In April of 2009, I started having intermittent bouts of severe abdominal pain, but they were infrequent enough until the following spring that I never saw a doctor. Since May of last year, those attacks have increased in frequency and severity, and I’ve gone through an exhausting battery of tests, procedures, and medications that have all failed to diagnose or treat whatever was going on.
This July, after the worst pain attack I’d had yet, I made an emergency appointment with my doctor’s nurse practitioner hoping just to get some kind of better prescription, since the stuff that had been working for me since last summer hadn’t been doing the trick for a few months. When I’d had another test done in December that had come back normal, she’d told me she didn’t know what else to look for, and because of that I had no expectations that she’d want to do anything that day besides get me new meds.
What happened instead took me by surprise. She asked me the same set of questions that she had at every other appointment, but after a long pause and a few moments spent looking over her notes, she said, “The only other thing I can think of is sphincter of Oddi dysfunction.” She didn’t offer much in the way of details, just saying that she’d have to refer me to CU Denver for the procedure to test for that.
I blame the fact that I’m a journalist on my constant need to look up everything about anything a doctor has ever told me, and I’ve consistently impressed all the doctors and lab techs and surgeons I’ve encountered about how much I knew about this procedure or that condition. In keeping with my habit, I began researching SOD as soon as I got home, and I cannot even begin to express what it was like to read article after article that seemed to be describing me exactly — the location of the pain, the way the pain acts, what doesn’t help, what the blood work looks like. For two-and-a-half years, I’d been questioning whether it was all in my head in between pain attacks and coming to grips with being a medical mystery and the idea that I’d just have to cope with the pain even as it continued to worsen. The SOD forums I stumbled across were amazing as well, filled with story after story of people who had been through almost exactly what I’d been through, including visits with doctors who dismissed the problem as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and those who said they had no ideas at all.
You know those times when you go crazy looking for something—your keys, that book, your cell phone—that you know you just saw recently, and the feeling when you finally find it? Reading all those articles and forum posts was like that a hundred times over.
The problem still remained, however, of actually getting the referral to Denver. The receptionist at my doctor’s office cautioned me against getting my hopes up, explaining that there was a waiting list for appointments as far out as September, which didn’t bode well for me since school starts on August 24th. She told me not to even expect to hear from someone for another two weeks.
But a mere three days later, I got the phone call. While that in itself was exciting, I only thought that this would be the call to schedule a consultation. Instead, the woman on the other end of the line asked if August 11th would be a good date to schedule the procedure. I think I remained calm as I discussed the details with her, but inwardly, I was in the best kind of shock. Not only would I actually have the procedure scheduled before I went back to school, but the timing couldn’t be better: After Mark’s visit, after the wedding of one of my best friends, after my family’s last big outing together before I graduate, but with 9 days left before I’d planned to drive back to California, leaving me time to recuperate. I have no hesitation in saying that God orchestrated a miracle.
My pre-op consultation with the specialist in Denver almost threatened the hope I had finally dared to allow; the doctor warned me of the risks of the procedure and told me that even though my pain certainly did seem to fit the classification for SOD, he wouldn’t feel comfortable performing it unless I had also had abnormal liver levels on my blood work. In that instant, I was overwhelmingly thankful for all the blood tests that my doctor had ordered even when nothing in particular was going on, because I could remember at least two rounds of labs that had come back with abnormal liver results. With that, Dr. Yen agreed that this procedure was the right course of action, and I was officially scheduled for an EUS and ERCP with sphincter manometry and sphincterotomy.
And now, after a very long road and one other hiccup this week (Dr. Yen called saying he didn’t have any lab work indicating abnormal liver levels, but that was quickly fixed with a call to my doctor in the Springs requesting that all the labs I’ve ever had done get sent over), August 11th has arrived. Nine hours from now, I’ll be lying on a table waiting for the drugs that will knock me out for a few hours, and when I wake up, God willing, it’ll be the end of this saga.
Maybe I should be scared. This particular procedure is very, very delicate; it doesn’t take much to cause pancreatitis, and there are testimonials in abundance of people who’ve come out of these procedures with horrific complications (I’ve spent the last hour or two poring over them). And yet I feel nothing but calm. Maybe I’m in some sort of denial, not really registering that I could wake up in worse shape than I was before. But maybe it’s God’s perfect peace that passes all understanding. I think I do fully understand the possible implications that this procedure has, but I’m not worried about them. I’ve seen God’s hand work in unbelievably miraculous ways in the lives of at least two other people this summer, and my situation is far less serious. If he can provide a young woman at death’s door with a new liver at the last minute or allow a 17-year-old boy to survive a head-on accident with a logging truck with only broken bones, how much easier must an operation on a little sphincter be for Him to handle, regardless of whether it goes as planned?
It’s strange for me to imagine that the pain I’ve lived with for this long might be about to end. This procedure isn’t a guaranteed fix, but if it works…. The pain has been such a significant part of my life, and of course I won’t miss it, but will I notice that it’s missing? And what will replace the hold it once had on my body, mind, and emotions?
It’s also strange to think that 24 hours from now, I’ll be in a hospital bed, and not knowing at all how I’ll be feeling at that point — if I’ll be better or worse. And equally strange, almost, that I feel equally calm about either outcome.
God is good. So much of this whole experience has been horrible, and yet I have seen Him working in this more clearly than anything else I can remember. His grace is sufficient for me, and His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9); He knows what will happen in nine hours, and whatever does happen, He’ll continue to work through it.
If you actually read all 1,308 words written here, you earn a spot on my list of heroes.