Job, Tattoos, & The Problem With Pain

I often wonder what I have to offer the world… This is not a self-loathing/woe-is-me statement, nor is it a ploy to gain interest in my em(pathetic) story. However, as of late, it’s truly a question with which I’ve been wrestling. Then fuel that question with a month like this past May.

May 2013 was a classic cluster in an epic way.

Although May was bad, I have perspective. It’s the year of 2009 that holds the mantle of the Worst Year of my short life. Why? January 2009 launched with the unexpected death of my amazing father-in-law. The year closed with my own beautiful father being diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and dying three weeks after his diagnosis. My father died December 2009 – eleven months (to the day) after my father-in-law died. Book-ended between the deaths of our patriarchs, my wife and I also lost to death all our living uncles as well as a cousin. The year 2009 sucked ass… There is no more graceful a way for me to say it. So with that perspective, outside of 2009 holding the mantle of the Worst Year, it was May 2013 that unfolded as a classic cluster in an epic way.

May 2013 set in motion some life-changing – or if-you-will, life-altering –circumstances that will FOREVER augment who we are as a family, who we are as ministers as well as the ministries we serve. Having neither the energy nor the creative fortitude to expand in great detail on our lamentful month, I’ll highlight the largest blips that pinged on our radar from the unforeseen shitstorm that rained down in May.

First was another death. A beloved mentor, to both my wife and I, passed away in his sleep. Byron Lamun had come into my life as my grief counselor after my father died. And in the years following, Byron quickly became a pillar of encouragement and a beloved mentor. I received the bitter pill of Byron’s death one bleary May morning. Byron had crossed over to be with the Jesus he so humbly and authentically represented. Mary Lee, Byron’s beloved wife (who is equally as badass as Byron), very eloquently summed up how I feel about Byron’s passing, “I am so damn mad right now… I feel like I’ve been robbed.” All I can do is muster an amen to Mary Lee’s honesty. Robbed. The Kingdom of Heaven in the here-and-now is truly a smaller and dimmer space without Byron.

If the death of a beloved mentor weren’t dramatic enough, it wouldn’t be the Shepherd way to simply have that as a suitable capstone for our May drama… But wait, there is more; just add sarcasm and stir.

Under the recommendation of our general practitioner, I was referred to a rheumatologist specializing in Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, and Fibromyalgia. Autoimmune diseases run deep in my family. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Graves Disease are two major culprits that hold many of my family members’ hostage to their debilitating ways, giving no indication when any future ransom notes may bring release.

In way of background to this rheumatologist appointment in May 2013, it was in November 2011 that I suffered severe nerve damage. This nerve damage is where no man ever wishes nerve damage to be – concentrated in my left kidney and running through my prostate. Sadly, this damage was due to the incompetence (I’ll even call the act sadistic) of one local urologist.

Now hear me: I have many dear friends who are a part of the fraternal order of the global medical community that I hold in high regard. I don’t believe that doctors are quacks exploiting the greater good of humanity. Not even urologists. Unfortunately, when I was tormented with a kidney stone, the urologist I entrusted with my kidney stone removal surgery seemed competent at the time. The stone removal surgery in November 2011 went off without a hitch; the stone was removed in a record 10 minutes. And to help in the healing process, the doctor outfitted me with a stint – that ran from my left kidney through my prostate and out of the tip of my penis with a little floss-like string dangling in the wind that served as a benchmark for the stint, to make sure it stayed in all the right places… I affectionately referred to the stint as my “manpon.” It wasn’t until a week later when all hell broke loose, when the same urologist who performed the surgery was scheduled to remove the “manpon”. Without going into graphic detail, in all of his wisdom, instead of using the standard “dick harpoon” mechanism to remove the stint, the urologist decided (with a smile) to rip the stint out of me like he was trying to start a lawn mower.

I know it is not in good form to name names of negligent, even malpracticing doctors; but I am an Enneagram 8 – which means I am perfectly comfortable with vengeance. It is my sincere hope and vindictive prayer that this particular doctor never gets the chance to wreak havoc on any others who put their trust in him.

It is since November 2011 that I have been coping with nerve damage caused by this unorthodox stint-removal. I have discovered that nerves are some of the slowest healing components in one’s body. Under the guidance of some brilliant doctors (and a different urologist) I have medically pursued every treatment and procedure available to find a path to pain relief and healing.

