"Heal Me, O Lord"

"Heal Me, O Lord"

A woman suffering from a rash and blinding headaches discovers there is only one cure.

The Holy Bible

I woke up with the same tormenting headache I had gone to bed with, and struggled to the bathroom. I grasped the sink with both hands and reluctantly raised my pounding head to the mirror.

The face reflected in the glass was a fiery red mask of tiny bumps and large acnelike sores. Hundreds of them. The horrible rash covered my face like the Egyptian plague of boils in the Bible. The unending headache and rash comprised the mysterious condition I had lived with for 12 long, unbearable years.

Here I was, a middle-aged woman with two teenage sons and a husband, and I could hardly bear to raise my head and look in the mirror.

Tears blurred my vision as I tried to remember the smooth, milk-white complexion I used to have. My fingers twitched, longing to claw at the fiercely itching skin on my face.

I had tried everything—special diets, oatmeal soap, baby oil, vitamins and enough creams and ointments to fill a small drugstore. And the long line of doctors I had seen had passed by like a dwindling parade of hope. The rash had only grown worse, and my face swelled, itched and turned tomato-red at the slightest stimulus.

Suddenly the pain behind my eyes tightened as if someone were packing cotton into my sinuses. I reached for a bottle of pain medication and quickly swallowed a couple of pills. I took the maximum of eight pills a day. But they only forestalled the worst of it—when the pain crept down my neck, making clear thinking nearly impossible.

I felt consumed by despair, by the long years of this strange affliction. I had prayed so many times for it to go away. "Oh, God, why don't you help me?"

I dabbed at my eyes and dressed for work. My head ached so much I could hardly pull a comb through my hair. I thought about crawling back into bed. But, of course, I couldn't. I liked my work as a third grade schoolteacher. I had to keep going.

As I entered school that morning a little girl peered up at me, her eyes wide with surprise and dismay. "How come your face looks like that?" she asked.

I raised my hands over my cheeks and tried to explain. But I fell silent. I had no answer.

Not long after, someone told me about a dermatologist. I had seen half a dozen specialists already, but I made an appointment, ready to grasp at anything. I sat slumped on his examining table after a long series of allergy tests.

"Well, maybe we have an answer," the doctor said. "It appears you are allergic to yourself."

I stared at him disbelievingly. "You must be kidding!"

"I know it sounds strange, but these allergy tests show you are allergic to your own bacteria."

Hope blew away like the last autumn leaf. Allergic to myself. How could I escape that?

"We'll make a special serum, using your saliva," said the doctor, "and teach you how to inject it."

And so began the next three years of giving myself shots. The headaches were not quite as severe, nor the rash quite as red—partial relief. The doctor did everything he could, prescribing medicines, creams and consultations. Still, the ever-present plague was agonizing, embarrassing.

So I followed my old, exhausted pattern and found yet another doctor. This time an outstanding allergist. More tests. More money. He decided I was allergic to a long list of foods, and put me on a diet. For a year I existed on nothing but peas, potatoes, carrots, lettuce and lean meat. My weight plummeted to 102 pounds.

"You're wasting away, Mama," said my son one morning as I packed my lunch of canned peas. He was right. Something dreadful was happening to me. And despite it all the daily headaches persisted, and the humiliating rash and acne were splashed across my face as big and red as ever.