“Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Mark 5:19
Today is the feast of St. John Neumann. I would be negligent if I did not remember with a grateful heart his intercession. Below is a reprint from his feast day in 2008:
The orthodontist called at 8:15 in the morning. “Your son has a cyst in his jaw, and he needs to see an oral surgeon right away,” she said. My eight-year old son, Fritz, had only gone to her for a consultation the afternoon before. She had taken pictures and then shooed us out of the office promising to call in a day or two. “I didn’t want to alarm you, especially not in front of all your children,” she explained on the phone. He would need a biopsy to determine the nature of the cyst.
My husband, Bill, is in the military. Fritz was referred to the Dental Clinic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.. It would be two weeks before they could see him.
At this initial consultation, a doctor pointed out that Fritz’s jaw was bulging. His chin, on his right side, was more pronounced than on his left. You could clearly see it. But we hadn’t noticed it. Later, I looked at a photo of him from a year earlier, and I could see it there too. We never noticed it.
It was hard not to feel guilty. I hadn’t taken him to the dentist since he was four. We had insurance, I just didn’t feel it was truly necessary. I had made excuses for not going: it is hard to take a whole crew of kids, especially toddlers. But obviously this thing had been growing for quite some time. If I had been taking him regularly, surely they would have seen this sooner.
The doctor told my husband that in a best case scenario my son would be lucky if he only lost a few adult teeth.
The day after this appointment, I wrote:
“I will flog myself for the rest of my life over this. Even if he’s fine. Even if it all works out in the end. But, in all things, I see the hand of God. My wonderful husband…helped me to see it last night. I was in so much need of comfort that he just could not provide. But God, through him, gave it to me. ’We should have been in Fort Leavenworth right now. But we’re not. We’re here, with some of the best doctors in the country.’ I needed to hear that. I needed to know that God is right here actively taking care of us…both the orthodontist and the oral surgeon have asked ‘How long will you be in the area?’ That’s just not good. But it’s OK. My guilt is not assuaged, but my soul is comforted. It will be a rough road. But we’re not alone.”
The biopsy was scheduled for eleven days later. There was plenty of time to worry, to ponder the possibilities, to scour the internet for information. The doctors mentioned a cyst called an OKC which is difficult to eradicate. They didn’t want to talk about what else it might be. I didn’t want to think about it. My heart was heavy, and I knew that I could suffocate in fear if I let myself.
Eleven days were enough time to do a novena. I chose St. John Newmann through whose intercession a boy afflicted with cancer was healed. We also petitioned St. Apollonia, patron of teeth and tooth problems. We begged everyone we knew to pray for our son. And finally, we sought the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick for my child who only earlier that year had made his First Penance and First Holy Communion.
Both Bill and I took Fritz to the early morning surgery. The initial prognosis was good: it seemed to be “just” a cyst and nothing worse. The doctors installed a stent in his jaw through which we needed to irrigate the cyst to help it shrink. They also forbade sports of any kind. His jawbone was extremely thin, and the risk of fracture was great. I thought about my son’s usual free time activities and knew this would be difficult, but I was thankful he had managed to avoid injury so far.
I took Fritz back to Walter Reed a week later for a check-up and for the results of the biopsy. As they suspected, it was definitely just a cyst, and in fact was not the dreaded OKC, but was simply a dentigerous cyst, which is easier to treat and is not likely to return. The staff was happy and surprised that their best case scenario was in fact much worse than the actual results. I consider it to be a miracle.
God gave us a gift of healing. It wasn’t an instantaneous cure, and life was difficult for quite some time. For two months I took Fritz on the hour-long drive to Walter Reed once a week for a check up. Bill’s job required long hours and many days away from home, so the burden of taking my son to these appointments, often with all the children in tow, fell on me. In addition, Fritz still had to avoid activities that risked fracturing his jaw, and we had to remember to irrigate his cyst daily. But he did not have to fight for his life.
Two and a half months later, at his usual appointment, the chief surgeon looked at Fritz’s latest x-rays and exclaimed, “It’s gone!” He had told us it would take six to nine months for the cyst to shrink. He turned to the new resident with him and explained Fritz’s diagnosis and treatment. I was elated to hear him say, “It turned out to be a dentigerous cyst, thank God.” Yes, I silently agreed, thank God.