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As a writer, needle artist and photographer, I invite you to share my pursuits with me on this site. Among other things, there is a weekly post called “D-mail” that examines the spiritual meaning in current stories, both personal and news events.  I invite your comments at  cathycongerblog@gmail.com

“The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium.”  N. Platt

Scripture: Revelation 1:17-18 ; II Timothy 1:10 ; John 5:24 ; Isaiah 25

WHAT IS DYING?

This has become a week of sorrowing for me. I have lost three people who meant something special to me. One had lived a good, long life of 94 years. One was only 22, killed before his life had even begun. The third was a 35 year old mother of two. The elderly man’s death was expected. The youngest was a soldier at war whose life was at risk every hour. The young mother’s death was completely unexpected to all. Yet each one is mourned mightily, as they leave an empty space in the hearts of those who knew and loved them.

When Mary and Martha lost their brother, Lazarus, they asked the same question I am asking, “Why, Lord?” The sisters wondered how things could have been different, “if only”, just as those who fought beside the soldier and the husband of the young mother must have asked. They say that death is as natural as birth, but the Bible tells us that death is an enemy - not one bit natural. The death of Christ on the cross was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy (Isaiah 25) that Jesus would swallow up death forever.

In Revelation 1:17-18, Jesus said, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

II Timothy 1:10 says,
“It has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”

Jesus also said, (John 5:24)
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

So I will mourn the deaths of my three friends because I will not see them again this side of heaven. But I know that all three trusted in the redeeming blood of Jesus Christ for their eternal life so I do not mourn as others do who don’t have that hope. Many years ago, a man named Bishop Brent wrote a beautiful metaphorical story about death. I composed the following poem based on that story. The image and perspective have comforted me.

WHAT IS DYING?
based on a story by Bishop Brent (1862-1926)

I stand on the seashore, watching
as a ship starts for the ocean.
She is a beauty,
spreading her white sails to the morning breeze.
I watch her until at last she fades on the horizon,
and someone at my side says,
“She is gone.”Gone where?
Gone from my sight, that’s all.
She is just as large in the masts and hull and spars
as she was when I saw her go.
She is just as able to bear her load
of living freight to its destination.
 

Her shrinking size and disappearance
is only in my mind,
for just at the moment
when that someone at my side says, “She is gone,”
there are others who see her coming,
other voices who take up the glad shout,
“Here she comes!”
And that is dying.

Prayer: Oh Lord, comfort your people. Comfort and hold up the families of those who have gone on to be with you, but have left a terrible void among us. I especially pray for the soldiers who fought beside Justin, but did not die. Comfort their breaking hearts and calm their fears as they remain on the battlefield far from home. Bring help and nurturing to the children who lost their mother so suddenly and give strength to their father as he strives to be strong for them while coming to terms with the loss of his precious wife. Amen

Weight Gain: Why It’s a Problem With Fibromyalgia, and What to Do About It
by Mark J. Pellegrino, MD*
July 13, 2009
Dr. Pellegrino has seen thousands of fibromyalgia patients in his practice at Ohio Pain & Rehab Specialists, and has had fibro himself since childhood. This information is reproduced by popular demand, and with his kind permission.*

__________

A common problem observed in Fibromyalgia is weight gain. Many patients complain to me that weight gain became a major problem once Fibromyalgia established itself.

It is not unusual for a person to put on a 25- to 30- pound weight gain in the first year after Fibromyalgia was diagnosed. Various factors are involved in weight gain and include:

1. Decreased Metabolism. Various hormone changes can slow down the metabolism in Fibromyalgia. Studies have shown hormone deficiencies or imbalances (cortisol, thyroid, serotonin, growth hormone) in Fibromyalgia. Insulin and other hormones are probably affected as well.

Dr. Leslie J. Crofford** has described hormonal abnormalities in Fibromyalgia and how they interfere with physiologic communication between the brain and the body. Closely linked with hormones is the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nerves are the small nerves vital in the coordination of the body’s hormones, and thus they play a role in the regulation and delivery of nutrients to our cells.

The hypoglycemic roller-coaster effect is a good example of the combination of hormonal endocrine imbalances and autonomic nervous system dysfunction leading to hypoglycemic symptoms. Overall, neuroendocrine abnormalities in Fibromyalgia probably interfere with the body’s metabolism (by decreasing it), and part of the treatment involves replacing or supplementing hormones to help improve the body’s metabolism.

A slower body metabolism means fewer calories are burned on a daily basis to “run” the body’s machinery. If fewer calories are burned with no change occurring in calories consumed, weight gain will result over time. Also, women in their late 30s and 40s often develop Fibromyalgia along the same time as early menopause (decreased estrogen). This can further decrease metabolism and increase the potential for weight gain.

2. Hypoglycemia [abnormally low blood sugar]. As I mentioned earlier, increased sensitivity to insulin will result in too much glucose being removed from the blood stream and pushed into the muscle. All this extra glucose pushed into the muscles has nowhere to go as the muscles have very limited ability to store glucose.

The body is forced to go into a fat-storing mode where it converts this extra glucose into fatty tissue. Contrary to the popular myth that obesity is a result of eating too much fatty foods, obesity is usually the result of eating too many carbohydrates. A carbohydrate rich diet causes weight gain by converting the extra glucose into fat and, if Fibromyalgia causes more insulin activity and sensitivity, then the weight gain can be even greater.

Another myth is that most overweight people overeat. Actually, most overweight people do not overeat. They may have a craving for carbs, and the carbs are easily converted to fat. Fibromalgia facilitates this process. A diet modified in protein and lower in carbs may help.

3. Medicines. Side effects of medicines used to treat Fibromyalgia can cause weight gain by decreasing metabolism, altering hormones, causing fluid retention, and increasing appetite. The most common offending medicines are the antidepressants.

