What do you get when you mix a pandemic, with emergency surgery, a hospital on the edge, and a God who reaches into our pain?
You get some incredible stories!
The past 7 days of indescribable pain, surgery and recovery, have truly been a gift for me, they have given me the most amazing experiences, the most amazing stories, and I want to share them with you.
Be warned, this blog is bit of a longer one, but I truly believe reading it will be worth it. Put your feet up and make yourself a cuppa! (Australian for “coffee or tea”) Read on for some stories that I believe will make you laugh, and make you cry, and that will stretch you and lead you through places you may not have been before, but may very well in the future. Read on also for some lessons that we can all learn about ourselves and how we can navigate our weakest and lowest times.
It all started a couple of weeks ago, on a day of firewood cutting, when I started to get this intense pain in my groin. What could it be? I did not know, but with some rest it started to go. However, over the two weeks it did come and go, and I told my wife “something is not right with my body, but I just don’t know what.”
Fast forward to a week ago, my family and I were away on a family holiday, and the pain was growing even more. Lying down on my birthday, I discovered a lump in my lower abdomen. What could this be? I had had hernias before, but this didn’t seem to be a hernia? Off to the doctors I went, then for an ultrasound, and alas, a hernia it was. (A hernia being a tear or weakening in the abdominal muscle wall which allows fat or intestine to poke through, sometimes sliding in and out and getting pinched, which can then result in pain).
I called my doctor. What to do? He told me I needed surgery, but the wait time for surgery at this time in history, was, no pun intended, historic. Elective surgeries had been paused in Australia due to the pandemic and had just restarted, leaving an incredible back log of people needing surgery. It would be a year until I could have surgery, unless I paid for a surgeon privately, and even then, I would have a wait.
My first thought was, “How will I wait?” and if we couldn’t afford the surgery, “How would we make it through a year?” We have three small children, each one constantly asking me to pick them up. How could I go for a year without picking up my children?
Then, as if on cue, the pain began to increase yet again. My next thought, “How will I live with this pain for a year?”
My wife packed the car as I lay on the couch and researched the cost of private surgery. I looked at the tattoo on my arm, that I got for my wife, Worth the Wait, it says. Public surgery with a year’s wait seemed almost inevitable, this tattoo might take on a new meaning!
What was going on? I did not know, but I did know that I couldn’t go on with this pain. As we drove home I thought of how I was going to need to change a few things. I looked into hernia belts (that hold the hernia in). I told myself, “I’ver got to loose some weight”, another reason why a hernia can get worse. I researched natural hernia cures. I prayed and I prayed some more.
The pain pinched at me again.
I told my wife that it was as if someone was stabbing me with a screwdriver and twisting it around. “Oh God,” I prayed, “Help me!”
The next night the pain was even greater. I spoke with my Doctor and he was concerned we might be faced with an emergency, the strangulation of the hernia, which can result in death. My wife bundled up the children and I and raced me to Emergency.
Upon arrival I was greeted by a staff member dressed head to toe in Personal Protective Equipment. Yellow disposable gown, face shield and mask. She took my temperature, asked me some questions to determine if I had knowingly been exposed to COVID-19, and then ushered me to triage. “You’re Leigh’s brother aren’t you?” she said. Turns out she was a friend of my brothers, growing up in school and church together. I thanked her for all she was doing in this crazy time, and I made my way to triage, and then the waiting room.
Everyone wore a mask.
I remember thinking, “this isn’t the best time to be going to hospital.” In fact, the day I went into hospital, my city broke it’s record in confirmed COVID-19 cases. We were riding a “second wave.”
Interestingly, back in January, a dear friend and prayer warrior / intecessor over in California had said to me that he saw “wave after wave [of disaster] hitting the East Coast of Australia (where I live), but that [my family and I] would be okay.” That was and is still a great comfort to me.
I knew I was stepping into that hospital with God with me, and my prayer was that Jesus would shine through me.
As I was called into the hospital, the first doctor took one look at me and said, “You don’t look too well!” I could have made a sarcastic remark, that was the reason I was the patient and she was my doctor, but instead I thanked her for what she was doing. She then proceeded to poke and prod at my hernia site. It was as if someone was mincing my insides. I nearly passed out and she couldn’t stop apologising. I assured her I knew that she was just doing her job, and just trying to help me. Sometimes pain is a gift when the giver is helping, if only we can see it that way.
