Answered Prayers

Plagued by a series of mysterious symptoms, Lauri Hogle began looking everywhere for a cure. She found that -- and more -- in unexpected places.

Cover Story

November 14, 1999|By Story by Patricia Meisol | Story by Patricia Meisol,Sun Staff

It was her last hope.

On a snowy Sunday in March, 33-year-old Lauri Hogle asked her church elders to pray over her. In James 5:13-15, she'd read she should invite them -- Is anyone among you sick? the disciple had asked the crowd. Call the elders of the church to pray over you, and the prayer will heal you.

The unexplained numbness in Lauri's hands, the headaches, the blurred vision had stolen her ability to hold her babies or play the piano. Medicine puffed up her pretty face, straightened her shoulder-length dark hair, dulled the sparkle in her brown eyes. Her 5-foot-7 frame was weary. The labels doctors gave her -- chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia or depression -- were useless. "Sure I'm depressed," she had responded. "I can't walk."

Prayer took up her whole day. It was the only thing the Ellicott City woman could do. After seven years of pain, she was ready. She asked God for a decision.

"You're in charge," she told God as the elders of Chapelgate Presbyterian Church gathered around her. "If you do make me better, it will be glorious and you'll get all the credit. If not, I'll accept it."

Three days passed without a sign.

Then the fever came. A neighbor who checked on Lauri when her husband was away found her unconscious on the sofa, her children asleep upstairs, and called the ambulance. On top of the unexplained illness, she had an infection -- tonsillitis, of all things! It was so bad she was in the hospital a week.

Her first day home, Lauri dragged herself on a walker from her bedroom to a computer in the next room and called up the Web site she had checked for the past year.

Hundreds of e-mails from sick people had piled up. In a rush she began to delete them, too tired to care, but one caught her eye. The instant she clicked on it, she knew what it was:

The answer to her prayers.

The pain in Lauri's joints -- wrists, fingers, knees -- began in 1991, two months after her daughter, Rebecca, was born in Indiana. The rheumatologist she consulted found nothing wrong, and Lauri kept a busy schedule singing and playing the piano. A sought-after accompanist for recording studios, she also directed the children's choir at her church; she was signed up for a big job, too, a church anniversary celebration.

One day, carrying Rebecca upstairs to bed, Lauri's arms gave way and she dropped the baby into her crib. It wasn't far, but it was the second time she'd dropped her. "I can't do this," she said, crying. She knew something more was wrong.

By the day of the big church celebration, Lauri was writhing in pain, unable to stand. A 10-day stay at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis ruled out lupus, Lyme disease, infections and allergies. So shocked were nurses by her low blood pressure that they took it again and again. Her doctor told her she had chronic fatigue syndrome, a catchall for things medicine can't explain, and gave her an antidepressant.

She improved, but 14 months later, after giving birth to twins Rachel and Ruth, she began to experience terrible headaches, starting at the back of her neck, once or twice a month.

They lasted 24 hours, and they hit just as the Hogles moved to Chicago so that her husband, Paul, could start work as a senior development officer for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. With no friends or family nearby, Lauri called Paul when she felt the headaches coming on, and he would rush home early.

Their family photographs would show only Paul playing with the children outdoors, a twin in each arm, a smile on his face, the sled stuck in a snowdrift. Inside, Lauri popped Excedrin like candy; it was better than lying down, dizzy and vomiting. Sunlight and extreme heat, sometimes a hot shower, made everything worse.

"Why, God?" she asked, lying on the floor with the twins crawling over her, "especially with one small baby and then two more?"

She pushed herself to play the piano and sing hymns of thanks and praise.

Growing up in Rockville, Lauri had never gone to church. The church music she played, the choirs she led -- these were musical performances. She believed in God, but it didn't affect her daily life. Now, as music helped move her focus away from her pain, she began to learn about God, first by reading the Bible.

And she never stopped looking for an answer, or helping her doctors find one. Her father, a science teacher, had taught her to seek answers systematically. The search usually became a project, whether it involved a career choice or a Halloween costume.

In time, the Internet became one of Lauri's tools. She pulled up topic after topic in her quest for answers about her illness -- headaches, heart rate, vitamins. But it wasn't until Paul became vice president of development for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in early 1998 and board members directed him to Johns Hopkins Hospital that the Internet began to pay off for Lauri. By then, the pounding inside her head lasted five days a week.

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