Applegate Miracle

In posts earlier this year, I mentioned that I’ve seen God truly work miracles in my life in the past, which gives me confidence that he’ll do it again.  I believe I even said that, at some point, I would share those with my fellow sojourners, but I couldn’t find the post where I did.

Today, as my husband and I made our bi-annual visit to his surgeon’s office, a trip we’ve made for six years now, we reminisced about one of those times.    It’s a rather long post, so I apologize, but promise that if you read to the end, you will agree that God and God alone could have orchestrated. 

In May of 2012, my husband, an auto mechanic for a local, small company, was prying a spring out of a truck with a breaker bar when the bar slipped, jarring his entire spine.  He felt a wicked tingling up and down his spine at the time, and thought to himself, “that hurt like hell” and kept working.   He neither mentioned it to anyone at work, nor filed any type of incident report.  Over the next few weeks, he experienced pain and numbness in his arms and legs, and visited his chiropractor a couple of times.  On one Friday evening, nearly five weeks later, when he came home from work, his legs wouldn’t work, and he literally army-crawled up the hill from the garage into the house.   I texted a friend of mine who is a Physicians’ Assistant about what was going on, and her response was to get him to a neurosurgeon as soon as possible.   In all honestly, I thought she was over-reacting.  

Somehow, Rich made it through the evening, and even went to work the next day. While he was at work, he told them about the incident that had happened weeks before.  They were unhappy that he hadn’t filed a report earlier, but filed one and gave him the list of company approved doctors that he could see.  The first one one the list was Dr. Bookwalter, a neurosurgeon.

The following Monday, I called Bookwalter’s office, looking to schedule an appointment.  They asked me to describe his symptoms and after I did, they asked if I could get him in to see the doctor that same day.   I thought to myself, “When does that ever happen?”    I called Rich, who was at work, and told him I was coming to pick him up for the appointment.   

We filled out paperwork in the office (the first of many paperwork’s that we’d complete) and waited for Dr. Bookwalter.  When he came into the office, he asked my husband to walk across the room.  He said, “you can’t fake a gait, there’s something seriously wrong and we need to find out what it is quickly.”   

Because he’s a mechanic, and has gotten rust and metal in his eyes on more occasions that I can count on my appendages, he is physically unable to get an MRI, and needs to have a myelogram any time doctors need images.  (This is because when they drill the metal out of his eyes, there is always some residual that they cannot remove.  The magnets from the MRI equipment will draw those metal remnants out of his eyes, which could cut capillaries, etc, in the process, and could risk damaging his eyesight.)  Dr. Bookwalter’s office scheduled a myelogram for that Wednesday at a nearby hospital, and a follow-up visit with Dr. Bookwalter for Thursday to read the results.   We left the office and Rich went back to work to finish his day. 

The following day, mid-morning, Rich called me to say that the hospital called him to cancel the appointment because the insurance (which was the company’s worker’s comp insurance) had been declined.   It took several phone calls from each of us to untangle what had happened, but as it turned out, the list of doctors that was provided to him previously was the incorrect list – the company had updated its insurance (and hence list of approved doctors) but had never changed the posting in the store.  As it turned out, Dr. Bookwalter was not on the new list.  Instead, Rich was told that he would have to visit a different workers’ comp doctor.  Since we knew that Dr. Bookwalter felt like his injury was significant at that point, we were extremely apprehensive to “start over” with another doctor – particularly one working “for the company”.   

I’ll pause here to say that one of the things I appreciate most about my husband is his work ethic and integrity, and a no point in his life would he ever consider taking advantage of a company.  I know there are people out there who would, and, as a people manager myself, I know that companies need to protect themselves, too.  At the same time, I have heard and seen cases where the workers comp doctors, with the company’s interest in mind, would refer someone to physical therapy as a starting point.  Because we had an inkling that this was a more serious problem, we were concerned that a new doctor would start with physical therapy, which could further injure him.   In addition, we didn’t want to cancel the myelogram because we really wanted to start the diagnostic ball rolling.   I honestly can’t remember exactly how we resolved it, but I remember asking if we could simply pay for it – as it turns out, a procedure like that cost tens of thousands of dollars.  I imagine that I gave the hospital our own health insurance information so that we could keep the myelogram appointment.  