Medicines such as estrogen and prednisone can also contribute to weight gain. If certain medicines are causing weight gain they may need to be stopped or adjusted depending on the individual’s medical needs.

4. Decreased activity due to pain. People with Fibromyalgia hurt more and are not as active because activity increases pain. Thus, it is difficult to increase the energy expenditure or calorie burning related to exercise and activity. Less calories burned can mean weight gain. Any treatment program in Fibromyalgia must include attempts at increasing overall activity level.

RATIONALE

We’ve discussed some of the basic problems of Fibromyalgia, the metabolism changes and the dysfunctional carbohydrate responses, especially. The problems contribute considerably to many of our most bothersome symptoms, including aching; fatigue; brain fog; irritability; anxiety; dizziness; carbohydrate craving; irritable bowel syndrome; food intolerance; and food sensitivity.

The American “diet aggravates and perpetuates our Fibromyalgia problems. We may have tolerated the higher carb, low fat diet before we got Fibromyalgia, but since we got Fibromyalgia, this diet no longer works for us and it’s probably making it worse.

• Because of our slow metabolism, it is difficult for us to eat less and notice a difference.

• Because of our pain, it is difficult for us to increase our exercise level to burn off more calories.

• Ideally, we need a diet that improves the efficiency of our calories burned by providing us with the right “quality” of food to enhance our metabolism and calorie-burning abilities.

FOODS THAT ARE OKAY

1. Good proteins.

• Meats, such as lean meats, skinless chicken, turkey and fish. Lean cuts of steaks, sausage, and bacon contain higher amounts of saturated fats so they should be kept to a minimum.

• Eggs. This breakfast staple is a great source of protein; egg whites are healthier.

• Tofu.

• Soy meat substitutes.

• Dairy products. These include cheese, cream, butter, skim milk, cottage cheese and unsweetened yogurt. Try for low fat dairy products.

• Legumes. This class includes beans, peas, peanuts, lentils, and soybeans.

2. Good carbohydrates

• All vegetables. Vegetables are a source of carbs that are highest in fiber and lowest in sugar. Some vegetables such as corn have more carbs than others.

• Fresh fruits. Avocado, raspberries and strawberries have the least carbohydrates of fruits. Avoid dried fruits.

3. Good fats

• Plant oils, especially olive and coconut oil. Other vegetable oils are acceptable including soy, corn, sunflower and peanut.

• Fish oils (rich in Omega-3)

• Almonds

• Avocados

4. Others

• Salad garnishes which include nuts, olives, bacon, grated cheese, mushrooms and other vegetables are allowed.

• Flaxseed oil. A healthy supplement which contains essential fats.

• Artificial sweeteners and sugar-free beverages are allowed in moderation. If you feel you are sensitive to aspartame, avoid products that contain it (NutraSweet) or substitute a different artificial sweetener, such as sucralose (Slenda) or saccharin (Sweet’n Low). Stevia is a sweet supplement alternative to sugar. Xylitol is another one of nature’s sweeteners like Stevia that won’t raise blood sugar levels and can substitute for sugar.

[Note: Dr. Pellegrino’s detailed list of FOODS TO AVOID includes what you don’t see here, such as sweets; breads & pastas, especially white-flour based; rice, especially white; potatoes; partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats); carbonated drinks; alcohol except in moderation. Other sections address special eating problems such as food sensitivities & IBS, and Nutritional Approaches in FM - Deficiencies, Symptoms, and Supplement Strategies.]

SPECIFIC DIET STRATEGIES

1. Think Protein Always

A key with this diet is not to eat any carbohydrate foods by themselves, even if they are considered good carbs. “Orphaned” carbs will increase the risk of hypoglycemia/insulin hypersensitivity in someone with Fibromyalgia, so foods that have some protein in them should be consumed every time we eat. Therefore:

• We shouldn’t eat pancakes and syrup for breakfast because it doesn’t contain any protein. Insulin is controlled by the balance of protein and carbs each time we eat.

• If we want a salad for lunch, we should not just eat plain lettuce and vegetables. We need to have a protein source in our salad as well, such as chicken, tuna, turkey, eggs, cheese and more.

• We should not eat a plain spaghetti supper. We should have spaghetti and meatballs (made with lean ground chuck meat) or lean sausage.

• If we crave a snack, we shouldn’t eat a sugar cookie. A small bag of cashews would be a better protein-laden choice for a snack.

Once you are trained to think about protein every time you put something in your mouth, it becomes easier to stay within the framework of the Fibromyalgia diet.

2. Avoid The Rush

Hypoglycemia is often the result of a sudden surge of glucose in our bloodstream after eating a carbohydrate-rich food. The Glycemic Index of foods is a measure of how fast the carbohydrate triggers the rise in circulating blood sugars. A GI over 70 is high. Examples of food with high GI are: Rice Crispies – GI 80; corn muffin – GI 95; mashed potatoes – GI 88.

To avoid a carbohydrate surge, take a few bites from proteins first whenever you eat. Even if you are eating good carbs, if you take the first few bites from protein, you can minimize the carbohydrate “rush”:

• Eating proteins first activates the protein digesting enzymes and slows the absorption of carbohydrates.

• Plus, proteins require hydrochloric acit for proper digestion, carbohydrates don’t. If we eat carbohydrates first, hydrochloric acid may not be activated and subsequent proteins eaten may not be properly digested.

Foods rich in fiber and fats also slow the absorption of carbohydrates.

3. Eat Until Full

Try to eat at least 3 meals a day and have 1-2 snacks. At meals, eat until you are comfortably full but not stuffed. Some people with Fibromyalgia actually do better by eating 5 to 6 smaller meals a day or by eating 3 smaller meals and 2 larger snacks.

