It started as a strangely comfortable yet alarming pulsating throb in my spine. I was about ten years old at the time. I can remember having this feeling during PE class while sitting on the cold, dusty rubber floor of the gym in my elementary school in Vienna, Austria. The school was an older building, constructed just before Hitler’s rise to power and his annexation of Austria to Germany. I have many memories from that old building, but the memories stop after the feeling in my spine, because it only got worse.
I remember sitting in the doctor’s examination room at the large hospital down the main road from our house. The doctor was a tall man with curly hair who only used his index fingers when he typed. A thick bushel of curly hair that stuck out of the back of the collar of his blue medical shirt testified to a hairy back. I had heard stories in school about men with hairy backs who were actually werewolves. “Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis,” the werewolf-doctor said, swiveling in his desk chair to face me and my parents. “I’m sure of it.” I looked down at my pale legs dangling from the high examination table, unsure of what the words meant. The doctor handed a prescription of antibiotics to my parents and a new life began for me.
I was now exempt from all physical activity except walking and sitting. Instead of the cold, dusty floor of the gym I now felt the hard, wooden bench under me as I sat on the sidelines during PE class. As I watched my classmates play all my favorite games without me, it occurred to me that I had suddenly become different. Soon I couldn’t stand the looks the other kids gave me when I told them I was sick and couldn’t play with them. My relationship with my younger brothers deteriorated after I kept getting angry at the smallest touch, claiming that it hurt me because I was sick. I was mad at everyone and everything. I became very depressed. To make matters worse, the antibiotics didn’t help; in fact, my pain increased. I now suffered from severe joint pain all over my body. Some days I couldn’t even walk. I missed weeks of school. My brain became affected and I couldn’t think enough to do my homework. Why was my pain getting so much worse, you ask? Well, as it turned out, I didn’t have arthritis.
During my treatment for arthritis, I had suffered from an itchy thin red circle on the left side of my chest. Occasionally, a very severe pain would occur deep under my skin in that place, causing me to gasp in pain and freeze for a split second. I called these instances “mini heart attacks.” My parents noticed my worsened condition and took me to more doctors. Finally, one diagnosis seemed to fit: Lyme Disease. The thin red circle had been the result of a tick bite. This scared me at first. Was the tick still inside me, burrowing its way through my flesh to get to my heart and kill me? No, thankfully not, as I found out later.
As encouraging as it was to know that I wasn’t suffering from a condition that usually only elderly people are known to have (I actually did use a cane for a time), I did have to start my treatment all over again, and Lyme Disease seemed just as incurable as arthritis. Through trial and error, my mom set up a very strict diet for me. It was the kind of diet where, after asking what I couldn’t eat, people’s jaws would drop and they would ask, “What can you eat?” In addition to that, my mom forced me to take dozens of little natural supplements that came in bottles that looked like eye-drops. I started carrying all my “medicine” and “special food” around wherever I went. This was even more humiliating than the first treatment had been. How would you like to show up at the Wilds Christian Camp carrying two huge containers of personal food? How would you like to lead the same conversations about your health several times a day whenever you were at a place where you met new people?
Thankfully, I’m glad to say that it was all worth it. After seven years of pain, I finally completed my treatment in 2017. I have not felt that same pain since. However, as agonizing as the whole ordeal was, I see it as an essential part of me. I would not be who I am today if I had not gone through this. I went through the fire to become a hardened tool of steel. The fire heats the steel to a very high temperature and the blacksmith uses his hammer to change its form, but at the end the tool is shaped to fulfill a purpose. Now I am a tool in God’s hands that can sympathize with others. I can encourage others because I know what it’s like to be in so much pain that it makes you feel old. I have learned that the ultimate source of joy in life is not found in my physical body, but in Him.