Sunday, January 8, 2017
“Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.” ― Roy T. Bennett
On February 16, 1996, in an emergency room in a hospital in Rogers, Arkansas, I was declared dead by a doctor at 3:45 A.M. They had tried everything to restart my heart that had just quit. An off-duty ICU nurse was walking by, heard the doctor call it, and rushed in, hopped up on the table and began beating me on the chest. She brought me back to life. I guess you could say that getting beat up by a woman was a good thing for me, but that’s not the story for today. Nor is the three-hour ambulance transport to get me to St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma (apparently the ambulance guys were hourly employees because they wouldn’t turn on the lights, siren, or speed), so the mystery of my stopped heart could be discovered. I hadn’t had a heart attack because there was no damage to the heart muscle. Everyone agreed that my heart had stopped, and that I had died for a while, but no one could figure out why (they never have, but that’s not today’s story either). While I was at St. Francis, the first thing they did was an angiogram where you send a catheter up to the heart from the femoral artery in the groin and inject radioactive dye and they take X-rays. Just as an aside, the femoral artery in the groin area is huge, you could drive a toy car through it, so that’s why they start there. It’s also dangerous because if the stitches tear, you can bleed out in seconds and no off-duty nurse can bring you back. This is where the real story starts. I was not in the best of shape mentally or emotionally as you might guess—having died, not knowing why, and not knowing what was going to happen next. I didn’t know if I would live to get back to pastoring my church in Rogers. Because I was in a hospital far away from family and friends, no one came to visit, but my wife was there. She was also very worried, so she couldn’t really help me calm down. I was worried, too, about what would happen to her if I died since I had no life insurance (the cancer that almost killed me in 1977 has no remission date, so no insurance company would cover me). Back to the day of the angiogram, I hadn’t eaten since noon the day before which was what they wanted. They successfully did the procedure and brought me back to my room. It turned out my veins and arteries were clear as a bell, no clogs, no narrowing, no problems. The docs figured at my weight and my age, my arteries should have been as clogged as an old apartment building’s plumbing, but no—I had an athlete’s circulatory system which just really confused them. They brought me back to my room and packed my legs in heavy sandbags and boards as I was not to move for six hours. This was to make sure I didn’t tear the stitches in my femoral artery. Then they asked if I wanted food. Silly question since it was two in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten in almost two days. They brought me a tray and I ate it. What no one had considered was the natural result of eating—you know, what happens next. Well, I was sandbagged into place, couldn’t move my lower torso at all, and at my weight, they couldn’t exactly do anything about it. Nature took its course, and I was embarrassed and upset. They got four, big strong men in from somewhere, slid boards underneath me and lifted me up with my lower half still sandbagged into place while a poor orderly had the nasty job of cleaning up me and the bed and the floor. I kept apologizing to the orderly and he just shook it off, said it was his job and he was used to it. This was about four in the afternoon. They got me back in place, did not bring me a dinner tray, and came in and removed the sandbags about eight that night. The doctor came in to talk about implanting a defibrillator the following day since no one knew why my heart had stopped, and they wanted to be ready if it did it again (it did, several times, but that’s not the story, either). Then he left, my wife went to sleep in her guest room, the nurses had me hooked up to about seventy-eleven monitors (seventy-eleven is a big number), so they left, too. No need for a nurse to be in my room with all the electronic monitoring in place. So, at nine o’clock at night, I was alone in my room. Yes, I was scared. No one knew what was wrong, why I had died. No one knew how to fix it, either. To say I was anxious and upset would be a gross understatement. I was also alone. I don’t like to be alone. I like to have other people around me, and if not people, at least a good dog. I had none. Hospitals at night are not calming places to be. Around ten o’clock, there was a timid knock on my door, and I eagerly said, “Come on in.” You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw who it was who had come to check on me. It was the orderly who had cleaned me up earlier in the day. No one’s child ever says, “When I grow up, I want to be a hospital orderly.” It’s a dirty, nasty, thankless job. Orderlies have to clean up and mop up the blood, vomit, urine, feces, and everything else nasty that's on the bed, the patient, or the floor. They are not at the top of the social hierarchy in the hospital but at the bottom. Yet, it was the orderly, who was going off shift, who took time out of his day to come by and check on a man he had been ordered to clean up earlier. He was very pleasant and nice. He only stayed a few minutes but his eyes and tone of voice told me that he really cared. This unknown man, at the bottom of the totem pole, was the brightest light in my world that night. Those few minutes were a miracle of calmness and courage for me. I’m sure he forgot about that visit almost immediately, and I’m sure has never thought of it since. Not so, for me. I will never forget that man so low on the caste system who brought such kindness to me. Because of who he was, his visit meant more to me than any of the most important people in the world that night. God raised him up, raised me up through him, and changed the course of my life. A few minutes at the end of his shift, became the most important minutes of my life right then. I don’t care who you are or what you do, God can use you to do great and important things, if you will but listen and walk where He guides your feet. I will take those few minutes to my grave as one of brightest moments in a life that has known great darkness. You can be the light of Christ’s love in someone else’s darkness. Will you?