Last Thursday was not the first time I’ve cried in a doctor’s office parking lot.
I still remember the sunny day in June when I was just 17 when my mom and I emerged from my pediatrician’s office and burst into tears. My doctor had just confirmed that my 5 years of joint pain, which started out just in my knees and had suddenly crippled me overnight (it was literally that sudden), was definitely rheumatoid arthritis. The pain of that moment in the parking lot still feels eerily fresh and raw.
I also remember the day a couple years ago when my rheumatologist left me all choked up in the patient room after scolding me for going off of one of my medications when I got married (Which causes birth defects and is used as an abortion drug and for cancer treatment—need I say more?). He rushed out of the room onto the next patient just as the tears started visibly forming in my eyes and I felt so just, I don’t know, not good. (He did call a couple days later and apologize.)
I’ve had some positive doctor visits over the years, for sure, but most of them drain me, especially the ones with my rheumatologist. It’s rarely the doctor’s fault, but chronic illness is just really tough. I remember in college having to plan out time when I got back from those appointments to just sit around and feel sad for a bit or go get myself a smoothie or call my mom and talk to her about it.
Serious chronic illness is just as emotionally exhausting as it is physically—especially when you’re really young and also aren’t willing to just do anything your doctor tells you. (I have some frustrating memories of nasty comments from one doctor in particular, but I’m not here to bash doctors. I do owe them something for my progress on this journey; that’s for sure. If nothing else, they lit a fire in this part-Irish, very tenacious girl who was determined not to give up despite their discouragement.)
So, in light of my previous experiences at my rheumatologist’s office, I was expecting last Thursday to be a difficult day. I commented to my assistant how I was quite certain I’d be scolded for my choice of footwear (super cheap Target flip flops, obviously), but I laughed about that. What I was really, really nervous about was how he’d respond to my news.
I’ve been off of meds for 20 months now and my doctor didn’t know about it.
When I stopped giving myself shots of my medication in 2013, I didn’t even tell Kyle at first. (I wrote more about my journey to get off of meds in this post if you’re interested.)
So you can bet I also didn’t tell my doctor, who I knew would more than strongly advise me against that choice to go med-free. Honestly, he had good reason—the last time I tried the “natural route,” around age 19, I had so much inflammation that parts of the bones in my toes deteriorated.
I knew I had to see my doctor because I was long overdue for X-rays. At least once a year, I’m supposed to get X-rays done of my hands and feet to compare to my previous X-rays and check for progressing joint damage.
I had a sleeveless sundress on at my appointment, but it felt really hot in the room as I waited for my doctor to come in. (I sweat a lot when I’m nervous. This happens often. Embarrassing.)
The door opened. “What’s new?” my doctor said.
“Um, nothing!” I replied with a shrug and a smile.
Second sentence out of his mouth: “What meds are you taking right now?”
“Um, nothing.” Crap, here we go.
I could tell by his reaction, though, that he already knew.
He didn’t freak out at me! Instead, he asked quite a few questions as he looked me over and had me do some tests and touched each small bone in my feet multiple times.
“You don’t need X-rays,” he said finally. “Or bloodwork.”
“Are you sure? I want to make sure I’m not doing more permanent damage.”
“Nope. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. You have no visible signs of rheumatoid arthritis. Keep doing what you’ve been doing and eating what you’re eating, because it’s working. Come back every year just to check in.”
I was dumbfounded and trying to hide the HUGE grin on my face. The thought of “Yes! Told you I could heal myself with food! So there!” did not even cross my mind. I was just in shock and so, so happy.
As he was leaving the room, he said (ready for this?):
“You don’t have rheumatoid arthritis right now.”
I thought I was going to fall off the exam table. Or hug him. (Sometimes my personal boundaries are questionable.)
“I never thought I’d hear anyone say that,” I said.
At that point, it was impossible trying to hide my smile.
He quickly left the room and I followed after. I checked in at the front desk and made an appointment for one year from now, and walked out, less than 20 minutes after my appointment had begun. No X-rays. No blood work. No sitting for 3 hours for an IV of medication like I’d done regularly for years.
I walked out to the parking lot, a gorgeous sunny day just like the day I found out I had RA, and got in my car. I started eating a snack and realized I was staring straight ahead in a trance. I just kept repeating his words over and over in my head. “You don’t have rheumatoid arthritis right now.”
I did it. God and me, we did this. God is insanely, undeservingly good. Oh my goodness. This is a miracle, I thought.
I immediately thought of calling K-LOVE to request they play the song “Overcomer.” If you’ve followed my blog for a while you know I created a secret Pinterest board called “overcomer” that is full of photos of the life I want + the life I don’t want to have from a health standpoint. (I’ve got an entire blog post about it here with some of those photos.)
I quickly decided that was a dumb idea because, well, it’s K-LOVE, for goodness sake, and they probably have 28736417 people call them every minute. Plus, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard “Overcomer” on the radio, and I always noticed when it was on because that was MY song for 2014, so maybe people weren’t really into that song much anymore.
Instead, I pulled up “Overcomer” on YouTube on my phone. The tears brimmed up way too quickly as the song started, and I had errands to run on my way home, so I quickly turned the song off so I wouldn’t totally lose it in my car.
I turned the radio on in my car, tuned to K-LOVE, and kept eating my snack when, yep, of course, “Overcomer” started playing on the radio.
I can’t say for certain if that was a God thing, but it sure felt and seemed like a God thing, and I completely lost it in the car. I bawled happy tears and prayed and rejoiced and hoped no one was watching the weirdo chick in her car with tears streaming down her face and her hands folded in prayer. (Oh well.)
Happy pic from last week (right before I lost it and had mascara happily streaming down my face). Note that my fingers now actually work for a thumbs up! Woo woo!
I still can’t believe my doctor said those words. This doesn’t mean that I am free and clear by any means—I still have to avoid all starches, dairy, processed food, sugar, etc. or I’ll have to go back to giving myself shots. I still have to keep my stress level way down or I get RA-related fevers and joint pain and headaches. I still have to rely on God, and he may someday decide that everything I’m doing to combat this disease naturally isn’t enough and bring back the illness in even greater force.
But for now, I’m soaking this up.
It’s proof that miracles happen, that God made our bodies in an amazing way to be able to heal themselves, and that God does deliver us sometimes from the things that pain us the most.
If you’ve made it this far reading this post, you’re awesome. Thank you for letting me share my joy here with you.
I want to encourage you to keep pressing on in whatever area of your life is your “rheumatoid arthritis.” It’s been 14 years since I started seeking freedom from my pain, and it’s been quite the roller coaster ride since. (I’m still on the roller coaster and probably always will be, but it’s just a little more stable for now.)
Fourteen years is a long time. Maybe you’ve been battling something in your life for even longer than that.
God’s not giving up on you, so don’t give up on yourself.
Whatever your battle, keep him close to you at all times.
Embrace the struggle and the dependency on him because it is so, so good and draws you near to him with an intimacy with him you couldn’t achieve if your life was perfect and easy.
Surrender to God’s plans and his will—leave the uncontrollables in his control, but if the battle is worthwhile to you, then fight fight fight when it comes to the areas that you can control.
You never know when God might give you your miracle.
Since you ask me a lot of wonderful questions about my health and what I do to take care of myself, here are some resources and further reading:
A few popular blog posts about my journey:
My nutritionist (who deserves the bulk of the credit for my healing, after God, of course):
Jeff Langlois of Langlois Vital Nutrition Center in Wauwatosa, WI
If you’d like a referral card for Jeff for $40 off your first consultation, email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and mailing address and we’ll get you one.