The next part of my telling of this story takes us through some dark times. We left Part One with Dad saying that he had the “dragon [of aging] in a corner.”
A year or two later, a sudden illness struck Dad, seemingly out of nowhere. He had just turned 50 years old. I remember speaking with Mom on the phone as she told me what had happened. Dad had been out raking gravel in the driveway. Suddenly he lost all strength in his hands and he could not rake anymore.
At first Dad and Mom shrugged this off. They thought the problem would resolve itself. Unfortunately, it didn’t. The weakness seemed to come and go over the subsequent days. It spread into Dad’s upper arms. It would get worse; it would get better. They chased various theories including what they thought may be a potassium deficiency. Over time, it became apparent that nothing they could do was solving Dad’s problem. In fact, it was getting progressively worse. When they realized they were dealing with something fairly serious, they consulted their family doctor. He tried various diagnoses, but nothing helped and Dad was steadily getting worse. The weakness spread to his legs. He began having to watch his steps, literally, or he would fall while walking. They tried an endocrinologist. He was unable to help.
Meanwhile, Mom, who typically is an optimistic person, was getting quite scared. Dad had gotten to the point that he could not feed himself. He could not walk very well; he would fall without warning because his legs would give out. She had been researching online to find information about what Dad might have. She read about things like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease, which results in eventual death). No wonder she was afraid. Dad was a relatively young man and they still had several children at home. I sensed Mom’s fear that Dad wasn’t going to make it. I shared that fear.
Eventually, after many months—and after Mom (often in tears of desperation) pursuing by phone every medical option she could think of—they were able to see a neurologist. I waited late into the evening for the phone to ring. Finally, Mom was able to call. I could hear the relief in her voice. She said, “The neurologist has an impression of what Dad has. It is called CIDP–Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. The good news is that it is not fatal. The bad news is, there is no cure. But they say that the symptoms can be somewhat controlled.” CIDP is an auto-immune disease. The immune system becomes confused and attacks the person’s own body.
We were all relieved to at least have a diagnosis about what was going on with Dad’s health. We continued to pray fervently and regularly for God to heal him. We asked our church family to pray. We prayed for years and years.
All these health problems, of course, slowed down Dad’s work and research on the aging quest. How strange, that as he was seeking to solve the mystery of aging, he had gotten a disease that made him seem like a frail old man. He carried on with his work as he was able. He had my younger sisters help him in the lab—he couldn’t lift a beaker, but they could. He pressed forward and kept a joyful spirit.
The first step in his treatments was for him to take some very high doses of prednisone (a commonly prescribed, high-strength drug). The hope was that this would cause his CIDP to go into permanent remission and he would be able to live a normal life without further treatment. We all rejoiced when the symptoms let up and Dad could walk unassisted once again! But, sadly, the CIDP returned a few months later. Prednisone treatments were resumed. We knew that, according to modern medicine’s knowledge of this disease, the hope of remission fades with time. Eventually Dad developed an intolerance to prednisone. He began to go to the hospital every few weeks for extremely expensive IV-Ig treatments. After doing that for a number of years, Dad transitioned to a home infusion treatment that Mom was able to administer every few days. It involved needles and took quite a few hours to do each time. All this was necessary in order for Dad to live any kind of normal life. Without these treatments, he would have been confined to a wheelchair, unable even to feed himself.
They learned to cope with this disease and Dad was able to function fairly normally while undergoing these constant treatments. The frightening phase had passed, thank the Lord, and it became “normal” life for them to manage this disease.
At this point, we are going to change gears in this story a little bit. I am going to share some things of a fairly personal nature, things that happened in my life that are a bit difficult for me to re-visit. However, this does have bearing on this story. Hang with me for this next part.
About three years after Dad’s diagnosis, I began to struggle with some health problems myself. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I thought I was losing my mind. I had been through a string of miscarriages, especially a traumatic one in 2010 that took me a long time to recover from emotionally. Before, during, and after that time, I had been experiencing some very strange and very real mental/physical/emotional symptoms, with greater and greater frequency.
I could not sleep at night. I was having such heavy menstrual bleeding that I was afraid to go places. My tailbone ached and throbbed all night, every night. I was depressed. Life seemed hopeless, even though I had five beautiful children to care for. My emotions fluctuated wildly. I had such shortness of breath that at times I felt utterly panicked. Muscles in very weird spots in my body would cramp up out of nowhere. I was having scary, recurrent thoughts about whether life was even worth the living. I could not cope at all. This was not just a few days of difficulties. This was month after month, turning into years. Problems that would have been manageable under a normal frame of mind caused me to fall into despair.
Now, I was the one who was scared. Was all of this still from the miscarriages, even two years later? What was wrong with me? I tried to talk with Steve about what I was dealing with. I was a mess. I could hardly talk about it. He offered me spiritual counsel and I know he was very concerned.
I sent my mom an email asking for prayer. I told her, “Steve and I both know this is not the person I have been for the past 13 years of our marriage.”
I saw one doctor in December of 2011 who ran some tests, including checking my thyroid level, and said that everything looked normal; he said most likely I was dealing with postpartum depression following the delivery of my fifth child in July of 2011.
I did not improve. One day I became so panicked that I called Steve at work. I said, “You’ve just got to come home please. Something is wrong with me.” The kids and I went back and forth to work with him for a week. I was afraid to be alone. Even now, think backing on those difficult days, tears well up in my eyes. It was tough.
Finally, in June of 2012, I became so desperate I thought, “I will just go see my midwife at the OB office. Even if I have to go on medication for depression, that is what I will do. I can’t go on like this.”
I did see my midwife, Debbie. I dissolved into tears. I told her my symptoms. She said, “I wonder…. are you getting enough calcium? And— what about your vitamin D??? We really need to test your vitamin D level. You don’t want to go on an antidepressant, do you?” No, I certainly didn’t. She sent me for bloodwork.
I began to read about vitamin D deficiency, something that had never even entered my mind as a possible problem I was experiencing. I was amazed. So many of the symptoms were lining up. Sure enough, the next day, Debbie called me to say that my bloodwork showed my vitamin D level to be terribly low; way below the low end of the normal range. She prescribed some high doses of D to bring my level back up. I was so relieved! Maybe I hadn’t been losing my mind after all!
I started on the high doses of D, along with some calcium supplements. (Low vitamin D affects a person’s ability to absorb calcium properly.) A few mornings later, I woke up and came downstairs into the kitchen. In utter amazement, I told Steve, “I slept so well, all night! I haven’t slept like that in SO long. I just cannot believe this.” Within just a few days of starting the high doses of D, I honestly felt like a new person. My old self seemed to be back. I could cope with life again. I felt happy. I continued sleeping deeply. The muscle pains went away. The heavy bleeding subsided. The depression lifted.
Needless to say, I have supplemented vitamin D ever since. Something so difficult to endure had been solved so easily, without drugs or any other treatment. A simple vitamin was all I needed! How I praise the Lord for Debbie’s immediate insight into the true nature of the problems I had been experiencing. God had answered prayer in a major way.
Although there are numerous lessons that can be learned from my experience with low vitamin D, I share it here for this one reason: I found out, first hand, that a vitamin deficiency can do terrible things to you. What I had been through was absolutely no joke. If I had ever doubted the possibility that aging could actually be caused by lack of a vitamin (Vitamin X), now I knew that it was certainly possible. A vitamin deficiency can do very weird things to you in every area— mental/physical/emotional. Doesn’t that remind you of the symptoms of “old age”?
Part Three coming soon, in which we will return to the main story, and find out what happens next in Dad’s quest to solve the aging mystery.♥