Fast-forward ahead to May 2013. I am at my first rheumatologist appointment, seeing the physician our general practitioner has referred me to. After an exam, as well as a thorough medical history and records review, the rheumatologist tells me that I could celebrate: I do not have either Rheumatoid Arthritis or Lupus.

But rheumatologist continues: I am suffering from the nerve-affecting disease called Fibromyalgia. The rheumatologist explains more about the diagnosis and the disease. She spells out that the Fibromyalgia was most likely was triggered by a traumatic event. I immediately flash back to the villainous grin of the urologist archaically tearing the stint out of me.

This diagnosis of Fibromyalgia has left me discouraged, crushed, and full of anxiety. Fibromyalgia, in basic laymen terms (which is the only way I know how to talk about it at this point), is a disease of chronic pain, debilitating fatigue, and insomnia. But I’ve been encouraged by my inner circle of friends and family to begin sharing the journey of my recent diagnosis.

This is what this first post is: my first attempt to communicate this new chapter of my life. I’m still healing from nerve damage and now I’ve been diagnosed with a disease that is faceless to the naked eye. On the outside I look like I always do: bald, beautiful, and tattooed (insert laughter here), but on the inside I’m always hurting, fighting exhaustion, and hoping I can at least get a few hours of sleep with the help of Ambien.

I will end this post in how I began it: I often wonder what I have to offer this world, especially in light of my recent diagnosis. My fibro doc and my newly appointed physical therapist have already told me, explicitly, that my life as I have previously known it will never be the same. And that I have to re-prioritize my life now or I will have nothing left in the tank to offer anyone. It makes me recall what my spiritual director in seminary told me on many occasions, “Phil, you need to learn the discipline of Sabbath.”

As I reprioritize my life, creating new rhythms, creating new boundaries (which I am horrible at doing), stumbling through what my limitations are, and reshaping what my ministry looks like, I invite you to journey with me in this process.

Who knows… maybe you or someone you know is secretly living with chronic pain too. In our culture of pick-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps bullshit, filled with mores of busyness (that reward us for lack of honesty), we wear badges of honor for not being truthful about our wellbeing. And in some way, shape, or form, because of the unfair stigma imposed from our ignore-pain-and-weakness society, maybe you or someone you know is hiding their chronic pain. Or maybe you or someone you know has listened to someone in a pulpit vomit out a self-righteous, uneducated opinion that declared that this is “all in your head” and all who are afflicted merely need to repent from whatever sins you are enslaved to. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re like me – and you have ignored your body and its cry for holistic wellness.

I am not asking you to pity me, empathize with me, or even placate this diagnosis of fibromyalgia. All I am asking, if you are willing to, is you that journey with me in this process as I explore, Job, Tattoos, and The Problem With Pain.

  • Rev-o-lution

    Prayers for you, Phil, for an ease of pain, and for strength and endurance on the journey.

  • http://jonathanbrink.com Jonathan Brink

    Love you bro.

  • Chris Laning

    Fibromyalgia is no fun as I can testify. As I am fond of explaining, on the good side, it doesn’t usually get a lot worse than it is when it first appears (and for some it gets better); things hurt, but unlike arthritis, your joints are not actually damaged or even necessarily inflamed; and nobody dies of it. On the not so good side, we still don’t really know WHY it occurs (though recent discoveries have given us some ideas about WHERE), and there’s no cure.

    There are, however, coping strategies. Life is not over. Exercise helps a lot of people, though you have to be more careful than most people to never overdo. With time, you learn what some of your triggers for a bad day are (for instance, going outdoors in hot weather and eating meat are two things I need to minimize).

    There are also some newer drugs that can make a dramatic difference. After being “brave” and living with pain for several years, I finally realized I could ask to try one of them and literally overnight my daily pain was cut by about two-thirds and my hot-weather endurance dramatically improved.

    So best wishes, and hope you quickly begin to find things that work for you and make your life better and less restricted.

  • Chuck Fisher

    So, I’m playing golf with a buddy. I’m playing well, maybe heading toward an all time good score. Then, in the water on the 15th double bogey, out of bounds on the 16th, another double, Hit yet another in the water on the 17th and my buddy, no longer able to contain himself, begins to mouth reassuring, comforting, sympathetic words. While I know he means well, I prefer that he just shut the ****up. I feel like that buddy of mine. I do not have words I believe will really help. I can tell you I am around if you need me. And if you do, and if you hear me start to give you those reassuring, comforting, sympathetic words, feel free to tell me to shut the ****up. I will not mind.

  • Regina Erwin

    Thank you for sharing your journey! Praying for you and thinking of you!


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