On December 1, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl whom we named Caylee Elizabeth. She was our sixth child, quite a miracle really, considering how bad my endometriosis was before I got pregnant back in March. I had a blocked ovary on my right due to a 3 to 4 cm cyst, countless adhesions and lesions in my uterus, and there was another smaller cyst on my left ovary. How the egg got fertilized and implanted in that environment was a God-thing.
Throughout my pregnancy, I was healthy. I exercised regularly, even up until the week before giving birth. The only difference between my previous pregnancies was random, stabbing pain in my left lower quadrant. Because of my age, I didn’t think it was significant, just part of being an older, pregnant woman.
Since my birth was relatively easy, Lamaze again, just like my previous deliveries, I expected the recovery period to be the same. After three days, I hoped to be up and about, back to my wife, motherhood, as well as, homeschool duties.
However, less than a week into my recovery from birth, I began to experience significant pain in my lower abdomen. At times, it would be excruciating and debilitating, much like the pain I would suffer through during my periods when I wasn’t pregnant. During my first check-up with my OB-Gyne after birth, I brought this up, but she assured me that everything was fine. Everything else was, in fact. She examined me and there were no unusual findings.
Soon after, however, I developed a fever. It persisted for days, so it was recommended that I get a blood test and urinalysis. The urinalysis was clear, but my blood test showed elevated WBC. I was asked to go on a round of antibiotics to rule out any general infection. Still, the pain continued and escalated and the fevers kept returning.
Dealing with my failing health and a newborn was trying to say the least. I cried many times out to the Lord and to Edric in frustration and desperation. I didn’t know what to do.
After a second check-up, there were still no significant findings. By this time, I had struggled through three weeks of pain and fever. Feelings of hopelessness and worry began to cloud over me. I battled depression. At some point, I confessed to Edric that I actually felt like dying would be the best way to escape what was happening, as I couldn’t continue and go on in this state, especially when the pain would get debilitating.
Finally, on December 24, my doctor sister, Carolyn, and her husband, Joel, visited me. She was gravely concerned, as were my other siblings and family members, who were messaging me and face-timing me from the U.S. during the past weeks. They were all convinced that my symptoms were abnormal.
Carolyn felt my uterus and it was hard and bulging when I lay on my back. My fever spiked to 39.1 when the antibiotics should have taken care of it since it was bacterial related. She called my OB-Gyne, who agreed that I should go to the hospital for an emergency ultrasound.
This wasn’t how I expected to spend Christmas Eve. Edric and I had to leave four kids with his parents. (Praise God for them. Our kids were in good hands.) Elijah, my oldest son, came with us to take care of Caylee so she could be near me when I needed to breastfeed.
I didn’t know what to expect at the hospital, but the findings were alarming. After being examined during what would have been a normal internal exam, there was a mass that presented itself. This was strange since nothing was evident four days prior, during my previous internal exam.
The ultrasound revealed a large cyst, 13 cm in size, making it difficult to determine where the outline of my uterus was. Jokingly, we quipped, “Well, Merry Christmas. It’s a Christmas ball!”
Since the mass was putting significant pressure on other organs and causing so much pain, my doctor believed it had to be surgically removed, as soon as possible. The next day was Christmas, and I would need to pass a series of tests to be approved for surgery on the 26th. One of my other issues was anemia. So I had two sets of transfusions.
Caylee and Elijah were sent to be with my in-laws. It was just Edric and me who were left at the hospital. That’s how I spent the 25th, getting prepped for surgery, being connected intravenously on both hands to blood and an IV line.
Edric was supportive and calm throughout the entire time. We both opted to do laparoscopy since the recovery would be much easier. We were hopeful. This would supposedly solve everything and let us return to normalcy.
My doctor told me the surgery would take 2 to 3 hours at most, and possibly one day of recovery in the hospital before being discharged. It didn’t sound too bad. I could do this, I thought. Everything was going to be okay.
At this juncture, my greatest fear was going under general anesthesia, something I had never done. For someone like me, who likes to be in control, I was quite terrified. My anesthesiologist reassuring explained what was going to happen, and she helped me to calm down.
More importantly, God blessed me with the passage: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Surgery is always a matter of life and death, and this was a wonderful message from the Lord telling me that no matter what happened, he would be with me.
