Romans 8:17: "We are heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him, so we may also be glorified with Him."
Job 6:10-12 "Then I should still have consolation and could exult through unremitting pain, because I have not transgressed the commands of the Holy One. What strength have I that I should endure, and what is my limit that I should be patient? Have I the strength of stones, or is my flesh of bronze?"
***Fair warning - this isn't going to be pretty - proceed at your own caution***
There are a lot of moments in life where it is difficult to distinguish the 'before' and the 'after', let alone the murky middle-area between them. That's not how things worked when it came to NaPro treatment for me. In my life, there is a clear line in the sand - and it's bold and italic and underlined. Before and after are completely divided by it. And you could stand on that proverbial line and look back at the pile of illness on one side and then turn around and look in the other direction and very clearly see greener pastures on the other side. Right now, I'm pretty content to knock out the 'before' in just this one blog post. I expect to point back to this blog entry in future posts, because all of the clues for what was to come rest here.
Life before NaPro was painful. And exhausting. And fraught with illness and frustration. It was nothing for me to be house bound for two weeks a month. Projectile vomiting my way through high fevers, doubled over with stabbing abdominal pains, and barely able to take care of myself - and these describe how I felt *before* I would have to deal with my monthly cycle every month. Menstruation was its own traumatic monster. It's kind of sad that I ever considered a period as separate from all of the dysfunction I experienced. Truth be told it was all misery connected. The things I know now...
I can't promise I'll save you from all of the ugly details moving forward on this blog, but I will save you from most of them in this post. Yes, there are [indeed] gross things to follow. I'm saving the worst from this page though. Conceive of that!
My monthly cycle has always been excruciating. Suffice it to say that is not normal. But it was my normal. I had no basis for comparison otherwise, so I only knew that sometimes things were *less* awful and sometimes they were *normal* awful. Normal-weight-teenagers are not supposed to have severe edema or the kind of bloating that makes it impossible to button pants. They aren't supposed to get a fever every month, or cramps so badly that they can't keep their meals down. Unfortunately, I was raised by tough love and was expected to push through things like that. And so I did.
Fast forward to my late teens and early twenties and the dysfunction was amplified by a factor of 10. By now, I was a frequent flyer at doctor's offices, since I was finally in charge of my own medical care. I was told to exercise more. Stop dwelling on feeling bad and count my blessings. Take multivitamins. Drink more water. And my favorite - "learn that being a woman is just going to suck sometimes". As you can imagine, none of these sage pieces of advice were much help. I tried my best to follow each doctor's recommendations, even training for 10K's and carrying my whole day's water with me everywhere I went to ensure that I wasn't dehydrated. I took the best multivitamins that money could buy. And I tried to laugh off how much 'being a woman sucked'. My reward was pain, weight gain, bloating, mood swings, allergies and respiratory issues, skin problems, severe edema, headaches, fatigue, joint pain, constant nausea, and a whole lot of unexplained itchy rashes.
With 15 doctors and college behind me, I embarked on life as a new homeowner in a new city...determined to find the root cause of my misery and make a good life for myself. I became passionate about my faith, got involved at Church, and finally connected to the Pro-Life cause that I had always kept at arm's length. But I was sick. And oh so tired. And yes, tired of being both. All of the bad medical advice had worn me down and I felt worse for having followed it. I was experiencing constant (and back-to-back) bouts of strep throat at this point, followed by multiple instances of extremely painful shingles. IN MY MID TWENTIES. I felt as if I was 65 years old every time I ventured online to read about my ailments. Then, just when I thought that things couldn't get worse, they did.
There is one word in the English language that strikes fear in my heart like no other: abscess. In 2008, after years of constant cyclical illness...I think my body just decided it was done trying to get better. Like the finale at a fireworks show, things became exponentially worse when I started suffering from skin infections. Nothing seemed to make that better. Not soaking in a tub or applying ointment. Not fresh linens or antibiotics. Not homeopathic remedies or anointings. I tried everything I could think of, but doctors told me "these things just happen as you get older" and didn't give it another look. Meanwhile I was in agony.
