Sunday, July 24, 2016
“When you can't see God's hand, trust His heart.” ― Emily Belle Freeman
On this day, Sunday the 24th, exactly six months ago, I lay dying in my bed, but it was not to be. Unbeknownst to me or my doctors, my implanted defibrillator/pacemaker had died in October of 2015, over a year before it was supposed to die. Add to that a bad case of malaria, a severely sprained ankle with torn ligaments, and I was incapable of standing or sitting. In fact, three men had to move the sheet I was on just to move my body a few inches. The doctors here thought I was a few weeks from death—the docs in Nairobi would move that date forward by quite a bit, but that’s later. That Sunday, some folks from the church came over, gathered around my bed, prayed and sang my favorite hymn. While they were doing that, my son John was on the phone to our friend and German missionary, Daniel, in Nairobi, Kenya. John and Daniel had decided I was not to die without an extraordinary effort on their part. The result was that around two o’clock that afternoon, an ambulance came to our mission. They had to pull down part of the fence and dismantle my bed to get me into the “gari ya mgonjwa” or car for patients. It had to get me to Mwanza by no later than five thirty or the air ambulance coming in from Kenya wouldn’t be allowed to take off. I remember almost nothing of that trip except that we made it in time. Daniel had flown down with the air ambulance and helped them get me into the small plane, and we took off in the fading light and headed to Nairobi. Someone was taking care of all the legal stuff, visas, passports for Karen and I, and immigration and customs. We landed at Wilson Field in Nairobi and a big ambulance was waiting to rush me to Aga Khan Hospital. Before we even left the airport, they started running tests and checked my defibrillator. I could see the screen on the instrument and in big letters, it said, “E O L.” I found out later that meant “end of life” and it told them that I had been without heart pacing since October 15, 2015, over three months ago. It didn’t take them long to realize I needed a new defibrillator and since the old wire into my heart was twenty years old, I would need a new lead (wire) as well. The surgery couldn’t be done until the following Friday, so everything was being done to keep me alive until then. I remember very little except that the nurses were very nice, and one took better care of me than my mother ever did. I am a big, fat man and moving me in the bed took all the nurses and, more than once, the security guard for that floor. God took care of me, too, because they couldn’t do the surgery until the device and lead were paid for and the bank in New York couldn’t wire the money until my daughter-in-law went down in person to the bank to do it (she pretended to cry at the door and they let her in early). Because of the time difference, the bank didn’t open in New York until 9:30 A.M. which was 4:30 P.M. in Nairobi. All surgery was supposed to cease at 4:00 P.M. and the doctor wasn’t sure I would make it till the next day. Here is where God stepped in. A Somali chieftain who had once worked as a doctor in Aga Khan knew he was dying of heart disease and wanted to die in the hospital he had served. He came with about 100 retainers and died where he wanted to around 3:30 P.M. Because there were already several patients whose surgeries had been delayed by the Somali’s death, it was decided that all scheduled surgeries would be done no matter how late everyone had to stay. This meant the money got there, the device was paid for, and I was wheeled into surgery around 8:00 P.M. on January 29th. We had no insurance and no way to pay for any of this, but family, friends, people on my internet watch forum, Facebook, Methodists and Baptists in several states and all around the world from Australia to Belgium to Canada, the U.K. and the U.S., all gave and wired enough money to cover all our costs. We got discounts from the air ambulance because I wrote a thank-you letter (saved a thousand dollars) and Daniel went over every expenditure at the hospital every day and saved us thousands there, too. He was incredible, flying to meet me, handling all the passport and visa stuff, bringing Karen to the hospital every day, and just being the best guardian angel a man could ask for. When it had been established that I would live after all (the docs in Nairobi said three more days and I would have been dead), I had to learn to stand and walk again—no mean feat with my bad feet and ripped ligaments. The physical terrorist (no that’s not a spelling error) was terrific and always had me doing more than I thought I could. Daniel took me to his home when I was discharged from the hospital and cared for me there until the physical therapist he arranged to come to his home had me able to climb stairs with help. I had to be able to climb the stairs to the airplane, or I would not be able to fly back to Bunda. On February 16th, Karen and I were able to fly back to Mwanza where Shaban was waiting to drive us back to Bunda. When we got there, he had arranged for a new toilet and new bed so I could more easily get in and out of bed and did not need help getting off the toilet (you have no idea how good it was to not need help in that way). I used a wheelchair and a walker for at least three months with Karen taking over my physical therapy until I could walk unaided. I’m doing fine now and using the walker as a clothes tree and the wheelchair is just gathering dust. A really bad case of malaria cost me an extra month in getting better because it destroys the red blood cells and leaves you very weak. Still, from my sick bed and in between therapy sessions, I was able to oversee our mission projects, meet with the other bishops and pastors, and continued to be a part of our feeding and educating about 100 orphans a day. I still limp a little and haven’t been outside the house, but I am getting better every day. I will never be able to repay those who prayed, sent money, and touched my heart and soul with their heaven-sent love and messages on the internet. I still don’t know what God’s ultimate plan is for me, but I don’t need to know. He said, “Who will go for us?” and I said, “Here am I, send me.” No matter what the obstacle, if God needs you, He will see that those who love Him will see to your needs. There is no way I could ever have deserved the care I got, the love that surrounded me, the tears that were shed, and the smiles that greeted every triumph. Fences can be mended, new beds can be made, national borders can be crossed, and Somali chieftains can pick the right day to die—if that is what God needs. I was completely in His hands, but there is not a better place to be. I was surrounded by folks who loved me, and I loved them as well. I am humble, grateful, thankful, and pleased beyond measure that I still get to serve God. I am told heaven is a wonderful place, but I don’t know if God is ever going to let me go there. It seems that while there is work to do here, here is where I’ll be. Thank you God and thank you to every single one of you who joined hands and hearts to get me and my family over yet another medical mountain. Ya’ll are all great. I appreciate ya’—ya know?