As I was wheeled into the operating room, Edric and I kissed each other, and I knew he would be waiting for me when I came through.
While on the operating table, my anesthesiologist prayed for me. As the anesthesia was intravenously introduced into my body, she asked if I was sleepy. I was still smiling and answered, “I am not sleepy yet!”
That’s the last thing I remember.
It was 10 PM by the time I opened my eyes, trying to comprehend where I was. My eyesight was blurry but I could make out the hands on the clock to estimate the time. Meanwhile, Dr. Mayet Sapaula, a family friend and my mom’s OB, came into the recovery room to see me. I couldn’t see the details of her face right away, but I knew it was her from the sound of her voice and her hair. She came to comfort me and check up on me, but it was also from her that I heard the phrase, “It was complicated.”
She was referring to my surgery. What should have been over in a few hours stretched to eight long ones, with four types of procedures performed on me. First, the cyst had to be drained. It contained 1.7 liters of pus and blood. They couldn’t save my reproductive organs so those were all taken out since the cyst had wrapped itself around them and twisted them. I had a total hysterectomy — uterus, ovaries, cervix — all gone. Part of the cyst had affected my colon as well, so a portion had to be cut out and reconnected. My intestines had to be taken out and examined, as well as cleaned for remaining endometriosis adhesions. I also had an appendectomy. Instead of four simple, small incisions in my abdomen, I had to be cut across on the outside and lengthwise on the inside (my abdominal wall).
Basically, the problem was endometriosis gone wild. During the previous ultrasounds that were done while I was pregnant, the cyst was not detected. We still don’t know how this was possible, considering it’s size. One of our speculations was that the cyst actually ballooned and got infected some time after I gave birth, which is an unusual occurrence. Still, the mystery was that it didn’t become evident till my third check-up at the hospital.
In all my OB’s (Dr. Regina Capistrano’s) twenty five years of being a doctor this was her first time to encounter an infected endometrial cyst. Dr. Mayet Sapaula also said this was a rare situation, as she had only seen this one other time, and she used to be the head of the OB-GYNE Department of St. Luke’s Quezon City. According to the different doctors who attended to me, this was one of the more complicated surgeries they had encountered.
When I was finally brought to see Edric, he was thrilled to see me alive.
I remember asking him, “What happened? Was I cut open?” It was difficult to talk because I had been intubated for so long. I could barely speak.
He didn’t want to shock me with the details, although my anesthesiologist had already given me an idea of all the procedures that had been done. However, my mind had been in such a fog coming out of general anesthesia that I wasn’t sure what was going on.
I just knew that I was alive although I felt half-dead and miserable. My second statement to him was, “You better preach on Sunday!”
As a very protective and loving husband I sensed that his instinct was to be by my side, but I had this strong conviction that the best thing he could do after going through this ordeal with me was to serve the Lord on Sunday. I didn’t want the evil one to win. This trial had felt so much like a spiritual attack, beyond the physical aspect of it.
Laying on my bed with all the intravenous lines for IV, blood, antibiotics, and pain killers, plus my catheter, made me immobile. My voice was gone due to being intubated for so many hours. Eventually it was restored, but it took a while. The intubation also weakened my lungs so I had to practice breathing deeply to get them going again. I needed six transfusions to recover from the anemia and blood lost. I had never experienced such helplessness before. This was the most physically broken I had ever been.
Edric attended to me the whole time. He only left my side the day he went to preach, replacing himself with Elijah, so I wasn’t alone. I didn’t want to be alone. There was so much post traumatic stress I was wrestling with. Being without a loved one by my side, especially Edric, made me feel anxious.
As the story of my operation became clearer, I wrestled with God. How could this have happened? Why did he allow it? How was I to move on to normalcy?
It was so obviously a trial ordained by God. I knew he was sovereign. I knew he was the one who let my body go through this.
Shortly after my birth, my Bible reading plan landed me in Job. There was this sense that I may go through something fiery. In fact, I had these questions, “What if God allowed the evil one to inflict my body? How would I respond?”
Sometime later, I also had a dream of the evil one taunting me, telling me he was going to hurt me.
In light of all I went through in December, it made sense to conclude that this is exactly what happened. God, who had always protected my body and kept me healthy, allowed an opening for a time, for the evil one to harm me physically. Yet, God also knew when enough was enough for me. He spared me from many other complications that could have happened. I am grateful for this.
