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On this Monday morning, I was most definitely not in my favorite place-or position! With my body as tense as a tightrod I tried to fit into the curvature of a well-seasoned, black leather dentist's chair. My hands gripped the armrests until my knuckles turned white. I was in agony. Dr. Garcia had injected four doses of novocaine and didn't dare give more. As she drilled, the pain still darted down the left side of my jaw, deep into my neck. The drilling, gouging, and filling continued for two hours. Finally, Dr. Garcia finished. After making an appointment to return to her Tijuana office, I headed for our home in southern California.
On my drive home, the numbness from the novocaine in my jaw, lips, and the left side of my nose gradually began to subside. For years I had not been able to chew normally on that side of my mouth. The dentist had tried her best to save the badly decayed tooth. Soon I would know if she had succeeded.
Having dental work done "south of the border" was not new to us Buenos. For years we had lived as missionaries in Latin America. The dentists' prices, compared with those in the United States, made the two-hour drive to Tijuana worth the inconvenience. And this call had cost only twelve dollars-a real bargain!
As the familiar pain began to return, I wondered if Dr. Garcia had successfully repaired the tooth. A half bottle of aspirin and a couple of days later, I was gratefully free of pain, but my tooth still could not support any pressure. Although I was unable to use this salvaged tooth, at least it was capped and protected from further decay. Relieved that I had taken good care of myself, I turned my attention to our work in the ministry.
Trying to Ignore the Pain
That Friday morning, I awoke with excruciating pain at the base of my skull. I couldn't even lift my head from the pillow. "Oh, Elmer," I groaned. "It feels as if I have a head full of infection." I thought back four days earlier to the visit with Dr. Garcia. The horror stories about the unsterilized instruments and primitive methods of Tijuana's doctors and dentists flashed through my head.
No, it couldn't be! I thought, trying to reassure myself. Not Dr. Garcia! She's so conscientious and meticulous. If my visit to Dr. Garcia's office had triggered this headache, it certainly wouldn't be her fault. I banished all negative thoughts from my mind and gulped down a couple of extra-strength aspirin. By 11:00 a.m., I was at my desk-hard at work. My positive thinking, pain killers, and mounds of correspondence in which to immerse myself had extinguished the burning pain in my head.
Several weeks later, however, strange twinges of pain and the gurgling, sloshing, swishing sounds in my head were too pronounced to ignore anymore. I had described this noisy sea in my head to my husband, and we had even joked about it. Immersed in denial, I refused to think that anything could be seriously wrong. I had no idea that these symptoms were signaling a threat upon my very life.
Despite my deep denial, my condition only worsened. While lying in bed at night, the pains became sharper and the noises louder. This time positive thinking, pain killers, and sprees of workaholism could not suppress the symptoms raging in my head. Whatever it was, it was getting worse. I finally faced the facts while my husband Elmer and I prepared to minister at a family camp in Prescott, Arizona. Reluctantly, I admitted I was too sick to go. Chris and Kim, our children, provided the music in my place. I remained at home-alone with the fearful twinges of pain and the sinister sea of sounds in my head.
Gripped by Fear
By the third night alone with only my symptoms for company, these unnerving pains and sounds progressed to a frightening stage. I could no longer deny the insidious whispering from my mind that something was terribly wrong! Suddenly, I was playing the role of a terror-stricken victim in a horror film! Sheer fear paralyzed me. For those stark, lonely moments, I forgot the Lord.
I quickly returned to my senses and gently reminded myself of the truth: God is not the author of fear. All fear comes from Satan. As a child of God, I shouldn’t harbor fear. Recognizing the source of my fear and affirming God's love did not bring enough relief. Despite my comforting inner dialogue, fear swept over me like wildfire.
I could actually hear the red-hot blood pounding as it rushed through the veins and arteries of my head. Tossing about in bed, I sought a position that would allow me to escape the familiar sounds. In despair, I grasped my aching head between my hands.
Horrible thoughts plagued me throughout the night. I might have an inoperable brain tumor like Helen, my dear friend who died a slow, agonizing death. I could have a stroke and become an invalid for the rest of my life. I'm only in my forties, but Mother was forty-six when she died. That's too young for anyone to die.