Those who are bothered by irritable bowel syndrome sometimes can do better by eating smaller portions more frequently.

Eat slowly and take your time to chew food well.

4. Weekdays: Behave!

I recommend that the Fibromyalgia diet be followed strictly for 5 days each Monday through Friday, and I allow people to splurge a little on the weekends. That is, the diet is 5 days “on” and 2 days not so “on.” This allows people to follow the basic rules during the week (more proteins, good carbs, good fats) but also allows the anticipation of favorite foods over the weekend…

….This Fibromyalgia diet can help decrease sugar cravings, help rebalance your body’s chemistry, especially insulin and blood glucose levels, and can help you shed weight.

_______

* Excerpted with kind permission from Fibromyalgia: Up Close & Personal, © 2005 Mark Pellegrino, MD, and Anadem Publishing Inc. all rights reserved. Readers may purchase this book through Dr. Pellegrino’s office at Ohio Pain & Rehab Specialists (330-498-9865; toll free 800-529-7500).

** “Neuroendocrine Abnormalities in Fibromyalgia and Related Disorders,” Leslie J. Crofford, MD, American Journal of Medical Science. 1998;315:359-366. Dr. Crofford is Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Rheumatology, at University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center.

     So, all you writers out there.  How often have you sat at a conference or in a writing class or critque group and tried to write something really impressive in response to a writing exercise the leader set out there?  For you non-writers, just know that this happens a lot.  Writing exercises are a common way to get the creative juices flowing. Writing exercises come in all shapes and forms, but a common one is to complete an open-ended sentence that sets up a story idea.
     Well, this time the exercise was to write a few sentences to set up the following phrase for a great story.   “And that’s how the fight started.”

All by itself, this line is a perfect story starter, but here’s what a few very clever writers’ did with it that made it even better!

 

One  year, I decided to buy my mother-in-law a  cemetery plot as a Christmas gift…
The next  year, I didn’t buy her a gift.
When she asked  me why, I replied,
“Well, you still haven’t  used the gift I bought you last year!”
And  that’s how the fight  started…..

 ______________________________

My  wife and I were watching Who Wants To Be A  Millionaire while we were in bed.
I turned to  her and said, ‘Do you want to have  Sex?’
‘No,’ she answered. I then said,
‘Is  that your final answer?’
She didn’t even look  at me this time, simply saying, ‘Yes..’
So I  said, “Then I’d like to phone a friend.”
And  that’s when the fight  started…

 ________________________________

I  took my wife to a restaurant.
The waiter, for  some reason, took my order first.
“I’ll have  the rump steak, rare, please.”
He said,  ”Aren’t you worried about the mad cow?”
“Nah,  she can order for herself.”
And that’s when  the fight  started…..

 

n  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When  our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife  kept hinting to me that I should get it  fixed .  But, somehow I always had something  else to take care of first, the shed, the  boat, making beer.. Always something  more important to me. Finally she thought of  a clever way to make her point. When I  arrived home one day, I found her seated in the  tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny  pair of sewing scissors. 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I watched silently for a short time and then went into the  house.. I was gone only a minute, and when I  came out again I handed her a toothbrush. I  said, “When you finish cutting the grass, you  might as well sweep the driveway.”
The  doctors say I will walk again, but I will always  have a  limp.
My  wife sat down next to me as I was flipping  channels.
She asked, “What’s on TV?”
I  said, “Dust.”
And then the fight  started…

 ________________________________

Saturday morning I got up early, quietly dressed, made my  lunch, and
slipped quietly into the garage. I  hooked up the boat up to the  van, and proceeded to back out into a torrential  downpour. The wind was blowing 50 mph, so  I pulled back into the garage, turned on the  radio, and discovered that the weather would  be bad all day. I went back into the house,  quietly undressed, and slipped back into  bed.. I cuddled up to my wife’s back, now with  a different anticipation, and whispered, “The  weather out there is terrible.”
My loving  wife of 5 years replied, “And, can you believe  my stupid husband is out fishing in  that?”
And that’s how the fight  started…

 ________________________________

My  wife was hinting about what she wanted for our  upcoming anniversary. She said, “I want  something shiny that goes from 0 to 150 in about  3 seconds.”
I bought her a bathroom  scale.
And then the fight  started……

 ________________________________

After  retiring, I went to the Social Security office  to apply for Social Security. The woman  behind the counter asked me for my driver’s  license to verify my age.  I looked in my  pockets and realized I had left my wallet at  home. I told the woman that I was very sorry,  but I would have to go home and come back  later.
The woman said, ‘Unbutton your  shirt’.
So I opened my shirt revealing my curly silver hair.
She said, ‘That silver  hair on your chest is proof enough for me’ and  she processed my Social Security  application.
When I got home, I excitedly  told my wife about my experience at the Social  Security office.
She said, “You should have dropped your pants. You might have gotten  disability, too.”
And then the fight  started…

 ________________________________
My  wife was standing nude, looking in the bedroom  mirror.
She was not happy with what she saw  and said to me,
“I feel horrible; I look old,  fat and ugly.
I really need you to pay me a  compliment.”
I replied, “Your eyesight’s damn  near perfect.”

 

And then the fight  started……..

Maybe you would like to give this writing exercise a try at your next writer’s conference or writer’s club meeting.  I guarantee, however, you’ll never get any results quite as good as these!

