Before we get to that, here is what they are not:
They are not epileptic attacks nor do they seem to be neurologically related to epilepsy. We do not think her condition is related to an infectious disease, nor do we think it is associated with a tumor. It doesn't seem to be related to diabetes or low blood sugar. It is very unlikely that it is related to an allergy, virus, or migraines.
Here is what we do think they are:
The short answer is: "Non-epileptic seizures caused by pain and stress" (but please read on),
They are calling her episodes, "non-epileptic seizures." Anita's are probably related to the pain and stress that her body has been under for nearly a year. Many of you know that she was misdiagnosed in March of 2009 when she was experiencing problems with her pregnancy (at 27 weeks). In South Africa the doctors thought she had tendinitis that was causing sharp abdominal pain but in December we found out that it was a Chronic appendicitis (9 months of chronic appendicitis with 3 acute attacks). On December 18, 2009 Dr. Farid at Holy Cross Hospital removed her appendix and described it as "abscessing, hemorrhaging, inflamed, and tucked behind her cecum." It was as if her body was doing everything it could to keep her appendix together until he removed it. He also found a hernia when he was "fishing around in her abdomen," so he stitched that up while he was in there.
I asked several doctors if they had seen this before and at least two doctors cited similar cases that they had personally seen at UCLA Medical Center. While it is rare, it is not unheard of.
The GOOD NEWS is that they expect Anita to be able to fully recover from these so that they don't ever occur. Certain breathing exercises have already helped to reduce their frequency and intensity. Today she has had four mild ones (each lasting only a few minutes) that she has been able to get through quite smoothly. Yesterday (while she was on 24 hour EEG monitoring), she had 8 non-epileptic seizures that were all recorded. They were recorded visually and the electronic brain waves were recorded simultaneously.
I am not sure that this is the way I thought it would end. I suppose I was thinking there would be more of a Hollywood ending where a 27 foot-long tape worm is extracted from her body and she is instantly healed and the missionary family returns to Africa (by boat). At the end of the day, if this is the proper diagnosis, we are overjoyed. There are some tangible steps we can take towards recovery (I'll write more about those tomorrow) and we can rejoice that the battery of tests (EKG's, EEG's, CT scans, MRI's, Lumbar Puncture, and blood tests) have all come back saying she is a healthy 33 year-old woman. We have much to thank God for and ultimately we rejoice in His timing in allowing all this to happen here.
Our lives are His. From a human perspective it doesn't make sense to us why two people who love living and sharing Christ in Africa should be delayed from returning to a place that so many Christians don't really want to live in. But obviously, from His perspective, if we can glorify Him here by slowing down and dealing with this - then we are happy.
We would still appreciate your prayers. There is still the possibility that our current diagnosis is not complete. But in the meantime we are happy to work on the steps to recovery (again, more on those tomorrow).