I have a chronic illness which is poorly understood and even after all these years is probably mis-diagnosed. When I first started dealing with pain I was unable to ignore, I of course went to the doctor. Being me, I also started to read up. Doc soon had me on antidepressants. Given that I wasn’t actually depressed, they didn’t work very well. Whether they would have actually worked if I was actually depressed is another issue. The pain worsened and so did my sleep. Before long I found myself on sleep medication as well as antidepressants.
I read a book which looked at chronic illness from a Christian perspective. The author recommended seeing illness as a spiritual exercise. Part of the exercise is to trust your health care providers. I absolutely agree that illness, especially chronic illness, can and probably should be a spiritual exercise. But in all this, whom should you trust? I trusted my doctor, as she adjusted dosages to the same medication with no discernable improvements. I trusted my doctor when I was told if I lost weight I’d feel fantastic. I trusted my doctor when she sneered at my comment that I was ready to start seeing an alternative practitioner. It was when a doctor suggested I get out and do volunteer work to get my mind off my health that things started coming into focus for me. The doctor may have been an incompetent ass, but he made it abundantly clear to me that my trust had been misplaced. One thing I knew, without a shadow of a doubt in my fogged-in mind, was that I had once been a dedicated and hard-working volunteer, who loved and was good at what I did…and who had lost the ability to be those things because of my illness. Fortunately for that offending doctor, my reactions were so slow that I was far away from him before my outrage kicked in!
Through this, I was not trusting doctors alone.
Having a “mystery illness” is scary, but it can be a time of wonderful spiritual exercises. What have you got left but to trust God? He knows what’s going on even if no one else does. When it was finally determined that I had run-of-the-mill osteoarthritis and needed my hips replaced, God’s faithfulness shone through. In an environment where wait times were notorious, I waited only 4 months for what was considered elective surgery. (Whether or not it was actually elective is another discussion!). There were no delays. Surgery was not the end of it all. After being in pain for that long, I was a bit frazzled. Still, the surgery and immediate recovery went very well. I used my long recovery period to take unfettered advantage of my Christian Prayer book. I prayed at least twice a day. I read Chesterton and Doherty. After surgery, at my first opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Confession, I complained to my confessor that I couldn’t keep that prayer pace once I was out of the hospital. In his drole way he asked me if I’d rather be back in the hospital! Of course I would not.
God was good. He watched my family while I was away. When the going got rough again, once the immediate scars were healed, He showed me what I needed to know to continue my physical healing. I was beginning…finally…to not trust my doctors. I realized what a mess several had made of my care leading up to my surgery. When I saw signs of them continuing to keep me ill, I put a stop to it. They lost my trust. God gave me the confidence to realize I could do no worse on my own. You can “fire” your doctor…even in Canada.
As I muddled through, taking charge of my own care, I did find a doctor who treated me like I had a brain…who asked me what I thought, expected, wanted. I do not know if he realizes that God is working through him, but for me, that seems to be exactly the case. We trust each other. He trusts that I won’t sue him if something *I’ve* chosen to do goes wrong. He trusts that I tell him exactly what I’m doing, health wise, even if it’s odd to him. I trust that he’ll only stop me if he truly thinks it’s dangerous. I trust that he will tell me the truth, even if the truth happens to be that he really doesn’t know much about what I’m investigating. I can respect that. I have always known that God could decide to heal me…just like that. I’ve given Him permission and He’s chosen not to do that. That’s okay. I know I have much to learn and this is one way to do it. I am not angry or bitter, I don’t think.
It gives me something to “offer up” as Catholics once said.