I had never allowed myself to entertain such dark thoughts before, but now the terror smothered me like a blanket. I cried and clutched my damp pillow during the long night. Finally, I turned to my only real source of strength and whispered, "Jesus." Of course! "Jesus!" I whispered again. My heart leapt at the sound of His precious name.
I had been lost in a foggy sea where I had forgotten Him for those few, desperate moments. I scolded myself sharply, "How could I have been so careless with my thinking? I've been ministering to people for years on how to 'take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.' I must gain control and pull myself out of this depression!"
At that moment, I needed someone who would agree with me in prayer that the adversary was not going to win this battle. Unfortunately, I had only the emergency number of the Prescott Church Camp, and it would be unthinkable to wake Elmer at two o'clock in the morning. I got out of bed and turned the television dial to a Christian program. For years I had appeared on Christian programming, a veritable "pillar of strength," offering solace and hope to the needy-and now I was on the receiving end at 2:00 a.m., sleepless and shaking!
CBN was playing a rerun of The 700 Club. I don't remember who was on, or what they were saying. I just waited for the number to appear on the screen so I could dial cross-country, as if that phone wire stretching across the nation was my very life line.
The counselor's loving voice brought me immediate comfort. I didn't give her my name. I told her we were missionaries and that I was very sick. More tears flowed as I asked her to pray. But this time they were not tears of self-pity, but tears of gratitude for His help in my greatest time of need. The counselor graciously offered a few words of encouragement and a short prayer. I thanked her and hung up.
Spying Out the Land
The crisis of this battle had ended, but my fighting had just begun. Although feeling immeasurably better, I decided that the suspense of not knowing exactly what was wrong with me was unbearable. As much as I questioned modern medical technology, I decided to consult a doctor for a diagnosis in the morning.
I really wrestled with that decision. Years ago I had promised myself that I would never go to a medical doctor again. I believed that using drugs to cure an illness only poured in more poison from which the body must recuperate. After all, side effects accompany each medication-and some are worse than the illness itself! Simple logic tells us that we don't get well by taking poison! Still, I wanted to consult a medical doctor. But I vowed to refuse his drugs, no matter what. My prognosis soon tested that vow!
My aversion to the medical profession was for a good reason. From childhood on, I had spent years in a sick bed, mostly in hospitals. Doctors had sedated me several times for various operations and procedures. Once I even had surgery performed on me that turned out to be a complete mistake!
Nevertheless, I decided to seek a professional opinion. Later I would determine how to best proceed. During this long night of turmoil and decision making, my mind turned to the Bible. Before the Israelites entered Canaan, they sent spies ahead to "view the land" (Joshua 2.1).
Similarly, I wanted to discover what kind of enemy the Lord and I would be fighting. I didn't expect the doctors to fight for me, only to help me "spy out the land" by locating and naming the problem. Then God would provide me with an effective strategy for my healing.
That evening, I soberly acknowledged that simplistic thinking or swallowing a few aspirin would not alleviate my problem. This was a problem that God and I would handle together. He would guide, and I would obey. We had already discovered half of the solution-prayer. Convinced of God's leading, I knew tomorrow's diagnosis would give me specific information on how to pursue my healing.
A Dire Diagnosis
"You are too young to have this, Mrs. Bueno. This is a disease for the very elderly." Dr. Davis bluntly plunged in with his diagnosis-one that was much worse than I had anticipated. "You have 'rheumatoid vasculitis,' sometimes called 'temporal arthritis.' It affects the entire circulatory system in the body and especially impairs the main artery leading up to the brain. Allergies cause these rheumatoid diseases."
Next, the doctor gave me a page on rheumatoid vasculitis that had been photocopied from a thick medical book. He also handed me a booklet with a grotesque picture of an old lady who was crippled with a rheumatoid disease.
Speaking with a strange mixture of coolness and sympathy that started my adrenaline flowing, Dr. Davis noted, "These materials will explain what you must do to live with this illness. What you have is incurable. At any moment you could suffer a heart attack or stroke, which-if you survived-could precipitate early senility."
