Miracles Do Happen: Confessions of A Sinner by Franklin Parrish
The last words I remember repeating at Stanford Medical Center as aides moved me into the operating room were from the last Chapter of St. Matthew when our Lord said: "Fear not for behold I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." I kept repeating that phrase until the anesthesia took effect.
The spinal surgery was on Monday, December 19, 2016, and took eleven and one-half (11 1/2) hours. This was my sixth (6th) major surgery since the summer of 2010. My wife, Lorraine, of forty-one (41) years, as well as my pain specialist both opposed me taking the risk of an additional surgery, because with each prior surgery my condition had become worse. During the past seven (7) years, I had consumed more than Eight Thousand (8,000) Vicodin, antibiotics, and other prescription drugs, which only gave me temporary relief from pain.
It began in the early summer of 2010, when I suffered severe lower back pain. Prior to that time, I was a faithful member of "24 Hour Fitness" in Walnut Creek. I worked out at least five (5) days a week and considered myself to be a middle-aged body builder. I took pride in my abs and physical appearance. However, after we returned from a three (3) week trip to Egypt, The Holy Land, and Jordon, in November of 2009, I could not tolerate the lower back pain any longer.
My wife, Lorraine, and I did our homework and interviewed at least twelve (12) spinal surgeons in the East Bay. Some doctors simply rejected my case, while others discussed. extensive surgeries that would take two (2) days to perform and required cutting through my lower back as well as my front abdominal cavity.
We finally located an orthopedic surgeon in Walnut Creek who believed my pain could be eliminated by performing a much smaller procedure called a "laminectomy." The doctor said there was a spur on one of my lumbar vertebras which cause most of the pain. He recommended the removal of the spur and cleaning out the area between the L4 and L5 vertebras. The surgeon held himself out as an orthopedic specialist. Lorraine and I believed him.
I agreed to this smaller operation and was told the recover would be quick. The surgeon stated that because John Muir Medical Center was undergoing major construction in 2010, it was his recommendation that we use a nearby medical center just south of Walnut Creek. It was only later that Lorraine and I learned the surgeon's privileges at John Muir Medical Center had been revoked, and that he had failed his specialization Boards. I had two (2) operations by this "specialist" to clean out the area between the L4 and LS vertebras.
Within one (1) week after the second operation I began to experience severe back pain that radiated across my back. It was like being awakened at night from a severe leg cramp. But the spasms ran horizontally across my lower back. I had in excess forty (40) spasms an hour. The specialist recommended that I be readmitted to the medical center. The pain grew worse over a ten (10) day period and it was then recommended that I be transferred from the medical center to Manor Care, a rehabilitation center near Rossmoor. When the director at Manor Care saw me, she said: "'This man is too sick for us to care for." I was then sent back to the medical center. At that time Lorraine's Sister, Mary Anna, worked in hospital administration, and was very concerned over my deteriorating condition. She was able to have me admitted to California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) in San Francisco. Upon arrival at CPMC, I was greeted in my room by a medical staff that included Dr. Brian Andrews, a leading orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Daniel Goodman, Director of Infectious Disease, several physical therapists and a psychiatrist.
I was first asked a series of questions by the doctors at CPMC, none of which I could answer. I was in a state of delirium. Dr. Goodman requested my medical records from my past hospitalization at the medical center just south of Walnut Creek. However, that facility refused to honor Dr. Goodman's request even with my written approval. At that time, with limited medical history, a diagnosis was unclear. Dr. Andrews then said that he would have to operate on my infected back to help with the diagnosis. Dr. Andrews drained several inflamed discs and send a sample to the lab.
Dr. Goodman then asked me: "Could you request Lorraine to personally go to the medical center where I was originally operated on and demand my medical records?". Lorraine did as requested, and she was able to obtain only a portion of the records. However, what she did obtain showed that prior to the second surgery at the first medical center, I had developed a fever and had developed an elevated white blood cell count, both indicators of an infection. Dr. Andrews' biopsies showed I had contracted "pseudomonas aeruginosa", a rare and dangerous infection that I had been exposed to at the first medical center before I was transferred to CPMC. Dr. Andrews was very concerned the infection might have spread to my spinal cord and then to my brain. The staff at CPMC was magnificent, and I credit Dr. Andrews and his colleagues with saving my life. Fortunately, the infection was restricted to my lower back, and had not spread to my spinal cord or brain. Despite that, I remained at CPMC for nearly a month, and it took me until the end of December in 2010, to recover.
