Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha… (John 11:1)
Gil and I thought we knew what to expect as we drove over to the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill on Friday, July 20, 2012. After all, just eighteen days before I had undergone the exact same surgery to remove a small cancerous tumor from my left lung. Now it was time for the same procedure to be done on my right lung in order to remove two exceedingly small tumors. This time around, though, I was all the wiser. Having learned from my previous experience, I came prepared to stay in the hospital for up to a week, just in case my lung collapsed after the surgery.
We arrived at the parking deck across the street from Memorial Hospital shortly before 11 am. When we entered the hospital we didn’t have the nervous look that people usually have when they don’t know exactly what to do or where to go – a look that was on our faces the last time we were here. We walked straight to the admissions office without having to ask directions and then proceeded with confidence to Procedural Care Suite-A on the second floor. Because we knew what we were doing, we didn’t turn the wrong way when we got off the elevator, as we had done previously.
However, I was surprised to find the waiting room more crowded than it had been when we were there last. On July 2nd, I had been required to arrive at 6 am and there were plenty of seats available at that hour. But after I checked in at the front desk and a white paper band was placed around my wrist, Gil and I were able to find two seats next to one another and we sat down for what I thought would be a brief period of time. I then prayed for the people seated around me in the room.
When I finished, I glanced up at the nearest television screen on the wall. A reporter was standing in the dark outside a building and I could see right behind him the lights atop numerous police cars flashing. The headline at the bottom of the screen read: “12 dead, 38 wounded as gunman opens fire at movie theater in Colorado.” Although the sound was turned down, I found it difficult not to keep staring at the screen as the grim statistics from this horrendous story scrolled across the bottom.
I noticed that there was a flat-screen television on three of the four walls in the waiting room and that they were all tuned to the same all-news channel. With some effort I looked away and prayed for the survivors and for the families of those injured or killed. I then decided that I would avert my eyes from the screens above my head. These were not the images I wanted running through my mind as I headed in to surgery. Since I expected to hear my name called at any moment, I didn’t think I would have to shield my eyes for long.
However, my name was not called within the time-frame I had expected it to be called. Every time the door leading into the pre-surgical preparation area would open and a nurse would call out a patient’s name, I expected to hear my own, but each time I was disappointed. An hour passed. And then another; still no word. The room slowly emptied of those with white bands around their wrist and by 2:30 pm it appeared that I was the only one left; just family members or friends of those already called remained. For a second time Gil inquired at the front desk about the status of my surgery, but once again no one had an answer. “The Lord is in charge, I reminded myself,” but I began to fear that the surgery would have to be rescheduled for another day.
Finally, around 3:15 pm my name was called, and as I began to stand up, I saw Dr. Haithcock’s senior resident walk toward me. Dr. Carr motioned me to sit back down as she came over to my seat and knelt beside me. She explained that Dr. Haithcock was still in surgery with the patient scheduled before me. It has been a long and difficult procedure, much longer than expected, and although there was more to do, it was drawing to a close. Still, they were not quite ready to prep me for my surgery, so Dr. Carr invited me to follow her back into the preparation area where a recliner would be found for me to rest upon. I could stay there until they were ready for me.
I was touched by her thoughtfulness and I gladly accepted the offer to continue my wait in a much more private area. I was feeling a bit woozy and I longed to lie down on something comfortable. Since it was now mid-afternoon and Gil was quite hungry, though he had not wanted to leave my side until my name was called, he took this opportunity to go and find something to eat. I followed Dr. Carr as she walked back through the door. A cubicle with a recliner was readied for me and as I lay down on it a nurse brought a heated blanket and placed it over me. Soon I was asleep.
When I awoke, I sensed that the time had come for the preparations to begin for my surgery. It was approximately 4:15 pm and I decided it would be wise to try to use the bathroom before I was hooked up to an intravenous line. On my way to the bathroom, the nurse supervisor stopped me to tell me that another nurse would meet me back at my cubicle once I had returned to it. She said the name of the nurse, but I didn’t quite catch it. But I heard something which made me think of the story of the raising of Lazarus. Two days before the name “Lazarus” ran through my thoughts as I awoke from sleep. I had asked the Lord to confirm whether this was a word from Him, but as of yet, I had received no confirmation. Now, with my interest piqued, I was eager to get back to my cubicle and meet the nurse who would be prepping me for surgery.