I didn't care for Dr. Davis' direct approach, but I appreciated his truthfulness. Perhaps he thought I could cope better if I hit the problem head on. He advised me to avoid driving, flying, or singing-activities that put added strain and pressure on the arterial system. Finally, he offered me cortisone.
I knew enough about cortisone without having to take it. This highly toxic drug carried horrendous side effects . Many patients experience inordinate weight gain accompanied by a puffy, moon-shaped appearance that distorts all facial characteristics.
"Dr. Davis, I don't like the idea of taking such a powerful drug."
"The cortisone will alleviate your most severe symptoms. But the relief promises to be temporary at best," the doctor admitted. "This disease will always remain in your body."
"What would happen if I decided not to take the cortisone?"
"Frankly, Mrs. Bueno, you will die."
The cold, hard truth frightened me, but at least I knew what was wrong! When it came to treatment, however, I would no longer listen to Dr. Davis. I was even more determined to reject a drug therapy that only masked symptoms and accentuated side effects. Praying for God's guidance, I decided to look elsewhere for treatment.
Before I left Dr. Davis' office, his assistant drew attention to my badly bloodshot eyes. They had looked so red 2 couple of months previously when we did our last TV taping for Buenos Amigos, our weekly Spanish program, that I had asked the cameramen not to take any close-ups. Although I thought that the visit to the dentist somehow related to my present problems, I hadn't even remotely associated the redness of my eyes with the pain in my head-or to Dr. Garcia.
"Your veins are inflamed and swollen ten to fifteen times their normal size:' Dr. Davis' assistant explained. "This prevents the blood from flowing properly. The condition is much like an inebriated man whose veins abnormally constrict from the poisoning effects of alcohol. This inhibits the flow of blood, forcing it to spill over into the eyes. In your case, the inflammation could easily result in blindness."
This sobering statement spurred me on to refuse even an aspirin. As I listened to the doctor's stem warnings, my adrenaline ran rampant and my face flushed. All I knew for sure was that I wanted out of this office! I needed to hear a solution rich with hope and healing, not laden with darkness and doom. I thanked Dr. Davis and his assistant, telling them I was a great believer in proper nutrition, fasting, and even miracles! I left the office and softly closed the door behind me. While walking to my car, I whispered to myself, "If it was a diagnosis I wanted, a diagnosis was what I got!"
On the way home, I stopped to pick up a book I had been intending to add to my home library: The Pill Book-The Illustrated Guide to the Most Prescribed Drugs in The United States. I waited until I got to the safety of my home to turn to prednisone, the generic synonym for the doctor's cortisone. As I read, my heart pounded with panic. Once the symptoms of my rheumatoid vasculitis had been masked by this steroid, the remainder of my life would be spent learning to live with its side effects and adverse reactions.
Doctors prescribe prednisone for a variety of disorders from skin rash to cancer. Because of its effect on the adrenal glands, the dosage must be tapered over a period of time. Stopping this medication suddenly or without the advice of a physician could result in the failure of the adrenal glands and serious consequences. Prednisone may mask signs of infection and decrease resistance to new infections. Those taking prednisone should not be vaccinated against infectious diseases because of the body's inability to produce a normal reaction to the vaccine.
A variety of side effects accompany prednisone, including stomach upset, gastric or duodenal ulcers, retention of water, heart failure, potassium loss, muscle weakness, and loss of muscle mass. Loss of calcium may result in bone fractures and the degeneration of the large bones in the hip. Calcium deficiency will also slow down the heating of wounds and bruises. Those taking prednisone may also experience increased sweating, allergic skin rash, itching, convulsions, dizziness, and headaches.
Prednisone may also cause irregular menstrual cycles, hypersensitivity or allergic reactions, blood clots, insomnia, weight gain, increased appetite, nausea, and feelings of ill health. This drug is also known to slow down growth in children, depress the adrenal and pituitary glands, lead to the development of diabetes, and increase fluid pressure inside the eye. This medication may also cause euphoria, mood swings, personality changes, and severe depression; Prednisone may also aggravate existing emotional instability' Need I say more about my extreme aversion to opting for the drug solution?