The following year in 2011, Dr. Andrews said my back had deteriorated to such a degree, that he referred me to the spinal unit at UCSF. In March of 2011, I met with several neuroarthropathic surgeons who recommended that to correct my condition I would be required to undergo another major surgery and have rods placed half way up my spine. Having faith in their expertise I underwent surgery in the summer of 2011. The recovery was very slow as well as painful, and I still could not stand straight. I was also placed on heavy narcotics and antibiotics. Six (6) months after the surgery, I remained in tremendous pain. The staff at UCSF sent me to physical therapy, increased my medications, but my pain continued.
I met with the surgeons repeatedly at UCSF for the next five (5) years until the chief surgeon who performed my surgery told me in late 2015:"There is nothing more we can do for you". I clearly remember after that appointment, Lorraine and I went to our car and just crying. All of this was exacerbated by the failed operations conducted in the medical center south of Walnut Creek. However, neither that medical center, its hospitalist, nor the surgeon, "specialist" who operated on me ever took any responsibility for my post-operative condition.
I continued to go back to the orthopedic surgeons at UCSF through the first eight (8) months of 2016, even though the lead surgeon stated there was no hope. However, another surgeon at UCSF, Dr. Sigmund Berven, said to me: "Frank, there will come a time when you will say: 'I cannot stand this anymore' and you will take some corrective action." By this time my height had declined from six feet two inches (6'2") to five feet eight inches (5' 8"), and my stature was completely deformed. I stood at a seventy (70) degree angle and could not lay flat to sleep. I was required for six (6) years to sit up in bed with five (5) pillows behind my head to rest at a ninety (90) degree angle. At the same time, I was now on even heavier doses of narcotics including fentanyl patches, and additional antibiotics. I was told by the doctors at UCSF that I would be on most of these medications for the rest of my life. This routine went on from 2011 through mid-December of 2016. However, what my pain level was at, I continued to maintain my Walnut Creek estate planning law practice. To be in the law office was an escape for me from my pain. When I met with clients I could compartmentalize my thoughts and focus my mind only on their problems. This remained my best technique for displacing my pain. Once a client conference ended, all the pain returned with a vengeance.
In August of 2016 our Daughter, Elizabeth, became engaged to a wonderful young man whom she had met in college, and they set their wedding date for July 29th of 2017. I then recalled Dr. Berven's statement, and decided this was my hour of decision. However, this time through the guidance of my first cousin, Dr. Richard Parrish II, who is like a brother to me, is also the head of glaucoma research at The Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at The University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, I contacted Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto. There in November of2016 I had the opportunity of meeting a dynamic orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Todd F. Alamin. He had new x-rays taken of my back and then explained to Lorraine and to me exactly what he could do. He also stated this surgery, if I proceeded with it would be far more extensive than anything I had ever experienced. Dr. Alamin then asked: "Frank, why have you now decided to have this surgery?" I replied: "Our Daughter, Elizabeth, is getting married on July 29th of 2017, and I want to be able to walk her down the aisle standing completely straight." Dr. Alamin replied: "I cannot think of a more noble reason".
Following that initial medical conference, we scheduled the operation for Monday, December 19'1\ beginning at 6:30 AM. Dr. Alamin estimated the surgery would take between ten (10) to twelve (12) hours. December 18th was the Sunday before Christmas and Lorraine and I attended the 11 :00 AM Mass at Saint John Vianney Catholic Church in Walnut Creek. Our two (2) adult children, James and Elizabeth, were with us at Mass. Father Luke Seemakula celebrated the Mass and just before the benediction he announced to the congregation: "You all know Frank Parrish, and have seen what suffering he has gone through during the past seven (7) years. I want this to be a healing service. Tomorrow, Monday, December 19th he will undergo major spinal surgery at Stanford Medical Center" Father Luke then asked me to come forward to the alter. He also invited anyone else who so desired to come forward, and place their hands on me. I was in tears, as it was a very emotional moment.
On Sunday evening, December 18th, Lorraine and I went to Palo Alto to spend the night so that we could be near Stanford Medical Center. Monday morning, December 19th, we awoke at 4:00 AM, and arrived at Stanford Medical Center by 5:30. I was immediately prepped for surgery by 6:15 AM. As the staff took me on a gurney to the operating room I suddenly realized: "I have been praying for the wrong person. I have been praying for my own recovery. Instead, I should have been praying for Dr. Alamin."
