I had a big weekend, and I know a lot of people have been praying for me, so I wanted to write something up to explain what happened, but also so that I can have some record of my thoughts and feelings from this point in my life. This is important to me, because as I get further and further way from Labor Day 2015, my memory is going to slip a little. I want to have something written down…something out there. I want write a blog post about it while it’s fresh in my mind.
So this might be a little long and a little boring. You don’t have to stick with it to the end. It’s as much for me and my children as it is for anyone else. I’m not going to go back and do a lot of editing to clean it up and make sure it flows well. I’m just going to write it and see what comes out at the end.
I woke up Saturday around 7:00 AM and went to work. I’d had dinner Thursday night Eric Derr. I had premarital counseling with Tim and Lydia on Friday. This hadn’t left much time for sermon preparation, and Sunday morning often feels like a ticking time bomb when you know there’s work left to do.
I already had a pretty bad draft written for the sermon, so that was good and bad – good that I had 11 pages of something to work with, bad that it was in such a rough state. I went to work for about 2 hours on Saturday, hammering things into place and cutting out the junk.
At 9:00 AM I started to get ready for the cross country meet. Halle was running in Greenville, and I was really looking forward to it. On a whim, I decided to go out and do a little running of my own. I’d been running 1-mile intervals since Monday morning, and I knew it was only going to get hotter as the day went on. So I threw on some clothes, went outside, and ran a 7:37-mile.
So awesome! I can’t tell you how long it’d been since I’d run a sub 8-minute mile. I’ve been secretly hoping to get back to the 5:25 mile I ran in middle school, and this was real progress. I showered, threw on some new clothes, bragged to my wife (who seemed to care less) and we went to the meet.
Cross-country was great. Halle was great. The team was great. Mickey, Jalynn, Evan, Hannah, Lauren…everybody did well. We came home, I went back to work on the sermon. And I started eating.
Now, I’ve been eating healthy…really healthy…for months now. I’ve lost 30 pounds this year. But I didn’t eat healthy Saturday. I had a double cheeseburger from Wendy’s with way too many fries. I drank a ton of diet pop. I ate fried foods that evening. I had nachos with beans and cheese. I had lots of chips. I ate bad.
I do this a lot when I’m getting ready for Sunday because unhealthy food is a nice pick-me-up. It gives you a quick calorie surge of energy, and it breaks the monotony of writing and editing and preparing. But this was overboard into gluttony.
I went to sleep Saturday night already feeling bad.
I wasn’t surprised when I woke up at 3:15 AM on Sunday morning. My stomach didn’t feel good, and with all the calories I’d eaten, my mind was running immediately. I tried to go back to sleep, but gave up after about 20 minutes and went out to the living room with the laptop. I worked on the sermon for another 3 hours…overhauled everything. I felt good about it at the end, and thanked God for getting me up to do the work.
The family started coming awake around 7:00 AM, so I showered, got ready, and went to church.
There were a lot of people at church for a holiday weekend. Normally, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day spell low-attendance…but not the case that Sunday. We weren’t packed, but there was a good crowd.
I preached hard on Sunday morning, and didn’t feel bad. I was sweating a little, but I wasn’t too uncomfortable. However, when I sat down from the pulpit, I felt sick right away. Nathan asked us to stand and sing a song from the hymnal in closing. I sat and sang. When the service ended, I wanted to stay in the pew, but I made myself stand up front in case anyone was ready to make a decision for the Lord.
After about 10 minutes of standing and talking, I found Allison and asked her to take me home. My stomach was cramping badly. I was kicking myself for eating so poorly the day before. She took me home. I laid down in bed with some audio commentaries and began to prepare for Sunday evening service.
The pain got worse. At about 1:30 PM, I decided to close my eyes and try to sleep this off. Sometimes, if I can sleep on a Sunday afternoon, my body will do a sort of “reset”, and I’ll wake up feeling strong, because I’m usually pretty wasted after preaching the morning service. However, when I woke up around 2:00, things weren’t getting better. They were getting worse.
I texted Rodney to see if he’d cover the evening service. Of course he would, he said. I should rest. I thanked him and told him I’d still try to be there. I felt like a sissy. This would be the second Sunday evening I’d miss in a few weeks span, and this time I had no one to blame but myself (I thought). If I hadn’t eaten so poorly the day before, I’d be able to do my job better.
