For those that read and remember the introduction to our previous post…
…this post is still not ‘that’ post! Once again, we shelve ‘that’ post for the sake of keeping you fresh up to date with matters related to the previous few days!
I am sat once again at Annie’s hospital bedside, this time in another ward a bit further on down from the previous ward Annie has spent the last couple of nights in. When we were admitted, Annie was told she’d be kept in an isolated cubicle which made sense to us given the severity of her condition. However, that has not yet materialised. Instead she’s spent the time in a very stuffy and very busy ward in the Acute Medical Unit. I cannot over-emphasise just how stuffy and muggy it is! Each ward in this unit is crammed with patients coughing and hacking into the air which I am sure is perfectly tuned to as many degrees Celsius/Fahrenheit as it takes for every germ known (and unknown) to the human body to increase, invade, inhabit and infect.
But we thank the Lord greatly for small blessings. Annie has been assigned a bed next to the window. The windows are restricted so that they only open a few inches – perhaps for patient safety but I imagine it’s also to prevent tornadoes from occurring as the fresh cool air collides with the humid climes of the ward! And the curtain surround which we have tried to keep closed, might seem a little unsociable but it does a good job acting as a colossal communal Kleenex barrier which is in the best interest of Annie, the nurses and everybody else in the ward.
The doctors and nurses are clearly rushed off their feet. There are make-shift blue partition barriers going up to create temporary one-bed wards in the corridors as new admissions exceed discharges. Evidently ’tis the season to be poorly!
In our last post we shared briefly what we were told was Annie’s care plan for the duration of this time in hospital. In short, their aim was to remove the fluid around lung which we were told had built up as an indirect result of the cancer. On Tuesday afternoon the doctors finally got round to being able to undertake the rather nasty procedure of removing the fluid from Annie’s pleural cavity around her lungs. She’d had this done before but at much shorter notice which left little time to worry about the pain of what would come next; this time she knew exactly what was coming with at least a day’s notice, and it was clear that she was naturally scared by the whole thing. In the last five years Annie has undergone and endured as much if not more physical pain than many folks will in a life-time. Much of that pain is a result of the cancer; and much of it additionally administered as various antidotes to the pain of cancer. Very rarely do I see Annie so much as whinge or whimper at the sight of anything sharp about to enter her body – but she was tearful about this procedure. While she was tearful about the pain and discomfort to come she was also momentarily overwhelmed by how much her body is being pushed through. Sometimes in moments of wonderful observation we reflect ‘It’s amazing how much the human body can go through!’; but there are times when you feel like saying ‘My poor body can’t possibly, physically take anymore!’ This was one of those moments.
The mixed messages from the doctors haven’t helped either. Moments before the injection was plunged into Annie’s back, the doctor told us that the fluid actually could be a direct result of the cancer – not what we were told a day before. And once they removed the fluid things got much worse. Annie’s breathing was worse and the pain had increased greatly. A terrible night’s sleep later new doctors were coming in to assess completely different areas of Annie’s health. She was booked in for another x-ray to assess a possible fracture in her pelvis followed by admission to the fracture specialist; then a few hours later another doctor said that they’d scrap that in favour of a CT scan – which was scheduled for today. However, that was postponed and a Macmillan cancer nurse was sent to come and talk to Annie about a possible blast of radiation on her lower back – which of course would require an assessment with the oncologist (the very one we last saw in September 2011 following the six-month terminal diagnosis) tomorrow. In between all of this, the idea of going home on Friday has switched between ‘possibly’, ‘quite unlikely’ and ‘not really sure’.
Honestly…sincerely…this post is not a rant at the health service. I must state that before it potentially results in an rant-avalanche in the comments area of this post!
Annie and I are very grateful to God for the national health provision we have in this country. If anything, this is just an honest observation of the limitations of mankind. There’s a general expectation that our health-care professionals are saviours. They do an outstanding job and the advancement of medical technology provides them with incredible tools. Just the other day (before Annie was admitted) the emergency doctor popped a tiny computer onto Annie’s finger and it was able to measure the amount of oxygen in her blood by firing a beam of red light into her finger which analysed the hemoglobin (I know because upon beholding that glittery gadget and couldn’t resist asking “What does THAT do!?”) Doctors and nurses are working around the clock. As I watch them from my corner of the ward, there’s not a minute in the day when they are not tending to someone or something or some others – often all at once. But beneath the stethoscope, the badge and the careful bedside manner is a human being who is as vulnerable to disease and limitations as the patients they are tending to. They know a great deal; but the human body – and diseases like cancer – are so complex and even more so unpredictable, that what they know is far outweighed and overwhelmed by what they don’t know. I don’t need to be a professional to assess this; I just need to be around someone with a disease as complex as cancer long enough. Some of the doctors have a visibly hard job even disguising this in their countenance. As the osteopath came to speak to us yesterday he sounded confident but he looked confused. We both felt like telling him not to worry; not in a condescending way but just to comfort him with the fact that we were alright with him not really having a clue really what to do next.
