It is about time for an update. In the past few weeks, if you follow my Facebook, you would have seen several pictures of Joel and I inside an ambulance, at a hospital waiting room or in the emergency. Well, let me explain.
It was April 11, our 2-year wedding anniversary, that Joel was scheduled to have a cysts removal surgery in his anus. Yes. Looking back now, it seems pretty comical to have celebrated our anniversary at the hospital…talking about anesthetic and bottoms. I had thought long and hard whether this would be too much information for you, readers; but since my husband does not care, I hope you grit your teeth and read along.
Two hours passed after Joel went inside, a nurse came out and said, “You could go see Joel now.” I was greeted by this suspiciously jolly husband, who I learned later was still high from whatever drugs they gave him. It was not long, though, before the medication wore off, and the surgical pain rolled in. This was to be expected. The doctor gave instructions on what to do and discharged him. Our friend picked us up and took us home. At that moment, we both thought Joel would recover soon; that within a few days, he would be able to sit and go back to work as usual.
We play this game called “What’s your pain level?” The rule is simple. I ask, he answers. The level is scaled from 1-10. One being the lowest, barely noticeable pain; and ten being the most excruciating, I am going to die kind of pain. The first two nights, his answer was always 8-9. We rarely slept because Joel had to move around every few minutes or so. When he was awake, I was pretty much awake.
Anyway, three days after Joel’s surgery, I went to work as usual. Everything seemed normal. Since the Easter weekend was starting the next day, and everything would be closed, I thought I would grab a few necessary items from the shop. Just before I walked out of the house, Joel showed a sign of mild pain, but I thought it was the usual stuff. So I left, thinking whether I should buy extra ingredients to make hot cross buns over the weekend.
It was a glorious walk. I could see the sun setting over the mountains range and smell smoke coming from chimneys. I was listening and singing to the song “And Can It Be”, a powerful hymn that talks about how undeserving we are, how amazing God’s grace is and the victory that we get to share in Christ’s blood as I trudged down the hill. In no time, I was lost among the aisles. The shop was bustling with last-minute shoppers and I was just looking at gelatin when my phone rang.
“Mink, I have got a chest pain. I just called the ambulance. They are on their way,” Joel spoke shakily.
I could feel blood seep out of my face. I quickly dropped the gelatin, and ran as fast as I could back up the hill. Though it is just one kilometer away, I could not run fast enough because of its steep road and my short legs. I asked Joel to be on the phone with me so I could keep myself sane, being assured that he was still alive (I know, I am such a drama queen). I could hear him panting and drawing short shaky breath. Fear gripped my heart. When you realized that death is just only one breath away, nothing else in the world matters. Thankfully, the ambulance had arrived; and I breathed sigh of relief. The paramedic gave him some painkillers and took both of us to the hospital.
The results from that day showed no sign of heart disease (thank God), but the doctor suspected it could be his inflamed pancreas or gallstone. However, the result of his ultrasound around his torso revealed nothing remarkable either. So the general surgeon, whom we saw yesterday, suspected that it could be post-op side effect with some clots in his lungs.
With all that said, Joel’s current condition is improving, if ever so slowly to my liking. These two major events; the surgery and the mysterious chest pain, had thrown us some curve balls. In the past 20 days, we have been to the hospital five times, three of those were in the emergency room; paid a few visits to the GP (general practitioner); had a home doctor come over once; and purchased several pre-scripted drugs. When I was at the chemist yesterday, a staff member said, “You are only 15 points away from receiving a voucher.” Reluctantly, I replied, “I am not sure if I should be happy about this, because it means we have spent too much money on medication.” And guess what, I have to go to the chemist again…tomorrow.
Around the same time we were in and out of the hospital, three people whom we knew passed away. I was forced to deal with my fear of pain and death, which I had always tried to avoid dwelling my thoughts on. When dad died, I was only 14. The image of him writhing in agony in bed and lying still in his business suit all pale and stiff after he died have haunted me. His death left a big wound in my heart. Even after so many years, I had never been able to escape from this emergency room that smelled like death.
Strangely enough, God used the memory of a beautiful old grandma, Nan Raine, who is now with him, to help me make peace with dying. I was in her hospital room, in Tauranga, New Zealand; with a few of her direct families and my classmates. I remembered how frail she looked, yet still remained witty and kept a sense of humor. We sang to her a few songs; one of them was “Soon and Very Soon”.
As we sang “soon and very soon, we are going to see the King,” it hit me how this was becoming a reality for Nan Raine. In the midst of our tears and futile effort to hold on to her a little bit longer, the image of her taking off her “earthly body” and putting on “the heavenly body” standing before our God the King in all His glory overwhelmed me. The picture accelerated my vision past the blurry, soggy, muddled bits of life; and placed me at the foot of His throne. It is so hard to explain, but in this room with the smell of death approaching, I was released from the cage of fear I had been imprisoned in since 14 years ago. Nan Raine had managed to give me a gift of hope and a glimpse of eternity on her last day on earth. This glimpse, however small, is something I will hold on tight when my heart is filled with despair, when the day I will have to deal with grief so immense comes again.
To this day, Joel and I are thankful for our family and friends, who have been so kind to us. We have received all kinds of messages – from concerning to well-wishing to almost rebuking why we haven’t let them know what’s going on. We have also been blessed by our church family and Canberra friend, who have given me ride to work at 5:30 in the morning, who have come by our house for a chat and brought food and treats with them. This is an amazing season in our lives. We are not quite sure why we have to go through this – the pain, the sleepless nights, the long wait at hospitals, the uncertainty, etc. But, I guess, why not? Perhaps there are other reasons, but one I know for sure – God is using this as an opportunity to refine our hearts and redefine our faith. Every moment is a chance for us to pray and to put our trust in Him.