As I explained to her that my Mum is a nurse and runs a hospital in South East Asia, and my wife was one too, she began to relax, as I did. I told her I wanted to call my wife and I asked her to pray. She asked about my wife and my children and I shared with her how we had been married for ten years and how amazing my wife is. I also shared about how we were potentially never going to have children, with my wife having had severe polycystic ovaries, and how a woman we had never met had a dream that my wife was 21 days pregnant with a boy and how the dream was true. I told her also of the book that I wrote about miracles, and of the many miracles that I’ve seen, and she was genuinely amazed. I told her that even now, I was believing for a miracle so that I did not have to have surgery (and in my head I was also thinking that it would be a miracle if I got surgery, given the waitlist!).
I posted online, asking friends to pray. A friend I met at a church in Redding, California, messaged me, “I see you having surgery”. I felt God’s presence in the room, His hand on my life.
Another doctor entered, this one a surgeon. “Oh, there it is,” he stated, as he proceeded to push my internal organs around!
Surgery it would be.
As I lay in the “holding bay”, waiting for a bed in the surgical ward, I thought about the fragility of life. One day you’re surfing and chasing your kids around and the next day you’re in a hospital waiting for surgery. The conversation across from me interrupted my thoughts.
“Sir you’ve had a bleed in your brain,” a doctor explained.
“But I’m fit and I’m healthy, I walk every day.”
“Yes, that may be the case. Now we need to investigate, because we need to rule out cancer.”
“Cancer? How can this be? I’m fit, I’m healthy. Oh it’s awful growing old, it’s just awful”
My mind drifted off again, this time not just to my own fragility, or my neighbour with the brain bleed, but the fragility of everyone around me. We all walk around in our masks (literally these days, but figuratively too), often hiding what’s really going on. I was reminded of the need to see people for who they are, to ask them how they really are, and to share the love of Jesus despite the mask someone may be wearing, for the miracle that an encounter with a Christian could be, may be the very thing they are waiting for.
“We’re sending you to your room”, the unit manager told me. Paul, a Sikh, pushed me to my room in a wheelchair. I asked him how he was. He told me the hospital had changed along with the world, the staff were stressed, the pandemic had removed people’s smiles, their, “How are you’s?” had gone too. I thanked him and blessed him as he handed me over to the nurses in my new home.
I looked around, I had three new neighbours. Two were recovering from surgery, one was awaiting one.
The first nurse to watch over me, was Belinda. As she asked me about myself, I share with her of my love for Jesus, my parent’s hospital, and my thankfulness for her and her role as a nurse, especially in this time. Belinda told me she had recently became a believer, having grown up Catholic. “I want my children to have a choice. I want them to make a choice about faith.” She beamed the love of Jesus, she would care for me over the next three nights.
As I drifted off to sleep, painkillers numbing my abdomen, I prayed for my neighbours, I prayed for my nurses, and I asked God to heal my body.
In the morning I awoke to the news that our city’s virus cases were on the rise. The hospital would cease to have visitors from midnight that night, and all Category 3 elective surgeries, of which around 30% are hernia surgeries, would be paused. I couldn’t believe I had made it in time, but then again, my friend had seen this happening, and I knew that, whether I was healed miraculously or through a surgery, the Lord was with me.
The question hanging over me was when? When would they operate? With so many people waiting for surgery, I was told they would simply be trying to fit me in. The pain kept coming in waves, and I quite simply wished this storm would calm.
As my wife walked into the room, for her one and only visit, I started to cry. Lying in a hospital bed does funny things to people. For me, I had spent my time thinking about what really matters in life. The lost, the Lord, and my family. These were the things I kept thinking about. I told my wife that it was thoughts of my son’s efforts at cross country (he came dead last but pushed on to the end), that had helped me get through the poking and probing of the doctors and surgeons the night before. I told her of how much I loved her, and how I would miss her for as long as I was in hospital. I introduced her to my nurses, and told them about our miracles.