She arrived shortly after I returned to the cubicle. I was sitting up on the recliner and almost giddy with anticipation as she entered. “Hello,” she said, “My name is Lazarina and I will be prepping you for surgery.” That’s the name I thought the supervisor had said, but when the supervisor said it I wasn’t sure I had heard it correctly. I just assumed hunger had dulled my ability to hear and comprehend. I looked at the nurse’s name badge and I spelled out her name to myself: L-A-Z-A-R-I-N-A. “How is it possible that a person could have the name, Lazarina?” I thought. “Could this be confirmation from the Lord?”
I asked her if, by any chance, she had been named after Lazarus in the Bible. “Oh yes,” she said. “I am from the Dominican Republic and I was born on the feast day of St. Lazarus, so my father named me, Lazarina.” (I later discovered that in the Roman Catholic Church there is a feast day for Lazarus on December 17.) She went on to say, “My father was born on the feast of St. John of the Cross (a Spanish friar and priest who lived in the 16th century), so his mother gave him the first name, “John”, and for a middle name she called him, “Of the cross.” She smiled to herself as she said this while I stared at her in wonderment.
The next moment Gil entered the cubicle. I couldn’t wait for him to hear the name of my nurse. He instinctively looked for her name tag, but it was turned toward her and away from him. He looked at me and I was smiling broadly. He looked puzzled and turned back to the nurse, and as he did she moved slightly so that her name tag turned back around. He took a look at it and his eyes got as big as saucers. Gil then asked her the same question I had just asked. When she confirmed for him that she had indeed been named after Lazarus, Gil said, “I’ve never met anyone before named Lazarina.” She stopped for a moment and said, “And you probably never will again,” and then continued prepping me for surgery.
We proceeded to ask Lazarina about herself. She told us she had been working in a pre-surgical unit on another floor, and only within the past hour had she been called down to the unit in which I was. When she said this I knew instantly that the Lord had arranged our meeting – if my surgery had taken place as scheduled, I would never have met Lazarina.
I was filled with a remarkable sense of peace and when I looked over at Gil I could tell that he, too, had that same sense of peace. I had no idea what lay ahead for me, but this I knew: I was going to be all right. And although I wasn’t exactly sure what the Lord’s message to me was, I knew that it had something to do with the story of Lazarus. He had confirmed this for me through a nurse named, Lazarina. Who would have thought?
As I was being wheeled into the operating room, I could see Dr. Haithcock sitting in a corner of the room with his elbow on a table and his hand on his head. He looked exhausted. I wanted to call out to him and assure him that everything was going to be all right, but within seconds I was fast asleep. The medication flowing through the intravenous line Lazarina had inserted into my right wrist had just taken effect.
When I awoke several hours later in the recovery room, I was in a great deal of pain and I don’t recall much from that night. However, the one thing I do remember is Gil telling me about the initial report from Dr. Haithcock: the tumors were out – and one of them was benign! It turned out to be just a speck of dust which had lodged in my lung. The other tumor was most likely cancerous, but it was miniscule. Furthermore, Dr. Haithcock had said that my lung looked great and he saw no further indication of cancer. I was so delighted to receive this good news that it seemed to dull the pain I was feeling. That night I slept well.
However, the next morning the pain was excruciating. The incision Dr. Haithcock had made on my back was large and the tube inserted into my lung to keep it from collapsing was pressing on a nerve. The intravenous pain medication seemed to have no effect. Finally, a nurse came in and administered a shot of morphine. As the pain eased, I began to relax.
As I lay on the hospital bed I recalled the events of the previous day – and thought about the improbability of a nurse named, Lazarina. Yet, one thing troubled me: I still wasn’t sure what message the Lord had for me. What was I supposed to receive from the story of Lazarus? For several days I had been pondering verse forty-four (“Unbind him and set him free”), but I hadn’t perceived that there was a message for me in it.
Suddenly, I felt as though I was being urged to open my Bible and turn to the story in John’s gospel. I reached for my Bible which had been placed along the side of my hospital bed and I turned to chapter eleven and instinctively looked for verse forty-four. “No, start from the beginning,” I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me. “Start from the beginning.” So I turned back to verse one and read it. Then I read verse two. And then verse three. When my eyes fell on verse four, I began to tremble. It was as if a spotlight had suddenly been focused upon that verse. I read it aloud: “Jesus said, this illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified in it.”
Suddenly, I knew why I had come across the icon of the raising of Lazarus three days before and why the Lord sent a nurse named Lazarina to prep me for surgery – to lead me to verse four. I began to weep uncontrollably because I knew that this message was for me and it had come from God Himself.