My Health Update as of December 2010
By David J. Stewart
I ask for your prayers for my continued health problems. I had an MRI in November, which pretty much shows what I expected, i.e., I still have bone spurs in the back of my neck at C5-C6-C7 piercing into my spinal cord. The bone spurs appear to be the only things remaining that surgeons haven't repaired. Conventional posterior surgery involves cutting away a portion of my spinal column's bone to access the area, and then grinding down the bone spurs. Since there are thick muscle tissues that need to be cut through to access the area, the pain is much worse and takes 6-months to recover from. My doctor is discouraging me from a 3rd surgery because he says there is a diminishing return on each surgery.
So I've sent all my information to a place that does endoscopic surgery (which is much less invasive). I hope I'll be a candidate for their surgical process to remove the bone spurs in my neck. Below are MRI snapshots from before my first surgery (left, 2008), after the first surgery (middle, 2009), and now after my second surgery (right, 2010).
The common denominator is that little piece of bone, which looks like it's sharply piercing my spinal cord on the right side of all 3 scans above. The neurosurgeons who performed my surgeries focused on the disk protrusions on the left side (i.e., toward the front of the neck), since it was the more obvious visible problem. Most neurosurgeons won't do surgery unless a person has noticeable loss of function in their limb(s). I hope to be able to undergo the endoscopic surgery though, since it is much less invasive. They use a laser to remove the bone spurs.
I was told by one neurosurgeon to have a morphine-injection-pump installed into my spinal cord. I've considered it when the pain is bad, but haven't pursued it thus far. The 100 mg. daily of prescription Oxycontin and 12 mg. Dilaudid helps my neck pain; but not the razor-sharp pain radiating mostly down my right arm. I'm encouraged that radiating pain into the thumbs is related to bone spurs in the C5-C6 area, which is where my bone spurs are at. It sure seems to be the problem; but I'll have to wait to see what happens. I'm taking Gabapentin for nerve pain, which seems to help ONLY when taken in consistent dosages over a period of time; but I've read a lot of discouraging things about the effectiveness of the drug. Sometimes it seems like it's working, yet at other times it doesn't. So I take 300 mg. by prescription ever 6-hours. It makes me really tired, which is why I don't take more Gabapentin than I do. I'd be a zombie. I very much ask for your prayers for my health and ministry. I always ask God to bless my ministry first, and then me second. I'd rather suffer if that's what is required by God, for Him to use my ministry to reach more souls for Jesus Christ.
I must have overdosed on pain medications Wednesday night, which caused my ankles and feet to swell up considerably in size. The swelling scared me. I could barely put my slippers on. Right now on Friday I feel weak, have drainage from my sinuses, and my body hurts from head-to-toe. I never had any swelling in my ankles and feet like that before. The swelling has gone down for the most part over the past 24-hours. Please pray for me and this ministry daily.
I faxed off my MRI report and an application for endoscopic surgery Thursday. I'm hurting so much in my neck (where the bony area is in the back). It's harder to find help post surgery, especially after 2 neck surgeries. I've contacted numerous medical clinics that haven't responded after explaining my health situation. I hope this place responds. I'm really surprised with all of our modern technology that it's so hard to get adequate medical help. After 7-years I'm still trying to get my neck fixed, to no avail. There's so much red tape, insurance approval needed, regulations, et cetera. I had to go through cervical traction, cortisone injections, dozens of different medications, physical therapy, and all the other conservative treatments before even being considered for surgery, which took years. At least that's all out of the way.
I am a mess since my 2nd neck surgery in April of 2010, which made me worse. I cannot put in words the suffering I've been through. When I awoke from surgery in April, I felt the tight neck brace, had agonizing neck pain and my throat was very dry. I had tears flowing down the side of my head. I was in a recovery room after surgery and told the nurse I felt lonely. She replied, “well, I've never heard that one before I walked out.” I wanted to die. I was so lonely. I was still under the effects of anesthesia. I was helpless and focused on Matthew 28:20 and Hebrews 13:5 where Jesus promised never to leave me.
The 1st surgery caused slightly increased problems in my right arm and leg. The 2nd surgery has resulted in both arms and legs being adversely affected. I had ACDF (Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion) on C5-C6-C7. The 2nd surgery was a revision of the 1st, since the surgeon said a CT Scan showed that my bones at C6-C7 weren't fusing properly after 9-months. Now both of my arms feel puffed up all the time.
My doctor highly advises avoiding any further surgeries, since the two I've had have made me progressively worse. I am suffering much, with burning, tingling and a puffy feeling in both arms and legs. I feel like I have robot arms from a game I used to have as a kid... The Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em, Robots!!! My arms feel like puffy airbags. The muscle tension in my neck is chronic, 24/7, which makes makes me feels stressful all the time. With all these different things going on at the same time in my body, everything is 10-times more irritating. I have to really pray continually and ask God to help me just relax and deal with life and people. I am very tired lately.
