12 min read

God's Faithfulness

A true testimony of God's faithfulness written by my youngest daughter after a simple surgical error and what it led to.
God's Faithfulness: He Brought Me Through
Photo by Tony Eight Media / Unsplash

He Brought Me Through

The following is a true testimony of God's faithfulness written by my youngest daughter, Debbie Ferguson:

A woman’s body can do strange things. After having two children before I was 18 years of age, I never thought I’d have female problems! Little did I know what the future held!

Apparently, family history lends to female problems which, in many cases, ended up with hysterectomies being performed in several while in their 30’s. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time since my mother had just recently learned more about her family history. Her sisters all faced very similar problems with ovarian cysts, fibroids, and endometriosis. I unknowingly fell into the pattern and a complete hysterectomy was scheduled for March 21, 2011.

Afterward, however, I noticed a problem with bladder leakage while being unable to empty my bladder. The surgeon ordered a CT scan of my bladder. It was confirmed that my bladder had been lacerated during the hysterectomy and was left unrepaired, something of which I did not know.

I was scared. How could this have happened and the doctor not even attempt to correct this situation by following the standard of care required based on normal surgical procedures. My life was immediately changed. I could not stop the uncontrolled flow of urine while being unable to empty my bladder. Something was desperately wrong and I felt like my voice was unimportant to those to whom I had entrusted my life and future. All I wanted was relief from the monthly pain and bleeding and now I had more abdominal pain (although curiously different), a lacerated bladder and loss of control.

My surgeon told me things like this happened and it wasn’t that abnormal; she assured me that my bladder would heal on its own and instructed me to give it some time to heal naturally. When the condition continued, I went back to her and she referred me to a urogynecologist for follow-up and testing to determine why I was still having problems with leakage and severe abdominal discomfort.  During my appointment with him, I was taught how to do self-catheterization to help me until a scheduled procedure could be completed to repair my bladder. This, in itself, is a painfully unnatural routine for anyone who understands the process.

However, the pain in my abdomen became so severe, I was taken to the Emergency Room where an ultrasound of my bladder was completed which revealed my bladder was still full. It was at that time I was scheduled for surgery to repair my bladder on 6/28/2011. During the post-surgical consult, the surgeon told my husband and mom that my bladder would heal and I would have no further problems.

We breathed a sigh of relief! Finally, the original surgical error was repaired and my life would return to normal. Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. With ongoing severe pain, my family physician referred me to yet another doctor to determine the root of the bladder and bowel issues he determined I was exhibiting. I remained terribly constipated and had developed fissures and hemorrhoids from trying so hard to pass my waste. My condition continued even after I was treated for rectal problems. A consult with another specialist referral revealed that my severe abdominal pain was due to bowel problems in addition to facing a lifetime of having to self-catheterize to empty my bladder.

This hit me like a ton of bricks. I struggled with the pain which was understandable and verifiable. But what made it worse was the fact that my close friends and family seemed to think I was making a big deal over nothing. I know now that it was only my fear of not being understood that made me think that, but the fear was real and only exacerbated my pain, both physically and emotionally. In and out of the Emergency Room. Multiple admissions. Doctor after doctor was referred to my case. And, no answers except that I had problems. No one would pinpoint the cause and I was made to feel like it was my fault. I complained too much. I expected too much. I was a failure to my husband. I was falling short as a mother. As a daughter, I was unable to enjoy quality time with my parents. I felt like even my friends would never understand what I was going through. The doctors seemingly grew short-tempered with me. Yet, my pain was real, it was verifiable, and it was legitimate. My emotions were going crazy.

Finally, the words I had dreaded were verbalized. “I don’t know what else we can do for you—the situation is much more complicated than it originally appeared.” It was during this time (between September 2011 and March 2012) that the doctors’ primary focus and treatment shifted from my bladder to bowel problems.

Because there was ongoing severe abdominal pain, exploratory surgery was scheduled for November 29, 2011, during which my appendix was removed in case it was a source of my pain; scar tissue was also removed which had developed since the previous surgeries.

By January 3, 2012, I was still experiencing severe abdominal pain and relentless constipation which had escalated to an intolerable level. An attempt to relieve an internal hemorrhoid problem by banding them was done on January 15, with the colorectal physician thinking it was part of the reason I was unable to eliminate it. The condition continued to exacerbate my bowel problems and continuous constipation. After an ER visit, I was admitted on 5/31/2012 at which time the general surgeon on call ran tests and did procedures to relieve my impacted colon with no success. After seventeen long days of medication and painful treatment, I was still blocked. Due to the severity of my condition, an emergency existed which led to the extreme decision to remove my colon. However, since this was not this surgeon’s specialty and expertise, he failed to remove the entire colon and left a small segment in place which eventually caused more problems. The connection he made between the colon and rectum was not according to standard procedure which ultimately failed to give me the relief we were promised. I was told that I would have no problem with elimination after the colectomy and that food would “go right through” me.

