up feeling better than usual and I'm not a morning person. I was driving
to work and pulled into the parking lot when everything around me
began spinning so fast I couldn't see anything and didn't know where
I was. I held onto the steering wheel and the pinwheel feeling lasted
a few minutes. Finally it settled enough so that I could see the horizon
and I pulled my car over. That was the last time I drove."
Dr. Carrie Carter
had spent years studying to become knowledgeable about medical conditions
and nutritional supplements. But in the fall of 1999 she entered
a new phase of education: the life of a person with a chronic illness.
Diagnosed with Meniere's Disease, a chronic, incurable inner ear
disorder, life changed dramatically. But as author of Thrive: A
Woman's Guide to a Healthy Lifestyle (Bethany House Publishers)
and Mom's Health Matters (Zondervan, and endorsed by MOPs), both
released in 2003, God has redirected her life in a way she could
not have imagined just five years ago.
She brings us
a unique perspective: That of a doctor who has listened to patients
who looked fine but felt terrible. But also a doctor who feels poorly
herself, but is told "Gosh, you look great! You must be doing
"There's something in me," shares Dr. Carter, "that
rises up and wants to say, 'but I'm still sick! I really am!' I
have a measure of health that varies in quantity and once I use
it up, I'm done until it's replenished-however long that takes.
I want people to understand that and yet it shouldn't matter what
people think. . . But it does. It's that in between place that is
I sat down with
Dr. Carter to discuss her journey of living with a chronic illness,
her new books, her radio programs-and how God fits into it all.
With great emotion she shared her story, in hopes that it will encourage
you. Yes, even doctors get sick.
are the most difficult parts of your day?
and any visual movement, like walking down grocery store aisles,
causes vertigo. Vertigo is different than being dizzy. It's extreme
and unpredictable, sometimes I have several episodes a day. The
severe fatigue is hard to describe. If I ride on an airplane or
go to an event, I have to pay for it for days. But I'd rather not
be housebound. I'd rather live and have these experiences, and know
that when I come home I'll have to spend five days in bed. That's
the price, but it's better to live and do as much as I can with
my family whenever I can.
As a doctor,
the fatigue was one of the things that surprised me the most; it's
one of those symptoms most people with any chronic illness experience.
I also lose my memory. It's extremely scary. I had cognitive testing
and discovered that I was basically coming in under average in the
ability to think and process memory-very scary! Thankfully, I got
through the worst part and my memory has mostly returned, but it's
very hard for my family. One day I'm very bright and capable and
the next day I'm telling my son, "that thing over there."
I can't remember what a chair is called. It's frustrating and very
hk: How do
you see God using illness in your life?
CC: I learned the hard way that I'm not invincible. Last year I
went to CBA [Christian Booksellers Association conference] and it
worked out that I went alone and overscheduled myself, but in the
moment I was doing well physically. I felt wonderful, the best I'd
been in four years. I expected once I got home I'd be in bed a few
days, but I was stuck in bed for six weeks. I cancelled all kinds
It's hard to know when God is giving you a gift and you want to
enjoy it; you're saying, "Thank you, Lord. You knew I needed
this." Then you get home and realize you took a little too
much of the gift. It was a small gift and you took a larger portion.
Exactly. I often think, "God, You've given me this wonderful
opportunity [to write, practice medicine, etc.]. Now, what I am
supposed to do with it?" But I've had the most amazing blessing
to write two books that came out in 2003. They were literally a
gift from God; groundwork I had laid years before coming to fruition.
I've stopped asking God "Why do I have this disease?"
I've had five surgeries, all the medicines, alternative medicines
and therapies, and they've only helped a little. I've stopped asking,
"Why me?" but I still get really angry at God. I don't
understand. Those six weeks were very sobering, laying in bed, unable
to even read or watch TV. I don't understand why.
how, as a doctor with a chronic illness, you ended up writing a
book on wellness.
CC: They were literally dropped into my lap. If I had written a
book earlier I would have written it from the perspective of a healthy
person, about what one should do to stay healthy, but it would have
been much less valuable than Thrive! I know what you're supposed
to do to stay healthy, I did it. Now, I've lost my health, and I
know how hard it is to be without, so I want to help you hold onto
whatever health you have.
At first, I wanted to hide my illness [from the publishers]. I thought
there is no way they're going to want a sick doctor writing about
wellness, but now I realize what a sense of humor God has. He picked
a sick doctor. I hope the book encourages those who feel discouraged
because they have a lack of health; because they deserve to feel
better, no matter where they are in the illness spectrum-there are
some things one can do to help oneself thrive. The first of which
is to be grounded spiritually. If you aren't, you're sunk.
was your typical week like before illness?
CC: I worked as a pediatrician, three-quarter time in an office.
