I pull my hand from hers and stand up. I turn and mumble something about needing to go to the car. I push through the bland mint-green curtains and try not to look at the nurses who I know are staring at me. I can feel my cheeks hot and red and already the tears are welling up in my eyes.
I make it out of the cheerless ER and halfway to the car before I fall to my knees and start sobbing.
“I kiss the hand that afflicts me,” the hot asphalt burns my knees, but I don’t care. Over and over again I say it –half yelling and half trying not to hyperventilate. I’m not a pretty crier.
I kiss the hand that afflicts me.
Eight hours earlier the wife and I were all suited up in our 30 lbs of bike gear and ready to go to the States for her favorite holiday.
“The fireworks are so pretty!” she said, half jumping with childlike excitement. I rolled my eyes as remembered the nights I had spent in Asia watching endless displays of fireworks choreographed to music and always accompanied with something more nutritious than hotdogs. Sometimes I’m just a bitter old man.
She hadn’t slept the night before because her stomach was hurting her, but I was trying not to think too much about that.
Before I turn the key we always get on our knees and pray: it’s not superstition… it’s the right thing to do.
“God,” I prayed, through our helmet intercom, “Holy God, please take us to a place where we have to depend on you. Test our faith and help us to be found rooted in you. Test our trust in you and grow in us the character that can only be found in you.” Now, believe me when I say, God heard that one.
By the time we got through security at the border, Stef was complaining that she was freezing. I checked the “demoralizer” (the thermometer on the motorcycle) and saw that it was 94 degrees Fahrenheit and climbing.
Then the pain started.
Sharp stabbing pains suddenly started in her stomach and lower abdomen just as we were getting to El Paso. They were so severe that she stopped talking to me: she never stops talking to me on the intercom unless she is super mad at me or asleep, and she wasn’t either of those.
Then the fever. As we waited at a stoplight, baking like worms on a sidewalk, I noticed that her finger was shaking. If we were on a Harley Davidson that would be a normal stoplight occurrence, but on a Beemer, it’s news.
“Stef!” I said, “You’re shaking!”
“I know,” her reply came back, quiet and tired, “I just feel so weak.”
We pulled over into a coffee shop and I was hoping that some water and air conditioning would put some new life into my tiny wife. No, dice. She just kept shaking and telling me how cold she was.
We called her dad and asked him to meet us in El Paseo with the car. The bike could wait for us, but the girl needed to be out of the sun. The stomach pains were getting worse and more frequent.
I don’t know if you have the pleasure of having a stubborn significant other, friend, sibling, or pet, but if you do, then you’ve probably had this conversation before:
Me: “Love, we are going to the hospital.”
Stef: “Please, don’t make me go. I’ll be –ouch– okay.”
Me: “I’m not asking. We’re going.”
Stef: grimacing in pain, “I think I feel a little better.”
Me: “Nice try.”
Twenty minutes later we had finished filling out the papers at the Emergency Room and were awaiting Triage.
The next six hours were a blur of nurses, needles, poking, tubes, an MRI, lethargic looking doctors, shaking, emergency trips to the bathroom, blankets, medications, IVs, and family member visits.
Right after the MRI and somewhere between the nice doctor with long hair explaining that my wife should avoid the sun (awesome), a serious looking man poked his head in the room and explained that we didn’t have the Medicaid that we thought we did.
“God,” I prayed, “I can’t do this. I need you. I’m a boy with a sick wife. Hold me!”
I pictured myself as a small boy reaching out my hand to take my dad’s.
The fever was 103.5 degrees and the nurse was a little more than worried when the first four Tylenol didn’t bring it down a single degree.
More prayers. More waiting. More drip drip drip of the fluids.
How can such a tiny little arm take so much fluid?
“Excuse me, nice doctor?” I want to say, “My wife started the day at 116-ish pounds and I’m just making sure that we are completely positive that she needs five giant bags of drippy medicine? I know I’m not the doctor, but I’ve watched enough cartoons to know what happens to the animal that gets pumped up too much.”
drip. drip. drip. drip. drip. drip.
I’m going crazy. I’m bouncing between overwhelmed and anxious. My wife sees the worried look I have on my face.
“Hey, love,” she says weakly, “love, I’m not going to die, okay? I asked God and He said that I’m not going to die.” Her voice is a little more than a whisper. Her small chest is rising and falling furiously, her heart working too hard.
She reaches for my hand.
“Hey, love,” she says again, “do you believe me?”
I’m holding her hand looking into her tired eyes when I can’t take it anymore. I mumble something about needing something from the car and then push my way into the hall. I make it halfway to the car before the dam of hope that has been holding back my tears all day suddenly breaks and I hit rock bottom.
I fall to me knees on the summer asphalt and pray a prayer that I stole from George Mueller. After his wife died he was emotionally devastated, but, he knew where his ultimate hope came from. He prayed one of the most sincere and challenging prayers that I have ever heard [read]:
“I bow, I am satisfied with the will of my Heavenly Father, I seek by perfect submission to His holy will to glorify Him, I kiss continually the hand that has thus afflicted me.”
And here I was 140 years later praying his same prayer believing with every sob, and breath, and tear that God was greatly to be praised. Once again I made myself a little child in my mind’s eye, except this time I was kissing the hand of my father and weeping.
It broke on me like the sun through a black cloud: suddenly and unmistakably. Peace flooded my heart and calmed my mind. My soul was strengthened as I rested in the greatness of my God’s plans. If He considered it necessary for us to go through this, then this was a situation in which great glory could come to Him. If He allowed this to happen to her, a perfect father who loves His daughter infinitely more than I can or ever could, then this would be for her good.
I accepted it and went back into the hospital.
She met me with a smile as she told me that her temperature was now 97.2. I’ll say that again: in the time that it took me to sob a prayer and put my faith completely in the infinite God, my wife’s fever had broken.
Two days later my wife got a call. After the obligatory, “Yes, uh huh, hmmm,” and “thank you!” she turned to me excitedly.
“Guess what?!” she said, tossing her ancient phone in my lap.
“I had some weird rare virus thing that could have started an epidemic! Isn’t that cool?!”
No words. I had no words for her. No, “cool” isn’t the word that I’d use for that particular strain of bacteria that almost killed my wife. I reserve the word “cool” for something that my wife catches that the CDC doesn’t have to get alerted for.
Ps. that guy who popped his head into our room to tell us in our darkest hour that we didn’t have a chance at paying for all of the bags of medication, yeah, he was wrong. God is bigger than fear, bigger than insurance, bigger than illness.
“O Christ our Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. As conies to their rock, so have we run to Thee for safety; as birds from their wanderings, so have we flown to Thee for peace. Chance and change are busy in our little world of nature and men, but in Thee we find no variableness nor shadow of turning. We rest in Thee without fear or doubt and face our tomorrows without anxiety. Amen.” A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
Until next time,
Lose your life!