The symptoms of my illness began to make their presence known in the late summer of 1992, when I was nine-years-old. I would be doing normal activities, and at any given moment, I would become weak from my lower back on down. I had to call Maw Maw from school a few times. She would rub Sportscreme onto my back, which seemed to help, but that may have been a coincidence.
The pain was even worse at night, maybe because I was less active. A few times, when Melissa and I stayed with Maw Maw and Papaw Bill on Saturday nights to go to Sunday school, I woke up crying, because my back was aching and I couldn’t urinate. Maw Maw would take me downstairs to drink some water and lay on the couch with a hot water-bottle against my back. It became impossible for me to urinate, so Maw Maw took me to see Dr. Dreszer, our family pediatrician.
Dr. Dreszer sent me to see Dr. Gould, a urologist, to see if he could find the reason as to why I couldn’t urinate. At first, it was thought to be an infection, but that wasn’t it. Some more tests were done and I began having to be catheterized. Dr. Gould decided that he would do an operation at in an attempt to remedy my inability to urinate. The operation turned out to be unsuccessful. An MRI was done, which because of my back pain, couldn’t be completed until I was sedated. A tumor was discovered on my lower spine.
On Halloween night, I was transferred from Audubon Hospital in Louisville to Kosair Children’s Hospital in downtown Louisville. Dr. Nazar, a neurologist, removed a tumor from my lower spinal cord that was, as I remember being told, the size of a baseball. The operation took many hours, and afterwards, I was paralyzed from the waist down, Dr. Nazar was uncertain that I would ever walk again.
For most of the hospital stay, I laid in bed and kept asking people if they would go to McDonald’s and get me a cheeseburger, because the steroids I was on were making me hungry. Donny came up to the hospital one day and he got me a cheeseburger, then when he called later to talk to Denita, she told him that I wanted a cheeseburger. Donny told Denita, “He had one when I was up there today!” I also ate a bag of Funyuns until they made me sick.
I was finally sent home about a month after my spine surgery. I was able to stand up and walk only a short distance with a walker, so I slept downstairs on a mattress. My bodily functions weren’t working properly, so I had to wear a diaper and catheterize myself when I needed to urinate. It was also uncertain that I would ever urinate on my own again.
Lynn, a physical therapist, came to visit me a couple of times a week, I think. Lynn brought giant rubber bands and a large ball that was used to work on balance. Lynn was very nice. One time she went on a trip to Chicago and brought back a Chicago Bulls hat as a gift to me.
One morning, I woke up crying, because my bladder felt like it was going to burst. By this time, I was able to walk without using a walker, and I stumbled into the bathroom as quickly as I could. I got about halfway through the process of catheterizing myself when I decided that I couldn’t wait any longer. I stood over the toilet and pushed as hard as I could. When I heard the sound of urine hitting the water, thought to myself, “My plumbing is working again!” and I cried with joy instead of hurt.
Then came my last visit from Lynn, and I had a surprise for her. As soon as Lynn came into the door of my apartment, I said, “Lynn, watch this!” and I started balancing myself on my ball. When I straightened my back and held my arms out, Lynn covered her mouth with her hands and said, “Oh, my gosh! I can’t believe it!”
When I went to see Dr. Nazar for the first time since my operation, he took me out into the hallway of his office and told me to run down to the other end of the hall. I did, and not only did I run to the other end of the hall, but I turned around and ran back to him. Dr. Nazar said that it was a miracle that I could even walk again. He also told me and my family that I inherited the genetic disorder, neurofibromatosis, from Dad, which Dad was previously unaware of the possibility of passing it on to any of his children. In later visits to Dr. Nazar, he joked that I was his experiment.
Years later, before I finished high school, Dr. Dreszer informed my family that Dr. Gould had passed away from lung cancer at the age of forty-six. Dr. Dreszer said, “He never smoked a day in his life. He was just a baby.” Life expectancy must be pretty high from where Dr. Dreszer came.
But my first operation gave me faith in God’s love and compassion. God can and will do anything if He thinks that it’s best.
My first operation also gave me faith in God’s power. Some things may seem improbable, but they’re never impossible with the power of God.