Since the result was not as expected, the bowel symptoms continued while the hemorrhoids produced extreme pain while attempting to eliminate. In November, the surgeon performed a hemorrhoidectomy.

Imagine, if you will, having doctor after doctor say they had the answer, ordering enemas, suppositories, and laxatives that no longer worked, while laying in the hospital in extreme pain. Pain meds were administered through my IV regularly until even the nursing staff seemed to become immune to my cries for pain relief. I can’t say that it was intentional on their part, but I felt like they began to resent me every time I pushed the button for assistance.

I wore a diaper. I was attached to IV’s. I had experienced demeaning and embarrassing tests and treatments and, yet, the understanding and compassion expected from healthcare professionals seemed to be waning by the hour. I had become a nuisance because I needed help and it seemed as if no one could comprehend or respond to the level of pain I was enduring.

Exasperation became part and parcel to my life, to my relationships with family and friends, and especially with the medical staff. Why wouldn’t people hear me when I cried for help? Why did they always look at me as if I was exaggerating my symptoms or, as some even said, simply needing to satisfy a so-called addiction to pain medications?

Even as I write this, I can’t stop the flow of tears. Not because I feel sorry for myself, but because my situation was so severe and the lack of understanding so deep that the wounds would continue to impact my life if I allowed them. Thankfully, prayer and the love of my family would not allow that to happen. Together we went forward, fully expecting someone to have an answer that would bring me some relief.

During the next year, while still having to self-catheterize, I was overwhelmed with visits to the Emergency Room with nerve inflammation in my abdomen, severe abdominal pain, acid reflux and other severe gastro-intestinal symptoms. It was during this time that I was also diagnosed with my first ileus or blockage requiring a lengthy hospital stay for treatment and alleviation of the severe pain. While being treated for the off-the-charts pain and relentless vomiting of bile fluid, an NG tube was inserted to drain my digestive tract of fluids and bacteria which built up due to bowel failure and an incomplete digestive process. After a few days of no significant improvement, a PICC line was inserted to deliver TPN (total parenteral nutrition) to provide most of the nutrients I was lacking because I was unable to eat or drink. I lived on prayer, ice chips and the artificial nourishment provided through the PICC line until there was some evidence of bowel motility.

To make matters worse, on October 15, 2013, I had an accident on our ATV and fractured lumbar vertebrae.  I was admitted to the hospital and put in a brace until my back was stable enough to return home.

By November 6th, I was back at the Emergency Room with severe all-around, middle torso pain and diagnosed with lower back nerve damage.  I was told the fracture in my vertebrae would heal on its own and was sent home.  After continued problems with severe nerve pain, my family doctor referred me to an orthopedic surgeon for repair of the fracture that never healed on its own. I was told the fractures failed to heal because I was malnourished and the nutrients needed to produce natural healing in my back were sorely lacking. Surgery was scheduled for August 15, 2014. However, during recuperation from the surgery, I developed another ileus requiring an additional extended hospitalization for treatment with the same symptoms and treatment as I had received for previous ileus diagnoses.

Although there were two areas of my spine requiring surgical correction, the surgeon wouldn’t complete them both during the same surgery. His reason? I was malnourished; my body wasn’t producing enough calcium and other nutrients to aid in the healing process. He agreed to do one surgery then required that I wait one year before he would do the second surgery. What could have easily been completed with one surgery would now take twice as long, twice as much pain, twice as much recuperation time, and yet another opportunity to develop an ileus.

In the Spring of 2015, without any improvement in my abdominal issues, I was once again seen in the Emergency Room and admitted with another ileus. This was becoming a recurring problem because my body was unable to complete the digestive process causing blockages requiring hospitalization for treatment.

I was emotionally spent! In and out of the hospital having my dignity assaulted with NG tubes, total helplessness, diapers, IV’s, PICC lines, artificial nutrition, and separation from my family and friends. Unsure how much more I could endure, I had some decisions to make. I could have allowed this to overwhelm me and rob me of any quality of life. Or, I could press on and continue to handle the problems one at a time while praying that God would lead me through this, either healing me by His most capable and sovereign gift or by connecting me with a physician who not only cared but listened and comprehended my situation. I was, and remain, committed to both options. I have much too much to live for – my husband, my children, my parents and extended family, my friends and, just as importantly, myself! I was not ready to give up!

