I’ve lived more than half of my life with a very severe form of (Psoriatic) arthritis. Fatigue is a normal part of my every day life.
However, a couple of years ago, I went through a health crisis that nearly took my life. Initially I thought it was my arthritis acting up, so it came as no real surprise when it got bad. But very soon, it became so severe that I didn’t feel as though I could do anything outside of breathing.
I would be completely rundown every other day. Then began daily headaches, jaw swelling, weakness & pain, heart pounding day and night (even when fully at rest), dizziness, feeling I’d pass out, weak legs, painful hips, and more.
Many times I thought I was coming down with a terrible head cold, then nothing would come of it. Unloading groceries or getting to the school door to pick up my son became physical nightmares I didn't think I would get through.
Very suddenly it got so bad I napped my afternoons away. Just making supper overwhelmed my body. I couldn’t put on clothes without sitting down, sweating, and trying to catch my breath.
One evening I took a bath to relax, but just the act of getting out and drying off had me struggling for breath. That night, walking from my bed to the bathroom had me struggling to calm my racing heart and try to get air.
The next morning I attempted to shower. Washing my hair and breathing at the same time was the most impossible task. I had to escape the steam, sit down and call out to my husband for help. There was nothing I could do to get air. My heart was pounding, and it felt like there was a blockage in the left lung and no air could get in. Chest pain started on the left and wrapped around to my back. I was ready to call 911. (I stopped because I was too embarrassed. I REALLY should have called 911.) I watched my face drain of all colour, then quickly turn yellow. My mind went to my 3 boys in the other room, only 10, 8 and 4. All I could do was pray that this wasn’t the end yet.
It was another 10 minutes before I was able to get dressed with help. Not wanting to freak the kids out, I waited to go to the ER until the boys left for school. My hands & feet were so cold, toes and fingertips turned white and became numb to the point of pain. It was as though I could actually feel the blood pull away from them.
Walking in to the door of the ER almost stopped all air again. Anxiety stepped in almost causing the beginnings of a panic attack on top of it all. The triage nurse immediately noticed my jaundiced face, and heard my extremely laboured, wheezy breathing.
I sent mass messages to family & friends asking for prayer.
Initial tests revealed that I had dangerously low hemoglobin. Normal levels should be around 120-130, they will start talking blood transfusion around 70, and my number was 39. I heard them order 4 units of blood from Winnipeg, STAT, and the doctor gently told me that if I didn't get it soon I was in very serious risk of having a heart attack.
Next was to find the source of such a massive iron loss. My first thoughts rushed to lymphoma - a very real possible side effect of my arthritis medications. My white blood cell count was extremely high. I felt so panicky. I prayed, but every time I took my eyes off God and put them back on these results at hand, my anxiety (and heart rate) went through the roof.
During this time I had so many prayer warriors seeking God for me. And I began to feel it. I was not able to leave my bed for many hours until the blood transfusions were done because of the racing heart and the risk of rapid cardiac arrest, but peace in lying there slowly crept in. My incredible family & friends had immediately jumped into action acting as Jesus’ hands and feet for me, offering more childcare, meals, and offers of help than I could even accept!
Later came this message from a dear friend about what she had received in prayer...
As I was praying for you I got a pic of a emergency room that was totally peaceful. You were there and it was not chaotic at all. God was there, His presence was the peace. Then the verse Psalm 23:4 came to mind. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4 ESV
It was exactly what I felt and experienced. God was there. He was waiting with me. Calling me to His side and calming me as I obeyed.
In the days that followed, God answered so many prayers - for peace, for joy, for a settled heart, and even later for a private room! It was not exactly a necessity, but it was so huge to me in that moment and God was showing how He understood and cared about even that. In that hospital room, I felt closer to Him than ever before. There was immense joy in my spirit daily! It didn’t seem logical to me, but there it was. (At times in my life now when I feel a distance from God, I long for the days in that hospital room.)
In the next few months came many tests. Blood cultures had revealed that the extreme white blood cell count was largely due to hidden Mono. But even after the transfusions my hemoglobin numbers did not stay in a great place, and they began searching for cancer markers. But my joy and confidence remained.
At the time I was going through the Hearing God seminar at our church with my cell group. One evening during prayer, my small group leader got a picture of God’s hand over me with a “swirling” around my torso and the words that He was healing me in ways I didn’t yet know. I hadn’t even told her that I was going in for a CT scan of my torso the very next morning. When she said those words, God pierced my heart with truth. I KNEW. Without a doubt, there was no other possible outcome - He was healing me in many ways, and there would be no cancer to be found.
It was just before Christmas that year when my doctor officially gave me those words, but I didn’t even need them. I had already walked in there fully confident that I could tell him what was on my chart. I had tasted the experience of walking closely with my Lord in times of fear, panic, and unsteadiness. And He rushed to my side and held me fast.
I am so grateful to Him for the extra time I have been granted with my family. And I’m also grateful for what I went through. It was an incredible, intense lesson, experiencing provision and peace in the valley that only comes from walking closely with the Shepherd.
I would love to tell you that I have stayed that closely connected to Jesus every day since, but I am human. When life’s great fears, sorrows, hardships and afflictions rush in, many times I start with panic. But I have a great reminder to cling to, and I beg for God to bring me back to that place of unexplained peace no matter the outcome. The outcome won’t always be what we want, but He is the only one we can rely on in a world of constant uncertainty - and He will show up.
About the Author:
Sue Doerksen lives with her husband and three growing boys in Mitchell, MB. In addition to taking care of her own kids, she is looking out for other kids as a local school trustee. Sue is from a very musical family and is a fantastic singer! She and her siblings performed all over with their band McKenize Road, and they still enjoy singing together when they lead worship nights at their church. Sue is passionate about the Pro-Life movement which is one of the most awesome things about her.
If you would like to send Sue a message, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Sue” in the subject line.