I wasn’t planning on writing about my surgery. My medical problems were not something that I wanted to share with everyone. My plan was to get through my surgery and to be out of the hospital within a few days, which wouldn’t interfere with me continuing to write my weekly Adoration Letter. It turned out that my plan didn’t materialize. Why? Because God had a different plan in mind for me.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the complications that arose during and after my surgery, which led to me being placed in the Intensive Care Unit at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. Before my surgery, Georgette had posted a request for prayers for a successful surgery on Prayer Makes the Difference, a public prayer group on Facebook that she manages. When she posted the request, she did not disclose my name or my relationship with her.
I had asked her not to reveal my name or provide any details as to whom she was referring to in her post. She honored my request but after I ended up in intensive care, she made the decision to disclose who I was because she knew that more people would be inclined to pray for me if they knew that I was the one who was in need of their prayers. She also requested prayers from our family members and friends, and she contacted our church and made arrangements for a message to go out to our church prayer group to pray for me.
The response to Georgette’s request for prayers was overwhelming. Hundreds of people began praying for us and they continued to pray while I was in the hospital and after I was released. Georgette continued to keep everyone updated on my progress, so they could see that their prayers were making a difference.
After the prayers started, it was as though several individuals were hand-selected by our Lord to assist us.
When a young doctor caught Georgette off guard with questions about whether she and I had ever discussed what we would do if one of us died and needed to be resuscitated, she reached out by phone to my brother Peter who has been a medical doctor for more than 20 years.
When she called Peter, he was in the woods hunting deer with one of my other brothers. The fact that he had his phone with him and that he answered the call was an indication that he was one of the people our Lord made available to assist us. Peter ended up talking to the doctor and then took the time to explain what they had discussed to Georgette.
The next person who our Lord made available to assist us was my brother John, who lives about two hours from the hospital. John had previously sent a text to Georgette that said that he was available to come to the hospital if she needed him. After talking to Peter, Georgette contacted John and asked if he was still available to come to the hospital. He arrived at the hospital in time to be with her while she met with my doctor to discuss my condition.
The evening that John was there, my godmother and aunt, Mary Ann Penn, showed up at the hospital and offered to help Georgette. It just so happened that she was in the area because one of her family members had an appointment with a doctor at the Mayo Clinic.
The next day, my son, Harry, showed up at the hospital. He had been in Ohio for some business meetings and while he was on his way home from Ohio, my oldest daughter Anna called and talked to Harry’s wife Kathryn, as well as Harry and my five other daughters. Anna was able to work out an arrangement where Harry could drive to Minnesota to be with me and Georgette while Anna and her sisters would provide Harry’s wife with whatever assistance she needed with her four young children.
A day later, my brother Steve unexpectedly showed up at the hospital with a large bag of food for Georgette and Harry. He stayed that evening and then checked into a hotel and came to the hospital the next day to be with us.
While all of this was going on, my youngest daughter Teresa was in the process of making arrangements with her employer to work remotely from Minnesota. She then flew to Minnesota and arrived the day before I was released from the hospital. She stayed at the hotel with me and Georgette until my follow-up appointment with the doctor, which was four days after I was released. After that, we drove home together.
In addition to our Lord seeing to it that we had the assistance of several of our family members, He also sent a special nurse to care for me. You may have heard the song “Earth Angel” by the 1950s singing group, The Penguins. The nurse that our Lord sent was my “Nurse Angel.” Her name was Barb, and she was assigned to me after I was transferred from the Intensive Care Unit to the general medical floor. She was my nurse for two days, which consisted of two 12-hour shifts, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. While there were at least two other patients who were assigned to Barb, because of all the special things that she did for me, it seemed as though the majority of her time was dedicated to taking care of me.
It’s hard for me to explain how caring and loving Barb was toward me. She was optimistic, good-natured, and loving. She did everything she could to make me feel comfortable. She knew how much I wanted to get out of the hospital, but she also knew that my doctor wouldn’t agree to release me until I was able to drink at least a liter of fluids on my own during the day. I was using a large syringe to get fluids into my mouth. The problem was that I was struggling for more than 15 minutes at a time to drink 50 milliliters of water. There are 1,000 milliliters in a liter, so 50 milliliters was only 1/20th of my required daily intake.
