My Second Chance at Living Life
by Priscilla Sayles
( Lancaster, CA, USA)
Me with Dr. Martin
I blinked back tears of pain as I crawled into bed. My neck muscles were in spasms again. Like a “Charlie horse,” they squeezed tighter and tighter as I tried to hold my neck as still as I could. Finally the muscles relaxed, allowing me a few precious pain-free moments before the next onslaught of spasms. I sighed as I wiped the tears out of my eyes. “Will I ever just feel normal again?” I thought to myself as I tried to find a comfortable position as my muscles started tightening up.
Two years previously, the mysterious pain had began. In the beginning, it wasn’t too bad, but recently it was becoming extremely severe. I had explained my symptoms to multiple doctors. Answers varied, from “me making it up” to the explanation that it had something to do with the fact that “I had grown so tall in such a short time” ( I am 5’10”.) I was frustrated with the doctors, exhausted from the constant pain (it even woke me up in the middle of the night), and racked with pain-quite a miserable combination of feelings for a 17 year-old girl. In October, me and my brothers visited my grandparents in Utah. Although that trip made many happy memories (like catching my first fish!) it also held bad memories of the worst pain I have ever experienced. During that week-long trip, I popped more than 50 Advils. When I got home, me and my parents decided that we were not going to take this sitting down. I also had episodes of uncontrollable vomiting, dizziness (I remember feeling dizzy lying flat on my back!) and my right hand was becoming weaker than my left.
Finally, we met a doctor who took control of the situation and ordered a MRI. We were stunned by the test results. Lodged in my spinal cord and pushing against my brain, was a large 3 millimeter-long pilocystic astrocytoma tumor. Dad immediately called our church for prayer. Our church prayed that we would find the best doctor for this situation. After meeting a few surgeons, we found the perfect one. Dr. Neil Martin was Chief of Staff of the Neurology Department at UCLA. He was known to use the most cutting-edge technology and had a stellar worldwide reputation. In our consultation, he said that it was very rare to see such a large tumor in such a delicate place. He said a wrong move at any time could leave me paralyzed. Up to this time, I obviously had no clue of the magnitude of the proximity to the spinal cord and the fragility of it all. As a result, after the operation, there could be partial or permanent paralysis. However, if I didn’t have the tumor operated on, complete paralysis would creep in leading to a complete system shut down . He explained that all of my symptoms stemmed back to pressure being exerted on my spinal cord, nerves, and brain. His presence was calming, and I instinctively trusted and liked his confident and professional manner.
On December 1, 2009, my surgery began. It took two teams of doctors, and 22 hours to complete. My head was wrapped, my hands were restrained, I had a breathing tube, and my spinal fluid and brain fluid were being monitored. My parents were allowed to see me right after the operation, and their first thought was that I was gone. I was on Life Support for two days. I was out-of-it for most of that time. When they unwrapped my head, it felt so strange as I realized that I had been unable to hear anything before then. When they pulled the breathing tube out, I remember momentarily panicking as I tried to move my hands and couldn’t as they were restrained.
Despite the way I looked, I was recovering rapidly. I was wide awake when the doctor came in and did little tests to make sure that I felt all of my limbs, etc. I had absolutely no paralysis! Dr. Martin visited me constantly during the first couple days, he was even surprised that I was doing so well. I spent a week in ICU, and started growing used to a strange new feeling-NO PAIN! Friends sent me cards, gifts, and called me. I felt so blessed to have such support. It was the first time in my entire life that I felt the presence of the Lord so strongly, it felt like a blanket of love and comfort. About the fourth night in ICU, my sister took a picture of my incision. The surgeons had cut all the way through bone to get to the spinal cord, they also removed one of my discs. For such a massive operation, the incision was a neat T-shaped stapled cut that spanned the length of my neck extending to between my ears. It was the first time I had seen it, and as I studied the picture, I began to uncontrollably weep as I realized what God had brought me through. My hair had never been cut (it reaches to my knees), the surgeons had very carefully shaved as little as possible. God had taken care of every single little detail! As the doctors would marvel, my recovery was certainly a miracle.
After spending 3 days in the Adult ward, I went home much happier than I had left it 13 days earlier. Within two weeks, all the staples (numbering over 50) were removed, and my hair was growing back pretty fast. I wore a neck brace for four months to stabilize the area. Now, over two years later, memories of this traumatic part of my life are etched permanently in my brain and heart. However, instead of remembering fear and uncertainty, I remember God’s love and faithfulness in never leaving or forsaking me.