 

As most of you know, I have had fibromyalgia (as well as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) for over 20 years now.  Many of you ask me from time to time if I still have it.  The answer is yes - it is a chronic disease for which there is no cure at this time.  However, I am encouraged because fibro is fairly well recognized now and there are new treatments coming out all the time.  My daughter, Laura, also has fibromyalgia so I am so hopeful, particularly for her, that an answer for the fatigue and pain will come soon.  In the meantime, I have found that most people really don’t know what fibromyalgia is like.  We usually look pretty good on the outside and often save up our energy for the days we need to be involved in some activity.  But our families know what the bad days are like.  Anyway, I am not looking for sympathy here.  I just read this article in one of the fibromyalgia newsletters I receive and I thought it was a pretty darn accurate story of a typical fibro patient.  Please read it and share it with others because people with fibro are all around -school, church, work, clubs.  What you learn from this article can make you much more understanding and perhaps, more willing to help, someone you know who has the disease.  Thanks.   Cathy
 

Julie’s Story: A Young Mother with Fibromyalgia Since 2008

by Julie Wendell*
March 16, 2011
 

 

“Mommy, open this, please?” my 3-year-old son asked as he handed me a cereal bar early one morning. I tried to tear off the top of the wrapper, but my fingers would not move or grasp the wrapper! Terrified, I tried opening it again, but to no avail. I had lost all strength in both of my hands!
As calmly as I could, I asked my 7-year-old son to open the cereal bar for his brother. But inside, I was panicking because the weakness in my hands persisted for about an hour. What was happening to me?

February 2008

Little did I know that the morning of February 10, 2008 marked the beginning of a myriad of severely painful symptoms. My life was about to change drastically.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I started to experience alarming new symptoms. In addition to the weakness in my hands, I noticed that the joints in my hands were very swollen and stiff.

I even took pictures of my hands from all angles to make sure that their odd shape was not just my imagination. I would often feel sharp zinging pains in my extremities, especially in my hands, wrists, knees, and ankles. My muscles and joints ached like I had the flu.

There were times when I would be convinced I had a temperature of at least 101, just to find out it was completely normal every time I checked.  

My level of fatigue went from “full time single working mother” to “full time single working mother who also ran 100 miles a day.” I was physically exhausted from dealing with so much pain every day.

To make matters worse, I started noticing that when I woke up each morning, I would not feel refreshed, even after a full straight 6 to 8 hours of sleep. Instead, it felt like I only slept for one hour each night.

So not only was I physically exhausted, I was emotionally drained as well.

The overall level of exhaustion was indescribable, the worst I have ever experienced in my life! But I was hoping that whatever was plaguing me would just stop on its own.

April 2008

One afternoon in April 2008, after I got off work and picked up my kids, I couldn’t get home fast enough. My body was overwhelmed with pain like I never felt before. As soon as we walked through the door, I immediately headed for the couch, where I spent the next four days. I had to call my mom to help me take care of the kids.

In addition to my ongoing symptoms, I also suffered from oppressive chest pain, muscles/joints that felt bruised, extreme coldness in my arms and face, and TMJ-like jaw pain. I also had the sensation that my aching spine and pelvis were going to slide out of my body.

I cried often, because I had no idea how to cope with these bizarre symptoms. I tried heating packs, ice packs, Tylenol/Advil, but nothing even remotely helped me. My temperature was still normal at 98.6.

My mom, who is a nurse, thought maybe I had a virus. But most of the symptoms did not even resemble any virus I had ever had in the past, plus I was not running a fever.

Even after the four worst days of feeling severely ‘sick’, most of my symptoms never fully disappeared.

Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Mono, MS?

 

At this point, I was at my wits’ end, and finally decided to get some help. Even though I was terrified of the possible outcomes, I made an appointment to see my primary care physician. After reviewing my list of symptoms and seeing the pictures of my hands, he thought it was very likely that I had rheumatoid arthritis.
He immediately referred me to a rheumatologist, who wanted to test me for not only rheumatoid arthritis, but also lupus, mononucleosis, and multiple sclerosis. He ordered some X-rays of my hands and a lot of bloodwork. He also prescribed a week’s worth of steroids to see if that would help.

My daily life started becoming a real chore for me. Everything and anything I usually did without a problem was now unbearable or overwhelming. The mornings and evenings were the worst times of day for my pain, fatigue, and weakness.

I tried to stay strong, especially for my children, but there were days where I felt like giving up on everything. I tried talking to a few friends and family members about how I was feeling, but they would just say that I was complaining too much and/or accuse me of being a hypochondriac.

I had never felt so alone in my life.

Tests – “Completely Normal”

The results of the blood tests and X-rays came back the following week and were completely normal. Also, the steroids ended up not helping me at all.

Based on these findings, the rheumotologist suggested that I may have fibromyalgia. He prescribed an NSAID [non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug] called Mobic® (meloxicam) to help with my muscle/joint pain and an anti-convulsant/anti-neuropathy medication called gabapentin (Neurontin®) to help with my nerve pain.

The doctor said that diagnosing fibromyalgia was very tricky because there are no actual diagnostic tools. Instead, the diagnosis is made after everything else has been ruled out. He also wanted to wait and see how the next few months went with the new medications before confirming the suspected diagnosis.

Medications Helped

During the following months, both of the medications had made a difference to where my daily activities became more tolerable. I still felt very fatigued, but my quality of sleep seemed to be more restorative (due to the gabapentin). My muscle and joint pain were definitely persistent but they were on more manageable levels (due to the Mobic).

August 2008 – Diagnosis, Fibromyalgia

When I went back to the doctor in August 2008, he reviewed all of my test results and evaluated me again, then officially diagnosed me with fibromyalgia, a syndrome characterized by chronic pain, stiffness, and tenderness of muscles, tendons, and joints (definition by MedicineNet.com).

The treatment for fibromyalgia includes pain medication and exercise.

• The doctor advised me to continue with the medications I was currently taking and to try doing light exercise when possible.

• He also warned me that my medication combination was not always going to be perfect. He said it may take a few tries with various medications before reaching optimal pain management, and what works for me now may not work for me in a few years.

I was completely devastated, knowing that I was going to live with unrelenting complicated pain and severe fatigue for the rest of my life.

