God must be playing tricks on me!! This is exactly how I felt in the beginning when I woke up in April 2014 with double vision, dizziness and numbness. A healthy ophthalmologist with an acute onset of double vision? You?ve got to be kidding, God!
And worse was the sinking feeling of some unfavorable diagnosis given the differential diagnosis that I formed for someone in his mid 40?s who had been very fit and healthy, living a balanced and active lifestyle. The thoughts of cancer, aneurysm, stroke, and neurodegenerative disorder were on the top of my list! Or did I have some unknown virus from my recent medical mission to Swaziland?
After packing overnight clothing for my visit to the ER, every test under the sun was performed by my ER colleague. Despite negative tests, my diplopia worsened steadily to the point of complete ophthalmoloplegia on day 4. Soon after came the difficulty breathing and then weakness and tingling in my upper extremities which progressed despite the high dose steroids to involve my lower extremities.
Before long, I was so weak that I could hardly stand or raise my hand to feed myself. An active ophthalmologist in one minute transformed into a helpless vegetable awake and conscious but trapped inside a useless body. All the while, I was so scared and cried out loudly to God asking the question ?Why me?? I told God with an angry heart to let me die, as I didn?t want to live a life like this while adding burden to others around me that I love.
On the eve of the 4th day, an African American nurse came to my room and introduced herself. She said she would be my nurse until tomorrow morning. She told me that she was a Christian. Despite not knowing if I had any faith, she told me that she wanted to share something with me. On her drive to work that night, God placed a strong tug in her heart to tell me her story.
She said she was the mother of two children. Her youngest daughter was 7 months old when she noticed a mass on the side of her neck. After extensive testing, the doctor said it was an aggressive lymphoma, and at best her daughter would have 6 more months to live. She broke down in tears. Since she was a Christian, she took her husband to a prayer retreat in Yosemite that weekend. On the drive up, her husband was very angry at God and wanted to turn back home. She refused to go back. When they arrived, her husband did not want to go into the prayer room as he was fuming at God. After the prayer session was done they went to their cabin. When they opened the door, they saw a room with very basic amenities. The wall was completely empty except for one painting. It was a painting of Jesus putting his arm on the shoulder of a man who was sobbing. Jesus was looking at the man with an empathetic eye, a warm look that told that man that Jesus knows exactly what he was going through, that Jesus could feel his struggle and pain, and that Jesus was also sobbing with the man. Jesus can totally relate to whatever challenge the man was facing, and that He will be with and walk with him until the end.
After that day, almost everyone who visited me in the room, I started to burst out in tears. I felt Jesus visiting alongside me with each visitor who came to comfort me and to let me know that He had not forsaken me. Jesus was sitting right next to me with His arm on my shoulder. He felt my pain, and it was hurting Him as it was to me but He was there to help me get through this. And with that recognition, I developed a strong peace in my heart that no matter what happened in the end, everything would be all right.
The next day, one of my small group friends dropped by a gift that I gave her 5 years prior. It was a stone in a shape of a heart, with the story of the footprints carved onto the stone. For the first time that story became real to me, as I could feel that God was carrying me through it all and it was His footprint in the sand, not mine. It brought tremendous peace to my heart.
I was very fortunate that my final diagnosis was Miller Fissure Syndrome, a very rare autoimmune disorder that is found mostly in Japanese and Taiwanese population, which fit my ethic profile. I was told of all the bad diseases to catch that fit my initial presentation, this is the best one to get. You suffer greatly in the beginning, but 97% of time you will recovery to near normal function in 1-2 years.
I have to confess that the thought of me being that 3% who will not recover crossed my mind many times, as I believed that if I can catch this rare illness, I surely will win that 3% lottery stake to be bedbound for life. Each hour in the day can feel like a year when you are waiting to recover. However, despite many moments of doubts, I felt at peace knowing that God was with me and I shouldn?t need to be afraid. God brought so many angels during this time to comfort me, and reminded me that we will face this together, and He has bigger plans for me no matter what the final outcome would be. God is much greater than any human illness, and He reminded me that in every bad situation, no matter how bad it is, there will always be goodness coming out of it for his glory if we just trust Him.
