He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name. (Amos 5:8)
On the morning after my surgery to remove an aggressive cancerous tumor from my right parotid gland I awoke feeling little pain, by God’s grace. I had spent the night in an intensive care step-down unit so I could be monitored closely by the nursing staff. Nurses checked my vital signs frequently and emptied the drains which ran from the surgery site down my neck.
The view out the window in my private room seemed magical to me. Although the window faced a wall of buildings across a courtyard, the buildings were not tall and I was afforded the opportunity to gaze up at the sky. During my brief stay in this room I delighted in watching the progression of light from dusk to blackness and then from blackness to dawn. I sensed the power of the Lord in the natural world around me and his hand on my life.
I had no idea how I looked; I could only tell that my hair was matted against the right side of my head. It wasn’t until several days later when I saw my face in a mirror that I could take stock of how drastic the surgery had been. I had two angry-looking incisions – one which began in front of my ear, near the top, and ran under my chin, and the other which began behind my ear and ran down the side of my neck to my shoulder. I was also missing the lobe from my right ear. Although these wounds were not a pretty sight, I was told that when they healed they would not be noticeable. I was not concerned because I was just so thankful to be alive and to be able to move the right side of my face. I smiled a lot in the hospital, especially that first night.
As the sun was coming up, I was told that I would be moved to a unit for those who needed less nursing care. I knew this was good news and it meant I was recovering well from the major surgery of the day before. Dr. Weissler had said I would be hospitalized for three to five days following the surgery, so moving out of the surgical “step-down” unit in less than twenty-four hours was a good sign that I might be able to go home sooner rather than later. My friend, Mary, called shortly after breakfast and asked if she could come and visit me. She would be my first visitor, other than Gil and Emily, and I was delighted at the prospect of seeing her. It was Mary who came to see me the day after I received my diagnosis, roughly three weeks earlier, and now she could see firsthand what the Lord had done in answer to all our prayers.
Just before lunch, the nurses helped me into a transport cart and loaded it with my meager belongings. Mary arrived just as we were about to leave, so she followed along. God had timed her arrival perfectly because finding my new room would have been a challenge, especially if Mary had arrived at the room in which I stayed in overnight after I had moved out of it. The way to my new room from the previous one involved going down long hallways, around numerous corners, and taking two elevators.
We finally ended up on a unit in a much older wing of the hospital. Mary helped me get settled in my room and pulled a curtain to give us, and the woman with whom I was sharing the room, some privacy. I never got an opportunity to talk with my roommate, though, because she was discharged shortly after I arrived. Later that afternoon, though, a new roommate was wheeled in and I exchanged a few words of greeting with the family members who accompanied her. Gil arrived shortly afterwards and stayed until he needed to get back and pick Caleb up from school.
That night I lay in my hospital bed thinking about the ordination service I was missing, which was taking place at Church of the Holy Cross in Raleigh. At that service several men were being ordained to the diaconate, including my friend, Jim. These ordinations marked the culmination of a year of fruitful work in establishing a new Anglican diocese in North and South Carolina. I was a member of the planning team for the new diocese and I had looked forward for several months to being at this service. My disappointment was tempered by the thought that there would be more activities of this nature in which I could participate, at some point in the future, by God’s grace. Little did I know that nineteen months later I would be serving as Interim Rector of the church where the ordinations were taking place. What a testament to God’s power to heal and to create new and unexpected opportunities.
To my great delight and surprise, my friend Tucker and her husband, John, who were also part of the planning team for our new diocese, showed up in my hospital room the next day with a bulletin from the service signed by all the participants. They had traveled
from their home in Charlotte to attend the ordination service and were on their way back on Thursday morning. Tucker and John must have been a bit shocked by my appearance – drains hanging from my neck, a swollen face, very long incisions, surgical goo matting my hair and an ear slightly askew and missing it’s lobe – but they didn’t show it.
Later that day, while I was on the phone talking to Mary, I noticed a very distinguished-looking gentleman in a white lab coat standing by the nurse’s station, which was just outside my room. He waved at me and I waved back, but since I did not recognize him, I continued talking with Mary. Shortly afterward a nurse brought me a hand-written note: it was from Dr. William Roper, Dean of the School of Medicine and Chief Executive Officer of the UNC Health Care System. It was he who had been standing at the nurse’s station and it turns out he had come to visit me. Dr. Roper, who is a good friend Tucker’s, had come at her request. His note could not have been more gracious; it was indicative of the level of care I was receiving at UNC.
The days in the hospital passed quickly and I continued to improve. I had several opportunities to share my remarkable story of God’s divine intervention and healing with some of the nurses who cared for me. One of them, who had cared for patients who had been disfigured by the same surgery, marveled at how good the wound looked and how my facial nerve had been spared. I told her it was God’s doing. After that conversation I gave thanks, again, to the Lord for what I had been spared.
By Friday I was well enough to go home; I had only been hospitalized for three days, which was the very minimum one could expect to stay after the surgery I had undergone. In my recovery, God was continuing to demonstrate his power to heal. When I got the news that I would be discharged, I called Gil immediately. He was overjoyed. He had prepared himself for the possibility that I would have to remain in the hospital over the weekend.
Gil brought Caleb with him to bring me home on Friday afternoon. I had not seen Caleb since the previous Monday morning as he left for school and I was overjoyed to see him. Although I still looked a bit like Frankenstein, Caleb was not put off. He was eager to push me in the cart we would use to transport me down to the ground floor of the hospital. However, we ended up waiting several hours, until almost six o’clock, for the paperwork for my discharge to be completed. My roommate was also being discharged and I exchanged warm farewells with her and her daughter and son-in-law, ministers at a church in Durham.
When we arrived home, dinner was waiting for us, provided by a friend who had signed up, along with a number of people, to bring meals for me and my family while I recovered. A meal never tasted so good. The fact that I was alive, healthy and able to laugh and eat was simply amazing. The three of us gave thanks that night to the Lord who had done infinitely more than we could have imagined.
Next time: the pathology report.