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Woman on Fire
By Dave Franco

Valerie Greer sat gingerly in the passenger seat of a car driven by her husband, Chad, her eyes closed. The music was low and soothing, her mind was lost in a whir of prayer. As the car traveled north on the 5 freeway toward Sacramento, each bump, even the slightest of knocks, was another electric shock through her nervous system, which in turn fired daggers to her brain and caused her pulse to race and her closed eyes to squint hard. It would be a two-hour drive to the church from the airport. It would seem like 22.

It had been four long years since Valerie was walking through a grocery store and slipped on a surface where a not yet tended-to spill had occurred. When she got up, she walked over to the manager to report the spill and then walked back down the aisle to find the items she was looking for. The fall caused no harm to her, but that wasn’t the best part. No one noticed the embarrassing slip that plunged her left foot forward and almost landed her in the splits.

She ventured a look down at her left ankle that she could somehow suddenly feel. It was starting to swell. Hmm, she thought. That doesn’t look good.

But while she stood in line at the register to pay, she ventured a look down at her left ankle that she could somehow suddenly feel. It was starting to swell. Hmm, she thought. That doesn’t look good.

In the weeks to come, her slightly swollen ankle would grow to become a horribly disfigured ankle and foot that hurt terribly. A trip to the doctor confirmed her suspicion that it was just a bad sprain. No break, which was good news. But one month later as she looked at the black and blue monstrosity below her shin, she began to think to herself, this is no ordinary sprain.

Trips back and forth to the clinic did not change the doctor’s diagnosis and therefore, as with all sprains, she was forced to simply wait for the swelling to go down and the pain to go away. Eight months passed and nothing got better. The pain seemed to increase as the swelling hung on as if it had decided to be a permanent fixture on her body. When she was sent to another specialist, he had good news and bad. “I know what is wrong with your ankle, Mrs. Greer, and I can fix it,” he said, noting that it was not a sprain, but detached ligaments. “But because it was not repaired in the first three months of injuring it, you will more than likely have chronic pain.”

“I can deal with that when the time comes,” she said to him. “Let’s just get this thing fixed.”

The operation was in July, 11 months after the slip. The ligaments were reattached. Underneath her cast, Valerie assumed her foot was healing. She couldn’t wait to see and feel the difference. Finally, the day came when she would get her cast off. As the doctor removed it, Valerie’s heart sank. It looked worse and felt worse than before. Just stay patient, she pleaded with herself, it may just need more time to heal.

Thirty days to the day, just as the doctor predicted, the pain started. It was as if someone started a low flame under the bottom of her foot. Only this time, the black and blue was joined by red. Dear Lord, she thought, what is going on with me?

A trip back to yet another specialist revealed what was going on. “You have Complex Regional Pain Syndrome,” he told her. “It’s what happens when a limb sustains a traumatic injury and is not repaired promptly. It’s a pain that spreads and is acute.” And then he added. “There is no cure.”

Valerie was at a loss. She couldn’t believe a little slip in a store could so dramatically change her life. Since that day, she hadn’t had a moment without pain. As a stay at home mom who homeschooled her kids, she simply refused to be on crutches anymore. It didn’t matter that she could put no pressure on her foot for fear of shooting pain, crutches didn’t fit into her life. So she got herself a cane and threw the crutches in a closet.

Suddenly, it was as if someone turned up the heat. Her foot started to burn as if there were flames. She looked down, certain that fire was consuming her foot, but there was none. Valerie was in agony.

But the pain was just getting started.

The bottom of her right foot began to feel hot as well. “Oh, God, no,” she spoke out. In a few days, both feet were equally on fire. Valerie couldn’t keep herself from looking down to see what she was sure were long red flames jumping from underneath her feet.

The stabbing and burning pain was unbearable. “100!” she answered when asked by her doctor to rate the pain, 1 to 10. As she lay in bed, not even her sheets could touch her toes. In the middle of one particular night, she got up and was shocked to see a monster in her room. As she cleared her eyes, she saw that she was looking into the mirror. She gasped in fear. Her face had swollen to twice its size and her eyes nearly closed.

A week in the hospital reduced the swelling, but it wouldn’t be the only time she had to be rushed to the emergency room. Sitting in a store, she collapsed and was once again rushed to the hospital. When she woke up, she no longer had use of her limbs.

The pain traveled to the back of one calf and then on up to her hands making her fingers feel like they had each been smashed with a hammer.

Fourteen days later, the use of her limbs were back, but the worst was yet to come. The pain traveled to the back of one calf and then on up to her hands making her fingers feel like they had each been smashed with a hammer. Everything was burning, her skin was red and even hot to the touch.

Depression covered her like a wet quilt. Valerie would find herself crying for hours at a time, with the hope for healing starting to slip away. When pulling up to the house after driving the kids to a friend’s house, she would stay in the car and stare at the steps, trying to summon the courage to make the climb. Sometimes she would simply wait in the car until her kids were ready to be picked up.

She took as many as 30 different kinds of medications, including morphine and nothing touched the pain. She had an electrical device inserted in her back that told her brain that there was no pain, but it didn’t work. She had an epidural and other spinal manipulations and they also didn’t work. Tortuous months turned into tormenting years and the only thing that changed was that the excruciating creep of pain that spread to her elbows, hips, shoulders, and the back of her neck. She was a woman on fire. Sleeping no more than five minutes at a time, a full night would bring an accumulated half hour sleep and six hours of agony.

Mornings, she would lie in bed and stare down at the spot on the floor just two feet away and pray, “Lord, only you can get me there.” The trip to the spot would take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

Another trip to a pain management doctor, whom she had been seeing for three years, resulted in her worst news yet. With his eyes weary and his brow furled, he said, “Mrs. Greer, there’s nothing else I can do for you. There is no need to see me anymore.” It was a gut-wrenching blow to any last vestiges of hope. When a walker from her primary care doctor appeared at her front door, the combination was too much to bear. She was overcome with grief. In her mind, the walker was the precursor to the wheelchair, and she couldn’t fathom that.

“I know you can heal me, Lord. But if it is not your will, help me to endure this. I am begging you."

When her doctor gave her a referral to a therapist, she initially didn’t want to go. She mistakenly believed that she was being sent because the doctor was convinced that she was going crazy. She was actually being sent because the doctor knew that she had to be experiencing emotional trauma.

“What is your greatest fear?” the therapist asked. “I’m useless at home. I can no longer do anything that my husband or my kids need from me. I talk about fire on my body when there is no fire. I’m afraid my husband will have me committed to mental facility.”

She offered hugs and smiles when she wanted to scream and cry...the searing pain had long since reached its breaking point.

To keep from being “put away,” she began to hide her pain from Chad, who, unbeknownst to her, never considered such a thing. Nevertheless, at church, she put on a smile so that no one would know. She offered hugs and smiles when she wanted to scream and cry. Next came crushing guilt. She feared that even though she had asked God to forgive her sins many years ago, there must be a sin that she had forgotten to confess—and He was punishing her because of it. The fear, the guilt, and the depression were playing on her mind and the searing pain had long since reached its breaking point. Valerie had nothing left. It had been four years. The only energy she had left was spent on crying.

• • •

“I need you to meet me at the church!” she bellowed while Chad drove the car to the healing conference near Sacramento. She believed she was praying in her mind. Her voice actually filled the car.

The church’s rented hall was filled with people in need of healing and folks who were there to pray. Chad helped Valerie into the church and gently sat her down. Neither knew what to expect and couldn’t say they fully believed, having never been exposed to healing services even though they both grew up in church.

The process seemed simple and rather common—not weird at all. The pastor called down the presence of the Holy Spirit, then asked the people who were there to pray to raise their hands so people who needed healing could spot them. At first, it was a bit of a mad rush to find someone to pray for her. Valerie and Chad felt the fear of possibly being left out. Everywhere they turned, somebody would beat them to the nearest praying person. But finally, a friend of Valerie’s who was also in attendance, grabbed a nearby woman who had indicated she was a pray-er, and held her for Valerie. When Valerie arrived, the woman touched her head. Valerie closed her eyes and her mind went somewhere deep inside, not hearing the woman’s prayer at all.

Suddenly, as if big, cool, water drops were rolling off her body, the pain trickled away, first starting with her neck, and then to her shoulders, elbows, hands, hips, calves and then ankle.

“Amen,” said the woman. Valerie sat down and began to cry. “I’m healed,” she cried out, moving her joints and feeling a full range of motion in her ankle. “Lord, you came!”

As she left the church, she was spirit-filled and pain-free—except for one thing—the bottom of her feet still seemed to be on fire. The next day, however, as they returned to the church, Chad decided he had this one. He prayed over his wife, who he loved so much, and like stepping onto a cool tile floor, the fire was gone and the shooting pain disappeared.

The trip home was exhilarating. When they arrived at their house, she bounded up the porch steps with the joy of a child. “Hurry up, slow poke!” she called to Chad. Her face was alive with the broadest smile of her life.

The next day she was packing a box of things to send to an orphanage in the Philippines. Next to the box lay her daughter’s jump rope. She looked at it just laying there. Oh, yes I am, she thought to herself.

The kids, who were in a different room, heard a strange tapping that they couldn’t quite make out. When they ran around the corner, Valerie was jumping rope. “Mom! Are you sure you should be doing that?” they screamed in fear.

“Oh, I should be doing this, alright. God has healed me! This is exactly what I should be doing.”

See Valerie’s jump for joy here.