As the days, weeks, months – and even new years – pass, I become increasingly aware of the fact that nearly half of our married life has been fraught with cancer. That’s nearly six years. In fact, two years prior to her diagnosis, Annie’s Mom’s journey with cancer began (and continues today), so in that sense cancer has been around for the most part of our married life.
During that time there seems to have been no end to the depths or heights to which Annie’s health can plummet or soar. The clichéd thing to say is that the last six years have been a roller-coaster. But the problem with that metaphor, is that roller-coasters always end up in the same place where they first started. With every day that has elapsed in the last six years, the sun rarely sets without having being drawn nearer to Jesus in faith and experience than we were the day before. But this past weekend I witnessed Annie experiencing some of those rare hours where she seemed only weary.
I got a call from Annie’s brother early on Saturday morning to tell me that Annie needed me to be there as soon as possible. She had been texting Tim from her bed and from the only mobile phone that we own. Prior to this past weekend my wake-up call had been Annie’s sweet yet frail voice at the end of the telephone, but Saturday morning she was too weary and teary to call me. Everything I did that morning before I left for the hospital was punctuated with prayer as I hurried to get to her. Just before I commenced my usual 15-minute walk from the car to the hospital, a friend had said “I’m praying through Psalm 27 for Annie this morning.”
Tim had explained that the nurses had attempted to replace the cannula (a large static tube which remains under the skin as a conduit for the IV medication) but after several attempts at poking and piercing without success Annie could take no more. You’d think that with all the pain – cancer induced and medically introduced – she has experienced in the last six years, one more needle would hardly be a big-deal. But in concentrated periods of piercing pain, that one, sleek tube of sharp, shiny steel will become the sterile straw that snaps the camel’s back.
When I arrived at the ward Annie’s demeanour said enough. Not a word was exchanged between us for the first half hour. Only sad silence oiled with tears and sighs and the crinkling of pages of the Psalms.
I have a lasting childhood memory (I wonder if Mom remembers this?) of asking my Mom for her bible so that I could read it in bed. I asked “What would be a good bit to read?” and she said “Read the Psalms.” At that time, not knowing exactly where it was in the bible, I turned to the table of contents looking for books beginning with ‘S’; unsuccessful in my navigation, I enquired of Mom again, learning that ‘Psalms’ began with a silent ‘P’ and is always in the centre of the bible. On that memory, a lesson can be forged. When you’re stuck in the middle of hard times in life, without a clue what to do or say next, centre yourself on God’s Word and in silence listen to Him comfort you. The Psalms have often been an incredible place of God’s comfort, healing, peace and direction for Annie and I. Meditation on God’s Word is great medication for a distressed soul!
We spent the morning reading and praying through various Psalms. In the back of my mind I knew that if Annie hoped to leave the hospital any time soon, then replacing the cannula was going to be the best option; but at the same time I totally appreciated that it was not an option as far as Annie’s feelings and collapsed veins. As we read through the Psalms we drew encouragement from the many Psalmists who faced the same impossible situations; the same conflicted circumstances; the same uncomfortable decisions.
I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me. – Psalm 69:3
Later on that morning two nurses (one of each gender) arrived to revisit the unresolved – un-replaced – cannula predicament. “I’ve brought this nurse along with me because he’s good with injections and he’d like to have a try.” Honestly, we felt put on the spot and would have rather carried on reading all the Psalms before having to make any decision! As the nurses gave us some time, I took Annie’s wrist and prayed over it. I asked the Lord to specifically take the hands of this nurse and let them be as His hands so that they moved with His skill and His tenderness. Our Lord knows first hand the pain of pierced hands. Within minutes the nurse was back with that dreaded yellow ‘sharps’ box, plastic-wrapped sterile tubes and various needles.
Imagine Marvin Hagler in a male nurse’s uniform and I would have accurately described what this guy looked like. He looked tough enough to put you in hospital! He chatted to us for a while. I say ‘us’, I actually had my back to the scene for a couple of reasons; firstly so that I would not pass out; secondly, so that I could pray without passing out. I risked turning round just to see how they were doing; the cannula was in and both were smiling and talking. That was the first of two pleasant surprises; the second was when the conversation lead to him saying “I too am a follower of Jesus Christ!” Much rejoicing and praise and testifying and mutual encouraging ensued as this nurse – who was actually an agency nurse who does not normally work at this hospital – continued to care for Annie for the next two days. “Now I know why I was meant to be here today” he smiled. We shared with him how he was not only an answer to our prayer but that he was above and beyond; we didn’t imagine the Lord would send one of His own special agents to tenderly care for Annie. On Saturday night, after his shift had finished, he came back, and prayed with us both. It had been a hard day. A day when there were moments when Annie only seemed weary and without that spark of hope and joy. But once again, the sun set with the Lord’s favour and grace warmly and richly upon us.
The next morning followed suit. A very early phone call this time from a teary Annie asking that I might please come soon. I knew things weren’t well as the night before she had almost demanded that I go and be in fellowship with our church family on Sunday morning. On arrival at the hospital she explained to me that when she woke up, the left side of her body was worryingly swollen and painful. In fact there was a list of new pains and ailments that had developed over night which only further complicated and clouded her condition and much hoped for recovery. More tears, more sighs, more silence, more Psalms.
This time another nurse we had never seen before stood at the foot of our bed. Not a male nurse from Africa but a female nurse from India! As she prepared Annie’s antibiotics she pointed to my study bible and asked: “What is that book?” “That’s my bible!” I responded gladly. She contained a polite smile as she continued to administer the antibiotics into the cannula and asked me “So do you have faith?” “I do. I love Jesus, trust Him and follow Him.” I guess in the medical profession, nurses and doctors are not allowed to directly initiate conversations about faith unless they are invited to do so, but before I could invite her to respond, Annie asked “So what about you? Do you have faith?” Her smile fled its cage “Yes.” I knew that would never be enough of an answer for Annie and without pause she continued to question the nurse, cutting to the chase “And what about your faith…do you have faith in Jesus?” It was one of those moments when you could read the answer on her face before you heard the words leave her mouth “Yes. I am a Christian. I am a follower of Jesus Christ too.” The nurse then asked me my testimony and I invited her to share hers. Before she did she said something very intriguing: “I am amazed because I never expected to meet people from England with real faith!”
We were now being cared for by a brother and a sister in Christ; two of the Lord’s special agents.
In the early hours of Thursday morning as we lay waiting in A&E, a dear sister from our church family had texted us this very message:
‘Praying God will send His children to you dressed up as doctors and nurses.’
Hopefully, this will encourage fellow followers of Christ to be boldly specific in their prayer requests; and as a follower of Christ, remember and acknowledge, whatever you are doing each day, whether you’re changing diapers, the covers of a bed, cannulas or the toner in the office printer: in the Lord’s hands He is willing and able to use you to change lives and circumstances in such a way that the echoes of rejoicing and hope resound into heaven and eternity!