Looking back at one of the darkest moment in my life, I do have to say THANK YOU to GOD for allowing me to experience the Miller Fisher Syndrome. First it gave me an opportunity to completely rest. After going 120 mph in my life previously, I hardly slowed down to ?really? listen to God despite my faith. This illness forced me to stop completely, not just for a few hours, but for weeks and months, something that I am not used to. However, God knows this was the best way for me to spend quiet time with Him, listen to Him, and be one with Him. I had to be completely dependent on Him. Because I could not see properly, I was forced to buy audio books which opened my mind to many great books that I would not have read if this had not happened to me.
The old clich? that ?If you have your health, you have everything? has never become so real to me. I would have traded everything that I own for just having the strength and ability to stand up on my two feet without falling over. I dreamed of having the ability to lift my hand to feed myself ? all the little things that we take for granted when we are in good health. I also realize the incredible health we need to practice Ophthalmology and perform intraocular surgery. The precise hand-eye coordination – moving both hands and feet with our eyes glued under the microscope to perform a good eye surgery is a total gift from God that we shouldn?t take for granted. One tiny little physical disability can easily impair our ability to do a complication-free cataract surgery.
I also appreciate very much all the help and love that was poured in from my family and friends, and even from people that I hardly know were sending me letters and words of encouragements. I needed every bit of that to fight, to stay positive, and to have hope that I would recover. Because of this, it made me realize the importance of investing more on relationships, as our Bible is all about love and relationship. I want to give that love and appreciation back to people around me, especially the ones that I do not get along with, and the ones who are in great need.
This illness also revealed to me that life is indeed short. Any day could be your last day, so live each day as if it is your last hurrah. Treasure each day and enjoy little things around you ? like walking your dog down in the park, or enjoying a flower blooming outside your office. Learn to laugh a lot, and see waking up each day as a gift from God.
Lastly, this illness had definitely made me more empathetic toward my patient, and being an ?eye patient? myself I can definitely relate to them more. Practicing medicine is definitely more fun and meaningful. I was getting burned out at work before I was sick. Working at a HMO, pre-paid medical practice setting, it is easy to get caught up with seeing each patient as a ?nuisance? rather than a divine appointment from God. And now after a recent miracle of re-entering the realms of performing successful cataract surgery, I know that God has given me the second chance to do something that I love! And He still wants me to use the skills that He gave me to impact others in need ? both physically and spiritually.
Lastly, I have been going to Chengdu, China with Dr. Brad Farris for medical mission each year since 2007. I have never shared my faith publically as I was warned about the religious sharing in China. Public evangelism was the weakest part of my spiritual life. When I finally recovered well enough to go on the trip again last year, God spoke in my heart to give this testimony in front of 400+ Ophthalmologists, as this was consider an ?eye-related? case study. I asked God to give me the courage to do this; to not be afraid of possible consequences in this communist country. I asked God to speak through me to tell his story, not my story. When I finally revealed to the audience that the person in the case presentation was me, the audience was in complete shock. I went on and shared about how my Christian faith had helped carry me through this low point in my life. I was able to show the photo of Jesus putting his arm on the man, and tell the entire story and share photos of my hospital course as I did in this blog. God gave me the courage to be vulnerable and help them see the wonderfulness & importance of having a spiritual faith.
I am very thankful to God for giving me a story to share. Nothing is a waste for God. I learned through this that we should not be afraid when facing crisis in life, as God will use and redeems everything for His glory. I am so grateful just to wake up each day and be able to stand on my two feet, and given the second chance to practice ophthalmology again. I don?t know what tomorrow will bring, but I know God will be there with me every step of the way and will use me in ways that I can?t imagine possible. I am looking forward to that new journey with him. God is good!