That afternoon the pain in my stomach began to intensify. I tried to go to the bathroom, but couldn’t. I tried to throw up. Couldn’t do that either.
Now, to be honest with you, my stomach has been a real burden for me over the last several years. And so the pain I was feeling was not unusual. In fact, the pain on Sunday was not even close to the worst pain I’d had in my stomach – but it was strange that nothing was happening.
Allison went to church with the kids that night at 6:00, while I rolled around in bed. I kept getting up to throw up, but it was just more heaving with nothing coming out. The pain was slowly increasing. At 6:15, I called her home. I was starting to lose it emotionally.
When Allison got home around 6:30 I was in bad shape. I was praying for God to take away the pain, and yet, the pain was causing me a sort of panicked hysteria at times. I had not been able to eat anything since 2:00pm. I couldn’t go to the bathroom. I couldn’t throw up. I didn’t want to be sick, which added to the frustration. It was Labor Day weekend! We had a picnic, basketball, games, a nice day with my kids…but this wasn’t going away.
She sat in bed with me in the dark and gently comforted me. When I am very sick, she does this for me. She will sit beside me and run her fingers up and down my back, or across my forehead, relaxing me and helping me go to sleep. That’s my approach to sickness. If I can just go to sleep, I’ll wake up and things will be okay.
By 8:15, it was clear that the pain was not going to let me go to sleep. It had now been about 6 hours of intense suffering, and still no change. At this point, I was beginning to think of the hospital.
I hate hospitals. I spent months in a hospital as a little boy. It was traumatic in more ways than one. I hate paying hospital bills. But I was getting desperate.
My hope was, if I went to the hospital, they could give me something to help me sleep, and I’d be better the next morning. I wasn’t running a fever, and I didn’t have any of the pain normally associated with an organ issue, so I wasn’t concerned about it being something more serious. I just had to be able to go to sleep, or else Labor Day would be ruined.
At 9:00 PM, I crawled out to the van and Allison drove me to Reid.
The staff at Reid took my illness quite seriously, which surprised me. I’m used to long waits in the waiting room when I go with other people…and honestly, I can’t remember ever going for myself, so I just anticipated it would be a long wait. It wasn’t.
They immediately put me in a wheelchair. While we waited a few minutes, a little boy beside me named Angel cried. I asked his mother what he was there for. She said it was an ear-ache. I prayed for him. I told him, “I’ve prayed for you, little buddy. The Lord will take care of you.” He kept crying, uncomforted by my words. Hopefully he will remember God’s goodness to him at some later point.
In five minutes I was in an emergency room.
By this point, the pain was so bad that I could only sit in one position, keep my eyes closed, and wait. I was waiting to throw up, or have some bowel-movement, or SOMETHING to alleviate the pain. The nurse who came in was wonderfully kind. I was able to tell her about my faith and my pastoring. She ran through tests, and then she brought back drugs.
I’ve never take drugs before. I’ve never smoked, drank, or been on a narcotic. I did not understand the appeal. However, when she injected this drug into my IV, the pain from my stomach was gone in seconds. My legs, which had been tensed and shaking, relaxed. My neck and back relaxed. I reclined the hospital bed and was able to lay down. The discomfort in my stomach was still there, but the pain was gone. It was the most amazing physical thing I’ve ever experienced.
At this point, I believed that I would be able to endure the night…finally go to the bathroom or throw up…my stomach would settle-down, and I would go home. This was naive, of course, but I still wasn’t running a fever or anything. I believed my problem to be the over-eating on Saturday.
The doctor came in fairly promptly. I shared my faith in God with him, invited him to church in New Paris. He asked me about my sermon that morning. I told him about forgiveness in Jesus. He was very kind, and ordered a CT scan.
Before I left for the scan, he placed his hand below my right hip bone and pressed down. Immediately I felt enormous pain. That was the first time I began to think, “This might be more serious than stomach sickness.”
The scan went well. I told both technicians about being a pastor and invited them to church. I had never been scanned before, but under the relief of the narcotics, it was perfectly fine. I returned back to the room, and a little while later the doctor returned as well.
