This is a long, personal post. You don’t have to read it! However, for those of you who’ve wondered what’s been going on over the past year, I figured it was finally time to explain more in-depth.
In 2001, Duane (my husband) was run over and left for dead in the mountains of Colorado. Twelve surgeries later, he still has his left leg, but it has been a problem since that accident. His tendons, repeatedly damaged, tear easily, and his knee has never been stable enough to allow much exertion.
In spite of this, he’s pushed hard to live as normal a life as he could. He’s held really cool IT jobs, volunteered actively in church, and loved his family well, but that pain has steadily grown worse by the year.
He’s never had a single day pain-free since 2001. In fact, I’ve never known him without it.
Fast forward: In November, 2014, we moved to Arizona. In December 2014, another tendon tore, and for some reason, this was the last straw.
He grew very ill. It started with a sharp increase in pain and a loss of stability. Then Duane’s body, having been in pain for 13 years non-stop, FLIPPED OUT.
I capitalize that for a reason. He exhibited heart attack symptoms, auto-immune disease symptoms, major digestive issues, terrifying lung problems, bizarre nerve damage indicators, and more. We spent the entirety of 2015 in serious fear for his life. His failing immune system picked up every cold and flu that passed by, and he even came down with pneumonia. We ended up at the ER more than once.
Every doctor we went to was baffled. Every test they ran came up negative; according to those test results, he should have been in perfect health. While we were thrilled that, for example, his colonoscopy came out clean, the lack of a diagnosis carried a real weight of its own.
The Halfway Point
Finally, we were able to get into the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, and they tested for everything, too, but far more thoroughly than our primary care could. I really mean EVERYTHING. At one point, they even stuck him with needles to deliver electric shocks to his muscles while measuring his brain activity.
Fast forward: The good news was we could finally verify there was nothing wrong with his lungs, heart, colon, or neuropathic system. The bad news was we still didn’t know what the hell was wrong.
And then our brilliant Mayo doctor figured it out: the problem went back to Duane’s troublesome knee.
Apparently, they’ve been studying the effects of chronic pain for quite some time. Chronic pain does crazy things. It changes the brain’s chemistry. It can totally rewire a person so they become epileptic, or diabetic, or—in my husband’s case—it can cause one’s entire system to go haywire.
They took a much closer look at Duane’s leg, and they found that the damage there was worse than we’d known. Incredible bone problems, a wrecked ACL and torn lateral patellar retinaculum, horrifying nerve damage, and on top of that, a nasty surprise: a 3cm anomaly on his tibia which could be just about anything. So far, the theories are bone cancer, bone infection, or an old bone graft that for some reason didn’t take.
The Mayo Clinic lived up to its reputation. They figured it out. Now that they had some idea what was going on, they could move toward fixing it with something as simple as a knee replacement.
Except it wasn’t that simple at all.
The Lowest Point
It was at this time that they realized the scar tissue on his leg meant we couldn’t do a knee replacement.
Why? Because scar tissue has no blood supply, and if they cut into it to replace his knee, the skin would die.
If the skin died, his leg would go necrotic. If the skin went necrotic after surgery that opened up the bone—e.g., knee replacement—the infection would get into his system. The result would be amputation and possible death.
I can’t tell you how hard this was to hear. The knee was slowly killing him, but trying to replace the knee would kill him even faster.
They decided to do a special surgery to open up the skin of his leg. They had good reasons for this: 1. They needed to get a biopsy of that 3cm spot; 2. If and when the skin failed to heal, they could plan the amputation in such a way as to avoid the risk of necrosis.
Our surgeons said there was a 98% chance that it would not heal.
Some of you recall that I took time off with my husband this month. We left; we spent time together, just the two of us, praying and working through all this heavy news, loving each other and just trying to prepare.
Our surgeon called us during this vacation to remind us that amputation was just about certain, and we needed to find a counselor to work us through the grief. That was a fun afternoon.
Turning the Corner
Three days before surgery, we came home, as ready as we could be, prepared to face what was coming.
Two days before surgery, our pastors came over and prayed with us, asking God for a miracle.
One day before surgery, the Mayo folks did all the pre-op stuff, but couldn’t even find a pulse in Duane’s leg or foot; the damage was that severe.
The day of surgery, Duane went in. And a few hours later, one of our surgeons sought me out.
They found blood supply.
They found MORE THAN ENOUGH blood supply. They found so much that, to quote our orthopedic surgeon, if he’d had to have his knee replaced, he’d want his own leg’s blood supply to look as healthy as Duane’s did.
This was impossible. This was literally, seriously, medically impossible… but it happened.
Amputation is no longer looming over us like a bad dream.
Duane’s entire stay in the hospital, nurses and doctors kept coming in to ask for more details because their coworkers had been talking about this. That missing pulse? Is there now, in his leg; even I can find it, and I have no medical training. The skin is behaving exactly as it should, and the doctors are completely convinced that it will not only heal, but can handle the further trauma of a knee replacement without a problem.
We’ve had a real miracle. A real, honest-to-goodness miracle. It’s such a 180 from where we were that my head all but spun off my neck. To be honest, I still feel dizzy.
We still don’t know what the future holds. That 3cm spot will be a mystery for the next two weeks, and I confess I’m afraid what they’ll find. And of course, Duane is in horrific pain; the original issues have been compounded by the bone biopsy and (graphic image warning) new incisions.
But we’re heading toward something. God willing, we’re heading toward Duane someday being out of pain. We’re heading toward him regaining his walking, running, and standing stability. We’re heading toward him getting his life back.
Some of you recall that I had to put off Notte‘s release because of my husband’s medical issues; now you know why. Even now, I’m exhausted, but at the same time, I have real hope.
My Conclusion (For Now)
I’m so grateful to God for doing this. I don’t know what’s coming next, but I have a lot more faith in whatever He has planned for us. We’ve grown closer together through this trial; we’ve both learned patience, and we’ve both learned to rely a lot more on God’s peace—which is a very different thing than peace based on getting what we want out of life.
I’m not okay, but I really do have some peace. I say this knowing that things could still go south. If infection creeps in, he could still lose his leg. If that 3cm anomaly is something bad, he could still lose his life.
If you want me, I’ll be busy spending time with my husband, praying a lot, writing, and working hard at my job. We’ve been given a miracle, and I don’t intend to waste a single moment of this second chance.