Sometimes Gluten-Free Diets Help

Sometimes, in addition to medication and exercise, doctors recommend a gluten free diet to help alleviate fibromyalgia symptoms. Coincidentally, I had already been on a gluten free diet for 4 years, due to having an auto-immune digestive disorder called Celiac Disease.

Unfortunately, being on this diet did not stop me from having fibromyalgia, nor had it eased its symptoms. My doctor said that I’m one of the unlucky fibromyalgia patients who was not positively affected by a gluten free diet.

Sometimes I like to think that being gluten free has stopped my fibromyalgia symptoms from becoming uncontrollable.

The Feeling of Uninformed Stigma

 

A diagnosis of fibromyalgia carries a negative stigma in society because the symptoms are very vague and are not so clear-cut as other diseases/conditions. I have actually heard people say that there is no such thing as fibromyalgia, or that the symptoms are fake and they are all in the person’s head.
It is also widely believed that people who have fibromyalgia just want attention and/or medication. There are many doctors who do not recognize fibromyalgia as an actual medical condition. Therefore, people who do have fibromyalgia usually have to see numerous doctors before receiving a diagnosis.

Luckily for me, reaching a diagnosis for my symptoms only took 6 months and involved seeing only 2 doctors. Some people suffer for years before finding an answer.

Growing Hypersensitivity

 

Since my diagnosis, additional symptoms have added themselves onto the original list, such as hypersensitivity to stimuli.
• For example, if there is too much light or sound, I start feeling very overwhelmed and need to remove myself from the situation.

• There are times where I cannot be touched, when even my clothes feel like too much overload on my skin and receiving a hug actually HURTS.

• I also started becoming sensitive to the weather patterns, especially low pressure systems. I jokingly call myself the “human barometer” because I seem to predict rain better than the weatherman! During periods of damp or cold weather, my muscles and joints heavily protest, and in turn, the pain increases substantially.

• I found that I have a low tolerance for any kind of exercise; it makes me feel worse rather than making me feel energetic and refreshed.

• I have also developed difficulty with my short term memory and concentration (i.e., “fibro-fog”), which has affected all aspects of my life, especially work.

Coping Day-to-Day

Today, it remains difficult for me to deal with the pain and fatigue that I experience every day with fibromyalgia. My doctor has changed my pain reliever from Mobic to tramadol (Ultram®), which is a bit stronger, so my pain is at a tolerable level most of the time. But I definitely have my share of bad days.

On a positive note, I have learned a few things from my experience with fibromyalgia. I’ve learned not to push myself to do more than I can handle, but I’m still learning that it’s okay to ask for help. I have also learned to prioritize what is actually important and to just take things one day at a time.   

Having fibromyalgia has made me realize it is so important not to take anything for granted. After my diagnosis, my rheumatologist had pointed out to me that fibromyalgia is not a deadly or destructive disease, which is very fortunate. However, living with chronic pain and fatigue is still a difficult challenge, no matter what the cause.

Yes, fibromyalgia is REAL.

-    Julie Wendell

 

Scripture: Mark 16:15-18, Acts 1:8

St. Patrick

St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is one of Christianity’s most widely known figures. But for all his celebrity, his life remains somewhat of a mystery. Many of the stories traditionally associated with St. Patrick are false. Considering that the Irish culture centered around a rich tradition of oral legend and myth, it is no surprise that the story of Patrick’s life became exaggerated over the centuries.-spinning exciting tales to remember history has always been a part of the Irish way of life.

Patrick isn’t really a Saint with a capital S, having never been officially canonized by Rome. He could not have driven the snakes out of Ireland because scientists are now certain that there never were snakes on the island; some scholars have argued that the snakes were symbolic of Druids. He was not the first evangelist to Ireland. Actually, the Christian communities in Ireland in the early 5th century were weak and scattered. Pope Celestine I sent Bishop Palladius there in 431 to strengthen them. However, Palladius was killed by the Scots in North Britain so the Pope sent Patrick five years later. Patrick wasn’t Irish either. He was a Romano-Briton from what is now Dumbarton, Scotland. Although Patrick’s father was a Christian deacon, he probably took on the role because of tax incentives and there is no evidence that Patrick came from a particularly religious family. Two authentic letters from him survived, from which come the only universally accepted details of his life.

When he was about 16, he was captured from Britain by Irish raiders and sold as a slave in Ireland to a chieftan named Milchu. There he worked as a shepherd, outdoors and away from people. Lonely and afraid, he turned to his religion for solace, becoming a devout Christian. (It is also believed that Patrick first began to dream of converting the Irish people to Christianity during his captivity.) He learned the Celtic tongue in which he would one day announce the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Milchu was a druidical high priest, Patrick became familiar with all the details of Druidism from whose bondage he was destined to liberate the Irish. After six years, he escaped and returned to his family.

Soon after, Patrick began religious training, a course of study that lasted more than fifteen years. After his ordination as a priest, Bishop Germanus of Auxerre recommended the appointment of Patrick to replace Palladius. Patrick departed for Ireland in 432 with a dual mission-to minister to Christians already living in Ireland and to begin to convert the Irish. Now familiar with the Irish clan system, Patrick’s strategy was to convert chiefs first, who would then convert their clans through their influence. The Druids were priests of the pagan Irish., They combined many functions; they were prophets, philosophers, and priests; they served as councilors of kings, as judges, and teachers; they knew the courses of the stars and the properties of plants. Now they began to realize that the religion they represented was threatened. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia says, “The druids and magicians put forth all their strength and employed all their incantations to maintain their sway over the Irish race, but the prayer and faith of Patrick achieved a glorious triumph.”

