Healed by the Holy Spirit and the Great Spirit

Rick Gonzalez of Grafton is happy to share the stories and traditions of his Native American culture, something his grandmother Lucy was punished for. Gonzalez cited his faith in God and the Great Spirit in healing him of an incurable and painful disease.        

Doctors can’t explain Rick Gonzalez’s condition.
After decades of chronic pain from an incurable rare disease called arachnoiditis, Gonzalez today feels none.
“Every doctor told me you’ve got a miracle,” the Grafton resident said. “These are scientists.”
Gonzalez, a member of the Oneida Nation and a devout Catholic, can’t explain it either, but he thinks it involves the Holy Spirit and Great Spirit.
Gonzalez’s story starts when he was growing up in Sheboygan. When he was 14, back pain led him to a medical procedure on his spine in which a dye called Pantopaque was used. After the procedure, the doctor said he couldn’t get all the dye out.
Neither Gonzalez nor his mother were given an explanation as to what that meant. The dye, Gonzalez later learned, erodes spinal nerves in the lower back, causing a “thunderstorm of pain.” It is now illegal to use.
Gonzalez experienced symptoms a year or two after his procedure, which was chalked up to failed back surgeries. More operations were unsuccessful.
The pain, Gonzalez said, prevented him from walking or even talking. On a scale of 1 to 10, he said it was “15 and it goes up.”
“Put your finger in a socket,” he said.
Medical literature tells doctors they have no ability to understand patients with arachnoiditis.
The pain causes some people to lose their jobs, become depressed and even commit suicide, he said.
Gonzalez, however, could manage his pain early with medicines. He became the first member of his family to attend college and was the first male student in Cardinal Stritch’s traditional undergraduate program. He earned a bachelor’s degree in educational psychology and a master’s in special education.
College hadn’t been an option until his guidance counselor put the idea in Gonzalez’s head and heart, he said.
Gonzalez’s ancestors had endured suffering from the new Americans from Europe. His grandmother Lucy was taken from her home as a child in 1895 and sent to a boarding school in Pennsylvania for six years. She was forced to deny her culture; singing a Native American song led to having her tongue burned and beatings. The motto at her school, Gonzalez said, was “Kill an Indian, save the man.”
Gonzalez’s mother endured a similar fate but never talked about it.
Gonzalez went on to work at the St. Francis Center for Children at Cardinal Stritch before becoming principal, first at Kennedy Elementary School for a year and then John Long Middle School.
In the late 1990s, Gonzalez’s pain began to increase. He was put on cancer-level pain meds — fentanyl and morphine at the same time — for about 12 years.
A couple of years ago, Gonzalez developed heart and respiratory issues. A doctor at the Mayo Clinic figured out the opioids were suppressing organ function and were killing him.
Gonzalez promised his family — wife Jan, son Jason and daughter Elizabeth — he would get through the excruciatingly horrible detox treatment and went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He flew out one day early and went on a walking tour of the grave and home of one of his favorite poets, Edgar Allan Poe.
“I’m just enthralled,” he said.
On the way back to the hotel, Gonzalez came across the St. Jude Shrine, honoring the Patron Saint of the Impossible. He asked the saints and God for help.
Gonzalez next came upon the Baltimore Basilica, where a priest stood in the lobby.
“I felt he was waiting for me,” he said. “We had the most engaging conversation.”
Gonzalez went to Mass and prayed. He later reflected on visiting Poe, St. Jude and the priest.
“It was an ineffable experience,” he said.
Treatment began the next day. For the first two weeks, his body handled the tapering of the drugs. During the third week, his body screamed for the opioids.
Gonzalez said it felt like worms were crawling all over his body. He went days without sleeping and lost 40 pounds. His family didn’t recognize a photo of him. He called home every day, sometimes just to say he couldn’t talk and then hung up.
“You cannot describe the horror, that agony,” he said. “It’s so psychological. You try to find relief but you know there isn’t any.”
Other patients screamed and thrashed around on the floor, he said.
Gonzalez found some peace in meditating while weaving an unfinished antler basket he brought along. His son is an expert in the secret skill of drilling holes in antlers, and Gonzalez weaves the basket after taking a class from Oneida a few years ago. They are the only two in the country who know how to complete the entire process, he said.
While other patients became violently upset, Gonzalez remained quiet, reflecting on the sacred harmony between God, humans and nature. He could have blamed doctors for his condition, but “that’s not our way.” Iroquois doctors, Gonzalez said, always ask about patients’ mindset and relations with others.
His peace of mind and body led Gonzalez to address 300 physicians from around the world during John Hopkins Medical Grand Rounds. Gonzalez said he used his Christian faith and Native American culture.
“We people of faith and culture do not leave these elements at the hospital door. That is when we use these elements more,” Gonzalez told them.
“If you only look at us from a diagnostic culture, you do not know us. That is not a relationship.”
That expression, he said, was an opportunity his grandmother never had.
“I’m standing and I’m thinking, ‘We’re here together, grandma,’” he said.
Gonzalez, whose Native American name is Loliwayntati, meaning “he who brings the good word,” impacted daily therapy as well. Residents would ask the same questions as to how patients are processing their pain and the impact it has on their families.
Gonzalez explained that humor-related endorphins are very important in the Native American culture.
A resident asked Gonzalez to tell a funny story. He shared one, and everyone in therapy laughed.
“She said everyone is going to tell a story,” he said.
By the end of the session, doctors and nurses stood outside the room wondering what was happening. “Humor,” Gonzalez told them.
At the end of four weeks, Gonzalez laid in bed and waited for his arachnoiditis pain.
“There is no pain,” he said.
He waited longer. Nothing. Doctors came in to administer alternative pain meds. He stopped them.
Days went by. No pain.
He saw his doctor back home. Arachnoiditis was still showing in CAT scans. It won’t ever go away.
“But doc,” he said, “I don’t have any pain. None.
“He looked at me again. ‘I think you got a miracle,’” he said.
Now 69, Gonzalez hasn’t had pain since he returned from Johns Hopkins in 2015.
“I don’t even take an Anacin,” he said.
When friends and family ask how he is doing with his back, “I smile confidently,” he said.
“I’m healed.”
Gonzalez continues to find relaxation in weaving antler baskets. He sells them at shows and by appointment. He will make personal baskets for hunters who give him antlers. For information, contact Gonzalez at 377-5094.



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