Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stolen Laptop Recovered

Last year my laptop was stolen at St Olaf.

Earlier this week, on a whim, I asked one of my friends who still works in Olaf’s IIT department if he’d check their network registration logs to see if my stolen laptop had ever been re-registered this year. Anyone using the laptop this year would have needed to enter an Olaf username and password in order to get onto the Internet, so I asked my friend to see if, by some happenstance, it had popped up.

Turns out it did. Someone registered it on the network back in December. Why did IIT not ever notice this? Excellent question, seeing as they allegedly had an automatic script that would alert them if the machine ever came back on the network.

In any case, Monday night my friend emailed me, and then the IIT management people, alerting them to the presence of the stolen laptop on campus.

My understanding is that the Northfield police department interviewed the student in question, and she of course denied any knowledge. However, Wednesday morning, my stolen laptop was found in a box outside the St Olaf post office, and was then retrieved by Northfield PD. I received a call that afternoon from one of the officers, telling me the machine had been recovered. He was very friendly and answered all of my questions adequately. Unfortunately, because the machine was returned anonymously, it's unlikely anything more will come of this case. The PD crime lab is checking for fingerprints, but he said it's unlikely they'll find convicting evidence. They will also attempt to retrieve ay incriminating data from the hard drive, but A) the hard drive was wiped clean before it was returned, and B) it may be several months before the crime lab even has a chance to look into it.

So, the good news is that whoever stole the laptop no longer has it; the bad news is we may never actually find that person to prosecute/seek justice. Honestly, I’m disappointed in that result; I’m not out to ruin anyone’s life, but I do feel that whoever perpetrated this felony (yes, the crime was legitimately a felony) needs to understand the seriousness of their crime, and also just how lucky they are that this [likely] won’t be making a mark on their permanent record. I was also hoping there might have been potential for community service or monetary payback to my insurance company. Alas, maybe in time, something more will come of it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Physical and Spiritual Health Update

My health has greatly improved in the last several weeks since my post about my Crohn’s flare-up. After my initial appointment, I was able to get in to see my regular doctor later that week, and he officially signed off on a prescription for Humira. There was some initial confusion with the Walgreens pharmacy - apparently they can’t order the starter package - but a very nice woman at MN Gastro helped sort everything out and a few days later a box appeared on my door step with the 6-pen starter kit.

Humira is injected similar to an epi-pen, and I had an appointment with a physician’s assistant yesterday who showed me how to operate the pens (not hard at all), as well as answered a number of my questions (like, “what time of day is best?”, etc). All in all a productive and fulfilling appointment. I took my first four shots yesterday (Monday), two in the morning at my appointment and two in the evening right before bed, just so I wasn’t jabbing myself four times all at once. In two weeks I’ll inject two more pens, and then every two weeks after that one pen, presumably for many years (ie, the rest of my life, or until the scientists come up with other medication options).

Over the last several weeks my Prednisone prescription has greatly helped control my symptoms, and also given me some extra energy for life and work. Spiritually I’ve come to terms with the temporary nature of my healing, and I’m okay with it. God gave me that gift, and nothing will take that away, even if the healing was not as long-term as I’d hoped it would be.

I have a follow-up appointment in a month with the really nice doctor I met a few weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing him again. Hopefully by that time the Humira will have had a noticeable effect, since we want to be tapering me off the steroids. Unlike Remicade, whose effect was apparent within a day or two, Humira is slower-acting to start, so it may be a couple weeks before I actually notice the difference (although you’d think with a four-pen starter dose that there’d be something going on inside me :)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Hannah Montana: The Movie

One of my best friends (who wishes to remain anonymous) and I went to see the new Hannah Montana movie earlier this evening. You can giggle about that all you like, the fact of the matter is I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The movie is well-produced, the soundtrack is excellent, and the story entertaining, but beyond the technical aspects, I found a deep theological relevance to my own life from Hannah's story. You see, Hannah has some pride issues at the beginning, and, well, that's something I've been heavily struggling with since last summer. My fight against myself began while I was leading the worship team at Abundant Life: instead of finding time for worship myself, playing music instead reinforced this idea in my head about "look at what a good person I am." The music wasn't about serving God anymore, it was Jeremy trying to be cool.

Near the beginning of the movie, Hannah and her Dad fly home to their native Tennessee (of course, Hannah thought she was flying to New York for a concert). On the road to Hannah/Miley's Grandmother's house, in the midst of a heated conversation, Dad suggests it might be time to be done: no more Hannah, no more double life. Miley protests and insists she can't give up Hannah. This reminded me of myself.

A few months ago, God essentially told me I needed to shape up, or else give up my guitar. Like Miley, I resisted. Like Miley, being asked to give up something that's become an integral part of who I am seems an impossible, and unjust, task. Like Miley, I wanted to find an easier way that didn't actually involve any sacrifice on my part.

