The unsettling news rattled us. It also made us grateful that we know God, belong to God’s family and have the amazing resource of prayer.
Over the past several weeks, my wife, Mary, has been troubled by health symptoms that no one could diagnose. Temple headaches, loss of appetite, weight loss, jaw pain, difficulty chewing and tooth pain were among the peculiarities. A routine dental exam found no infection in the tooth that seemed to be bothering her. But our dentist suggested we see an oral surgeon, who spent an inordinate amount of time with us, concluding that it was not her tooth but her jaw. But why?
Four days later there was a clincher symptom in one eye – fuzzy eyesight, things looked almost white. After four episodes that morning, we called an eye clinic, five minutes from our home. Early this summer Mary made an appointment there for a cataract evaluation and was assigned to the doctor we now needed to see for this emergency. Her appointment was to be the week after this eye incident, so when I called, the receptionist talked with that doctor who said, “Come in one hour.”
On examination, the doctor found her troubled eye to be healthy, but he was suspicious of a vascular issue he could not see. He quickly determined a four-step plan. Step one was a blood test to check inflammation levels. If those markers were high, he would order a biopsy of the temple artery. The next day he called to tell Mary her inflammation levels were extremely high and he thought she had Giant Cell Arteritis – inflammation of the arteries to the neck, head, eyes, and brain. We had never heard of it. He explained that it’s very serious and the danger is blindness or stroke if not treated immediately. If treated in time, the prognosis is excellent but the treatment is high doses of steroids long term, sometimes one or two years. A treatment delay of even 48 hours could be critical. Following protocol, steroids were begun immediately because of the risk of blindness or stroke. The biopsy, done the next day, confirmed it was Giant Cell Arteritis.
We were scared. Mary enjoys decorating our home, admiring our grandchildren, watching movies, reading, and she is a master color-matcher, making sure my clothes always match, among other things. No! Please don’t let her lose her sight, I agonized.
Steroids can mess with your blood sugar, cause stomach ulcers and affect bone density, so I raised my concerns about the dose and duration with her doctor. He explained that she was possibly a week away from losing sight in one eye, and he had seen it affect both eyes. There was a risk of stroke and, because inflammation is systemic, an aortic aneurysm could develop and become life-threatening, he told me. He had to hit it hard. The doctor had my attention.
During this stressful, frightening time, one of our daughters sent us this Scripture image that a cousin had put on Facebook.
The ways in which we have sensed God going before us during this difficult time, have been dramatic. Why do we live five minutes from an outstanding eye clinic? Because God went before us. Many medical professionals have never encountered this condition and would not have caught this. Was it not God, active in the early-summer appointment arrangement in a larger practice, who lined us up with a doctor who had dealt with this disease in his residency and had even done temple artery biopsies that confirm this condition? The myriad of symptoms make this disease tough to diagnose, but this doctor nailed it quickly. When Mary’s primary doctor heard it had been caught, she hugged Mary. God had gone before us. Mary has responded extremely well to the treatment, the first retest showed her inflammation levels in normal range. He talked of reducing her treatment time from nine months to six to nine months. God knows, ahead of us, what we can take. And you have to know, Mary despises taking medicine, let alone Prednisone. But I’ve heard her thank God for that medication! God prepared her. Her sleep has been disrupted – a trademark of Prednisone – but she has slept fairly well many nights.
It is a long road ahead, but one that has already been filled with blessings. We have inhaled grace, and our fears have melted into thankfulness. God is good.
Walking this current valley, we’ve often wondered what people do who are not resting in God, never think of praying or are not trusting that God is going before them? Whatever challenges, scary times or uncertainties you may face, believe that God is going before you, and rest in that. The God-sightings you will surely encounter are always comforting, especially when things are scary.
If you would like to know more about this rare disease, here’s a Mayo Clinic link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/giant-cell-arteritis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20372764