Sometime around noon on Tuesday of that week, Rich’s company told him that he had to leave work – that he was officially on short-term disability until we determined what was wrong with him, they didn’t want him working in their shop.  No doubt this was to protect themselves – and we understood that.  At the same time, it was all fairly overwhelming to both of us.  He called to ask me to pick him up at work, which I did.  We drove around for a bit, scared and overwhelmed, and eventually found our way to the office of their company workers’ comp doctor, where we literally sat and cried together for what seemed like an eternity.    Unsure of our next step, and looking for guidance from God, Rich and I prayed together for the first time in probably 12 years. 

The next morning, we got up early and went to the hospital for the myelogram.  It was a long process that took the better half of the day.  We left the hospital after noon, and once again sat in the parking lot and cried together, completely overwhelmed, discussing our options.  At one point, one of us (I don’t remember which) suggested that we drive over to the workers’ comp doctor’s office because we wanted to do the right thing.   Somewhere in this mess of a couple of days, I had reached out to our own company’s worker’s comp specialist to discuss policies, legalities, and options, and knew that was our best option, despite our concerns about physical therapy.  

I drove over to the office, and we prayed before we went in.  We filled out another mountain of paperwork and waited an eternity to be seen by the doctor.   Dr. Applegate was his name – an older gentleman with kind eyes.  He reviewed the paperwork, listened to our story and asked to confirm we had just left the hospital where the myelogram was taken.  We confirmed.   He asked us to wait in the waiting room – he was going to call the hospital and get the results to read immediately, but he didn’t know how long it would take.  

After another eternity (literally hours), he called us back into his office.  His voice kind and gentle like his eyes, had a genuine voice of concern that I’d never heard in a doctor before.  As he showed us the pictures, he described what was happening in Rich’s spine.  As it turns out, the injury (actually injuries) that occurred were the same injuries that occurred when Christopher Reeves was thrown from a horse (the actor who played Superman, for those who don’t know – and he was paralyzed by those injuries).  The only difference was that Christopher’s injuries were spinal cord crushing all at once and Rich’s spine was being crushed more slowly. He indicated that Rich had a problem in his lower spine as well, but the most pressing area was his neck, because his vertebrae were crushing his spinal cord.   He likened it to running your vacuum cleaner cord over, and over, and over again, eventually it will break.  That was what was happening in Rich’s spine.   He quite seriously pointed out that it was possible that Rich could become paralyzed like Christopher, and that we really wouldn’t know, but that he needed immediate surgery to alleviate the crushing.   This diagnosis was like a life blow to us – indeed, it was life-changing. In that moment, we weren’t sure if he’d ever walk again, let alone work. 

The first miracle occurred in the next part of the conversation.  Dr. Applegate looked at us and said these words.  “So here, we know that there is a very serious injury.  And here we are in the workers’ comp doctors office, where the bean counters have certain procedures and protocol to follow.   As a doctor, I know that I need to do the right thing, and that is to get you to the very best neurosurgeon I know, and since we don’t have a neurosurgeon on staff in this office, I’m going to have to refer you to an external neurosurgeon.   It will not make the bean-counters or directors happy, but it’s what we’ve got to do.   Dr. Bookwalter is his name, and I think we need to simply refer you right back to him”. 

I can’t even express to you the flood of emotion that we had in that moment.  My own medical history is pretty thin to be honest – other than delivering 3 beautiful babies, I had little experience with doctors, but had a picture in my mind that patients must be like numbers to them.  So many a day, day in and day out.   Never had I ever experienced the genuine compassion of a doctor – and his “real person” conversation before.   We are forever grateful for Dr. Applegate and his keen observations and compassion in Rich’s medical history. 

We left the office that day knowing unequivocally that God’s hand was upon us, and that He and He alone had orchestrated the circumstances to be referred back to Dr. Bookwalter.    I wish I could tell you that was the end of our journey – it wasn’t.   In fact, it’s an on-going journey, filled with many other miracles for another day.   

The short of his medical journey was that Rich had his first surgery the following week (to remove the pressure on his spinal cord, fused C-3-7 – neck vertebrae), and six months later in his lower back (S1).  After a year off of work, he was able to return to doing his mechanic job, where he still is today (a miracle in and of itself).  

Rich is a living testimony that God is, in fact, still in the miracle business.  I believe that God allowed this miracle in our lives to show us that He was intimately interested in what happens to us and to draw us closer to Him. As we reminisced that experience today on our drive home from the doctor’s office, I said, “You know God’s hand was on us the whole time.”   He simply replied, “I know it.”  

My friends and fellow sojourners – look for the miracles.  They literally happen every day – some are big and some are small, and they are manifested in different ways, but if you life your life expecting them, you will also see them.

May you be blessed today!

SB

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