In the movie, Miley rediscovers her love for her home town; like any comedy, there are a lot of bumps and stumbles along the way, but in the end, after willingly laying down her wig, she is encouraged not to give up: she's found her balance, and as long as she maintains that, she can still have the best of both worlds.

I'm still struggling with my pride, but I'm seeking that balance. Worshiping in a church but not being the worship leader was the first obstacle - I'm able to do that now. Finding the distinction between using my talents for God, and using them for my own glory, this is still difficult, but I'm learning to deal with it, slowly. Like Miley, I hold onto that hope of having the best of both worlds. God willing, I'll find my place.

Monday, April 06, 2009

My Miracle

In 10th grade I was diagnosed with a non-life-threatening gastrointestinal condition called Crohn's Disease. For me, the symptoms included intense cramping after meals (anytime one of my female friends complains about cramps, believe me, I actually do know how you feel), low-energy, decreased appetite, and very frequent (and very loose) stools. As a first step toward treatment, my doctor prescribed Prednisone, a steroid that almost immediately put my symptoms under control, and allowed us time to pursue long term treatment options. Also, being on a steroid, I was unusually energized, and my room was never cleaner.

Sometime during 11th grade, I was placed on Remicade, a "miracle" drug if ever there was one. Originally used to treat arthritis patients, the FDA has also approved it as an alternative treatment for Crohn's when conventional medications don't work (as was the case for me). Since then, I've gone in to a clinic every 6-8 weeks for a 2-hour infusion, and this kept me leading a normal life. Aside from the few days leading up to each infusion (when I'd feel the symptoms start to return), I never needed to worry about my diet or health more than anyone without the disease.

Remicade is an incredibly expensive drug - administered at a clinic, the price is $6,000 per infusion. At a hospital (my most convenient option while in school in Northfield), because everything is more expensive, it doubles to over $12,000. Fortunately, under my parent's insurance coverage our out-of-pocket co-pay was only $150, that's it. However, this past summer, when I started working at Minnehaha, my coverage transferred into my own name, and as part of that changeover, the cost of an infusion dramatically increased: my first infusion would be a $2700 out-of-pocket expense, and, while every medical expense I incur after that would be covered by insurance at 100%, I didn't really have that much money lying around asking to be spent.

Mid-way through summer, I heard a sermon about healing. During the sermon, we also heard an audio clip of Duane Miller, an author and speaker who had lost his voice from a flu infection. The doctors were unable to help him and gave him no hope of recovery. Duane's voice had been reduced to a painful whisper at best, yet he still insisted on teaching Sunday school lessons when he was physically able. We listened to the recording of his lesson one day, as he taught from Psalm 103, barely able to rasp out the words, when his voice spontaneously came back. Miracles still happen.

As I drove home that day, I prayed to God for healing in my own life, as well. 'God, I would like to ask for healing. I don't need it, Crohn's isn't life-threatening, and I have a treatment option that is working for me, and there are a lot of other people in this world who deserve miracles much more than I do. But still, it'd be pretty cool if you healed me. My faith won't be shaken if your answer is "no", but Psalm 103 tells us we can ask, and so, I'm asking.'

I neared the 8 week mark since my last Remicade with anticipation, and perhaps trepidation. 8 weeks came, then 9, then 10, and so on. Wow. Around 16 weeks I was past the point of no return - there was no denying the miracle that had happened in my life, and I felt confident I would never again need another infusion of Remicade. As the weeks went on, I kept a counter in my calendar, all the way up until this last Thursday: 43 weeks.

On Friday afternoon, I started feeling some symptoms coming back. I prayed, I ignored it: I'd been semi-sick this past week, that might have explained the symptoms. By Saturday, though, there was no denying it: my symptoms had returned. In between trips to the bathroom I'd feel mostly fine, but always with that fear of when the next urgent trip would be needed (and they were all urgent: rarely did my body bother to give me more than 60 seconds of warning to find a porcelain throne). This was especially inconvenient because this past weekend I was in Iowa for Awaken, and my physical not-well-being was affecting my ability to do my job.

I prayed a lot. Emotionally, I was very sad - the physical aspect aside, I had believed I'd never need treatment again, I had believed my healing was permanent, and now, I found out, it wasn't. "God, please don't let this end after 43 weeks. And yet, not my will, but Yours be done. My faith in You remains." As I came to terms with what was happening, another verse came to mind: "The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).

God gave me the miracle of 43 weeks, and nothing that happens now can ever take that away from me. God gave me a real-life miracle. Wow. Despite my disappointment that the healing had ended, I strove for gratefulness and trust - I knew, and know, no matter what happens, it's in God's hands, and I can think of no one I would trust more.

