“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” C.S.Lewis
About 17 years ago, I was on the other side of a thyroid cancer diagnosis when I began to feel bad and then progressively feel worse. I was in constant pain. Everything hurt and my muscles didn’t seem to be working correctly. I was weak and fatigued. Every morning, I woke exhausted after a fitful night of trying to get comfortable enough to sleep. Getting dressed to go to work was arduous. I would have to support my elbow to brush my teeth because of the weaknesses and pain. I let my hair air dry because even the thought of holding a hair dryer up long enough to dry my hair was painful. The drive to work was only a half hour, but I gave myself an hour and a half because I would often have to pull off the road to close my eyes for a few minutes and with my shuffling gait, I needed extra time to walk any distance. I’m not really sure how I did my job. I would often nod off for a few seconds at my desk and a coworker would gently nudge me back. I felt as if everything I heard, read or said was encased in fog.
I was seeing a series of doctors seeking an answer. Test results for a myriad of diseases all came back negative and my third call to the pharmacy,to make sure my medicines were being accurately prescribed, was met with the assurance that everything was in order and that no, I wasn’t being a bother. I was consumed by worry. I was afraid I was dying. My husband bounced between patient support and his own bouts of fear and frustration. In desperation, he had convinced himself I just needed to get up and go for a walk and lose weight. I didn’t know how to make him understand that I really had no appetite and that his suggestion that I go for a walk equated to torture. When his suggestions were met by my tears he would throw his hands up and exclaim that I had to do something! I understand his not understanding and his need to find a solution. I didn’t know what do either and I was slipping into despair.
I knew things were getting worse and went to the human resource person at work to ask if there was a way I could shorten my hours until I could figure out what was wrong. He gave me some paperwork to take to my doctor for the Family Medical Leave Act. I remember walking away from that office with the sheath of papers clutched to my chest and a huge lump in my throat because I didn’t know what the doctor could possibly put on the paper. We didn’t know what was wrong and I began to feel depressed and guilty. If they couldn’t find anything wrong with me then maybe it was all in my head and my husband was right, I just need exercise and a healthy diet. I kept pushing forward.
Finally, the day came when I dressed for work, but couldn’t make myself get out of my chair and go. I couldn’t do it anymore. My husband was concerned I was going to lose my job. I knew he needed me to reassure him, but I just couldn’t. I told him I didn’t care. Everyone left to go to school and work with my assurance that I would be okay, I was just going to sit in this chair and try to rest. The truth was I wasn’t sure I could get up. Once the house was quiet and I was alone, I found myself thinking of a particular piece of scripture, Psalm 46:10.
“Lord, I am just going to be still and know that you are God.” I whispered.
I’m not sure how long I sat listening, my mind purposefully empty, before I heard a still quiet voice say ,”Go upstairs and look in the mirror.” I obeyed. As I looked in the mirror, I really saw myself for the first time in months.
“I look like I did when they made me sick on purpose.” I observed.
My brows had thinned and my face had a puffy rounded look. I looked like I did when they made me deliberately hypo-thyroid before my radioactive iodine treatments. “Call the pharmacy”, the voice said. And so, I did. I heard the pharmacist sigh before he said, “Hello Mrs. Wesson, what can I do for you?”
I gave him my usual spiel about being ill and still looking for answers. I added that I had just looked in the mirror and told him what I saw there and could he please just check one more time to make sure my thyroid medicine was the correct dosage? There must have been something different in my voice because his tone changed and he left me on hold while he went to check. He returned stammering that yes, the dosage was wrong and if I would come in they would give me the correct dosage. Relieved to finally have an answer, I thanked him profusely and hung up the phone to call my endocrinologist to inform him that I had been taking one tenth of the dosage I needed for the last three months. The nurse took my information and promised me a call back that afternoon.
I returned to my chair to await the call and be still and listen gratefully to whatever else God wanted to tell me. I heard no more words, but I know I was being comforted. l found a rest of sorts in the quiet presence I experienced and let go of my worry. “Be still, and know that I am God”.
I was at peace.
The endocrinologists’ office called to tell me that my TSH levels were off the chart and that they had had the results for three weeks. I took a week off work and went to see my family doctor who filled out the paper work for leave with “severe hypothyroidism” as a diagnosis. I know it doesn’t make much sense, but I only felt grateful. I was a hairs breath away from a coma or death, baffled that no one had recognized the symptoms or looked there first given my medical history, but I wasn’t angry. I had given that burden over. Oh, I did the responsible thing and made sure the neglect was addressed, but after all I’d been through, anger was the last thing I wanted to spend my time on.
I don’t pretend to understand why people suffer, except that we live in a world with physical laws and “the rain falls on the just and the unjust”. This was not the last time I would suffer from chronic pain or cancer for that matter. I’ve learned to be quiet and listen to my body and to trust my inner voice. The biggest challenge I have found is not knowing where to turn in crisis, but in learning to live under the shadow of his wings when the sun is shining. Good things can often get in the way of the better and I will suddenly find myself feeling lost and dissatisfied until I remember who I am and who he is and wonder why I ever forget.