On his eleventh day of hospitalization and two surgeries later, my father-in-law still bled internally. He writhed in pain on the bed and cried out nonsensical phrases couched in delirious moans.
“Dad, what do you need? Is there anything I can do?” asked my wife.
“Just shoot me,” he mumbled through the disorienting medicinal cocktail prescribed for pain.
I looked at Roger. Pale and gaunt, face ashen and cheeks sunken, he looked older than his 75 years. A blood pressure collar and IV adorned one frail and sun-spotted arm. The other arm was chained to a bag of blood replenishing the life his body expelled.
Doctors Inaction & Convincing the Heart
The M.D. rotation was uncertain of their direction. A third operation could risk bladder loss; yet, the patient could not sustain continued blood loss.
They unified on one approach: Nothing.
Ok, nothing wasn’t accurate but “continue to monitor his status” had the same result: It did nothing to improve his condition.
We’re losing him. No one voiced it. We denied the truth and tried to convince our hearts otherwise.
All of us had been in the room with other loved ones as their last hour walked near, its black shadow hovering until the merciful end arrived.
No, this can’t happen. Yet, one glance at the balding, frail figure of my father-in-law crouched in pain on the hospital bed whispered it could.
My heart hurt for him, my mother-in-law, and especially for my wife. Saying goodbye was never easy, and despite my wife’s great strength, this would be different, very different.
I was forced to leave the hospital mid-afternoon to pick up our children at school. I asked my wife to keep me updated as we moved through the remainder of the day.
“You feel better, buddy. I will see you tomorrow.” These were the last words I was certain I would speak to the man I’d known for over twenty years as well as loved and admired as a father. Most importantly he was my wife’s world and first love, as many good fathers are to their daughters.
After a nurse saw his condition late afternoon, she sprang into action and contacted the doctors to do something. She ended the “too-many-chiefs-who-don’t-communicate-with-one-another” round-robin patient carelessness. My father-in-law underwent a third surgery shortly thereafter.
My wife texted me progress updates but the results were not encouraging. The doctor who performed the surgery came into his hospital room and asked my mother-in-law to come with him. My wife wouldn’t allow her to be alone, especially not now. She followed.
The doctor told them as soon as he cauterized one area to prevent further bleeding another would pop open. He did the best he could and they would keep him in the hospital under close observation as he recovered to see the results.
While it wasn’t reemergence of cancer he had beaten or worse, the picture the doctor painted was not hopeful.
My wife texted me as she left the hospital, “I’m on my way home. I may need you to hold me tonight.”
“I would be honored,” I replied.
We walked into the hospital room and my mother-in-law greeted us. We tried to speak softly to avoid waking up my father-in-law. It didn’t work.
“Well, hello!” he said, with a wave high in the air.
My father-in-law spoke in a stronger, more resonant voice, his eyes clear with little sign of pain. Color returned to his face and arms, banishing the gray of yesterday. He joked and laughed. While far from normal, the change in his demeanor and physical appearance was remarkable.
After a couple of hours enjoying his recovery and discussing it with him, most of the family members filed out of the hospital room to run short errands. I sat in a hospital recliner next to my father-in-law. He lay awake in bed and looked around the room.
I questioned Roger about having his affairs in order, not wanting details but simple assurance everything was taken care of. He confirmed all was covered. While a tough conversation to lead, we were relieved and thankful this would not be needed, at least not right now.
He was telling me about his preparations when a wave of nurses popped in and out, chatting with him and taking his vitals.
While they performed their tasks, I focused on my laptop trying to catch up on some office work. As soon as the last one opened the door to walk out, an extended arm and hand flopping over the side of the bed partition caught my attention.
“Roger, do you need anything?” I asked.
He pulled himself to the edge of the bed, turned on his side and faced me.
“Com’mere for a sec. I have something to tell you.”
The door opened and another nurse rushed in to do something. He flopped down on his back and chatted with her. The phone rang and I answered it. I handed the all-in-one-lay-down-to-hang-up-circa-1981 phone to him. This dance repeated for 30 minutes before the last nurse left the room.
As soon as the door shut, Roger popped back up and over the side of the bed. I closed the laptop lid and leaned forward. His eyes were wide and his face so full of something it looked like he was going to burst.
God Touched Me
“Last night I saw God.”
That’s right. I remembered my wife telling me last night when we were in bed. After his surgery and returned to his room, my father-in-law told his wife and daughter he saw God. It scared the crap out of her.
I laid the laptop and lap desk on the floor next to my feet and rolled the recliner closer to his bed.
“Tell me about it. What happened?”
“I saw God. I’ve never really known God, but after all these years, I do.”
“Where did you meet him?”
My father-in-law stared up and into the air, beyond the walls to a place I’ve never been. His face beamed.
“It was on a crowded street. People were everywhere, crossing and walking by me. I turned around and I shook hands with God. He said, ‘You’re going to be alright.’ He turned and walked one way. I walked the other.”
He looked back at me, “That was it. Just that quick. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve seen God. I’ve touched God.”
“What did he look like?”
“He was young. 40 or 45 I would guess.”
“How did you know it was God? Was there anything surrounding him? Bright light…”
“No,” he said, “He was, we both were, casually dressed. He just extended his hand to shake mine and told me I was going to be alright.”
Roger fell back on the bed, eyes wide and face full of wonder. “I didn’t think I would make it through the night. Until…wow! Can you believe it? After all these years…and me? Wow!”
A Gift Beyond All Gifts…For Two
I worked to process everything my father-in-law told me. After all these years…I never knew God…I’ve touched God.
Roger had always been a quiet man and rarely did we talk about matters of faith. He attended church regularly with his family. He was selfless, a man of charity and service. He raised my wife to be and do likewise.
Yet, I knew what he meant and was trying to tell me.
My father-in-law knew well God of the Bible but this is the first time in his life God became personal. God became real. God touched him. Of all people, God touched him. Both wonder and unworthiness tinged his story.
“You’ve been given at least three gifts,” I said. “You’ve seen what many, many others have longed to see, to make real and you’ve been allowed to come back and share it. God has touched you. Regardless of what you might think or what you might have done in your life, you are worthy of it. Lastly, I think He’s saying it’s not your time, yet. You’ve got some more work to do here.”
Silence stood in the room but it wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable. We both contemplated the meaning and importance of his experience.
“I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.” Roger stared off into the ether with peace, wonder, and joy as a young child. He smiled.
It’s easy to respond with skepticism or explain away his experience via scientific or chemical changes in the body under such duress.
Yet to know, to truly know as my father-in-law now does, is a gift beyond all gifts. His willingness, his excitement to share his experience with me is also a gift I’ll carry the rest of my days.
Roger, if it’s tomorrow or ten years of tomorrows when your day comes, you are going to be alright. God touched you.