I was on call a lot and a mother of an eight-year-old who I spent
a couple of afternoons a week with. I was involved with a lot of
activities; I danced for Christian Community Theater and even took
private tap dance lessons. I spoke to parent groups, and spoke around
the country on healthy lifestyle choices and nutritional supplements.
I had a very busy, full life that came crashing to a halt. Everything
hit a brick wall and it was all gone-everything but my family and
hk: How did
CC: I was in denial for quite awhile. In medical school all I learned
about the disease was in one paragraph in my textbook. I thought
any day I would just snap out of it and go back to work. There was
one moment that was very telling. About two weeks after I had become
ill, I saw a specialist who diagnosed my illness; he gave me medicine
and said, "Come back in six weeks." I thought the medicine
would start working immediately and that I'd be better and back
to work within a few days. Two weeks later I wasn't feeling any
better and I began to panic. I called the doctor and he said, "I
don't think you heard me clearly. It's at six weeks we may begin
to see some improvement." My heart just dropped to the floor.
I couldn't believe that this was my life now. And if you'd told
me then, that four years later I'd never work another day as a pediatrician
. . .well. . . It was quite a change. . .
are some of the major lessons you've learned through having an illness?
CC: First, that I needed to learn to be honest with God about my
feelings-and they are not pretty. I know some people can honestly
say, "I'm just trusting God and everything is going to be fine."
My feelings don't fit that mold. They can be ugly-but I've discovered
that God can handle it. . . And that He wants that intimacy with
us. There were times I didn't talk to God at all. I was so mad that
He wasn't answering my prayers to be healed because I knew He could
do it and He could do it like that (snap).
I've also learned to celebrate the little miracles. I was able to
get disability and social security without a whole lot of hassle.
I have a wonderfully understanding family. God is providing even
though He isn't answering my prayers. Paul says, in Philippians
4:6 to bring everything -the good, the bad, and the ugly to God
in prayer and petition. Tell God the truth. I had to realistically
come to terms with the fact that I may have this illness the rest
of my life-and I don't want that and I'm mad about it. But then
Paul says, "with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
I've learned the thanksgiving part. It doesn't make sense to be
thankful when you're mad-it just doesn't! But when you do. . .it's
miraculous. In order to survive, I have to choose to exercise thanksgiving.
I consciously find something each day that I am thankful for Some
days that is just, "Thank You for giving me an illness which
I'm not dying of." Sure, it's taken away the life I had, but
my son won't face life without a mother. But I don't think we should
sugar-coat it and try to force ourselves to be positive all the
time because that can keep one in denial.
me about the response you've had from others about your illness.
CC: A lot of people have a hard time accepting my illness. The Christian
community expects me to be healed and they feel anguish that I've
not been. A lot of times I feel I have to explain to them, "I'm
really not doing anything wrong that's preventing me from being
I've tried everything. About two years ago I had the surgery that
would probably work and it didn't; it took me a long time to recuperate
too. I got low. So low that if I could have gotten to the bathroom
and the big bottle of pills it would have been a tempting offer-but
I made sure that couldn't happen. But it was revealing-and God met
me there. I felt Him tell me, within my heart, "Sometimes I
answer your prayers for healing by teaching you how to live with
what you've got."
That was exactly what I needed to hear. I hope that's not His final
answer, but He has taught me how to live with what I've got. . .
And a lot of people have a hard time hearing that. They say, "You
just need to pray more; you just need to try this supplement; think
more positive!" They mean so well, but it's so exhausting.
When I can barely have a conversation, and then I have to go beyond
that and explain, "No, just because I'm not taking that doesn't
mean I'm giving up. . ."
At the beginning I had visits from my staff and partner. Nobody
knew what to do to help. They feel powerless and it's hard for them
to know if they should call or not. The biggest thing that helped
me was my office got a huge card and had the families of my patients
sign it. I treasure it. Because when you're so sick, and all your
abilities are taken away, it's nice to know someone still remembers
what you could do and still values you. People bringing meals was
the most helpful thing. One family in my church has provided a meal
every week for years. It's impossible to express how much that's
meant to us. Most people fall by the wayside. I don't blame them,
people are busy, but it gets more isolating. I have months of feeling
isolated, but I don't feel well enough to invite someone over to
do something. It can be tough.
you encouraged during difficult times?
A lot of times it's just making it through each day. I treasure
notes and emails, especially when I hear how one of the books I've
written touches someone. That's an earthly thing, isn't it? But
it helps me to know that my existence here still matters.
I also just love doing radio interviews. God gave me back that part
of my life that I loved so much in my medical career, a chance to
talk heart to heart and help someone find a better state of health.
God has provided so amazingly that I can sit here and encourage
others in my pajamas with my little dog at my feet and my cup of
tea. . . .
You can read the rest of Dr. Carrie Carter's story in the March/April
2004 issue. You can order
this back issue by clicking here.