As my wife prayed for me, I thanked her for her care and watched as she walked away. I thought of all the longer term residents in the hospital that would not see any visitors for the weeks to come. My neighbour, I’ll call her Patty, had been in hospital for 3 weeks, and could be for many more. She had come in in agony, after passing a gal stone. Her gal-bladder was in terrible shape and she needed it to be removed, but since entering hospital she had been in and out of the Intensive Care Unit, and had no hope of surgery until she had stabilized. I prayed for her for hours and hours from my bed. I knew from all the times I had heard the doctors speak to her, that she was lucky to be alive. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to talk to her, make eye contact with her, and connect with her. I so desperately wanted her to know the peace of the Lord and accept Him into her heart while she was still alive. I wanted her to spend eternity in heaven, not in hell. At one point I thought to myself that I didn’t care whether she wanted to look at me or acknowledge me or not, I simply loved her too much to stay silent (I know that sounds strange, to love someone you’ve never spoken to, but when you spend time near someone who doesn’t know Jesus and you let His heart touch yours, you can find a love that is so strong, and somewhat hard to describe). I called out to her to tell her about Jesus,
“Patty, Patty, are you there?” She simply ignored me. I don’t know wether it was fear or past hurt from Christians, I really don’t know, but for my whole time in the hospital Patty would not speak with me, how it breaks my heart when people close themselves off to a Christian carrying the hope of their soul. I pray for the nurses and doctors still working in that place right now, while Patty awaits her surgery. I pray that she would soften her heart to one of them, and give her life to Jesus. I pray also that the doctors and the nurses would have the courage to share the love of Jesus with her. She needs a miracle.
How many people slip into hell because they are simply too stubborn or hard hearted to reach their hand out to the one, Jesus, that is seeking to lift them up into heaven?
That night my pain shot through the roof. I have never experienced anything like it. It was as if I was being cut up and down my abdomen. I began to cry. I called my wife on the phone and she prayed for me. The nurses rushed in with morphine. I asked God for help. I kept repeating, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23).
There, in the midst of my incredible pain, a man who I thought was a surgeon, appeared above me. “Finally”, I thought, “they are going to operate”. Alas, it was not a surgeon, but a surgical nurse, my cousin who works in anaesthetics. I can’t tell you how good it was to see him. Jeremy has been my best friend since childhood. We grew up together, he was in my wedding party. We’ve visited each other while serving overseas. He is like a brother to me, and here he was by my bed in what was the height of my pain. As he prayed for me I thanked God for sending him to me in that moment, His timing is perfect.
A nurse came in to take my temperature, I was now running a fever. My pain had gone due to the morphine, but I was still clinging to prayer. A doctor came in to tell me that they would not be operating tonight, I didn’t want it to be true. My pain had been so great I was certain something was wrong. Alas, there was nothing I could do, I prayed some more. Another doctor came in, this time I asked her if she was a Christian. She shared how she was and I was honoured to pray for her. Being in pain fills you with compassion for others in a similar place. I prayed that God would use this doctor as the hands and feet of Jesus, bringing healing and comfort and the hope of Jesus to everyone she cared for.
I was struck again and again, while in hospital, at the need for every believer to see themselves as a witness for Christ. The patients in that hospital had two primary voices coming to them day after day, their bedside TV’s and the hospital staff. For the gospel to reach them through their screens is something I pray for and hope will become a reality one day soon, but it is a long journey to see that happen. For the staff to share Jesus simply takes a few moments and a few words. I know there is protocol, but God can make a way. We should never let the fear of man be greater than the fear of God, or the love of God for the person in front of us. “Wise as serpents, gentle as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
Two of the nurses that had been looking after me, came in to tell me their shifts were ending. I’ll call them Tess and Shelly. Tess had been such a gift to me, always smiling and there to help. When you can’t have visitors, your nurses become your friends. Several of the staff and I showed each other photos of our families and talked of our lives outside of the hospital. Tess told me how she used to be a bar tender. I told her that I did too. In fact, I told her, it was while bar tending, that Jesus radically changed my life. I was 19, drinking constantly, clubbing, and wanting to die, my life was a total mess. Yet there in a bar one night a man came in and ordered a drink, proceeding to tell me that God loved me so much and that I just had to come back to Him. As Tess prepared to head off for the night, I told her how much God loved her. I could see that she was deeply impacted, I shared the same with Shelly. I pray that they too would accept His love as I did, it truly was the best decision of my life. I drifted off to some form of sleep with my worship music playing, and my Bible on my chest.
The next morning I awoke to a surgeon apologising for not yet operating. They told me they had so many emergencies the night before, they simply couldn’t get me in. They would try again, in the meantime, they wanted to order a CT scan, just to be sure that indeed I did have a hernia. It was strange, but one doctor would tell me they could feel a hernia, the other would say they couldn’t. I felt helpless, in that I simply had to go along with the ride, but I felt hopeful because I knew God’s hand was on me.