Patrick tells us in his “Confessio” that no fewer than twelve times he and his companions were seized and carried off as captives, and on one occasion in particular he was loaded with chains, and his death was decreed. But he always managed to escape. “It was not any grace in me, but God who conquereth in me, and He resisted them all, so that I came to the heathen of Ireland to preach the Gospel and to bear insults from unbelievers, to hear the reproach of my going abroad and to endure many persecutions even unto bonds, the while that I was surrendering my liberty as a man of free condition for the profit of others. And if I should be found worthy, I am ready to give even my life for His name’s sake unfalteringly and gladly, and there (in Ireland) I desire to spend it until I die, if our Lord should grant it to me.”

Patrick chose to incorporate traditional ritual into his Christian lessons instead of attempting to eradicate native Irish beliefs. For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter, since the Irish were used to honoring their gods with fire. He also superimposed a sun, a powerful Irish symbol, onto the Christian cross to create what is now called a Celtic cross, so that veneration of the symbol would seem more natural to the Irish. In 439, three bishops, Secundinus, Auxilius, and Iserninus, were sent from Gaul to assist Patrick. Benignus, an Irish chieftain who was converted by Patrick, became his favorite disciple, his coadjutor in the see of Armagh, and, finally, his successor.

When Patrick’s caravan would stop at a chosen site, the people gathered, converts were won, and before many months a chapel or church and its outlying structures would be built and furnished, creating new outposts in the struggle against paganism. The journeys were often dangerous. Patrick wrote that once, Odrhan, his charioteer, as if forewarned, asked permission to take the chief seat in the chariot himself, while Patrick held the reins; they had proceeded but a short way in this fashion when the loyal Odrhan was killed by a spear thrust meant for his master.

On Easter Sunday of 433, a great, solemn assembly of all the chieftains took place in Tara. It is there that St. Patrick is said to have plucked a shamrock from the ground to explain, by its triple leaf and single stem, in some rough way, the doctrine of the Trinity. It is said that on that day, St. Patrick, filled with the Holy Spirit (Mark 16:15-18), preached the following:
“God, whom we announce to you, is the Ruler of all things.”
“The God of heaven and earth, of the sea and the rivers.”
“The God of the sun, and the moon, and all the stars.”
“The God of the high mountains and of the low-lying valleys.”
“The God who is above heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven.”
“His dwelling is in heaven and earth, and the sea, and all therein.”
“He gives breath to all.”
“He gives life to all.”
“He is over all.”
“He upholds all.”
“He gives light to the sun.”
“He imparts splendor to the moon.”
“He has made wells in the dry land, and islands in the ocean.”
“He has appointed the stars to serve the greater lights.”
“His Son is co-eternal and co-equal with Himself.”
“The Son is not younger than the Father.”
“And the Father is not older than the Son.”
“And the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are undivided.”

The Druids continued to exist in Christian Ireland, though with a change of name and a limited scope of activity. Though he was not solely responsible for converting the island, Patrick was quite successful. He made missionary journeys all over Ireland, and it soon became known as one of Europe’s Christian centers. This was very important to fifth-century Christians, for whom Ireland was one of the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  St. Patrick continued until his death to visit and watch over the churches which he had founded in all the provinces in Ireland. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia states, “He comforted the faithful in their difficulties, strengthened them in the Faith and in the practice of virtue, and appointed pastors to continue his work among them. It is recorded in his Life that he consecrated no fewer than 350 bishops.”

St. Patrick died on March 17th (the year is contested by scholars, but is estimated to be in the late fifth century) and was buried in Saul, Ireland, where now stands the Cathedral of Down. He brought Ireland into much closer contact with Europe, especially with the Holy See. The building up of the weak Christian communities which he found on arrival and planting the faith in new regions give him, by the seventh century, his place as the patron of Ireland. It is interesting to note that an official St. Patrick’s Day was not initiated in Ireland, but by Irish immigrants to America. The first St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated in Boston with a parade on March 17th (the date of Patrick’s death) in 1737.

St. Patrick wrote, “”Wherefore those in Ireland who never had the knowledge of God, but until now only worshiped idols and abominations, from them has been lately prepared a people of the Lord, and they are called children of God. Sons and daughters of Scottish chieftains are seen becoming monks and virgins of Christ.”

Resource material taken from:
New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
Lives of Saints by John J. Crawley
Article by Ted Olsen in Christianity Today , October 8, 2008

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the missionaries, who braved danger and rejection to spread your Gospel all around the world. I pray for your protection for today’s missionaries, who have left their homes and jobs to go wherever you have sent them. Bless their work. Amen

Scripture: II Corinthians 5:6-8, Hebrews 9:27, Phillipians 1:21-23, Psalm 6: 2-5,
II Corinthians 6:1-2

Talking About Death Part II
However, we still have a ways to go, especially when more and more “miraculous” treatments are being discovered every day. Right now, in London, Ontario, Canada, there is a baby boy named Joseph, who is on life support because of a genetic disease. His parents’ first child died of this same disease and the parents are desperate not to lose another child. The legal and health care powers there decided that the cost of continuing to treat Joseph was too high. They want to let the child die in due course. Because the parents were against this, the government took their parental rights away, thus making the baby a ward of the state. According to the latest news, Christians and others from the U.S. and Canada are intervening to save the child. So far, they have been able to have the parents parental rights reinstated. We will be watching to see what happens next.
When disease is treated only as a technical problem, the health care system goes off the rails. End-of-life questions are the place where the patient and the family confront human mortality and face their moral beliefs. What happens when the health care professionals do not share the same moral values? Having your wishes recorded in a legal form is the best defense.