A bad appendix is 6-mil in size. My appendix was now 12-mil in size. I would be having surgery as soon as possible. Everyone had already been called in. There was no choice in it. The doctor left.
Monday, Labor Day, 9/7/2015
There is something strange about having no choices left to make in your life. I had never been at this point before. I was in the hospital, and surgery was an hour away.
There was no time left to call anyone, or do anything else with my life. If surgery went bad, I had seen my children for the last time, my parents for the last time. And it’s not as if surgery could be delayed. If I did not have surgery, my appendix would rupture, infection would spread throughout my abdomen, and I would most likely die.
My life had reached a break-point…a stop sign. That stop sign was surgery. It was immediately upon me. I would either continue beyond this stop-sign, or the earthly part of my journey would end here.
I asked Allison for her phone. I asked her to look away, and then I wrote this email to my own address:
Subject: In Heaven
As morbid as this may seem, I’m getting ready to go into surgery, and wanted to write something to be read should something go wrong.Which is silly to say because nothing can truly go “wrong” for me. My life is hid in the promises of God, who has determined to work all things for my good – even my death, which I hope is still some way off.And yet, in the event that I’m wrong, let it be known to all that my faith was never in surgeons or hospitals. I’m grateful for both, but these are just gifts of grace from the Giver of all good things. My faith is in the hands of my God, and should I see His face for the first time later tonight, it is my enduring wish that all who read this will serve Him with all their hearts. Let’s look forward, together, to that eternal reunion which we await in hope.Love and be gracious to my wife and children.In heaven,Reggie
I sent the email to my own address and told Allison not to read it, confident she would find it eventually if something awful happened.
As I we waited for surgery, we prayed together in that little room and thanked God for the 14 years of marriage He’s given us, the five children, and the kindness of financial blessing and healthy provisions. I then thanked Allison for urging me to go to the hospital.
Normally, when I am sick, I go off by myself so that Allison and the children won’t be disturbed. I then suffer through the night, and recover the next day. If not for the Labor Day picnic, this is what I would have done on Sunday night. I only went to the hospital because I wanted to get better in time for the picnic. I wanted to at least sit in a lawn chair and enjoy the day with God’s people, even if I would be too weak to actually play.
If I had not gone to the hospital, I might have died. At the very least, my suffering would have been tremendously worse, with much longer consequences. I was now very grateful for God’s kindness in compelling me to go.
Then I had a visitor. Jack, friend for decades, was working at the hospital and had seen my name on a chart. He had seen that my condition was serious, and so he had come to my room.
I mentioned earlier in this writing that I had eaten dinner with Eric Derr on Thursday. During that dinner, we had talked about Jack once again. Eric and I usually talk about Jack when we meet, as we both have prayed for him and longed for him to return to serving the Lord.
On Thursday, Eric had told me that Jack had repented of sin, and was returning to the Lord. Eric said that he was supposed to be at church on Sunday, and so, Sunday morning I had looked for him eagerly, but he had not come. Now, during the early morning hours of Monday, the Lord had brought Jack to me through the most phenomenal circumstances.
So Jack and I and Allison sat and talked about him and his life and us and our lives. We talked about sin and suffering and how much I missed him. I asked him about what Eric had told me and he said it was true. I prayed with him. We fellowshipped together for the first time in years.
Then he was gone. The nurse returned. I received more narcotics, mercifully, and soon I was off to surgery.
As I went to surgery, I was in very good spirits, not because I was in an altered state of mind, but because the pain was totally gone. I talked with the nurses who wheeled me around about church and invited them to come. I made a point of thanking everyone involved. I held Allison’s hand. I even joked occasionally.
We stopped in a dark room in the heart of the hospital where I was left alone with Allison while final preparations were made. I held her hand. We prayed again. She kissed me…really kissed me. She has not kissed me like that in a public place since the day we were married. It is good to be loved like I am loved. I told her to trust the Lord, to be happy in hope, and to always do what was right.
We did not say “goodbyes”. We are Christians, and so there are no “goodbyes” for us.
They took me back to the operating room. Once again I told the staff I was a pastor and invited them to church…”the big church as you come into New Paris down the hill”. The lady asked me if I had hair on my belly – which seemed strange, but then made sense. She said they’d shave it off.