Only God knows my afflictions and sufferings. Move over Job, you've got company. Yet I can say with Job in Job 19:25, “For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” Amen and amen! I can honestly say with Job in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him: but I will maintain mine own ways before Him.” Jesus is precious!!!
Recently, I couldn't open a jar of pickles or a jar of spaghetti sauce. So I bought one of those thingamajigs that are supposed to give you a better grip to open tight lids. The thing just kept slipping. So now I've been buying foods that have easy-open lids instead. My grip is too weak. I have weakness in both arms and hands. I suffer daily. Behind my smile is a man hurting from head to toe, with nowhere to turn except God above. Jesus is precious!
Nerve pain is difficult to treat, and available medications only partially reduce the pain. None of the medications have helped me. It hurts emotionally when people say, “You look fine to me, because they're only judging by the outward appearance.” I have so much going on inside with the nerves in my neck, arms and legs. I have good days and bad days. I claim the PROMISE of God in Proverb 3:5-7 that He will direct my paths if I acknowledge Him in all my ways and lean not unto my own understanding. The Bible tells us to depart from evil and trust the Lord, and He will guide us through life. That is my hope. I have a Friend in Heaven. Jesus is precious! As Brother Lester Roloff used to always teach, the Christian life is all about “living by faith.”
If you've ever had Percocet, Morphine Sulfate, Dilaudid or Oxycontin withdrawal symptoms, it is the most horrible feeling on earth. Dilaudid is known as “drugstore heroine.” And while going through all that, the pain in my neck gets progressively worse and worse until it's unbearable, and so I have to take more Oxycontin and Dilaudid (or whatever my doctor prescribes). I so much pray for the Lord to return soon, or take me home; but until that time, TO LIVE IS CHRIST (Philippians 2:21).
As I type I have agonizing toothache-like pain in the bony area of the back of my neck, and sharp-pain radiating down my right arm. I feel like all my energy is gone from the medications. No one with the power to help me in the medical field seems to really care. They treat you like a car, like you're going in to have a water-pump changed or something. People are so cold these days (Matthew 24:12). They just punch a clock from one day to the next, and my hopes of getting any proper medical help are all but hopeless. It's not their problem, so why bother. It's not their pain, so who cares. I pray to God every day for His guidance, help and relief.
I have had 3 neurosurgeons look at my past MRI's and say that the problem looks to be on the LEFT side; but I have told them all repeatedly that the problem is mostly on the RIGHT side. Originally the pain and tingling was only on the right side, but now surgery has caused it to move to the left side too. But still, it is my RIGHT side that is mostly affected. I think the problem is the bone spurs at C5-C6-C7 (which would explain the radiating pain and tingling into my thumbs) and I hope to have them removed. One day at a time.
For those who have kept up with my ministry over the years, my health problems are nothing new. I've been suffering horribly since 2004, when I was first diagnosed with herniated disks and bone spurs in my neck. I was virtually assured by the surgeons that spinal decompression surgery would remedy my nerve pain; but I am worse now after 2 failed surgeries. People look at me and say that I look fine, because they cannot see my nerve pain, burning, tingling and puffy feeling in my limbs. They cannot see the toothache-like constant pain in my neck, and the ripping tension that tightens my neck muscles 24 hours a day, every day, all year long. It is a heavy burden to say the least. It overwhelms me often, and I have to just lay down and beg God to help me to face each day.
Psalm 88:15, “I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.”
I wake up in the night feeling like I'm on fire, because of the nerves. I've learned that hydration affects the intensity of the burning. I have more burning during the night when I sleep. My body is like a sponge that drains water. I wake up and it's like someone poured a glass of water on my pillow and bed. As my body dehydrates while sleeping, I wake up with my nerves feeling like they're on fire, burning all over. So I've been drinking more water, which helps a bit.
I just took some more Oxycontin and Dilaudid. I'm taking 100mg. of Oxycontin daily, and 12 mg. of Dilaudid for pain. I've tried to live without the meds, but the pain is unbearable. I have no choice. My medical options are zilch at this point. Something is messed up. The surgeons never have found the true problem, although they have removed the bulging disks at C5-C6-C7. My right leg kicks way out when my knee reflexes are tested, which my doctor says is still an indication of compression of my spinal cord. I am being told by my doctor that I really don't have much choice, except to continue on the pain medications, which are a lifesaver for me. I've tried not using them and it is absolutely unbearable.
