It happened very quickly. I had procrastinated for far too long. It might be a generational thing, it might be a male thing or it just might be me. I have an innate hesitancy not to bother folk and not to waste the doctor’s time and, of course, there is always the hope that it might just go away. It was a dull abdomen pain and excessive tiredness and finally an excruciating and persistent pain in the right shoulder, that painkillers would not shift. This was not going to go away and when I got round to doing something about it, there were so many hoops to jump through before I got a face-to-face appointment with my GP. By this time more than a week had gone by, since realising something was wrong. But then things started to move. The doctor listened carefully to my story, carried out an examination and asked some pertinent questions. He short-cutted the process of taking blood samples, arranged for an earlier pick-up to the lab and said he would call back in the afternoon. True to his word the call came through.
“I am sorry, the levels are high, there is too much going on, you have to go to hospital”
“Now, they are waiting for you”.
So, my wife, my companion, the love of my life, helped me gather some things and drove me to the hospital. It was not far away. With a mixture of apprehension and relief, relief that I hadn’t just imagined it after all, I entered this strange and magical world as a patient for the first time since leaving a maternity ward 70plus years ago. I recognised it, of course, I had visited hospitals before many times. In another sense it was not strange. Videos of hospital interiors, operating theatres and treatment rooms are in your face all the time and the backdrop to so many news programmes. It would be hard to miss. My wife also has a fondness for medical dramas and I have seen things out of the corner of my eye. They are really not my cup of tea, partly because of a squeamish stomach, when it comes to blood and guts, but more to do with the dramas themselves. The characters so often seem to be of the worst kind, arrogant, rude, boorish, prima-donnas, basically not nice people and the script writers seem to have a penchant to insert not-so-subtle sermons, so you are always aware that you are being preached at.
But here I was the centre of my own little drama and seeing it all from quite another perspective. It was like entering a city, built on several levels with corridors and stairs and lifts and people going up and down and along with trolleys and push chairs, nurses and doctors, students and registrars, cleaners and cooks, consultants and porters, all moving continuously in an unhurried but purposeful pace. I was awestruck observing the astonishing organisation that worked in its various parts together, the intertwining of disciplines and task, the order and efficiency. Over my two plus weeks stay, I can’t count how many individuals cared directly for me, but I guess it must have been close to 40. What struck me more than anything, was not simply the astonishing technology, the skill, the expertise and the years of knowledge and training, the legacy of medical advancement and the understanding of how the body works, how to intervene and how to direct treatment towards recovery. It was not simply these amazing things, but the care, the genuine care, that I experience at every level. It went way beyond. It wasn’t just a job, but a beautiful expression of true humanity. It makes me cry when I think about it. And I know it can only come from God, who made us in his image.
The medics wasted no time: a session in radiology under the space age cat-scan machine, quickly identifying an abscess in the liver and then without any delay a return to radiology, this time to have a drain inserted. The consultant talked me through the procedure. I didn’t have to watch the cut or the insertion, it was all on the ultra sound screen, that moving wedge with the grainy image. In my case, not a baby, but an ugly liver and an evil dark mass up in the top corner taking up almost one third of the organ. The small discomfort and the mild pain were eclipsed by the wonder of what I was seeing. Suddenly out of the top right-hand corner, like a comet, the needle fired its way into the centre of the dark mass It was followed by a tube and the process of draining of all this vile substance began.
Safely back in the ward and following a visit, I settled myself down and waited for a promised move to a quieter ward. Then, without warning, it happened, an uncontrollable violent shaking, my whole being was rattling. It was sepsis and without saying anything or making a call, the ward nurse was on it right away. Suddenly, screens were drawn round and the whole team, doctors, nurses and health care assistants, piled in. I think I have seen this sort of thing on TV. They were pricking fingers on both hands, drawing blood, injecting adrenalin, stuffing sugar down my throat, supplying oxygen and all the while speaking numbers over numbers and repeating “it’s still rising”. It was a strange out-of-body experience. I was just watching and remember thinking, at the time, without any sense of drama “This is it then”. The day before when I was possibly at my lowest, in the long night, weary and unable to get relief from pain, I was praying and simply asking God to take me. I was ready. “Take me home” was my prayer. But after those magnificent medics had done their work and my body had settled down, I understood the answer was “No not this time”.
Some days later the consultant was able to tell me that liver abscesses are pretty rare, that the bacteria the lab had identified was also very rare yet they couldn’t say how it came about. But from there onwards, it was a slow but steady regaining of functions and taking back control of the body systems and step by step I was feeling so much better.
It is hard to describe the overwhelming sense of gratitude that flooded right through me: gratitude for the amazing care I had been shown at all levels, gratitude to the many folk who, I know, who had me on their minds, were praying and thinking of me and sending messages and gratitude ultimately to God, as I witnessed first hand the absolute wonder of his care, of his love and the awesome power of his healing.