Western culture does an incredible job of declaring and boasting what we do know but I think our poets – not our scientists, journalists and politicians – are among the few to make the fairest assessment of the situation; to quote the words of singer-songwriter, Johnny Nash:
“There are more questions than answers. And the more I find out the less I know.”
Everyone is looking for a saviour. Some seek them in the world of economics, others among scientists and medics, and for those who are suckers for disappointment, even among politicians. But to quote a great preacher:
“It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” – Apostle Peter, Acts 4:10-12
There is a saviour. He is the only saviour and His name is Jesus.
“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21
Jesus has saved Annie and I even this very week from frustration and despair in the midst of pain and confusion.
At the beginning of this week – at the outset of this episode – the Lord spoke to us. We didn’t just recall a bible verse. He spoke to us through His Word in a way which was beyond recital or recollection of a memory verse. The first of two verses that He spoke to us was:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9
This was the Word that was given to us by God as we waited in that corridor of the hospital, tired and weary, in the early hours of Monday morning. We’ve held onto that Word all of this week. It’s been the theme of our prayer requests, of our praise and the source of our hope and courage. As I left the hospital the other night, pondering that verse, the second Word was given to me.
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” – John 11:4
Strictly speaking, that second verse of scripture was actually aimed specifically at a man named Lazarus whom Jesus allowed to die so that He could raise him up again from the dead, three days after he had died. The words of Jesus: “This sickness will not end in death” came with great authority upon me as I walked home. As I thought and prayed about that, I didn’t find myself dwelling on whether this meant Annie would not die as a result of this illness, or as a result of this episode in hospital; of course I was comforted that ultimately whether the Lord heals Annie or calls Annie home, death never ends with death for those of us who love and follow the Lord Jesus. Rather, as I thought about both of these verses together, I just knew that God was giving both of us great confidence to trust, that in spite of the pain, the confusion, the mixed messages and the less than favourable conditions for a swift recovery, He had a very definite purpose to perfect His power in a way that would bring life. Whether that life was going to be for Annie or for someone else through Annie didn’t matter so much; what was important was that He was going to use these circumstances to perfect His life giving power. All that pain, all that sickness, all that discouragement, the unfavourable timing close to Christmas…all that weakness…God was assuring us that the conditions were perfect for His perfecting power.
When there’s so much weakness surrounding us it’s easy to become despondent and discouraged; but God gives us a reason to delight! “Show you power, Lord!” that was my continuing prayer as I walked back home; “Show your power, Lord!” And those words from the 42nd Psalm that we were reading on the night Annie was admitted to hospital came flooding back!
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. – Psalm 42:11
Surrounded with a thousand reasons for despair the Psalmist is able to confidently assert, ‘I will yet praise Him!’ This has been our testimony this week. God has demonstrated His power through our weakness. This period of hospitalization has given both Annie and I incredible opportunities to share the life of Christ with others in a way which we probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do so otherwise.
Without Annie forcing herself on anyone, God has created numerous opportunities in the last few days for her to share the love and life of Jesus Christ with patients and doctors – all at their request and invitation! This morning she had a long conversation with a lady in the bed next to her who shared how scared she was and asked Annie where she got her strength from. Annie was able to share her testimony following which the lady asked “Can you please pray for me?” which Annie was able to do right there on that lady’s bed. As I listened to Annie I couldn’t help but look up in awe at God; out of weakness His life giving power was being perfected just as He promised.
It’s no good me trying to document every instance of those opportunities – just too many! I find myself at a loss for words to communicate how much praise is in our hearts right now for what the Lord has done during this difficult week. I almost wrote ‘…what the Lord has done in spite of this difficult week…’ but it’s not in spite of; it’s because of this difficult week. He allowed for this difficult week in order to perfect His power. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, there is purpose in weakness in all its forms.
We just want to encourage you brothers and sisters, you followers of Jesus Christ. God is in control and in all things. And when life seems out of control, when it feels like we are powerless to make any kind of difference for His glory, don’t despair. The conditions could never be more perfect for His power to be made perfect through you. Hold on to His promises and delight with prayerful expectation!
Yours weak and strong in Him,