Several years back, pretty early one morning I was showing off and dove into our swimming pool . . . fun and normal guy stuff when a group of guys are hanging out; but, on that particular morning something went way wrong and I and smacked my head on the bottom . . . pretty hard. I was instantly paralyzed and it sent tremors down through my torso, legs, and arms. The guys there pulled me out of the pool and laid me on the deck for a while. Gradually, I recovered motion, although limited. We had a houseful of company . . . and more on the way. I had been in Maine earlier in the week and had brought a large box of lobsters home. The day was the 4th of July, and we were having a lobster-boil late that afternoon . . . pool-side for a gang of about 40! Sandy was in the house and busy as always.
As I began to regain some motion. I hobbled off and slipped some clothes on and drove myself to the Emergency Room. After a wait, I was x-rayed and saw the on-call ER doc. He said the X-ray showed no damage and I returned home. I seemed to be okay; however, I had a dull ache and loaded up on aspirin. I got through the lobster boil, but I didn’t feel well, and stayed out of the pool.
Over the next 20 years I experienced significant pain and discomfort in my neck. It always hurt . . . and there was not much that would help. There were a few occasions when it would actually lock up on me and I would have to go to a chiropractor for “an adjustment.” It is literally a miracle one of those guys didn’t kill me—jerking and banging around on me!
During those years, I had the neck x-rayed several times and visited with a number of doctors. The general consensus was that it was just a condition with which I would have to live. I did so . . . painfully. It was always a serious, on-going, ever-present issue with me. Literally, everything that happened through those years . . . that happened “to me” . . . and that happened “in me” . . . happened in my neck. When I got sick, it was worse in my neck than anywhere else . . . when I was stressed . . . it was in my neck. It was always there. It was the proverbial weakest link in the chain.
Then, on Sunday morning, April 14, 2013, while teaching my Sunday school class, I had a stroke. I would spend the next three weeks in the hospital and in rehab. Soon into that ordeal, a doctor visited my room and identified himself as a Neurosurgeon, and he said the hospital had him review my tests and MRI. He said that the stroke, while unfortunate, had most likely saved my life! He went on to explain that I had a “Spinal Stenosis in my neck that literally put my life at risk!” Of course, that information sent a shock-wave through my family and circle of friends.
In June of 2013, a most remarkable and gifted Neurosurgeon named Dr. Donald Hilton, in San Antonio, repaired that serious neck injury and I had a new lease on life! The permanent damage caused by the stroke was minimal and I got back to living! For the first time . . . in a long time . . . my neck was free from pain and discomfort! Praise God!
Then, on a Sunday afternoon in October, 2014, while driving home from Chris’ house in Waco, we stopped at the McDonald’s in Lockhart (outside of Austin) for a potty break. As I stepped out of the suburban, I instantly fell in the parking lot. Several folks were in the store and saw me fall and came to my rescue. They kindly helped me to my feet; I cautiously made my way to the men’s room and back to the car. I drove home. Everything seemed to be okay, and Sandy attributed the loss of strength in my legs to a new prescription medicine I had started earlier in the week. She cancelled that pill. Everything was okay, and I was cautious when standing or walking. Then the following Sunday morning as I came out of the pool bathroom, I stumbled and fell . . . landing hard on my left knee and causing an open wound. That would be my last time to walk unassisted, and quickly I began experiencing intense pain in my lower back, legs, and feet. I was experiencing a numbing, burning, and throbbing pain . . . almost unbearable. Of course, all of this stuff with me is more complicated by the fact that I had polio as a child, and that left me with a weaker left side.
Here is Abi pushing me in the wheelchair:
In between the two falls, Dr. Haun ordered an MRI on my lower back. I took that MRI and went back to see my friend, Dr. Hilton. He examined me and looked at the MRI. He was polite, guarded, and said that he wanted a better and more complete MRI . . . from the top of my head down to my tail bone. I had that MRI on 12/23 in San Antonio . . . two hours of uninterrupted hell!
Dr. Hilton sent me to see a pain-management doctor who did an epidural. It reduced the pain for a few days, but it did not return my leg strength. On Saturday, February 7, 2015, I saw Dr. Atkins, Dr. Hilton’s partner . . . who he passed me off to by saying that Dr. Adkins was the specialist in their practice who was best suited to handle my situation. If I had been properly alert, I would have known that something serious was up.
As we sat with Dr. Adkins and he studied my MRI on Saturday, I got the sense that something was up. After a throughout review, he turned to face Chris and me and tell us that I have a much more serious issue than we originally believed. I appreciated his frankness and honesty. He informed us that I have another injury in my upper spine . . . a more significant injury . . . similar to the one in my neck before. The problem is this injury is much more difficult in that it is located directly behind my heart . . . and there simply is no easy way to get to it! He explained that if it were a bit higher he could access it from the front of the neck as Dr. Hilton did; if it was lower, piece of cake—simply access it from the back. He explained that the location of the injury would require him to enter from the back, and circle around the spine and work under the heart and try to make the repair. He said it is much higher risk . . . and then, the odds are 50/50 that it will improve my situation! Wow . . .
He left us to check his schedule and then returned. He said, “Gentlemen, I want you to be here early on the morning of Wednesday, February 11th, at which time the hospital will do some required lab work, then I will inset a small screw into your spine; then I will send you down the street to have dye injected into your spine and an MRI to observe the route the dye travels. Then, early on the morning on Wednesday February 18th, I will operate and try to repair your injury.”
Chris and I both asked the purpose of the screw being inserted. He calmly replied, “It will help me locate the injury during surgery!”
So that is where I am this Monday morning . . . the stark truth is that there is simply no option here! I must have the surgery . . . I simply cannot live long-term in this awful pain, confined to a wheelchair with my biggest accomplishment being to make a transfer from the wheelchair into another chair. I am weary of being a burden on my family.
So, the 18th is the moment of truth . . . but, then, so is any other day really. We all live in a world . . . a life order . . . where there are no guarantees from day to day relative to life itself or health. Things change . . . people change . . . circumstances change!
I have wonderful family and friends who are all full of encouragement and hope! I truly appreciate that. I appreciate hearing and, indeed, I know that the Lord is good . . . that He is faithful . . . and that He still performs miracles . . . but I also know that not all surgeries work . . . and I know that folks do die . . . that is a pretty certain aspect of the life experience.
Better yet . . . I also know and am confident that I will spend eternity in Heaven . . . that Jesus has prepared a place there for me . . . I am also confident that there are no spinal injuries . . . pain . . . or wheelchairs in Heaven.
All is well . . . and everything is going to be okay! Boy, I am glad I am a saved man . . . I am not sure how an unsaved man could handle all of this clutter, confusion, and pain . . . that is such a part of the struggles of life! I am thrilled that I have a glorious future . . . regardless what happens today, tomorrow, next week . . . or next year!