At one point, Barb walked into my room with a medium-sized glass and said, “You’re never going to be able to drink enough fluids out of that syringe. Are you willing to let me teach you how to drink out of this glass?” When I said yes, she had me sit down while she stood behind me. She handed me a mirror and told me to hold the mirror with my left hand and the glass of water with my right hand.
My lips were swollen and completely numb, so I couldn’t feel the glass with my lips. That’s why I needed the mirror — so I could see where I was placing the rim of the glass. She directed me to open my mouth and place the rim of the glass on my lower lip, with the rim about 3/8 of an inch inside my mouth. Before tilting the glass, she told me I needed to set down the mirror and hold my lower lip in place with my left index finger. Then she directed me to tip the glass so some water would flow into my mouth. The first several tries were complete failures. The water flowed from the glass, into my mouth, and then most of it dribbled out of the sides of my mouth onto my shirt.
I’m sure you’ve seen how babies respond when they are given solid food for the first time. The food doesn’t stay in their mouths because they don’t know what to do with it. Do you know how I felt when the water dribbled out of my mouth? Like a baby. Barb worked with me for at least 20 minutes before I was able to swallow half of the water. After a lot of practice, I was able to drink 150 milliliters of water within 15 minutes — three times more fluid than I was getting with the syringe.
Besides my surgeon, Christopher F. Viozzi, D.D.S., M.D., there were two other members of my medical team that our Lord sent to assist me while I was in the hospital. The first one was Jordan, a young, sweet, energetic nurse whose enthusiasm was contagious. Whenever she was around, everybody in the room couldn’t help but smile and feel as though everything was going to be okay.
The second person was Maggie, the physician’s assistant who made the decision to cut the wires in my mouth when my oxygen level plummeted. She took the time to follow up with me on several occasions, and to answer all my questions. In addition to being an expert at her craft, she was confident, knowledgeable, and compassionate. She was also the one person on my medical team who hugged Georgette while I was in intensive care and assured her that I was going to be okay.
Last week, I told you that there are two primary ways in which we can guarantee that the flame of faith that is within our souls will always continue to grow, so that our faith in God will always continue to increase. I also told you that our faith must always be increasing, so we are able to cope with and get through the challenges that we face.
The first way in which we can guarantee that our faith in God will always continue to grow is through prayer — either our own prayers or the prayers of another person who offers their prayers for us. The second way that we can guarantee that our faith will continue to grow is through suffering — either through our own suffering or through the suffering of another person who offers to God their suffering for us.
It was only because our Lord offered His own suffering and death for each of us that we are able to enter His heavenly kingdom.
While Georgette and I had been praying for a successful surgery and recovery, it was the prayers of our family members, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ that provided us the spiritual boost and the personal assistance that we needed to faithfully get through the crisis that confronted us.
Just as it was a part of God’s plan for Jesus Christ to suffer, it was also a part of His plan for me to suffer. Whether we like it or not, every one of us is destined to suffer during our lifetime. We need to be like our Savior and willingly offer that suffering to God for the people we love. And while we are suffering, we need to also pray for the faith that we need to tolerate and benefit from our suffering.
We know that when our Lord was brutally tortured and forced to carry His cross, His followers were praying for him. As a result of those prayers, He was assisted by several people while he carried His cross. His mother Mary, who He came face to face with on the road to Calvary, comforted him. The woman identified as Veronica in the New Testament defied the guards and rushed over to our Lord, so she could wipe His blood-drenched face with her veil. And there was the group of women who wept and prayed for our Lord as He passed by them. Despite His immense suffering, He stopped so He could acknowledge them.
When our Lord was crucified, at the foot of the cross were three women with the same first name: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Cleopas, and His mother, Mary of Nazareth. There were also two men who supported Him while He was dying on the cross. One of them was His apostle John, who stood at the foot of the cross with our Lord’s mother. The other man was the “good thief” who was crucified next to our Lord and courageously spoke up on His behalf when the other thief verbally attacked Him.
I don’t know about you, but the next time I find myself in a situation where I’m suffering, I want as many people as possible praying for me and offering up their own suffering for me. When their prayers and suffering are added to my own prayers, I am confident that I will have the faith to overcome any doubts and fears that I may have. I will also have the faith and confidence to push forward with gratitude for the family, friends, and gifts that God has bestowed upon me.