My Fight to the Finish
Millions of people have at times found themselves faced with difficulties, such as chronic health problems that held no promise of any quick solution, that called for a real fight to the finish. I hope my experience may encourage those with such difficulties not to lose hope but to keep on fighting.—As told by Monika Siebert
I WAS brought up in northern Germany as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other than the fact that I was raised without a father—he died when I was very young—my childhood was quite normal. I grew up to be a carefree, happy-go-lucky redhead with plenty of freckles and a cheery disposition to match. In time I took up the full-time ministry as a pioneer preacher.
One Wednesday in the month of May, 16 years ago, Walter, the seven-year-old son of one of the Witnesses, and I were walking alongside the Rhine River, headed for a small village where we intended to preach, when little Walter scolded: “Monika, why do you keep stumbling? Be careful, or you’ll fall down.” I laughed: “Don’t worry, nothing’s wrong.” But something was wrong, as I was soon to discover.
Several weeks later my eyes began to play tricks on me. Everything became blurry and I began seeing double. But I talked away my fears, saying: “I’ve been reading too much. I’ve strained my eyes. Maybe I need glasses.”
So I went to an optometrist and asked about being fitted for glasses. But to my surprise, he said: “No, glasses will not help. Let me send you to a neurologist for a checkup.” I found this rather strange but decided to do as he suggested. However, since Hannelore, my partner, and I had friends visiting us at the time, I put it off for the moment.
Struck by a Disease
A few evenings later, when we were returning home with our friends from one of our Christian meetings, a piercing headache hit me like an electric jolt. It felt as though someone was trying to drill a hole in my head. The vibrations caused by the moving car were almost unbearable. As soon as we got home, we called the doctor and I was taken to the hospital. I’ll not soon forget the date: July 5, 1968.
At first no one seemed to know what was wrong. But at least medication was effective in relieving the pain. It was surmised I might have a brain tumor. To make sure, more extensive tests were necessary, so I was transferred to the University Clinic in Bonn, Germany’s capital, on the Rhine River.
In this difficult period I was greatly strengthened by experiencing the love of a worldwide brotherhood, a brotherhood of which I was privileged to be a part. Local Witnesses, whom I had never met before, came to visit me, many even bearing gifts. No disease—regardless of its severity—could ever rob me of that loving bond!
After days of agonizing uncertainty, I was returned to the local clinic and told, as gently as possible, the real problem. I had a disease I had never even heard of: multiple sclerosis. At first I failed to grasp the full implications. Then the awesome truth: It is a crippling disease for which, as yet, no cure has been found.
Depression or Action—Which?
I learned that multiple sclerosis is a disease of the brain, the spinal cord and the nervous system. The myelin, or fatlike substance surrounding the nerves, is destroyed, thus blocking the travel of nerve impulses from the brain to the muscles they are meant to activate. Partial paralysis with a loss of feeling in the limbs is the result. It is a difficult disease to deal with, affecting each victim in a different way. It is also highly unpredictable, oftentimes misleading the patient into thinking he is cured, only to strike again at an unexpected moment. It is this uncertainty and unpredictability that play havoc with your emotions.
Of course I was depressed. My plans for the future were now shrouded in uncertainty. It took time to adjust. But I was determined that there would be no self-pity, nor would I allow others to feel sorry for me. I could either resign myself to the crippling effects of my illness or fight. I chose to fight.
I had so many things for which to be grateful. I was alive. My mind was active. And I could still use my hands. Why not use them in writing letters, telling people about the wonderful hope of God’s Kingdom? I was permitted to continue in the full-time ministry, although my methods of carrying it out were now quite different. Still, it gave me something to hang on to, a reason to keep fighting.
Mother taught me that way—to hold on. She had become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses while I was still small, so from childhood on I had been diligently trained in the ways of Jehovah. By the time I was seven, I was regularly accompanying her in the preaching activity from door to door. This was good training and brought me real joy. Her exemplary zeal for God’s Kingdom interests created in me, even at that early age, a desire to serve Jehovah with all my strength. At 18, after completing school and learning an occupation, I took up the vocation of the full-time ministry.
Had I lost this wonderful privilege of service when I became sick, I would have felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under my feet. Although my strength continued to ebb, yet what I still had I could use in worshiping Jehovah, thus serving him with my entire strength. This thought was most comforting.
My letter writing did not go without results. For example, there was 16-year-old Claudia who, because of parental opposition, could not study the Bible at home. So we studied by letter. She progressed nicely, became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and is now serving in the full-time ministry too.
Meanwhile, the doctors were doing their best to help me. Baths, massages, different kinds of medication, even electric-current treatments were tried. But nothing brought real improvement.