My second back surgery was performed on August 11, 2015, almost one year exactly from the first procedure. Unfortunately, this once again produced an ileus which extended my hospital stay to treat this recurring stubborn digestive issue. Without a colon, there was little else they could do except relieve my symptoms and drain my GI tract until my small bowel began to show signs of working.

My primary care physician, who had been following my case closely, set up an appointment with a digestive disease consultant to address my continued severe abdominal issues. The next day, November 6, 2015, I was seen in the Emergency Room due to uncontrollable pain related to bowel issues. The doctor performed a flex sigmoidoscopy and found a stricture at the colonic anastomosis (the connection between the small bowel and the rectum) which he dilated and biopsied.

My holidays were ruined once again. Although we wanted to celebrate Christmas with my parents who live two hours away, I was unable to make the trip and the plans had to be changed to accommodate my problems. Of course, they were happy to do so, but this made me feel like a failure. My family is so important to me and I have been unable to function as a normal wife and mother and daughter – everything seemed to have to evolve around my physical and emotional issues which is the last thing I would ever want. I’ve always been one to give to others, even at great expense to myself, and now my heart to serve has been robbed from me because there were no answers to relieve the symptoms and resulting pain of my ongoing condition. I’ll never forget my parents walking in with laundry baskets filled with turkey and dressing and all the trimmings that they had prepared and brought to my house because I was unable to go to them. My Dad would do anything for me – he never fails to remind me that his family is most important, a trait I work hard at passing on to my own children. Sadly, I feel as if my issues have taken precedence over my ability to serve others. I hate this! It’s not right! And, what makes it worse is that it all began with a slip of the knife that was left untreated and unacknowledged by a physician who failed to follow standard protocol. Although I forgive her, it’s something I will never ever be able to forget because every hospital admission, every IV stuck in my arm, every NG tube shoved down my throat, every unproductive enema, every consult, every procedure all point back to that day the one to whom I had entrusted my care failed to provide what was necessary to protect my future as a wife, a mother, a daughter – a woman!

By February 24, 2016, I had developed another ileus/blockage and was back in the Emergency Room. I was admitted and the ileus was treated. My husband and I decided to try a different provider group to see if they could offer any help so this time I went to a different hospital. I was vomiting bile and the treating physician ran tests and discovered the ileus. He transferred me to a more adequate facility to treat the problem. I was introduced to a new group of gastro-intestinal surgeons and doctors. They were very interested and attentive to my case. They treated the ileus and provided follow-up testing and consults.

For the first time in years, I felt I was getting some answers that might actually lead to a solution. These doctors retested some areas and ordered new tests which revealed a narrowed intestine and an extra large colon flap that was left behind during the colectomy; this “flap” was inflamed and infected with bacteria that had been collecting since the original procedure a few years prior. Surgery was scheduled to repair the anastomosis and remove the flap; this occurred on 8/24/16. The surgeon assured us the surgery was successful and he felt it would alleviate the majority of my problems. However, while recovering from the surgery I developed another ileus requiring a 15-day hospital stay. At this time, the attending physician told my husband that it was possible I would need an ostomy to prevent this from being an ongoing life-long issue.

Unbelievably, two weeks later I was back in the Emergency Room for severe abdominal pain and vomiting; I was diagnosed with another ileus requiring another 15-day hospital stay. Unfortunately, by this time my team of doctors felt that an ostomy was not going to provide the necessary relief; there was not enough nerve function in my abdomen to cause the bowel to push the contents through any opening. The ostomy, therefore, was not recommended.

The physician group agrees that this is the result of permanent nerve damage which occurred during the hysterectomy which we were led to believe only injured my bladder but has left me with severe nerve damage and pelvic floor dysfunction. The doctors have determined my treatment should be further evaluated by someone who specializes in dysmotility issues and has referred me to the Cleveland Clinic.

So, here I am today, released from the hospital two days ago and waiting for my appointment at the Clinic. No guarantees that another ileus will not develop while I’m waiting, afraid to eat, weak, and malnourished.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds. But, when you think of it, do any of us? My story continues to be written day by day with hopes that one day I will look back at these past years and know there was a reason and a purpose for all things. God promises me that! In the meantime, my hope remains firm, my faith (though challenged) is strong, and my life remains filled with love for and from family and friends while I silently struggle with the fear of disappointing those I love most. I can only pray that they will continue to understand my love and commitment to each of them even while I go through whatever lies ahead of me.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.(
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Yes, there is a time for everything—none of us know the time, the days or the seasons when things will turn around. But we can have confidence that our time is in God’s hands and He is most capable of carrying us through. In that, I find peace in the midst of this storm.