On October the 14th last year, after conducting a wedding in St Peters, I found myself in Ninewells hospital, having collapsed in a pool of blood on the pavement outside the church. It was pretty dramatic but at first it did not seem too serious â€“ even when I collapsed again in ward 15â€™s toilet! Apparently I had a couple of ulcers, caused by a fairly common bacteria. It required a routine endoscopy. Except from that point on nothing was routine.
I cannot recall much of it but my surgeon and my wife have filled in the details. The first endoscopy did not work. Nor did the second. Nor the third. Nor did an attempt to stop the bleeding by going through the groin. And so surgery was performed on my stomach. I needed 22 units of blood products, which resulted in my lungs not working. In the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) I had difficulty breathing and was on a ventilator for a couple of weeks. I had various infections which took some time to identify and treat (including e-coli of the lung). Anyway to spare you all the gory details suffice it to say that I spent five weeks in ICU, followed by a further two weeks in HDU (High Dependency Unit) and a further two weeks in a main ward, before getting home just before Christmas, where I am currently recovering and learning to walk and talk again. I am deeply grateful to the surgeons, doctors and nurses who gave such tremendous care and whom the Lord used to save my life. I have learnt a great deal over these past weeks and want to share these with you â€“ I hope as an encouragement.
Life Is Fragile – My son Andrew described the Intensive Care Unit as Sheol â€“ it was deep in the basement of the hospital and windowless. It was a horrible experience â€“ much of which I either cannot remember or am very confused about. David Aaronovitch, The Times, journalist wrote a superb piece on his own experience of ICU, the madness, the attempts to pull out tubes, the fear and illusions and above all, the terror. It is something I can so identify with. Of course in some ways it was so much worse for my family and especially Annabel, to every day have to watch me going through this. Thankfully I cannot recall many of the things I said and did, but apparently I was very difficult to sedate, my mind just refused, and this created all kinds of problems. I am thankful that I have forgotten much but Annabel did keep my notebooks in which I furiously scribbled sometimes lucid but more often than not nonsensical, words. In terms of memories when you have a dream, you wake up and within seconds you are conscious it is a dream. For me there is much that I â€˜rememberâ€™ about ICU which I donâ€™t know whether it was a dream or not â€“ although I am fairly convinced that I was not the King of Norway! I now know what Psalm 91 means when it speaks of the â€˜terrors of the nightâ€™. The psalms were a constant source of encouragement and help to me and my family â€“ Ps 30, Ps 91, Ps 27 and many others; they put into words what we were feeling and enabled us to pray.
What I do not understand is how people who do not know Christ and do not have the hope of the Gospel, can bear facing death. Maybe they donâ€™t. For me this experience has taught me in practice what I knew in theory â€“ that our lives are but a breath. We are fragile and we are entirely in the Lordâ€™s hands. That is awesome, challenging and comforting.
Prayer is Powerful – I had no idea that so many people were praying. It seems as though the Spirit moved many people to a depth and urgency of prayer which we do not often experience. Several have told me of how they woke up in the middle of the night with this urge to pray. And they did. From all over the world, from many different denominations and individuals (even a couple of atheists told me they were praying for me!). People also wrote cards â€“ hundreds of them. They were a great encouragement for Annabel initially and later on myself. People offered help. Someone enabled our daughter to come from Australia. There was kindness, love and prayer. It was and is a great example of the Church of Jesus Christ at its best. I believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am here today because of the prayers of the Lordâ€™s people. It is not as though I deserve it, or that God changed his mind because of the prayers, it is just simply that in his mercy he gave the burden, and he answered when his people cried to him.
Time is Short – Lying in HDU one night at 2am I was deeply conscious of those answered prayers. I could feel my body healing. I do not know what the future holds. The Lord has spared me. For how long no one can say. But it is for me a cause of great thankfulness. As I write this I have just heard of my Auntieâ€™s death. She died in the Lord and is now with him which is far better. That could have been, and will one day, be my portion. But meanwhile he has rescued my soul from death. He has enabled me to stay with my children (Andrew, Becky and Emma Jane) and to be with my wife â€“ for whom this was often a more trying experience than for me. I don’t know why, but I do know that I cannot be the same, that every moment is precious and that I have been saved for a purpose â€“ to serve Christ in this world until he calls me home. In that sense it is no different for any believer. But how often do we allow ourselves to be distracted by the trivial, the shallow and the meaningless cares of this world, so that we forget that our primary purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever?