I Could Have Died!
Today my body is completely healed, but my heart still carries the lesson I learned the week I came close to death.
The trouble began on Monday morning, April 24, 2017, three weeks after my 61st birthday. After getting up at my usual time, I realized that I didn’t feel well. I was shivering and began having dry heaves along with diarrhea. My wife tested my temperature, and it quickly rose to 104 degrees. At this point, I figured I had the stomach flu or perhaps food poisoning. The night before I had eaten a peanut butter sandwich and afterwards read the expiration date on the jar—2012! However, my high fever was a tip-off that something more serious was going on. I don’t ever get a fever that high, even when I have the flu!
I was born with a hemangioma on the right side of my waist—my birthmark. A hemangioma is a mass of blood vessels close to the surface of the skin. Mine was a dark strawberry color and about the diameter of a large egg. Over the last few years, the area around it had actually swelled up about half an inch, but I figured that was just because I had gained weight. Every doctor who ever saw my birthmark asked about it; few had encountered a hemangioma in their practices.
Doing some research on my phone, I discovered that a hemangioma can rupture, and I figured that was what had happened—the violent dry heaves had ruptured the hemangioma. But by early afternoon, I was feeling an irritation around the area, and it was showing red streaks. Over the next few hours, the pain increased, and my wife began suggesting that we go to the emergency room. I thought about having dry heaves and diarrhea while in the ER waiting room with a hundred people there, and I refused. Finally, about 6:00 p.m., my wife said to me: “I am going to go get in the car. You can either come with me to the ER, or I can call an ambulance. You choose.”
When we got to the ER, it was everything I had imagined and dreaded. It was a Monday, and the ER was packed! There were about 40 patients in front of me plus all their friends and relatives! After an hour or so, we were called back for a blood test, and eventually were placed in a treatment room. The lab had called saying that my blood counts were high, and I should be treated immediately. IVs were started, one in each arm, and morphine was given, since the pain in my side was now an 8 on a scale of 10. In short order, the ER doctor saw me and prescribed three very strong broad-spectrum antibiotics. After more waiting, a CAT scan was done. While waiting for the results, I felt like a monkey in the zoo. The hospital was a teaching facility, and few doctors had ever seen a hemangioma, and none of them had seen one that looked like mine—it had turned almost black by this point. So just about every doctor in the place came to have a look!
Finally, a surgical intern looked at my side and his jaw dropped. He said, “You need immediate surgery.” And in another hour or so I was in the surgical suite. I am glad to know that if you need surgery at 2:00 a.m., like I did, there are good surgeons on hand to do it! When I came out of recovery at 3:00 a.m., they had literally taken a pound of flesh out of my side. The surgeons told me that the hemangioma had indeed ruptured. Some days earlier, the tissue had probably begun to die, and infection had set up in the dead tissue and gotten into my blood. Later, blood tests indicated that the culprit was Streptococcus Group A—the most common type of strep! A family friend who is a nurse told me that if I had waited until the next morning to go to the ER, I very well could have been beyond help and died.
Staring at the Ceiling
While I lay in a hospital bed for the next week with IV fluids and antibiotics pumping into my body, I thought a great deal about what had happened to me. In less than 24 hours, I had gone from my normal routine to the brink of death. During those hours staring at the ceiling from my hospital bed, a truth stared back at me that I had never really learned before: We all need to be ready to die at any moment. The Bible compares our lives to “a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14, NKJV). Think of your breath on a cold morning or smoke coming from a campfire. How long is a vapor or a wisp of smoke visible? At any second it is gone. And that is how each of us must regard our life. At any second, it may be gone.
The Way to be Ready
On any given Monday, or any other day of the week for that matter, we may have to face God and answer for how we have lived our lives. Many people have the idea that God is going to automatically welcome them to heaven, no questions asked. But the Bible emphasizes again and again that God is a righteous judge. And if today we must stand before God as Righteous Judge, we know that we have broken His law.
We know that, at some point, we have lied. Before the all-knowing eyes of God, we are liars. We remember the time we took something that did not belong to us. We know in our hearts that we are thieves. We remember many times when we have been angry. Jesus said that anger springs from a heart of murder (Matthew 5:21–22). We have lusted after someone who is not our spouse. Jesus calls such behavior “adultery in heart” (Matthew 5:27–28). If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we have much to answer for when we die and face God.
So, is there anything we can do to be ready to face a day like I did on April 24, 2017? The Bible emphasizes that God is not only a righteous judge but also that He is love. He demonstrated that love to us in a particular way. Romans 5:8 puts it this way: “But God demonstrates his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died on the cross to bear the punishment that our sin deserves. Jesus was God the Son in human flesh. He lived a sinless, spotless life. He did not need to die for anything He ever did. Rather, He died as the substitute for you and me, to bear the punishment that we deserve because of our sins.
We can prepare for that day when we will face God by putting our trust in Jesus to forgive our sin and give us eternal life. We can turn from our sin and ask Jesus to save us from the penalty of our sin. We can put our lives in His hands. Trusting Jesus in this way, we will be ready to face death whenever it may intrude into our lives.
After a week in the hospital with IV fluids and antibiotics being pumped into my body 24/7, and after my blood counts and temperature came down, the doctors did exploratory surgery to determine if there was any further infection. It was just a small, deep incision in my back. All was clear, and I was released on May 1 with a “wound vac” to keep the wound clean and help in the healing process.
I learned a lesson well that week: Never take life for granted. Be prepared to face God at any moment.