It's easy for people to criticize taking drugs, as I used to, and I still do discourage people from taking them unless it's absolutely necessary; but now I know firsthand that when you are suffering horribly, you become desperate for even a little relief. It helps to get me through the day. I used to wonder how anyone could watch those crazy commercials on TV and still take those drugs with all the potential adverse side-affects; but until you've been in the shoes of someone like me who suffers in horrible pain, you can't possibly understand why people would be grateful for a drug that hurts them as much as it helps them. I thank God for the Oxycontin I'm taking, that alleviates the neck pain at least. Only God knows how much I am suffering inside my body. It is horrible at times, and bearable at others. My pain cycles with the medications. The more you take, the less pain meds work; so I have to cut back and then take more as I go. It's surviving, not living. The alternative is to overdose, and then my ankles and feet double in size and I'm sick as a dog for days.
I underwent spinal decompression surgery, so I don't know what is going on. My spinal cord sure feels compressed, like someone has their foot stepping on my spinal cord. It's been a nightmare just trying to find medical people who care; it's been very difficult. And so I suffer. It was a nightmare getting approval for the 2nd surgery, I doubt if a 3rd will be available for me unless I pay for it. I may go overseas. God only knows where all this is leading.
I know I still have bone spurs in the back at C5-C6-C7 in my neck from the recent MRI scan itself, and MRI report. I still have ripping tension in my neck that never goes away, constant tightness in the back of my neck. It's all a big burden to endure; but God is good and He gives me courage by his grace. Whether God intended this all as a thorn in my flesh to keep me humble I do not know; but it certainly does keep me humble, very much so.
It is overwhelming at times, physically and emotionally, trying to deal with all these health ailments going on at one time. I also live by myself and it requires all my effort just to get everything done throughout my week. Still, I manage by myself, one day at a time, one pill at a time. I know that sounds terrible, but the pain meds are a lifesaver for me. I would be even more of a basket case without them.
The medications make me tired all the time, and I have to be careful because I am dizzy while taking them. My neck feels like someone is tearing the back of my neck out. I've tried Skelaxin, Robaxin, Flexeril and Soma... nothing helps!
The chart to the right is an actual thermal scan of my neck. The muscle tension generates heat, showing a problem in that area. After undergoing 2 surgeries, the muscle tension is as bad today as the day it started in 2004. The surgeons have missed the problem.
It is terrible. Something is pinching my spinal chord, and after 2 surgeries, the problem is still there. The surgeons went after the obvious problem, but there's still something wrong and I haven't found a surgeon that can find it. It may be the small bone spur on the back of my neck, but the last surgeon said it wasn't severe enough to justify another surgery.
But he was going to do anterior and posterior surgeries at once, yet changed his mind to reduce my pain after surgery. And so I still have the bone spurs. Doing posterior surgery the conventional way, they would have to cut a piece of my spinal column away, to access the spinal cord from the back. Only God knows what the problem is, no surgeon has been able to identify the problem. My suffering continues, without remedy. I pray for the Lord to heal me; but if not, then I love Him unconditionally and trust His judgment.
God may have given this to me as a thorn in the flesh to keep me humble, and it certainly does. I'll probably live alone for the rest of my life, because no one wants to live with someone who is irritable about everything. It's beyond my control. It feels like someone's foot is stepping down on my spinal cord. As I type, I just need to go lay down and take some meds. The pain is unbearable. I appreciate anybody's prayers. I hope I'm not discouraging anybody, but it surely is all discouraging for me to endure, I just need your prayers a lot at this time. I'm a mess physically.
I am grateful that I am still functional. I can do everything, play music, cook, do my laundry, walk to the store. It's just that I'm in constant neck pain and tension; with burning, tingling, and varying degrees of radiating pain down my limbs. And the pain medications suck the life's energy out of me. Add it all up and I'm a mess. The neck pain radiates into my facial area and my eyes and gums hurt. People can't see any of this when they look at me, all they see is a miserable looking person. But I always smile and fight against it. I want to be as Christian as possible. I want people to see the Lord. Still, I don't go to many places because of my physical ailments.
It is quite amazing that God has given me the ministry that I have, influencing so many people, and I'm such a mess. This ministry just passed 20,000,000 visitors over the past 8-years. I started this ministry by God's will in 2002. All my health problems started in 2004 and it's been downhill ever since. I truly am weak, and forsaken, and broken, and suffering as was the Apostle Paul (2nd Corinthians 12:10). I see young people jumping, running, having sun, enjoying life; and I look back to a day long ago when I was the same, and selfish in my youth. Losing one's health has a way of making you care, taking away the fun of living, and making death so much more real. I have never cared any more in my life than I do now, but it has come at a great price. I think of the old preacher's prayer, spoken while baptizing a young man... “Lord take him, break him, and make him.” I have been broken by God, and my ministry is the result of much suffering and loss.
