Wednesday, October 27, 2021

A Case of Nerves

My An Arkie's Faith column from the October 27, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The leaves on the trees along Highway 270 are glowing in the early morning sunlight, displaying muted colors of orange and gold. Autumn has begun painting the landscape with a slow grace, giving me a preview of the vibrant yellows, orange, and scarlets that will soon blanket the hillsides. I take some notice of the beauty surrounding me, but my mind is preoccupied. I am on my way to Hot Springs for a doctor’s appointment. 

For the past year, I have been suffering from leg pain. My orthopedic surgeon scheduled a nerve conduction study to try and find the cause of my symptoms, numbness, tingling, and pain. I am not looking forward to the procedure. A nerve conduction study measures how fast an electrical impulse moves through your nerves and can help identify nerve damage.

I researched the procedure on the internet and found that the doctor would stimulate my nerves with electrode patches attached to my skin during the test. He would do this by placing two electrodes on the skin over my nerve. One electrode would stimulate my nerve with an electrical impulse, and then the other electrode would record it. He would repeat this procedure for each nerve he tested. The doctor’s office told me that the study would take more than two hours. A friend of mine had experienced the procedure, and his description was not easing my mind. I am not fond of medical procedures, and everything about this one was outside of my comfort zone. 

When I arrived at the hospital, I found a parking spot, put on my mask, stepped out of the car, and headed towards the building. It took me a while to find the proper entrance to the St. Vincent Medical Building. I was nervous as I stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the 5th floor. After finding my way to Suite 505, I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and opened the door. I filled out all of the necessary paperwork, and then after taking my vitals, the nurse ushered me into a small room. In the corner was a computer station with a maze of wires connecting the equipment. 

When Dr. Kramer came into the room, he spoke with a calm, reassuring voice, explaining what would happen. I’m sure that many of his patients are nervous about the procedure. He told me that he would locate and mark the nerve to be studied. Then he would attach a recording electrode to the skin over my nerve, using a special paste. He would then place a stimulating electrode away from the recording electrode at a known distance. “A mild and brief electrical shock, given through the stimulating electrode, will stimulate your nerve. You may experience minor discomfort for a few seconds,” he explained. He also told me that we could take a break for a few minutes if it was ever too painful. That information didn’t make me feel any less nervous.

The first few “mild and brief electrical shocks” were unsettling, but I soon knew what to expect, and as we settled into a routine, I was able to relax a bit. But then the doctor told me that he would be applying the “mild and brief electrical shock” ten times in rapid succession. I was relieved when each series of ten shocks, referred to as repetitive nerve stimulation, ended. When the doctor had finished testing the nerves in both legs, he told me that we had one more procedure, which would only take fifteen minutes. “Almost done,” I thought. But then the doctor explained the procedure. “It is called electromyography,” he said. “It is more involved and may also be a little more uncomfortable. Electromyography uses an electrode on the skin. However, the test also uses a thin needle that penetrates the skin and goes into your muscles. I will ask you to relax and contract your muscles, giving you instructions on how and when to tighten the muscle I am studying.” 

“Great,” I thought, “he saved the best for last,” but I didn’t have any choice but to continue. My anxiety surfaced again as the doctor explained the procedure. I gritted my teeth as the doctor started inserting needles into my left leg. When he inserted each needle, I felt a small sting, but it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined. After the tests on my leg, I rolled onto my side, and he began inserting needles into my lower back. I was very relieved when the doctor finally said, “all finished.” All of the tests were completed, and there was no longer a reason for me to be nervous. 

Dr. Kramer tried to explain what he had learned from the testing, but the only thing that I understood was that my nerves were damaged and not operating as they should. He told me that I should follow up with my orthopedic surgeon as soon as mutually convenient. As I walked out of the medical building and called my wife, I realized my anxiety hadn’t been warranted. I had imagined it to be much worse than it was.

I was filled with apprehension during my two-hour drive to get to my appointment. Psychologists use the term “Negative Anticipation” for these moments. I had forgotten the words of Paul found in Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV). “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  

Paul didn’t tell us that when we pray, God will magically fix things. Instead, he tells us that God’s peace will flood our hearts and minds. Paul didn’t rebuke or criticize us for our anxiety. Paul is saying, instead of being anxious, ask God to give you peace.

Gentle Reader, when you are anxious and have a case of nerves, God wants to give you peace. When you look forward to something with “Negative Anticipation,” the answer is to “turn all your anxiety over to God because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:7 (GW) God tells you, “don’t worry, because I am with you. Don’t be afraid, because I am your God. I will make you strong and will help you; I will support you with my right hand that saves you.” Isaiah 41:10 (NCV) When you have a case of nerves, claim God’s promise of peace. You can count on Him.

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