With uncertainty hanging over my head yet again, I opened my social media to see that hundreds and hundreds of people all over the world were praying for me. I then turned to my Bible and read Joshua 5:15 “…The place where you are standing is holy ground…” At that very moment, and I don’t believe this has ever happened to me before, my nostrils filled with the most amazing fragrance, like the nicest of perfumes. It could have been Patty freshening up for the day, or it could have been a sweet aroma from God, I don’t know, but I knew the Lord was with me.
I had next to no pain for the rest of that morning. A surgeon came in to examine me again. No pain at all as he pressed down on my groin. I was so at peace, His presence was so strong in the room. Just as I was contemplating if maybe I had been healed, a nurse popped her head in. “The surgeon wants you downstairs now. They want to operate.”
“No CT scan?”
“No, they are ready for you now.”
Before I knew it, this beautiful lady from West Africa wheeled me down to theatre. I could tell she was a Christian and I encouraged her to keep shining Jesus. The surgeon came in to tell me all the complications that could occur in surgery. “We don’t know if you have a hernia, but we will explore. If we find one we will repair it. If we do, you need to know the risks. You may lose your testicles, you may have pain for the rest of your life, you may…” If I didn’t have Jesus, I think I may have passed out and saved the anaesthetists some work! However, my consciousness remained, and soon I was off to see the anaesthetics team. Halfway through their explanations of every way what they do can go wrong, my cousin once again appeared. His presence was yet again incredibly timely, he was just starting an extra shift he had requested, in the hope that he could be there for my surgery. I remember my anaesthetist doctor telling me I was one of the most peaceful patients she’s had in weeks. I lay on the surgical table repeating, “Thank you Jesus, I love you Jesus”, and then my arm went cold and tingly and I drifted off to sleep.
When I awoke the world was a blur. I asked my anaesthetist nurse if he knew Jesus. He told me he had become a Christian during this COVID-19 lockdown period. He began to point out all the other Christians in the room. I was surrounded by people who knew Jesus, caring for me in my most vulnerable moment. I thanked God, yet again.
I don’t remember being wheeled up to my bed, I find the post-surgery blur to be a most unusual state. What I do remember is the whisper of God after my surgery, “It’s missions time.”
I asked my neighbour if he was a Christian. He told me he wasn’t. I told him I would pray for him. I prayed for the staff and shared the love of God with all I could.
In the last couple of hours before I was released to go home, I spoke to my wife on the phone.
“I can come home. Can you please pick me up?”
“Sure thing, hang on, [your son] Sean wants to say something.”
“Dad, use the time you have left to pray for people.”
I don’t know how my 6 year old son knows just what I need. I’d been sharing stories and telling people about Jesus, but had prayed for few. I asked my neighbours if I could pray for them. Patty was still ignoring me, but the other two came over to my bedside and I prayed for their healing. I told them of God’s love and blessed them.
I’m now at home resting and recovering. Though my time in hospital was both unexpected and incredibly painful, it was also the most incredible gift.
Let me encourage you with these reflections.
1- Your life is short and fragile. Accept the love and salvation of Jesus. Turn from your own way and take on His way. Here is a great resource for you if you want to know more about following Jesus and having eternal life- knowpeace.org or leave me a comment or shoot me a message, I’d love to chat to you.
2- Take every opportunity to share God’s love. My cousin’s love for me will never be forgotten. The nurses and doctors will always be in my memories. You can’t force Jesus onto someone, (Patty proves this), but you can and should share Him. It’s not your responsibility to determine the outcome, it’s your responsibility to deliver the good news.
3- What you feed yourself with matters. I couldn’t have gotten through this week without prayer and worship and the Word. Turn off the news, turn on your worship music.
4- Prayer matters. Hundreds prayed for me and I honestly can tell you I could feel the difference those prayers were making. Pray pray pray. God is listening.
5- Your friends matter. I am so thankful for my friends who helped me and held me in this time, online and in person. Don’t neglect those that have been there for you. You are not alone. You are loved.
I hope you enjoyed these stories and your cuppa. Today is a gift, be thankful for it and use it for God’s glory.
With lots of love,
PS- I’ve got some more time to pray as I recover. How can I pray for you? Feel free to comment below and I will pray for you.