I am grateful that I can still play steel guitar, which is something that makes me happy to share my music with others. I've been making some videos lately to share with others. I wear sunglasses to hide how miserable I feel because of all the pain. Believe me, it takes a lot of effort to smile before and after each video. My arms are puffy and tingling as I'm playing. I can only play for a short time, because of the nerve pain. My fingers all feel like I've been using a floor-sander for an hour. If you've ever used a sander, then you know the tingling and puffy feeling that your hands experience after you're done. That's how my hands feel all the time.
Albeit, I am thankful for what remaining health I have. At least I have arms. I am grateful to God for what I have. Music is a blessing from the Lord. I love instrumental steel guitar, which is all I humbly want from the Lord in Heaven (and a new body without pain). I would like to learn to cook, really cook meals that make people want seconds (instead of looking for the family dog to feed). There's only 24 hours in a day and I use what time I have for my ministry. I refuse to spend my time doing things that won't make an eternal difference. If my health were better, then I could do more. Since I live alone, my time is taken up just caring for myself. Most believers are choked by the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life (Luke 8:14).
I want to be a servant in Heaven, whatever the Lord has for me to do. But I know it will be too late then to obey Daniel 12:3 and Proverb 11:30 and Matthew 28:19. Once you enter into eternity, you won't be able to win any lost sinners to the Lord Jesus Christ. We have the opportunity of our lives right now, today. Don't waste it! I see people in wheelchairs with no legs, and I admire them for their positive attitudes. I am truly doing my best with the Lord's help, but the pain is so bad lately. I am overwhelmed often. I write articles when I can, oftentimes writing a weeks' worth at once when I feel good, and reposting older articles. Please pray earnestly for me. I know God answers prayer and that prayer does make a difference.
My mother had a paralyzing stroke at age 52. She had played piano since she was 4-years old, having grown up in Sweden. My mom could carry on a conversation while playing the piano. She couldn't read music, but she knew her chords. That's the same way I play steel guitar. She used to play piano at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago, and my dad would preach, and I would quote a Scripture. I remember men coming forward after the sermon, during the invitation, gathering into the prayer room, where my father led them to the Lord with a Bible. I was only a small boy, but I remember seeing dozens of men praying on their knees. I miss those days. My mom played gospel piano (download MP3) similar to the style of Rudy Atwood, and gospel hymns is all she played. But she never could play again after her stroke in 1989. She graduated from this life to go be with the Lord in August of 2001 at age 65. She would have been 75 last month.
After having both legs amputated due to diabetes, a heart attack, kidney and liver failure, and all her physical suffering, it was a happy time when my mom went to be with the Lord in 2001. She smiled on her death bed and told me, “I have the best Physician.” I didn't catch what she had said at first. I replied, “Yes, I know the doctors here are good.” She said, “I have the Great Physician,” and then I knew that she meant the precious Lord Jesus Christ. My mother had faith even in death. My mother suffered horribly for the last 12-years of her life, and my father was there for her, and I was there for them both, just as they were there for me. My mom kept her faith, not becoming bitter or angry, she loved the Lord.
One prayer at a time. One day at a time. I hope you'll pray for me. For those who have been praying, thank you so much! Jesus could just speak the Word if He wanted, and I would be instantly healed, but so far it hasn't been God's will for me; and so I accept this as a thorn in the flesh from the Lord, or at a minimum, a burden that I must survive with for the remainder of my earthly life. I just took 10mg. of Ambien... meds are the only way I can sleep at night.
I am grateful for the many friends that I have around the world, who love Jesus Christ, and love the truth as I do. I love you all in the Lord, as I do my enemies and all my web visitors. I wish I were able to do more, and handle e-mails; but I am suffering so much daily in pain, tingling, burning and puffiness in my arms and legs. I limp when I walk most of the time because of the razorblade pain in my legs. I realize that many people are suffering worse than me, and I think about them every day, reaching out with their testimonies on my website to help others in the Lord.
Unshakable faith comes from having your faith shaken! My suffering has caused me to have greater compassion for others who suffer. God is using my burden for good, as only God can do (Romans 8:28). I would rather not go through all this suffering, but it is God's decision, not mine. He is the Potter, I am the clay. Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.”
I ask for your earnest prayers for this ministry and me daily. This ministry is much bigger than me, it's about the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, and THE LIFE (John 14:6)! HEAR YE HIM!
“Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
I love you all in the Lord, whoever you may be!
Ye Must Be Born Again!
You Need HIS Righteousness!