However, it still pained me to accept that my loving Father had elected these events as his will. The physical suffering was so trying. Being forced into early menopause due to a hysterectomy seemed unbelievable, too, on top of the other organs that were affected and taken out. I mean, I thought, What in the world?! Why?! Did I really have to go through something so major just for the Lord to teach me something about Himself or about growing in character?!
Those were my initial thoughts. Thankfully, I was also reading through the Psalms, which God used to encourage me daily. I received daily doses of his truths and promises. My only recourse was to cling to these, to hope in the Lord, and to focus on what I knew to be true — He still loved me, He was still good. I didn’t have to understand completely, but I had to trust Him to survive this.
I cried often during the days after the surgery. Having all that time to think as I lay in bed made me process this trial, with the Lord.
My mom recently told me, “At times God brings us to the desert, and He makes a table for two. It’s just you and Him.”
Through all of this, God taught me and continues to teach me that life is HIS gift. He has the power to give it and to take it.
Life is also a stewardship. I am here on earth not for my purposes, but for the Lord’s. He wants me to use my life to tell people about Him — His love, His salvation. And He wants me to live for His glory, not my own.
Furthermore, there are many people who are suffering, and I need to remember them and empathize with what they are going through.
Lastly, life is short. This world is not my real home, I have heaven to look forward to. Whatever pain is experienced here cannot be compared to joys of eternity with the Lord. In the meantime, I can’t continue on in fear or with anxiety, wondering what tragedy will befall me next, worrying whether I will be in this same predicament or worse in the future. Instead, I need to be grateful that I have today, today to love those around me, to serve, obey, and worship the Lord, to maximize what he has given me and to use my time, resources and talents to be a blessing to others.
None of us know how long we have on this earth. Surviving a near death experience made me re-evaluate how I value life and the people around me. It made me rethink my priorities and preoccupations.
It also made me grateful…
– Caylee was born without the cyst rupturing. She was healthy and well.
– Somehow, God gave me the grace to last three agonizing weeks before the cyst was discovered. He kept me from getting sepsis.
– There were doctors available a day after Christmas to do my surgery. Three of them were followers of Christ.
– My endometriosis hadn’t spread to other organs besides the ones that had to be removed.
– God provided for the expenses, which were significant, but we had enough to cover everything, including the six doctors’ fees. The doctors were also kind about their fees.
– I got sent home on New Year’s Eve which means our family began 2019 together, at home.
– God provided for Caylee’s breast milk through donations from generous and concerned moms. Eventually, she latched on after I finished the one round of antibiotics that she couldn’t be exposed to.
– Our family experienced the love and support of the body of Christ through the prayers and presence of our discipleship group and people all around the world who reached out to us. Even if my own family was in the U.S., we didn’t feel alone or abandoned. God used his people to comfort us and be there for us.
– Our children took care of one another. Their faith also grew as they learned to trust God for my life and the outcome of the surgery.
– Our children had special bonding time with Edric’s parents, my mommy and papa.
– I experienced the sweetest love from Edric as he cared for me and demonstrated what unconditional commitment to one’s spouse is like.
– God caused me to grow in intimacy with Him, to lean on His Word, and to address character issues and areas where I needed to grow.
There are many more lessons and blessings I will share as the days and weeks go by.
It’s been two weeks since the surgery. For the time being I am confined to the home, apart from trips to see my different doctors. They want me to get past the thirty day mark since I am still at risk for infection. My OB wants me to avoid crowded, public places as much as possible for the next six to eight weeks. That’s going to feel like a long time. However, I am thankful to the Lord that I am alive and getting better everyday! What he has allowed, I will embrace as His divinely appointed good in my life even as I struggle through the recovery.
From time to time, I tear up in painful remembrance or in joyful acceptance of what He has done, and I have realized that it’s okay to grieve loss, and to be honest about our pain before the Lord. He is our Father. He is aware that we are weak, dependent and needy. At the same time, it’s not enough to remain there, because His greater will for us is to experience the abundant life He promised. That’s what I am looking forward to as I spend this season healing from the ordeal. These words have become so true for me as God has led me through the darkest and brightest of days: You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, that my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” (Psalms 30:11-12)