Too many people don’t have a living will because they are afraid that talking about death will make it happen - the jinx effect. We must become more comfortable with death, or at least with talking about death. Less than 100 years ago, death was as common in homes as an ordinary sickness. People expected death to visit their household, especially amongst children and family members died at home. Grief often had to be cut short to get on with the process of survival. As Christians especially, we should be able to talk about our own death with our doctors and loved ones before a medical crisis arises. We should be able to articulate our values and beliefs about what it is that makes life worth living and how we hope to cross over to Jesus when the time comes. It isn’t easy. Fear of dying is embedded in our current culture. We expect doctors to fix most everything. Why does death come as a surprise? For most people, more treatments equates with better care. Aggressive treatment means they are fighting their disease. Some patients even feel they don’t have permission to stop treatment for fear of disappointing their doctors and family. But the truth is, we will all die. The Bible tells us that our time on this earth will come to an end. Nobody gets out of here alive! Hebrews 9:27 says,
“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many.” We might as well talk about it.

Most of us are insulated from the process of dying, our young people in particular. Because families are more spread out across the country, young people don’t watch the aging and illnesses of their grandparents or great grandparents. Most people die in nursing homes and hospitals away from our daily lives. Death rarely touches our kids. Even medical professionals sometimes find it hard to comfortably talk about death with their patients because they are trained to preserve life. Sometimes we, the patients, have to make them comfortable enough to tell us the truth and offer options (such as hospice).

Even though we are trusting in salvation through Jesus Christ and looking forward to heaven, it is normal to be torn. We feel there is so much more to do on earth. Even the apostle Paul admited to being torn when it came to his death. In his letter to the Phillipians he said,
“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet, what shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Phillipians 1:21-23 (NIV)

Then again, in his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul spoke words of hope and even joy about death. “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: [v. 7] (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) [v. 8] We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. II Corinthians 5: 6-8 (KJV)

Although I am not dying from it, I have had a chronic disease for 25 years for which there presently is no cure. I did not learn to live with my disease until I recognized the difference between healing and curing. No one can as yet offer me a cure, but every day, I can be healed. Healing is more a process of living deeply, expanding my faith, and participating as fully as possible in life. Healing is the maximizing of my physical, psychological and spiritual self to achieve harmony, meaning, purpose, and joy despite the pain and limits caused by the ongoing illness. The things that people do for me to make me more comfortable, to make me feel worthwhile, to make me feel I can talk about my pain, the things that enable me to participate in the joy and purpose that living brings - those are the stuff of healing. And that is true for anyone who is facing suffering or serious illness, or death. Death may be the cure for a terminally ill person and we must be able to talk to them about it and the One who conquered death while we administer healing to them every day until that cure comes.

Lastly, the best living will is the one where we put our complete body and soul in the hands of Jesus Christ, who is the only one who got out of earthly life alive! Through trusting in the saving grace of Jesus Christ, we can know where we are going after death. When David was facing serious illness and probably though he would die soon, he called out to God for mercy and deliverance. He knew that once he died, it would be too late for deliverance. God wants us to call upon Him today, not only for help and strength, but for our eternal salvation, because once we die, it will be too late.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled …. Return, O Lord, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake. For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” Psalm 6:2-5
The Bible says that today is the day to pray for salvation.
‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:1-2
Don’t put off your preparation for leaving this world. Prepare a living will for your last hours on this side of heaven and for eternity in either heaven or hell!

Prayer: Lord, You gave your life so that we could be more than conquerers over death and yet, you placed in our hearts the sacredness of life. As Paul, we are torn between life and death. Help us not to be afraid of death. Help us not to be afraid to talk about it with our loved ones. Help us to share the joy of eternal life after death with those who don’t know you. I pray for those who have not settled the state of their soul with the Savior. May they call out to him for salvation of their eternal soul. I pray that no matter what happens to Baby Joseph, that you will be holding him and his parents in your strong hands. Amen

An infomative article appeared on March 5, 2011 in the Saturday Magazine of the Wall Street Journal written by Amy Dockser Marcus.  I have had  fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since 1986 and like to stay on top of the research literature when I can.  This article was a great overview. If you are interested in reading about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, please pursue this .

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704005404576176823580854478.html?mod=WSJ_newsreel_lifeStyle

Scripture: II Corinthians 5:6-8, Hebrews 9:27, Phillipians 1:21-23

 

Talking About Death   Part II

However, we still have a ways to go, especially when more and more “miraculous” treatments are being discovered every day. Right now, in London, Ontario, Canada, there is a baby boy named Joseph, who is on life support because of a genetic disease. His parents’ first child died of this same disease and the parents are desperate not to lose another child. The legal and health care powers there decided that the cost of continuing to treat Joseph was too high. They want to let the child die in due course. Because the parents were against this, the government took their parental rights away, thus making the baby a ward of the state. According to the last week’s news, Christians and others from the U.S. and Canada are intervening to save the child. So far, they have been able to have the parents parental rights reinstated. We will be watching to see what happens next.
When disease is treated only as a technical problem, the health care system goes off the rails. End-of-life questions are the place where the patient and the family confront human mortality and face their moral beliefs. What happens when the health care professionals do not share the same moral values? Having your wishes recorded in a legal form is the best defense.

Too many people don’t have a living will because they are afraid that talking about death will make it happen - the jinx effect. We must become more comfortable with death, or at least with talking about death. Less than 100 years ago, death was as common in homes as an ordinary sickness. People expected death to visit their household, especially amongst children and family members died at home. Grief often had to be cut short to get on with the process of survival. As Christians especially, we should be able to talk about our own death with our doctors and loved ones before a medical crisis arises. We should be able to articulate our values and beliefs about what it is that makes life worth living and how we hope to cross over to Jesus when the time comes. It isn’t easy. Fear of dying is embedded in our current culture. We expect doctors to fix most everything. Why does death come as a surprise?  For most people, more treatments equates with better care. Aggressive treatment means they are fighting their disease. Some patients even feel they don’t have permission to stop treatment for fear of disappointing their doctors and family. But the truth is, we will all die. The Bible tells us that our time on this earth will come to an end. Nobody gets out of here alive! Hebrews 9:27 says,
“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many.” We might as well talk about it.