Getting a Second Opinion
After my diagnosis, I sought a second opinion, as well as a third and a fourth. These doctors confirmed everything Dr. Davis had said. Three other medical doctors, one of whom was a neurologist, gave me the same medical explanation, offered the same medication, and gave me the same prediction: I would go blind-or die-if I didn't take their drugs. As an afterthought, all three admitted that their drugs were only "a temporary solution."
I remember asking each of the doctors about the dentist's visit and my subsequent head pain. All three insisted the dental work and my pain were not connected. But the still, small voice inside me kept insisting that they were all wrong!
In the face of these well-meaning scare tactics to take the medication, I stood firm, but it wasn't easy. Because society programs us to obey the doctor's orders, it's difficult to follow the Lord's directions, especially when a huge gulf separates the two. I wanted to do what God said, but I had to combat the guilt games most of my loved ones tried to play with me.
Friends and family pressured me to "follow the doctor's orders." When I resolved before God that their admonitions would not cause me to waver, some treated me as if I had betrayed them. Some cried. Some got angry. Virtually everyone warned me: "You'll be sorry!"
Because my decision to take "the alternative health care stream" and to bypass "the main medical route" was so out of the ordinary, I suddenly found myself alienated. My husband, son, and daughter were tremendously supportive and in complete agreement with seeking God's natural healing over prescription drugs.
Even my Christian friends found my choice difficult to accept. As a result, when I needed their support most, I was left alone, unable to seek their counsel. These loved ones were just too deeply entrenched in the medical mentality. They also feared that my decision to go against the advice of four "perfectly good doctors" might even be the death of me? Of course, I appreciated their concern, but I had to look for true direction from God.
During this time, the Phillips translation of Romans 12:2 gave me great comfort and courage. "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own [mold)." I didn't want to be arrogant, belligerent, or foolish, but I had to analyze the whole situation myself. After all, it was my life.
I began talking to myself once again: "This disease has been diagnosed 'incurable.' This may simply mean that the doctors just don't have the answer. If I had broken my leg, it would have been easy. A doctor knows how to set a broken bone, and I wouldn’t hesitate to have him do it. But why should I take a drug whose side effects include, among other things, 'heart failure,' while I indulge in only 'temporary relief? It just doesn't make any sense at all."
Besides the highly recommended cortisone, each doctor had offered me a variety of pills to ease my intensifying pain. I chose not to kill the pain with drugs. I wanted clarity not oblivion-so I could be sensitive to changes in my physical state. I especially wanted to note any signs of improvement when the Lord started to heal me. If my body were numbed by the pills, my mind would also be foggy. How would I be able to hear the Lord speaking in that state of semi-consciousness? I had to combat this rheumatoid vasculitis without drugs and with God at my side.
I had spied out the land and identified the problem. Now it was time to pray. "Oh. Lord Jesus, give me the right strategy. Will I march around the walls for seven days, as the Israelites did when they captured Jericho? Or do I charge straight ahead against the enemy?"
Discovering the Healing Formula
Then I remembered my last comment to Dr. Davis upon leaving his office the day of my diagnosis. In an effort to cast out the spirit of "incurable darkness" he had foreseen for me, I had tried to encourage myself by mentioning MY faith in nutrition and fasting. Suddenly I knew I had found the other half of my healing formula-fasting!
Do I really believe all that I have learned about fasting? I asked myself. I had already fasted several times that year and had received healing. After fasting and giving close attention to my health, I was puzzled that such a devastating disease-especially one supposedly caused from an allergy-had incapacitated me.
"If I really believe what I've learned about fasting-and I do-then now is my greatest opportunity to prove its validity!" I answered myself If I believed the Bible and divine healing, now was the time to become the living example of all those promises, too. .1 knew that physical healing and spiritual healing would work hand in hand to cure this socalled "incurable" disease.
I had never felt so perfectly right on course and so encouraged in the Lord as I did then-the very same moment when the doctors would have me making plans to polish up my coffin!
After this question and answer session with myself, I knew what I had to do-find a place where I could safely and comfortably undergo a fast. And that's exactly what I did.