Some observations and meditations on a recent hospital stay:
OK, first a quick word of apology. Regular readers of this site know that I almost always have a daily article posted here. It is very rare when a few days go by with nothing new. When that does happen, folks start to worry and think I have died or am in hospital. Sorry about keeping you hanging for a few days, but yes, I actually was in hospital.
In my previous article I had mentioned that I would be going in, so some of you might have seen that. Anyway, I am home now after three days of being out of action. Thanks for your prayers. I seem pretty good now, and it seems the surgery was successful, although a consultation next month will more fully determine if that is fully the case, and if more things need to be done.
As usual, what I experience and go through I tend to think a lot about and pray about, and see what spiritual lessons can be learned. So for what it is worth here are some random reflections on what I have been meditating on over the past few days. Some things are more trivial in nature, while some are more substantial and more spiritual.
-When you are young, you will often hear your parents or other older folks saying things like, “If you got your health, you got everything.” If you were like me, that just went in one ear and out the other. It is only when you get older and/or when you DO start becoming quite unhealthy that you really appreciate what that statement means.
-We really do need to be so very thankful and never take it for granted when things ARE going normally. When we can eat OK and move about OK and basically do whatever we want to do, we too often just forget that life and health are gifts, and we cannot count on always having these great gifts.
-The famous 23rd Psalm has a line one can often appeal to at times like this: “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (v. 1). One way that God gets our attention is when he causes us – one way or another – to slow down, to get out of the routine, and to be in a place where reflection on spiritual matters can come to the fore. When life is normal and busy and full, we can so easily not be spending that quiet time with God that we should be.
-Related to this, it was all very interesting that this passage was a part of my morning Bible reading. 2 Kings 1:2-4 says this:
Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay sick; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness.” But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus says the Lord, You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’” So Elijah went.
This king of Israel should have gone to the one true God to get advice, not to the false gods of the pagans. As Elijah said (in v. 6): “Thus says the Lord, Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.”
Many sick people and those in hospital may be turning to their own ‘gods,’ be they of the New Age or of some other religion. They need the living God to deal with. I had a ‘roommate’ in my room – a Chinese woman (yes men and women seem to share hospital wards). She did not speak English, so I could only learn of her situation via hearing the doctors, nurses and translators conversing with her.
I kept her in prayer, but chances are good that if she is religious, it would be an Eastern Religion she holds to. I prayed for her and asked that God would be with her, reveal himself to her, and if it be his will, to bring healing in her life. A few more reflections can be mentioned based on what she was going through.
-As far as I could gather she was 61, and had already been found to have some cancer. We were in the oncology (cancer) ward. Yes, a few months ago I was found to have cancer, but only a small, non-aggressive prostate cancer which they are keeping an eye on. So I am doing relatively OK.
But not everyone is doing so well. As I say, she seems to have already been found to have some cancer, and had been in there a few days before I got in. (We did manage to leave at around the same time, and she was a polite and quiet gal, although she did have family members around often, and she did snore a bit at night!)
However, while there, she had more tests done, and they did find even more cancer, in her stomach and lymph nodes. Oh dear. So she will be going back into hospital soon for surgery. The truth is, you will always find some folks doing much better than you, and some folks doing much worse than you.
-More things can be said about her. On the trivial side of things, I mentioned her snoring. The room I was in was more of a cubicle with a large 3-meter-wide entrance, sealed off only with a thin curtain. So if you are not a great sleeper to begin with, there was plenty of light and noise coming in, all day and all night.
I have always struggled getting a good night’s sleep, and I toss and turn plenty. But with my procedure, I was basically forced to lay flat on my back for 40 hours straight. Argh – the agony and misery! That is so uncomfortable for me, and added to my sleeplessness. When a few surgical things were removed I immediately rolled onto my side and tried to get a bit more shuteye.
But plenty of hospital noises made even that a rather hopeless task. So I had basically two very sleepless nights. Thus last night, back at home, I slept for around 13 hours straight, trying to catch up on sleep. It was great to be back at home in my own bedroom on my own bed, able to lay in any position that felt comfortable.
And as an aside to all this, I pray each night while in bed. Before entering into requests and supplications, I give thanks for various things. One thing I always give thanks for is just that: being in my own bed. I say this because I know full well that there is every likelihood that based on my ministry and the way things are going, someday I may well be thrown into jail for all my ‘subversive’ work.
