This is a photo of my hand during a Raynaud’s attack. The capillaries collapse and restrict blood flow. Some nerves in that middle finger have been damaged from blood loss, but now that I know what this is, I can take precautions in cold or chilly weather.
Since that time, my whole hands have become white like that one finger. It is incredibly painful and is next to impossible to use my hands for anything; I lose my grip on the car keys and drop them. I have trouble curling my fingers around the steering wheel. Now that I drive a car with “bun warmers,” I frequently crank them up to high and sit on my hands for awhile until they warm up and blood flow is restored.
It feels strange to blog about the cold when it is currently 104 degrees outside my window. But this phenomenon has sent me on a medical journey that is twisting in strange and convoluted ways! I have to blog about these recent happenings so I can refocus my thoughts on Christ, let the peace of God guard my heart and my mind, and dwell on Him who is holy. He who is in me is greater than He who is in the world!
Raynaud’s is an auto-immune disease with no known cause. It can be hereditary or it can arise on its own. I took the photo of my hand and took it to my doctor three years ago because the pain was intense and I had lost some feeling in the tip of my finger. The doctor loved my photo and asked if he could show it to the staff because he said it was a “classic” example of Raynaud’s phenomenon. Then he referred me to a rheumatologist in order to rule out any additional auto-immune diseases. Raynaud’s is sometimes a precursor to a slew of connective tissue diseases, such as Lupus, Scleroderma, etc. Many times it simply exists on its own. Not everyone who has Raynaud’s has Lupus, but 90% of those who have Lupus also have Raynaud’s.
A year and a half ago I had the first round of annual blood work to check for inflammation and other signs of Lupus. The only abnormal finding was the presence of anticardiolipin antibodies. The human body naturally produces cardiolipin, which is a molecule found in the blood that regulates blood clotting. Sometimes the body thinks cardiolipin is an intruder and forms antibodies against it; this can create a propensity for blood clots and lead to recurrent miscarriages or infertility.
Some of you may remember me blogging about pain in my hand. It has continued to “flare” on and off, although the pain has not returned to such severe levels. There is still some swelling in the tissues surrounding my thumb on the top of my hand, but I show no signs of joint problems. It’s a mystery! And it’s also a possible indicator of yet another autoimmune problem.
My rheumatologist left his practice, so I had to start all over with a new doctor who I visited last week. This man puts the word “thorough” in the dictionary. He wanted to know
about every little symptom and had me assign a number to describe the severity of each. He wanted to know about when these symptoms started (10 years ago? 20?) and how long they last. He ordered a slew of blood tests (can you say 10 vials?). He also sent me on another journey that raised my anxiety level up a notch: to the cardiologist. I had to check “yes” in the box next to the symptom “experienced chest pain.” My panic attacks frequently are accompanied by an extreme pain in my chest; it’s a pressure pain that makes it feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest. Which is a classic sign of a heart attack. So, the doctor wanted me evaluated by a heart specialist, and, since our deductible has been met this year, off to the cardiologist I went.
I have just returned from my first visit with probably the best doctor I have ever encountered. I noticed on a plaque on the wall that he was the president of the staff during the 1980s and again in the 1990s. It’s no wonder. I guess it is a good thing that a heart doctor would have a gentle demeanor! Can you imagine one who barked at you like Hitler? Overall the visit was reassuring. I have none of the “heart disease” markers. I am underweight, not overweight. My blood pressure is on the low side. But there is a rare autoimmune disease which can affect the arteries that go to the heart. His instinct is that I am fine and that the chest pain I experience is related to my muscles in the chest wall contracting in a panic episode. However, he wants to rule out any heart involvement. He wants to prove that it is not my heart causing my pain, and he wants to make sure that there is no scarring on my arteries or my heart, which could happen if they have been collapsing at the same time the capillaries in my hands have been collapsing. Again, this would be a very rare thing to happen.
So…the bottom line is I go next week for an echocardiogram, which is a sonogram of my heart. I will also take home an “event monitor” to attach to my chest when I am in the throes of another attack of chest pain. The monitor will show whether or not my heart is involved in the pain.
I’m still sorting out how I feel about all this. Glad, because there has always been a little worry in the back of my head every time I get an intense attack of chest pain that it might be my heart. At least this way, I’ll know for sure. Relieved, because this doctor is a man of God. He is Jewish and a published author and speaker on healing — and my spirit instantly told me that this man does put God first. God has his finger on the “hold” button, waiting for his preordained number of Gentiles to come to him (see Daniel), and then he’ll soften the hearts and open the eyes of His people…including this doctor. Wow.
I also feel some worry. All these autoimmune things are distracting. It will feel good to have all the results back, no matter what they may be. The Lord is going to keep me here until he needs me with him. He is the great Healer and can, with a blink of an eye, restore all my blood and antibodies and heart and muscles and capillaries to good condition. Yet if he chooses not to, then I will glorify Him through my journey. He is God. I am not. He created me, and one day I will leave this body for a perfect one….one that does not have autoimmune diseases. In the meantime, I can continue to do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.
Knowing that I am having an echocardiogram makes me take in this verse a little differently:
7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
He’s got my innards covered!