43: I’d Rather Die

43: I’d Rather Die

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

I’d Rather Die

It is during the worst times of your life that you will get to see the true colors of the people who say they care for you.

~Ritu Ghatourey

“If I have to live like this, I’d rather die.”

Dale, my husband, leaned closer over my hospital bed.

“What did you say?”

I didn’t think I had spoken aloud and declined to repeat my death wish. Trips to the emergency room had become routine ever since a doctor had discovered Crohn’s disease a few years earlier.

I recalled the diagnosis with complete clarity. Dr. Matthews’ words had been chilling: “Crohn’s disease makes your intestines die. Most people experience repeated episodes of intense pain during flare-ups, which require medical intervention. Many people undergo surgeries to remove diseased sections of bowel tissue, and some people don’t survive.”

You mean they die, I thought.

The doctor presented the colonoscopy pictures and used his pen as a pointer. “There can be no question about the diagnosis. It’s clear from these photos you have Crohn’s.” The small, circular images showed inflamed, angry tissue covered with red ulcers.

Two more words from Dr. Matthews caused my hands to shake. “It’s incurable.”

The shock numbed my brain. His description of treatment options sounded as unintelligible as the adults on a Charlie Brown cartoon. What I did comprehend though was that the rest of my life, however long it lasted, would be miserable.

I needed to leave his office. Immediately. “One more thing,” the doctor called before the door closed. “Try to avoid stress. It can be a trigger.”

A bitter laugh bubbled up from my diseased belly. I muttered, “I’ll be sure not to stress, Doc. Right after I cry my eyes out.”

Dr. Matthews’ prognosis proved accurate, and for the next several years my regimen included anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, and dietary changes. Nothing prevented the diarrhea, cramps, and emergency-room visits. Every twinge of stomach pain spurred a frantic rush to the medicine cabinet. I gulped drugs before I knew for certain I needed them.

Three years after the diagnosis, I attended a church women’s retreat. While unpacking before the meetings began, I discovered I had forgotten my Crohn’s cocktail of drugs.

I perched on the edge of the bed and practiced relaxation breathing. Stay calm, I told myself. Stressing out won’t help. My fingers trembled, and tears welled. Fear alone could trigger an attack.

The first day of the retreat passed uneventfully. I avoided foods that could upset my system and told the curious ladies I was dieting. The half-truth helped avoid embarrassing questions.

Toward the end of the second day, I led a small group discussion. I fought to ignore my rising panic and increasing discomfort, and focused instead on listening to the discussion. Perspiration trickled down my neck even though it was cool enough that most of the ladies were wearing sweaters.

“Rhonda, are you okay?”

The woman’s question crumbled my defenses, and I admitted to not feeling well. I excused myself to lie down. In moments, the pain grew intense. I thrashed and groaned, grasped my belly, and attempted to muffle screams. I sprinted to the hall bathroom past the woman who had expressed concern, and her eyes widened at my distress.

On wobbly legs, I returned to my room, changed into a nightgown, and got in bed. Before long, a parade of ladies marched in, including Pastor Carolyn, my best friend. She sat beside me and clasped my hand, asking, “Where is the pain?”

I forgot about modesty, pulled down the sheet, and gestured frantically over my entire abdomen.

“We are not tolerating this, sister.” The firm set of Carolyn’s jaw showed her determination. “Ladies — let’s pray.”

Seeing my flushed face, one woman opened the window and let the cold, autumn air rush in. Some women quoted Bible verses, and everyone prayed while I writhed.

More than an hour passed with no change in symptoms.

“Does it hurt any less?” Carolyn’s gentle question sparked guilt.

I lied. “A little.”

Encouraged by my deceptive answer, all the ladies prayed aloud at the same time. The volume rose and fell like waves crashing on the seashore. A sensation originated in my stomach, traveled up my throat, and left my lips with a sigh. My spasms ceased, and overwhelming peace wrapped me in a cocoon. My moans subsided. The ladies’ prayers hushed to whispers, then stopped. No one moved.

Carolyn’s calm voice broke the silence. “Are you in pain? Even a little bit?”

“No,” I murmured. I was so tired I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and I could barely muster up the energy to express my thanks.

Carolyn smoothed my gown, straightened the sheet, and added a light blanket for good measure. “Good work, girls,” she whispered. “Let’s leave her to rest.”

I slept through dinner and the evening meeting, not waking until the next morning. Startlingly refreshed, I felt light and peaceful. I was even hungry. When the ladies inquired about my condition, all I could do was grin through tears of joy.

I never experienced symptoms of Crohn’s disease again. Not ever.

Three years passed, and I missed my one year follow-up with Dr. Matthews. I was certain I had been supernaturally healed, and I didn’t want to face physical evidence that the disease might merely be dormant. Common sense eventually overcame my reluctance, and I scheduled the colonoscopy.

Before the procedure, Dr. Matthews chided me. “Where have you been? You were supposed to be here two years ago. Didn’t my staff call you for an appointment?”

“I’ve been feeling great,” I responded. I didn’t have the courage to announce I was healed.

“Let’s take a look,” he directed. “We’ll decide what to do after we know how the disease has progressed.” And then I heard nothing more, as the anesthesiologist put me under.

Dale held my hand in the recovery room, giving it a comforting squeeze as I climbed back to consciousness.

Dr. Matthews appeared, shaking his head. He spoke only two sentences. “I can’t explain it, but I don’t see any signs of Crohn’s. Come back for another colonoscopy in ten years.” He exited in a flash of white.

I giggled uncontrollably, drunk with anesthesia and joy, cackling so loudly I snorted. The nurse entered and arched an eyebrow as I gasped for air between peals of laughter. She glanced back and forth between Dale and me and asked, “Is she okay?”

Dale beamed. Raising his voice to be heard over my mirth, he replied, “Yes, I think she’ll live.”

~Rhonda J. Dragomir

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