This morning, I called my Mom and told her what was happening. Then I called my doctor's office in the hopes of scheduling something today. Trying to get in to see my specialist is ridiculously difficult - normally they're scheduling out at least two months, so I knew the odds of getting something today, or even this week, were low at best. However, one of the doctors at the clinic had had a cancellation, and I was able to book an appointment with him early this afternoon. Because I'd been off Remicade for so long, I wasn't sure I could just start back up again; I also didn't even know if my prescription was current, so even if I was able to schedule an appointment for an infusion, they may not have had the orders they needed to actually give it to me. Lastly, I also wanted to find out more about a do-it-yourself-at-home alternative I'd heard about.

I was in such a bad mood this morning, but my doctor visit was nothing short of amazing. He was so friendly and compassionate, and he patiently answered all my questions about our options. I learned that going back on Remicade is probably not a good option for me - patients who have been off the medicine for longer than 6 months often develop an immunity to it, and worse, may also have a severe allergic reaction, perhaps similar to someone who is allergic to bees (throat swelling, etc). Why? Apparently one of the ingredients in Remicade is a mouse molecule that the human immune system (correctly) identifies as foreign, and can, if you stop taking the drug, develop antibodies to fight it.

Humira remains an option, though. It is commonly used with Crohn's patients who have stopped Remicade, and is administered by the patient at home, similar to an epi-pen, you just jab yourself in the thigh, wait 5 seconds, and you're done. Once every two weeks - no more taking half-days off work for 2-hour infusion appointments at a every couple months clinic. I have an appointment scheduled with my primary doctor in a month (his earliest available slot) to make the final decision on treatment, but Humira is the likely option.

Here's what's really cool about my doctor visit, though, and the part that has lifted my spirits so much: I asked at one point if he was a man of faith; he replied he was, and in fact his father was a minister. So I told him my story from summer, and he did something no doctor has ever done for me before: he shared a similar story of healing from his own family: his brother had been diagnosed with Crohn's around the same age I was, and then, after going to a youth conference and being prayed for, received healing for 7 years (with no medications) before the symptoms returned. In the end, my doctor not only gave me the medical guidance I needed, but also helped offer spiritual guidance from his own personal experiences. I could not have asked for anyone better to see me today.

So what happens for the next month? Today's doctor prescribed me a healthy dosing of Prednisone, which has already made a dramatic difference in the few hours since I took it. This will control the symptoms until the long term solution is determined.

I can see how some may be tempted to ask, "Where was God in all this? Why heal you just to take it away again?"

To answer the first question, God was pretty much in everything that happened: this flare-up waited until after I'd given my chapel speech at Minnehaha on Thursday; somehow there was a last-minute cancellation that I was able to schedule into, and somehow that just happened to be with this amazing doctor, himself a Believer, and who was able to understand and appreciate my story about my miracle. God was in my friends who called today to see how I was doing, in my parents who have always pledged their absolute support, both emotionally and fiscally (so that I wouldn't be left unable to afford medication), and God was in the community of believers who have been praying for me all weekend and all day today. I suspect God was also involved in the fundraiser signs at the high school Awaken performed at on Sunday: "Coins for Crohn's". Of all the random fundraisers, that they would have one this week for my particular disease... cannot be coincidence.

I also anticipate that God will use this experience in my life to give me opportunity to witness to others. It's one thing to say "God is good" when everything is fine and dandy, it's another to be in the midst of some form of suffering and yet still able to praise God. I love the book of Job, and while my situation is no where near as awful as his was (my family is still alive, my cattle haven't been burned by fires from the sky, my servants, or vacuuming robots, if you will, were not slaughtered by neighboring countries, etc), still in the midst of my brokenness I have found peace, and perhaps my story can be an inspiration to someone else along the way.

A Lesson Learned from “Chuck”

Chuck is a TV series about a computer nerd who works at a Buy More as part of the Nerd Herd (a take off on Best Buy and the Geek Squad). He also happens to have all the CIA's secrets trapped in his brain.

In tonight's episode we finally meet Chuck's father, who abandoned his family when Chuck and his sister were younger. Chuck's sister, especially, does not take kindly to her father coming back into their lives after so many years away.

What I found blog-worthy was this lesson: late in the episode, we find out that Chuck's father is actually a former CIA agent himself. In fact, he's the one who designed the computer program that gets stuck in Chuck's brain, and he left his family in order to protect them, not because he's a bad father. It reminded me how often I pass judgement on someone's actions when, really, I probably don't understand everything that's going on in their life, I don't have the backstory or context that might justify why someone has acted the way they did. And too often I have turned to condemnation, rather than trying to understand, rather than showing love.

I enjoy being entertained by the TV. I enjoy it even more when what I'm watching challenges me to change the way I live my life. Chuck didn't beat me over the head with any moral message here, it's entirely me reading my own issues into the episode, yet somehow I imagine I can't be the only one...