Tuesday, January 24, 2017
“I have become convinced that God thoroughly enjoys fixing and saving things that are broken. That means that no matter how hurt and defeated you feel, no matter how badly you have been damaged, God can repair you. God can give anyone a second chance.” — Melody Carlson
On this very day, exactly one year ago, I woke up thinking that it would be my last day on earth, and it almost was. I had had a bad bout with malaria, had fallen and torn all the ligaments in my right foot, couldn’t walk or stand, and didn’t know it, but my implanted defibrillator had died two months earlier (and over a year earlier than it should have). I couldn’t even roll over in bed and had terrible pain in both legs and one arm. Nothing the doctors had done had had any effect at all and could not even dent the pain. I was ready to die. But on this day, one year ago, my son John called my friend Daniel Kroppach in Nairobi, Kenya, and between them had arranged an air ambulance to come get me from the airport in Mwanza and to fly me to Nairobi to get me to the Aga Khan Hospital there. It took several hours to arrange a land ambulance to get me to Mwanza, took several men to dismantle my bed so they could put me on a gurney, and they also had to take down a big section of fence for the ambulance. There was a time constraint because the air ambulance had to take off before sunset (six pm) and be out of Tanzanian air space before dark—I really never understood why—but those were the rules. They didn’t get me on the highway to Mwanza till after two in the afternoon. We got to the Mwanza airport at five thirty with just enough time to get me into the air ambulance and get airborne. We made it by a matter of minutes, but we made it. We landed in the dark in Nairobi where another ambulance waited to rush me to the hospital. There was a doctor in the ambulance who began tests on me while we were in transit. That doctor showed me the monitor that said “E.O.L” in very large letters which he told me meant “End of Life” referring to my defibrillator which had died the previous October. At the hospital, they were finally able to do something to alleviate my pain. Did I mention that Daniel (my German missionary friend) had flown with the air ambulance to Mwanza and was with me at the hospital in Nairobi to attend to the financial details (we have no insurance so everything had to paid in cash, in advance). Daniel also came to the hospital every day I was there and made sure my bill had nothing on it that we had not ordered or was not delivered. There were quite a few things and his attentiveness to detail saved us several thousand dollars. Daniel maxed out his credit cards while we waited for the money to come in. I had lots of tests, but there was no question that I would have to have the defibrillator replaced and would have to have another lead (wire) put into another part of my heart since the original lead was now twenty years old and just couldn’t carry the amount of current needed. The picture at the right shows what it looks like inside my chest at the moment. The leads (wires) have fishhook like things on the ends of them so that they can never be removed except during an autopsy. The surgery was scheduled for as soon as we could pay (it took four days), but we had to wait for the money to be wired in to Nairobi from all over the world. People from France, the U.K., Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Tanzania, and all over the United States donated cash through PayPal and through the One Book Foundation in Arkansas. My family, former church members, blog followers, friends on my internet watch collectors’ forum, and some people who I had never heard of and never met all came together to raise the almost $20,000 it would finally cost. Prayers were also going up from all over the world and in great numbers. I’ll never know who all prayed for me, but I felt the prayers all the time. I was in the hospital for ten days and then convalesced at Daniel’s home until I could walk with a walker and climb stairs. If I couldn’t climb stairs, I couldn’t get on the airplane to fly us home. Us, because my beloved wife had been by my side in the ambulance in Tanzania, the hospital in Nairobi, Daniel’s house, and would be beside me as we flew back home on February 16, 2016. I was just a lump, a burden that others had to carry, but they carried me without complaint and because of all the prayers, donations, and physical assistance, I am here today. It sure didn’t seem like the best time of my life, but in many ways, it was. The whole year would be one medical emergency after another that didn’t end until the doctors pronounced me cancer free after my final prostate surgery of 2016 in December—just a little under a month ago. I am so grateful to have had so many “heroes” in my life. I have never been so dependent on so many, been so helpless, and yet am so happy that so many people didn’t want me to die—not yet, anyway. All I have done and will do since is a tribute to those prayer warriors and supporters whose kindness I will never be able to repay. Thank you seems so inadequate, but it’s what I’ve got. Thank you from the bottom of my heart (excuse the wires in there). So much of that time a year ago does not exist in my memory because of the pain, the drugs, and the surreal situation in which I found myself. However, I’ll never forget the spiritual lift from all those hearts united in love and connected through Christ. That feeling still lives within me and always will.