My Health Story--It's a God Story

10:56 AMHeather

This morning on Facebook, someone posted a picture about thanking God for what you have instead of asking Him for something you want.  Hmm.  Yeah.  Nice.  I thought, as I scrolled on down the news feed.  You see, this morning did not start well for me.  So, I slugged through my morning routine quickly in order to get to my regular neurologist check-up.  When I stepped into the exam room, I remembered.

I remembered the first time I walked into that exact exam room, just over 2 years ago.  I was a mess.  Pretty much at rock bottom with my health.  So over the migraines that had spun out of control again.  And, on top of that, dealing with neck muscle paralysis, thanks to a desperate attempt at relief offered by a different doctor through Botox migraine injections.  Which were not administered properly.  

As the familiar exam room brought back those memories, my mind was brought to that little Facebook picture.  And I realized that I have an obligation to share my story.  To offer a seed of hope to someone today who needs it.  Because they, too, are at the bottom of a pit.  

I think "before" and "after" pictures are so amazing.  My own version doesn't feel too dramatic at first glance.  But, please look...and then listen on to hear the behind the scenes story.


BEFORE-- Hi!  My name is Heather, and I've been a migraine patient since age 12.  In other words, for 30 years.  They started in 8th grade, with visual auras, nausea, and severe blinding pain.  My dad would have to come get me, lay a cold rag on my forehead, and hold my hand, praying and soothing me, until I fell alseep.  Sleeping them off became my only option.  I began treatment with a neurologist and was put on preventative meds.  This helped marginally.  I wrestled it through high school and college, and they gradually seemed to dissipate.  (By the grace of God alone!  Because if you know my college story, you know it was a dark, dark time of my life.  God miraculously kept the migraines at bay).  

A car wreck shortly after my wedding in 1995 seemed to trigger them again.  An amazingly stressful job probably didn't help either.  So, back to the doctor I went.  And for years, I tried all types of preventative meds.  I gradually began to self-inject a triptan as a rescue med for really bad episodes.  Not fun, y'all.  Just not fun.

Thankfully, I happened to be one of those migraine patients whose pregnancy and time nursing a baby seemed to deter the migraines.  Yippee!  So, things were better.  Until my first rock bottom with migraines in the summer of 2002.  I had a one-year-old son...and a three-year-old son.  Yes.  Two boys.  A soccer mom with the new mini-van to prove it.  And suddenly, out of control migraines.  

I went to the ER several times that summer.  I had one migraine that lasted 21 days.  21 days, y'all.  With two toddler boys.  Piece milling help together with any babysitter we could find, my husband taking sick time from work, and an occasional friend who added my busy boys onto their own toddler duty.  It was awful.  The climax came with a life-threatening reaction to an Imitrex injection at my doctor's office.  That led to my first ever (and hopefully last) ride in an ambulance.  It was scary stuff.  My heart rate became erratic and I had trouble breathing.  

Thankfully, that led to some all important food allergy testing and the discovery of a new neurologist who seemed to be a miracle worker.  So, I limped along, trying all types of preventative meds and rescue meds and feeling like a guinea pig.  But things were better.  And I adjusted to the thorn in my flesh that just didn't seem it would go away completely.  Life in the big city.  I made adjustments.  The kids became pro's at bringing Mommy a wet washcloth and playing quietly.  I don't think they realized it wasn't EVERYONE'S normal to often say, "SHH!  Mommy has a headache.  We need to be quiet."  The headaches were manageable.  The kids were bigger.  We were okay.

Until December 2010.  When the migraines and my health in general completely bottomed out.  I lost seventeen pounds in two months.  I wasn't trying.  I just went from one migraine to the next.  The necessary rescue meds caused me to have no appetite for days afterward.  I was not functioning.  Female problems, as I neared my 40th birthday, were NOT helping matters.  I fell into some depression, feeling so defeated by the constant cycle of pain, inability to function, loss of appetite, and feeling alone.  By March of 2011, I made one really good decision.  And one really bad one.

Good news first.  I had a surgery called an ablation to alleviate my female issues.  It was the best medical decision I have ever made.

Bad news next.  Around the same time frame, I agreed to have Botox migraine injections by a new neurologist.  It was the worst medical decision I ever made.

Here's the short of it.  I was overdosed.  Given twice as much Botox as I should have been given in half the injection sites I should have had.  Recently FDA approved for migraines, Botox injections had became a new trick to try in the hands of a doctor who meant well but failed miserably.  

Ten days post injection, I ended up in the ER while on a family vacation.  My throat was swelling.  I had trouble breathing, could not swallow, and my neck was completely stiff.  (My forehead, however, looked fabulous for my 40th birthday!  No wrinkles in sight.  Migraines still?  Yes.  Droopy left eye?  Yes.  Neck function?  None.  But hey--the forehead!).   

No doctor at the hospital could pin point the cause.  My theory on the Botox?  They were skeptical.  The injecting doctor?  After chewing me out for even thinking of blaming the Botox, he began to refuse my calls.  I was laid up, in bed, couldn't drive.  Couldn't hold my head up.  Couldn't turn my head.  Could not function.  And I was, by all accounts, crazy.  Because no one could help and no one could identify the problem.  My chiropractor was my only ally.  And once she had done all she could, she referred me to the Spine Team Texas.  I desperately sought a new neurologist.  Long story short--the guy I was trying to get into wasn't available.  But a partner was.  A shot in the dark.  But at that point--what could it hurt?