One particular infection turned into a grapefruit sized abscess and completely incapacitated me. I grew a 104 degree fever and could no longer walk. Emergency doctors sent me home. I broke down in utter defeat and just wept myself into an ugly pile of whatever was left of me. No amount of physical pain I had ever been in came close to this and I had been told to go home and come back when it's WORSE. I was terrified and convinced I was going to die. (When I say that, you need to know for context that I previously had my all of my wisdom teeth extracted from my mouth with NO pain medication, followed by an intense tonsillectomy. That'll purify a person and buy some time off in purgatory!) So back to saving you from awful details. Suffice it to say that I was in agony for a week before I was able to have the infection dealt with and the process was so intensely painful that I burst blood vessels in my eyes and all over my face from the agony of all the pain and screaming. I literally looked like someone beat me in the face. And I felt like I'd been run over by a truck. Someone should have painted tread marks on me. It would have been appropriate.
After 18 months of *constant* anguish and a lot more of [insert horrible things here], I was a husk of my former self. I looked like death. I felt like death. And yet despite not being able to keep much food in my stomach most of the month, I was also gaining weight at record paces. I would wake up with a body temperature of 94 degrees Fahrenheit and my arms and legs were pins-and-needles numb and I would often fall out of my bed from the lack of coordination or feeling in my extremities. I could barely hold my utensils at a meal, let alone use a knife. My brain was a constant fog and I couldn't remember much from one conversation to the next. My hair was falling out at an alarming rate. My skin was randomly cracking open and bleeding. I was convinced that there wasn't much left in life for me. I began to get such persistent angry rashes that doctors believed the deformed, hot, inflamed, itchy, purple stains covering my torso and legs was a form of Lupus. I saw neurologists and rheumatologists and dermatologists and dentists and any number of GPs (I honestly lost count at this point) and nurse practitioners and GYNs. The consensus was the same in that I never heard the same thing once. The most creative diagnosis was when I was told I had a skin condition that only afflicts African American boys under the age of 9 and asked if I wanted to be in a study.
Then one day I wandered into a PatientFirst (I know, we're all expecting my continuum of care to meet a new low as I say that...) and had the privilege of meeting a military doctor who was just doing a rotation there while he was waiting for orders to deploy back to Afghanistan. He took one look at my medical record and came into my exam room and sat down in front of me and looked directly at me and said "I'm sorry you've been in so much pain for so long. Ignore what the other doctors have told you. We need to get you into surgery. Those were the first words of hope I had heard in years - - and yet they terrified me because how do you operate on someone when you don't know what is wrong with them? This is the part of my life where I started reading the book of Job over and over. And absorbing anything I could about the early martyrs of the Church and sufferers of stigmata. This was the only way I knew how to process my pain. I couldn't really connect with anything else anymore. I wasn't completely hopeless, but I was seriously despairing.
Fast forward to post surgery: life resumes in an instant. It's as if all the cracks in the Earth's crust had healed and flood waters receded and skies cleared of their black clouds and angry crows were silenced. (I'm nothing if not descriptive!) There was a dull silence for a few weeks and my last shred of sanity really needed that to just B R E A T H E. It was around then that I met my (now) husband. When we began discerning a life together, NFP became a new acronym in my vernacular.
One of my closest friends had found a method that worked well for her. And because she is the only person who was ever capable of empathizing with my health struggles, she made a recommendation that I look into learning the Creighton model of charting. I had helped her study when she was refreshing her anatomy and physiology knowledge, quizzed her for her tests, and attended the first introduction session she facilitated for moral support....so by the time I began to chart, I knew that NaPro treatment was connected to NFP. Outside of these circumstances and this exposure to Creighton, I'm not sure I would have ever stumbled upon NaPro. My (then) fiance and I dove into charting, but by the second month of tracking my cycle and PMS symptoms, we were hearing things like "this is the most severe case of PMS I've ever encountered" and "let's get you scheduled to see a NaPro doctor to see what they think of all of these biomarkers on your chart". I knew not what was in store. My faith in medical treatment up until that moment was pretty stretched, if there was even a thread of it left to stretch.
Life before NaPro ends right there. The line is drawn right before I stepped foot into that NaPro doctor's office. My first blog cliffhanger! :) Ok, ok, I'll spoil it: I lived and things got much better and I started a blog ;) . I'm still working on putting together my timeline of treatment since NaPro treatment (which is the phase of life we're still in.... so that will be a work in progress), but I'll have to save the rest for the many posts to follow this one. Take a look at the tags on this post for a hint on the foreshadowing if it's too much suspense!
For now, I'll say: God bless the hands of every NaPro surgeon and every NaPro Medical Consultant and every Creighton Model Practitioner, Sonographer, and Nurse. The difference that you've made in my life has been nothing short of a deeply religious experience. We may not have achieved our fertility goals yet, but at least I'm healthy enough to have goals these days.