Friday, November 29, 2013

Suffer A Blessing

It started some years back, the pain. There was something odd about it. It would begin at sunset and then build up until Aruna's feet felt like they were on fire. At some times it would be less bad and then on other days it would be awful and she would be writhing in pain all night.

She had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes just about then, and all the doctors at first ascribed her pain to that. Bring the sugar under better control, they'd say... but nothing seemed to work. Then one doctor suggested that it might be something called fibromyalgia and another said it was probably myofascial pain, still another concluded that it was restless legs . There were no real meds for this, they said, but perhaps this one or that one had helped some people, so why not try? There were also a few 'friends' who 'felt led' to share some less charitable opinions with us about unrepentant sinners, God's judgement, and so on.

The pain went on for some years. It was chronic and it was debilitating, but Aruna managed somehow. Then, in September 2012 came the fall. one night while closing the gate, she slipped on a wet stone at our doorstep and went down hard. She had had falls before as her right leg was a bit weak from childhood polio, but nothing like this fall. When we picked her up her foot was out at right angles and the bone poking out. We called the ambulance and rushed off to the hospital where x-rays showed a complete break, and they had her in surgery the very same day.

As she came out of the anesthesia, Aruna had a hard time, nasty dreams, savage images and odd incidents from her past seemed to be repeating themselves live. Then her` recovery was slow, but the surgery had gone well and everyone was confident that she would heal up just fine. However, after 10 days, the healing was not happening and in fact there seemed to be areas of flesh that were breaking down, so another surgery took place where a big pad of tissue was placed over the non-healing zone and covered with a skin graft. The plate was replaced by a pin, and then we waited, and waited. The wound seemed to heal well, but her bones were not knitting up as expected.

Aruna slowly gave up on walking properly again. She could hobble around with a walker, but most of the time she stuck to her wheelchair. There was no further observable progress. And the pain in her feet was back, with a vengeance and was creeping up above her ankles. Now, even her hands had started to burn.

Let me tell you, there's nothing more horrible for a human to experience than chronic pain!

Now, the questions began in earnest. What had she done wrong? Why were all these bad things happening to her? Needless to say, some of the most 'helpful' friends were back with their painted smiles and zealous counsel... and inevitably, come on God! You've already taught us the pain lesson, do we really need this to top it off?

Right about then, Sumi and Kiron (Aruna's brother and our sister-in-law) and my sister Anita put their support behind a proposal to visit Vellore's famous Christian Medical College Hospital. Additional pressure was brought to bear on us by Sumi's parents, the Muthiahs, as Mrs. Muthiah had herself taken treatment there for a broken ankle, and Mr. Muthiah was one of CMC's consultants and knew that it is an excellent hospital.

It would be difficult and it would be beyond our means, but help was offered by all of these caring folks, and so we decided to give it a try. At least, one last consult wouldn't hurt, and perhaps CMC would find some way to help Aruna to walk a bit better and with less pain. A two day trip was planned, and our very good friends Paru and George Peter offered to come along. George's brother J.P. Peter is a special officer at CMC and he too offered his help, so off we went.

The consult with the orthopedist Dr. Korula Mani Jacob was right to the point, Aruna had a neuropathic joint and that would not heal. Why the neuropathy? That question was answered by Dr. Vivek Matthews, who did a thorough exam and said he suspected a much more serious cause and that we should come back for comprehensive testing that may take as much as one week as an in-patient. We booked the room and went back to Coimbatore to eventually return after a month. It was a very controversial decision with some folks saying we were wasting time and money and that nothing practical could come of it - but with some more encouragement, we decided to give it a try.

The one week stretched to two, she went to the operation theater twice and had consults with a host of different specialists. The ortho and physical medicine teams simultaneously worked out a solution for her walking. They came up with a footwear design, specially molded and designed for her that allowed pain free walking. In the meantime the neuro team concluded that it was clearly a case of CIDP, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (and asymmetric to boot).

This was frightening to hear - an incurable autoimmune disorder! But there was a ray of hope. It had been caught early and before Aruna's muscles had lost their strength AND if treatment was started we could probably arrest its course and keep the CIDP from damaging any more nerves. And the biggest surprise of all was that the leg pain was not diabetic neuropathy and it was not fibromyalgia-myofascial pain, it was definitely the CIDP that was the culprit and eventually her leg pain too would abate as the immune system was readjusted by the treatment.

Wow! All of a sudden here was hope.

To put our 'struggles' into a little perspective, that was when we heard from our dear friends Gary and Susan Frede that Susan had decided to go into hospice care and to stop fighting the very terminal stage of ovarian cancer that she was in. What a witness they have been to God's love right through such suffering! I was specially privileged and amazed to hear her cheerful "Hi Sam!" one last time...

In hindsight we now know that with her CIDP there was no chance at all of her ankle healing, for without healthy nerves, bones won't heal! On further thought we realize that had it not been for that awful broken leg , the two operations and then the subsequent failure to heal, we would just have got on with things as we had been and largely ignoring the leg pain as 'just one of those things'. In hindsight we know that we had been unresponsive to her pain signals, so it took something extreme to get us moving in the right direction. The added suffering, far from being a curse, was actually a blessing. Finally, if we had ended up going to any hospital other than CMC Vellore for diagnosis and treatment, it would have been disastrous!

Now, because God had blessed us with that kick in the pants of some additional pain and suffering, we've been led to a new understanding, and if not a cure, at the very least we have some answers. The future has become one of hope, not one of despair.

The thought that we might just have gone blithely on, and Aruna's muscles would have slowly deteriorated and then wasted away and soon there would have been no hope, only a terribly bleak future... that thought shows us that suffering is the first step to wisdom, so suffer the blessing!

Our greatest blessing: Aruna and her famous smile!




People to especially thank, not only for what they did but even more for how happily and lovingly they support us:

Close friends and family: George Peter, Paru Peter, Sumi James, Kiron James, Anita Jeyaveeran, J.P. Peter, Usha and Leslie Bonney, Mr. and Mrs. Muthiah (Sumi's parents), Gary and Susan Frede, Sudhir and Sowdha James, John and Sheila Selwyn, and our own wonderful family doctor and close friend Dr. Ravi Thiagarajan.

Our home gang: Furkhan and Fareed (our house guests), and all our wonderful young people (Rom and Saran's friends - our adopted kids) Manu, Vasanth, Ijaz, and Farah, and with our good friends Sundari and Xavier and  Christy and Christopher Karunakaran, their lovely daughters Lydia and Sarah, who are both part of the previous gen of adoptees that also includes Karthik Babu and Senthil, all of whom spread their love all around us like a lovely warm blanket!

At CMC Vellore: Dr. Mathew Alexander,  Dr. Vivek Mathew, Dr. Korula Mani Jacob, Dr. Anil Kumar B. Patel, Dr. Ajith Sivadasan, Dr. Suresh Babu, Dr. Ajoy Oomen John, Mr. Sam Kirubakaran (PT), Dr. Sudha Jasmine, Mr. Joseph (Annexe), the nursing team, attenders, and cleaning staff at the A Ward. There are many more who need to be thanked who were never introduced to us, but we thank you all for being a part of our blessing.

Those who came all the way to visit us and to pray with us at CMC included Professor Sundaram, Prakash Percey, Jayaraj Alexander, Rajkumar Richard and then that cloud of faithful witnesses who supported us in prayer and love from a distance...



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