She brought out a board and put it on the right side of my bed. “Put your right arm out here.” I laid my right arm on the board. She strapped and tied it down. “This is so you don’t move it during surgery,” she said.
“I saw this same thing in Braveheart,” I said. They all laughed. Those could have been my last words, looking back on it. I probably should have chosen them more carefully.
They put the oxygen mask on – an uncomfortable thing to be sure. And I was asleep.
Then I was awake. Was that it? Was the surgery over? It was, they told me. Okay, then…not dead yet, I guess.
I was not fully conscious for the next several hours, but I remember them taking me to a room. Nathan, my brother, was there, waiting with Allison for me. Allison pointed him out to me by saying, “Nathan is here.”
“Sorry to hear that,” I said, jokingly, and I trust it was received the same way.
A fine friend to have, who will come sit with your wife in the middle of the night. The secondary blessings of being raised in a Christian home continue to pay dividends in my life. My parents never had money, but their investments in the Word of God have been worth more than gold.
Allison has said that I continued inviting nurses to church after my surgery. Nathan told me that he expects half the hospital to be there on Sunday. I don’t remember this after my surgery, but I’m grateful that in my groggy state of mind I spoke God-glorifying invitations to others instead of angry words of frustration and anger.
My dad came to replace Nathan and sat in the room with Allison and I until well into the day. My mother had watched the children all through the night, undoubtedly praying for me without sleeping or stopping. On that I would bet my life’s savings.
I slept mostly until the afternoon.
At one point on Monday afternoon I experienced the most pain I have ever had in my life. When they do a surgery like this one, they blow air into the body so that they have room to operate. Of course, this air has nowhere to escape after surgery, and has to gradually be absorbed into the body before it can pass out of the system.
A significant amount of air was in my body, or at least, it felt significant. The pain was unbearable. I was convulsing, shaking all over, biting down on my lips, begging for help from the nurses who did not have permission to give me any other drugs.
“Please,” I said. “You have to do something,” I begged through chattering teeth.
They left the room to call the doctor. Allison held my legs down to the bed so I would not hurt myself. I closed my eyes and prayed for help.
A few minutes later they returned and gave me two shots of a different drug – a narcotic. Within seconds the pain was gone, just like it had been the night before.
I have to be honest with you. I have never understood drug addictions in the past, but I believe I get it now – or at least, I get part of it. To be given immediate peace and rest, within seconds, is fairly incomparable to anything else I’ve ever experienced in my life. I even said to Allison, “I wish I had some of those shots on hand for when i get a migraine.”
I will never look at drug addicts the same way again. It is baffling to me that we have medications that can relieve pain so instantly and thoroughly. I remained on that narcotic for the rest of the day.
There is not much to tell beyond this point. I began to feel much better the next day. I am generally strong and healthy, and I was not surprised to recover quickly. The nurses seemed to like having me as a patient. I was kind, patient, complimentary, and well-mannered.
All day I got up to walk the halls of that hospital floor, and many times I heard the nurses being treated badly, or being asked to do things that would have made me gag. I felt a lot of sympathy for them. It struck me that I was probably the rarity, not the norm – that most of their patients were probably not kind, gentle, well-mannered people who are trying to live godly lives to honor Jesus.
Suffering sinners can be brutal people.
Late Tuesday night I was sent home. No lifting objects of any kind for 6-weeks. No exercise, except light walking. It’s going to be a while before I run again, but all in all, not too shabby.
My plan is to take this Sunday off, and possibly next Sunday as well. After that, Lord willing, I will resume preaching God’s Word. Allison and I are very blessed to have Christians praying for us and supporting us in times of need. Our hope in the Lord Jesus has always prevailed, and it always will.
It struck me that if I had been born during Jesus’ day, I would have died at 32 years old. My appendix would have ruptured, and I’d have died of a fever like so many others did in ancient times. Inside my body was a ticking time bomb. Though everything else was healthy, my appendix had a lifetime of 32-years. I’ve never smoked, drank, or abused my body at all…but that little organ would have been the end of of me.
Thank God, I’ve been granted more time than that to make a difference for His kingdom.
Don’t waste your life. You never know when it will be over. You never know when it will hit a stop sign. Live every day as unto the Lord of Glory, and die at the appointed time, tired and spent, with no regrets.