Of course if and when this happens, I will definitely look back and miss those days with my own bed with my own wife, instead of being locked up with strangers and all the dangers and risks associated with prison life. But I am under no illusions that for many of us daring to proclaim truth in the public arena, the chances of eventual jail terms are very real indeed.
-And some more thoughts on comparative suffering and hardships. As I said, we all are in different places. If you think you got things bad, you will always find some others doing a whole lot worse than you are. In my brief stay in hospital (only 54 hours in total), I came across a number of folks who were doing it far tougher than I was. Simply hearing various bits of moaning and groaning from patients in pain around me was one indication of this.
One nearby woman (remember, I could hear everything going on around me) was in tears because she had a husband at work and no one at home to look after a loved one (a child?). So she had it tough as well. And one old guy was yelling in anger at nursing staff in the middle of the night for various reasons – also helping to keep me wide awake!
-Some of you might recall that I had been requesting prayer that with a busy speaking schedule for this year, that the operation would occur in a quiet period. This month is one such period, so it was great news (and answered prayer) when I was told I could go in this week.
But God works in mysterious ways (if you do indeed believe in God’s providence, and that he at least allows things to happen for the good). Just when I got into hospital and was being prepared for surgery, the main power supply went off! So they were using emergency generators to keep the power on.
Oh dear. The longer it went on, the less chances of any of us getting any surgeries done that afternoon. So they finally started sending folks home. One guy next to me in the surgery waiting room also on a hospital bed all ready to be rolled into theatre told the nurse that this was the second time in a row his operation was cancelled! He said, ‘This is like Afghanistan, not Australia!”
Poor guy, but the power did eventually get fixed, so while those with longer operating times did have to be rescheduled, those of us with shorter operations (mine was just 90 minutes) could go ahead – yeah! So I was rolled in at 3:30, instead of the scheduled 1pm. So all that was an answer to prayer. But as mentioned, others did not fare so well in this regard.
-Again, the theme of ‘normal’ life versus when you are sick or suffering or in hospital keeps pressing on you. Indeed, because we live in a fallen world, the moment we are born the clock starts ticking against us, and we are already on the slow path to our own eventual death. Whether we like it or not, sickness and death await us all.
And some folks have more sickness and ill-health than others. While most of my fellow patients were elderly, there are always some younger people who face so much hardship. Most children and young people go through life fairly well, but some do have terrible things they must endure, including cancer, accidents and so on. That is always so sad.
Having the TV on for a bit I saw scenes of normality: people working or studying or doing sport or laughing and partying or eating and drinking. When you are cut off from so much of that while in a hospital bed, it does make the contrast quite glaring. It should of course make you all that much more grateful for when you are fit and healthy, and free to move about and do normal things.
But ‘normal’ life is really an illusion in so many ways. While eating, sleeping, working, playing, loving, studying, and the like are all good gifts from God, and part of his common grace to all people, the real normal is to live in the light of eternity and spiritual realities. Too many people live as if this life is all there is. They are in for a rude awakening, if not later in life, then certainly when they stand before their Maker.
As a Christian, I of course could pray throughout and keep God in mind as everything was happening – to me and to the others around me. I again became aware of some basic spiritual truths. Just as our normal healthy condition is in a sense all very temporary and can be deceiving, with disease, disaster, sickness and death bound to spring up at any moment, so too in the spiritual life.
We tend to think that when things are going along nicely that we are just fine as we are – quite self-sufficient and in no need of God or prayer or spiritual help. But the truth is, we are all spiritually sick and spiritually dead in sin and selfishness. Our condition is terminal.
Our only help spiritually speaking is to recognise our spiritually diseased, broken and mortal condition, and to turn to Christ as the divine healer, and the one who can make us spiritually whole. That is our most important need in life. Sadly, it is likely that many of my fellow patients did not know the Lord.
They certainly need to. We all must make sure we are right with God in Christ before it is too late. And we must daily give thanks when things are more or less normal: when we have pretty good health and the like. It is no fun at all when bad health is the norm, and/or when we spend lots of time in hospital.
I was so glad to get out when I did. Even that short stay was something I do not relish repeating. (I may celebrate with an Indian takeaway tonight after a rather bland hospital diet!) So please, always give thanks for all the good and all the blessings you do enjoy now, and always keep in mind eternity. Our end in life is to get right with God through Christ, and to become like him.
Holiness is what our end is all about, not mere happiness. God works in various ways to move us in that direction. We all need to be open to what he is trying to do in our lives. As has been said so often before, suffering (of all sorts) can make us bitter or make us better.
How will you respond?