking again.
“You mean I could?! Really???” The long-forgotten hope came crashing over her in an immense wave of emotion, sucking the air out of her.
“Yes, I answered. “Wanna give it a try? Here’s what you need to do.” She was able to scoot herself to the edge of the chair. After giving her a few instructions, I leaned into her, and put my arms around her. She in turn leaned into me while I leaned backward, and suddenly we were up, and she was standing. Miraculously to her, she was weight-bearing through both of her feet. And the pain was. Well. It wasn’t bad.
I felt wetness on my neck. Pulling away, I saw a torrent of tears streaming down her face. I smiled. This was good. So. Very. Good.
And now, this morning, as she is telling me her testimony is so lengthy, she adds that the day she first stood up with me, was the most profound day of her life.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because in that moment, when you leaned into me and put your arms around me, I realized God was healing me and I was going to be walking again. I literally felt something change in my brain.”
Tears sprang to my eyes.
She continued. “I used to love God, but after all of the yuck, I turned away from Him. But He went after me, and in that moment here in the clinic, He reached into me, and lifted me back on my feet, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I am not the same person. God has made His home in me, and I will never be the same.”
I sat in front of my patient and unashamedly let a river of tears flow down my face. Tears express what words barely capture. The tears bore intense gratefulness to God for her healing on so many levels. They carried the thankfulness that He used me in her healing. And finally, riding within them was a deep appreciation of being part of her life, which was beginning anew. God was healing her, body and soul.