When I arrived at the entrance to the operating room Dr. Alamin and his five (5) residents came up behind me. Dr. Alamin said: "Frank, are you ready for this?" I replied: "Yes, but I have one (1) one last thing to do." Dr. Alamin looked at me with a somewhat whimsical expression as he stood over me. I then asked:" Would you extend your hands straight in front of you?". He did just as I requested. I then made the sign of The Cross on each of his hands, closed my eyes and said out loud in a slow calm manner, one (1) "Hail Mary''. I then opened my eyes and looked directly up at Dr. Alamin. His eyes were filled with tears. I knew he was in a very vulnerable position. He then said: "Guys we've got an operation to perform."
Dr. Alamin was back in control, and from that moment, I had no fear. I knew God was with us and by his divine intercession, Dr. Alamin hands were being guided by our Lord. The surgery consisted of placing two (2) twenty-two (22") inch titanium rods on each side of my crooked spine, and thereafter attaching my vertebras to the rods with sixty-four (64) bolts and screws. The rods were then attached to my pelvic bone with four (4), four-inch (4") screws.
I came out of the surgery eleven and one-half (11 1/2) hours later. I then saw Lorraine, and Dr. Alamin told us that I would be kept in a semi-comatose state for approximately forty-eight (48) hours, which would be the most painful period after the surgery. Thereafter, I would have a button to push for pain medication. However, it was during this delirious time that I saw my late Parents, my late Uncle, Dr. Richard Parrish, who saved my life at birth, and Lorraine's late Father, Edward Weklar, all of whom were young and surrounded by glowing light. My Dad held out his right hand to grasp mine. At the same time, I looked back and saw Lorraine, as well as our two (2) adult children, James and Elizabeth. At that same moment Dad said to me: "It is not your time ... " and let go. I then awoke, and saw James walking towards me. I began to cry for what I had just experienced. James then said: "Dad you are doing great, there is no need to cry''. I did not tell him at that time what I had just seen.
On December 26th., I was released from Stanford and was sent to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek to be placed in its Acute Orthopedic Rehabilitation Unit on the fourth floor. I had been taking nineteen (19) pills a day, mostly for pain. On January 10th., 2017, I was released from John Muir Medical Center and went home. Six (6) weeks later I had my first post surgery appointment with Dr. Alamin.
As God worked through Dr. Alamin, He gave me a new lease on Life. I was now four and one-half inches (4 ½") taller, with a height of six (6) feet, one and a half inches (6' 1 ½"). I could stand straight, and for the first time in seven (7) years had no pain. I was off nearly all pain medication. Dr. Alamin said in his seventeen (17) years, as an orthopedic surgeon at Stanford, he never had a patient who went through such an extensive surgery and within six (6) weeks could stand straight, grew four and one-half (4 ½") inches taller, and had no pain. I do believe this was a miracle.
My life will never be the same. I always had a deep faith in God which I learned from my Mother, but after suffering for seven (7) years as a handicapped individual, I came to truly understand what the afflicted deal with daily. I also learned from my Father the courage to never give up no matter how difficult the goal. Through this journey, I never lost faith in God, and I kept as an example of optimism in my heart, the fortitude of our late President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who with the guidance of his spouse, Eleanor, never lost the will power to overcome his handicap.
I now know it is by the grace of our Lord and Savior that I am here and have been both spiritually and physically healed. In addition, I now live as a witness to our Lord's divine mercy and healing powers. I also have no doubt that our Lord acts through individuals. I am convinced that during my eleven and one-half (11 1/2) hour surgery; Dr. Alamin was surrounded by Angels. I also have no doubt that Dr. Alamin was an instrument of God's grace, peace, and healing power. Likewise, I always remember the verse from Hebrews Chapter XIII which reads: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained Angels unawares".
We are all called to be our Lord's witnesses in this life, and I feel privileged for a moment to have seen the life in the world to come. I now live without fear, and thank God, his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, his Mother, the Virgin Mary, The Holy Spirit, and all the Saints for this journey of a lifetime.
As a sinner I am in no way worthy of this miracle. However, I am eternally thankful for this blessing and to be able to share my story with you. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. I also remind myself daily that our Lord came into this world to heal the lost, the sick, the forgotten, and the broken-hearted. May you find hope and peace in this message, and never forget the verse from the last Chapter of St. Matthew when our Lord said: "Fear not for behold I am with you always, even unto the end of the age." Finally, "May the Peace of God that passeth all understanding be with you now and forever".