New Treatment—Scare Tactics
The doctors were determined to slow down the debilitating effects of my disease. One day, with several doctors gathered around my bed, the head physician said: “We have decided to give you massive blood transfusions. Some people have been helped in this way.”
This suggestion came so unexpectedly that I could only shout “NO!” I then explained my religious reasons for refusing. (Acts 15:28, 29) The head physician accepted my decision, but the assistant medical director did not. At least twice a day he tried to get me to reconsider, arguing that my refusal would mean shortening my life. But I was adamant.
One of the nurses resorted to a more subtle method. I was in a single room, but my bed was shoved over to the window to make room for another person. It was claimed that my room was the only one that had an oxygen outlet. (Later I learned this was untrue.) Dying patients were placed in the room and given oxygen while I was forced to watch their death struggles! When two of them died, the nurse was explicit in pointing out what would happen to me should I continue to reject their method of treatment. This continued for several days until a kind lady working at the hospital intervened.
During the same time an elderly doctor secretly slipped me a medical journal and a book containing articles about the blood-transfusion treatment that the doctors were so strongly recommending. But the articles did not describe it as a cure; they explained it was simply for the purpose of research. Knowing this made me even more determined to remain firm.
Finally, the matter was dropped, and suddenly I was the main topic of conversation. Whispers echoed through the corridors about “the strong faith of that girl in room 327.” How grateful I was that prayer and Bible study had made my relationship with Jehovah so strong that I was enabled to demonstrate my love for him not just “in word” through my letters but also “in deed.”—1 John 3:18.
Determined to Walk Again
I tried to stand—repeatedly—but over and over again my legs collapsed beneath me. At home I would crawl around on my hands and knees, and, of course, try to walk, but always without success. Then one day I was actually able to stand up! I could hardly wait for my doctor’s next visit. When she came I slowly pulled myself out of bed, propped myself up on my feet—and promptly fell to the floor in a pitiful little heap. My willpower was strong, but my disease was stronger. Was it of any use to continue the fight?
I entered another clinic where exercising was stressed. My arms were still strong, so I was trained to prop myself up against a wall and then pull myself up into a standing position. Later I was instructed to walk along the crossbars, holding myself up by the arms. It looked so easy, but at first I could take only two or three steps, then four, then five, slowly but surely.
I remained optimistic, although my doctors said that even though I was learning to walk again, I would never be able to do without my wheelchair. To my joy, they were mistaken. I left the clinic in June of 1970 and have not used my wheelchair since! Of course, since each case is different, not all may be as fortunate as I have been.
What of the Future?
Sixteen years have passed since those first stumbling steps along the Rhine. Now, in 1984, I am still walking without a crutch. And although my friends say I have kept my sunny disposition and that I’m as cheery as ever, this partially has been my attempt to ward off pity. My closest friends know that at times the tears flow long and hard. My disease is still incurable and may very well remain so until God’s new system of things makes all things new.
But not all is bleak. There are disappointments, true, but they are counterbalanced by many happy experiences. I am acquainted with many faithful and loving brothers whose encouragement is most valuable. I have learned to conserve my strength, changing my way of life to fit the new situation. I have learned to be patient and to rejoice at the smallest sign of progress. My personal relationship with Jehovah has been strengthened by my seeing how helpless man is in his fight against disease. Only Jehovah can bring about complete healing. He has promised to do so.—See Isaiah 33:24; Revelation 21:4.
The full-time ministry continues to strengthen me, as do also the words of Isaiah 41:10, 13: “‘Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not gaze about, for I am your God. I will fortify you. I will really help you. I will really keep fast hold of you with my right hand of righteousness.’ For I, Jehovah your God, am grasping your right hand, the One saying to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I myself will help you.’”
Every Christian must “fight the fine fight of the faith,” each in the situation in life peculiar to him alone. (1 Timothy 6:12) But the fight is the same. And one day our fight will have been fought to the finish! I often think about what that will mean for me personally when I read God’s promise at Isaiah 35:5, 6: “Then shall blind men’s eyes be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb shout aloud.”—The New English Bible; italics ours.
Be sure of one thing. If I am blessed by Jehovah with everlasting life in his new system of righteousness, it will take a mighty frisky deer to outleap me!
[Blurb on page 17]
“I could either resign myself to the crippling effects of my illness or fight. I chose to fight”
[Blurb on page 18]
“My closest friends know that at times the tears flow long and hard”
[Blurb on page 19]
‘My relationship with Jehovah has been strengthened by seeing how helpless man is. Only Jehovah can bring about complete healing’