Most of us are insulated from the process of dying, our young people in particular. Because families are more spread out across the country, young people don’t watch the aging and illnesses of their grandparents or great grandparents. Most people die in nursing homes and hospitals away from our daily lives. Death rarely touches our kids. Even medical professionals sometimes find it hard to comfortably talk about death with their patients because they are trained to preserve life. Sometimes we, the patients, have to make them comfortable enough to tell us the truth and offer options (such as hospice).

Even though we are trusting in salvation through Jesus Christ and looking forward to heaven, it is normal to be torn. We feel there is so much more to do on earth. Even the apostle Paul admited to being torn when it came to his death. In his letter to the Phillipians he said,
“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet, what shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Phillipians 1:21-23 (NIV)

Then again, in his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul spoke words of hope and even joy about death. “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: [v. 7] (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) [v. 8] We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. II Corinthians 5: 6-8 (KJV)

Although I am not dying from it, I have had a chronic disease for 25 years for which there presently is no cure. I did not learn to live with my disease until I recognized the difference between healing and curing. No one can as yet offer me a cure, but every day, I can be healed. Healing is more a process of living deeply, expanding my faith, and participating as fully as possible in life. Healing is the maximizing of my physical, psychological and spiritual self to achieve harmony, meaning, purpose, and joy despite the pain and limits caused by the ongoing illness. The things that people do for me to make me more comfortable, to make me feel worthwhile, to make me feel I can talk about my pain, the things that enable me to participate in the joy and purpose that living brings - those are the stuff of healing. And that is true for anyone who is facing suffering or serious illness, or death. Death may be the cure for a terminally ill person and we must be able to talk to them about it and the One who conquered death while we administer healing to them every day until that cure comes.

Prayer: Lord, You gave your life so that we could be more than conquerers over death and yet, you placed in our hearts the sacredness of life. As Paul, we are torn between life and death. Help us not to be afraid of death. Help us not to be afraid to talk about it with our loved ones. Help us to share the joy of eternal life after death with those who don’t know you. I pray that no matter what happens to Baby Joseph, that you will be holding him and his parents in your strong hands. Amen

Scripture: II Corinthians 5:6-8, Hebrews 9:27, Phillipians 1:21-23TALKING ABOUT DEATH

How often do you talk about death? Do you know what kinds of life support you would want in the case of serious or terminal illness? Have you ever asked yourself if extending life is more important than life itself? Or does it make you too uncomfortable to think or talk about these things? These are complicated and multilayered questions that reach down into our core beliefs about faith, family, science and morality.

Fifty years ago, medicine had little to offer someone diagnosed with cancer, advanced heart disease, Parkinson’s, or organ failure. When my father was only 15, his father died of heart failure. Two years ago, during a routine appointment, my father’s doctor discovered a small abdominal aortic aneurysm (the weakening of the wall of the aorta that causes it to balloon out). Eventually, the aorta could burst, literally causing death in less than three minutes. The cardiac surgeon Dad was referred to decided to watch the aneurysm for awhile. But this fall, he told Dad that the aneurysm was big enough to require surgery. Dad was a walking time bomb, so to speak. The procedure had great risks too. If something were to go wrong, for whatever reason, my father could end up an invalid due to stroke or even died on the table. So, after much soul-seeking, in January, Dad entered the hospital and had the miracle procedure to save his life. The surgeon reached the aneurysm by going in through the femoral artery in Dad’s groin with a fiber optic scope. Then they introduced a tiny stent in exactly the right spot to shore up the vessel wall. The stent had tiny hooks that keep it from washing downstream. The surgeon then pulled the scope out, stitched up the artery in the groin, and sent Dad back to us. A miracle that could not even have been imagined fifty years ago gave my otherwise healthy 82 year old father, a new lease on life.

My husband and I sat down before surgery with Dad and Mom and discussed Dad’s wishes, should anything go awry. He filled out an Advanced Health Care Directive, the legal document that spells out what kind of medical treatment or life-sustaining measures a person does or does not want done for him/her in the case where they cannot make decisions for themselves. Without this document, medical professionals are left responsible for this decision, and they usually do everything available to keep a patient alive. But what is the cost of this situation to not only the patient, but the family and society as a whole? One of the wrong turns medicine took in the 1950s and in the `60s , when I was in nursing school, was that health professionals took over the process of dying. What happened when medical advancements made it possible to live longer was that patients were taken out of the decision process and though alive, were often not living better. It became harder to navigate that thin line between patient and person. In the early 1970s, patient advocates medical professionals, philosophers, and theologians began to study and speak about this slippery slope. The best-known was probably Dr. Elisabeth Kubler- Ross, who wrote a book called On Death and Dying (when my husband was in medical school, he had the opportunity to be in a discussion group led by Dr. Kubler- Ross in Chicago) , which founded the guidelines we use today in caring for people experiencing grief and dying.

I think we have come a long way in making dying once again a universal part of life, a human experience rather than one owned by medical machinery. Unknown just forty years ago, hospice is now a household word. Palliative care and pain management make it possible for the terminal patient to be treated as a whole person who has wishes for how they want to spend their last months and days. Most Americans have at least heard of the “living will” or the Advanced Care Directive, even if they haven’t filled one out. At the hospital where my father had surgery, they would not proceed with surgery without this document completed. ( If you have not filled one out, talk to your doctor, lawyer or hospital. You can even download the document on the internet.)

Prayer: Loving Father, we know that to die and be with you is a joy to look forward to. May we, as Christians, make ourselves ready for death, whenever it may come. Help us not to be afraid to talk about it or share the hope of eternal life with those who don’t know you. Amen