So, that late May day in 2011, I walked into a certain exam room at the office of Dr. Valery Lipenko.  I saw a huge poster for Botox on the wall and it nearly drove me to tears.  The nurse saw my distress and began a conversation.  She asked about my neck problems.  And quickly stated, so matter-of-factly after I explained--"Well, that's the Botox for sure.  Of course, those are side effects.  Didn't your consent form warn you?"  Consent form?  WHAT consent form?  Dr. Lipenko quickly came in and joined the conversation.  And I puddled into tears of relief.  Because, after 2 months, a medical professional validated my current fate.  He assured me that he would see me through to better health.  And so, the healing process could begin.

That "before" picture is me, on a Disney cruise that was a Christmas gift.  I may be smiling, but it was a facade.  I was at an all time low in weight, and it didn't feel good.  I felt weak.  Unsure.  Unsteady.  Fearful.  Would my neck EVER function normally?  Was this Botox disaster going to result in permanent damage?  Walking and sitting up were a chore.  Thus, I lived on that little TENS unit you can see that I have plugged in there.  My kids were surely WAY over Mom not being herself.  

But, I had a tiny little seed of hope.  Because my new doctor assured me that it would get better.  And my physical therapy routine at Spine Team Texas was about to start.  

AFTER-- All in all, I did 5 months of physical therapy.  My neck function improved.  My range of motion improved.  And I had come to accept that my neck would probably always fatigue easily.  Ice packs and stretching after long days were inevitable.  At least I wasn't lying in bed anymore?!  The migraines were improving.  My new doctor was finally addressing my insomnia.  The new rescue med was a miracle.  He also kept telling me I needed to strengthen my core and do some exercising to really get myself to a good point.  I waited on that.  

I can be stubborn, it seems.  But, finally, in August 2012, I was out of excuses.  My neighbor and friend, Jessica, just 2 doors down, began to teach a boot camp.  Can't be more convenient than that.  The price was reasonable and I thought it was time.  As my cousins would say--"I can't afford NOT to!"

I have to be honest.  I jumped into regular exercise last year as I usually did.  A little hesitant.  Okay.  A lot.  I don't like exercise.  I'm not an athlete.  I came home from my first boot camp in tears.  Because I didn't feel I fit in there.  I had to modify so many exercises due to my neck. I couldn't even do a sit up.  Not one.  The short of it is that I was a reluctant participant for months.  Pretty much a love/hate relationship.  Bound by duty and obligation.  Which aren't good motivators.  

In January of this year, I had a month in bed AGAIN, this time due to the flu and bronchitis. It was the final straw.  Enough is enough!  Time to take my health by the horns and wrestle it into submission.  I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  THAT was my turning point.  That was the moment when I decided it didn't matter what my natural inclination.  I was going to do this thing, by golly.

And so, I have.  On a complete whim, I even conned convinced my husband we should train for a 5K.  Which we did.  And I still find that fact hilarious.  But we did it!  That after picture is our first 5K finish this past May.  We've done another one since, and have two races to go this fall.  

Here's the miracle.  Here's the God story. 2 years ago, I was wrapping up 5 months of physical therapy.  I was fighting my way past months of defeat and non-function.  Migraines and neck issues that led to depression.  It was the absolute rock bottom of my health.  1 year ago, with great hesitation, I jumped into boot camp.  Huffing and puffing and barely finishing.  Modifying many, many exercises.  Doing half the reps of those around me.  Still unsure of myself.  Of my health.  Of my story.

Yesterday, I started my second year in boot camp.  I did sit-ups.  Y'all--read that again--I did sit-ups for my fit test.  Maybe not as many as the next girl.  But the fact I could do them at all is nothing short of a miracle.  I had an epiphany a few months back.  I don't have to modify exercises for my neck any more.  And, I am a runner!  Because I run.  No.  I don't always LOVE the exercise in the midst of it.  But, I always LOVE how I feel afterward.

As for my migraines, they are few and far between.  In fact, even mild daily-type headaches are infrequent.  When they happen, they are usually handled with my mild first-level rescue med.  Rarely do I have to resort to the heavy duty knock-me-out rescue med.  Listen, for 30 years I've had migraines.  For the last 2, I've enjoyed a plateau with them.  Some long desired level ground.  I'm here to say something.  I will choose to trust God in my valleys of pain.  And I will trust Him in the pain free plateaus.  It could all change tomorrow.  God is still good, no matter what.  He is good to sustain me in the dark days.  He is good to bring me to brighter days.

And, thus, today, I feel an obligation to share my health story.  Because it's a GOD story.  And maybe someone reading today needs that encouragement.  To know that it won't always be like this.  To know that the road may be long and hard and frustrating.  But our God is bigger.  He will equip you for the journey.  He will meet you in your suffering and minister to your soul.  He will hold you through it.  

Listen, if I can run a 5K, then you, my bloggy friend, can keep running your race!  So press on.  Press into your loving Father's arms, and press on.  Keep running.  You've got this.  Because He's got you. 

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