Hymn of Healing
Hymn of Healing
Old words bring new life.
by Carolyn Appleyard as told to Dan Lewis Campbell
I knew the drill; I’d been down this road before. The room number was different, but when I closed my eyes, it was the same: the sounds, the smells — hospital smells — the feel of sterile sheets enfolding me like a cocoon, and those machines with their annoying bleeps. The staff at St. Vincent would arrive soon to wheel me down to surgery.
It felt familiar in my hand — the cross I clasped between my fingers. I couldn’t take it with me, but it would be here when I woke up. Mitzi would make sure of that.
“How are you doing, Momma?” Mitzi wiped my forehead with a cloth.
“Oh, sweetheart, I’m fine.” I squeezed my daughter’s hand. “It’s not like I haven’t done this before.”
The hospital gown draped me like a misplaced bed linen. I could still feel Ronnie’s lingering kiss on my cheek. The years had been good to us. Like a warm embrace, his words comforted me: “For better or for worse, ‘til death do we part. I love you.”
I closed my eyes to picture his face — the first face I would see after surgery. I felt at peace.
It had been two years since my first encounter with the “C” word: lung cancer. Most would consider that a death sentence. Six of my siblings had already succumbed to one form of cancer or another. Not me. I might be 76, but God wasn’t finished with me yet. Besides, that little chunk of lung tissue? Never missed it.
“Hello Carolyn.” Like a whisper through a fog, I heard his voice. I rubbed my eyes to focus the blurred image standing at my bed. “Doctor?”
“Yes. Sorry to wake you, but it’s almost time, and I have a few things to go over with you before surgery. I’ll give you a minute to clear your head.”
Dr. Broad pulled a chair alongside the bed and sat down. “So, you are a Christian?”
An anesthesiologist with bedside manner. I smiled. Dr. Broad and Dr. Johnson made a great team.
“Yes,” I raised a curious eyebrow. “How did you know?”
He smiled. “The cross in your hand. Lucky guess. Would you like me to put it in the drawer for when you wake up?”
With the utmost care, Dr. Broad placed the cross in the drawer, then turned to me. “I hope you won’t mind me asking, but,” he cleared his throat, “would you like to pray the Lord’s Prayer with me before listening to all my boring instructions?”
My thoughts went back to the morning of August 10, 2012, when Dr. Johnson reached across her desk to hold my hand and share the unwelcome news: stage I breast cancer. In that moment, fear and peace crashed head-on in a battle for my approval. I closed my eyes to whisper a simple prayer: “God, not my will, but Yours be done.”
With Dr. Johnson still holding my hand, I chose peace.
Now Dr. Broad gently cradled my hand in his. “Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. . . .”
Fight of fear
Two men in white guided the stainless steel gurney down the long corridor and through two sets of double doors into the operating room. My eyes darted around the room. A repair shop for broken humans, and it was my turn to get fixed — again.
I labored for air, my knuckles white from the grip on the two-inch thick mattress.
“Ready — one, two, three. . . .”
From the gurney to the table with cold steel beneath me, I grabbed a panicked breath. Then another. Machines whirred and bleeped, and the room began a slow spin. Tubes dangled from bags of clear liquid; voices mingled. . . .
“Hello, Carolyn.” The surgical mask couldn’t hide Dr. Johnson’s reassuring smile. “I would like to pray with you before we start. Would that be all right?”
After I agreed, Dr. Johnson said, “Remember, Carolyn, God is the surgeon. I am just His willing hands.”
Like delivering whispered words from God, Dr. Johnson held my hand and prayed.
With charts and knobs and clear bags of liquid and tanks of oxygen, Dr. Broad busied himself with last-minute adjustments before gently fitting the mask over my nose and mouth. With a quick check of the IV in my left forearm, he said, “Now count backward from twenty. When you wake up, you’ll be in your room.”
Instead of counting, I chose the words of a familiar hymn: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me!”
First one voice, then two, then three, then four, until the whole surgical team joined hands around me with the sound of angels singing; I closed my eyes to words so familiar:
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear. . . .
Voices faded into a white-light vapor. . . .
“Hi, remember me? You can’t get rid of me that easy.” Ronnie’s face came into focus as I felt the gentle squeeze of his hand in mine. I smiled with his words: “I love you.”
My eyes blinked against the light, and my head swam in a fog of half-consciousness. “Mitzi?”
“It’s me. You are in recovery, Momma. Everything went great. I love you.”
Ronnie, Mitzi, and Jesus. What else did I need? I was alive.
“Hello Carolyn.” Dr. Johnson’s face blurred into focus. How could someone so young be so gifted? I had chosen well. Twice now she had saved my life. “We got it all. You’re going to be fine.”
I took a breath and felt the pain in my chest. It would all heal, I knew that. God still had work for me to do.
I moved my right hand carefully along the edge of the bandage nestled under the protective layer of my hospital gown. My index finger hooked on the fragile chain with the cross, draped around my neck. My eyes welled up. “Mitzi . . . who — ”
“Dr. Broad brought it from your room. He thought you’d want to have it now.”
Dr. Johnson sniffed back tears. “I’ll give you some time, but when you’re ready, you have a lot of friends waiting to see how God answered their prayers.”
Six weeks later, Dr. Johnson’s office looked the same, but today’s visit would be different from the last one. I was dressed for fall as I thumbed through the latest copy of Home and Garden.
I took a deeper breath and flinched a little with the pain. Almost back to normal, I thought. Through the window behind the desk, God’s pallet of autumn colors was on full display. Today was a good day.
“Hello Carolyn, what brings you here today?” Her smile was warm and genuine.
“Dr. Johnson, I know our appointment isn’t till next week, but I have a favor to ask.”
“Please, call me Nathalie.” She sat on the edge of her desk. “So, what is this favor you want to ask me?”
I hesitated. “’Amazing Grace’ — before my surgery . . . I didn’t get to sing the second verse. I’m here to finish it.”
Finishing a song
Nathalie couldn’t hide the chuckle in her voice as she moved to look out the window.
“What’s so funny?”
Still smiling, she looked at me and said, “You were out like a light, so we finished the second and third verse without you.”
“Well, how about the last verse. Can we sing the last one — my favorite?”
Nathalie sat back down on the edge of the desk. “Whatever my favorite patient wants. We can sing them all if you like.”
Singing to God
Our words floated up in worship to the Giver of life — first in a circle around the room, then out the window, joining with the brightly colored leaves in a tribute to the Creator of the universe:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.
A Ministry of the General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day) © 2015
Dan Lewis Campbell has had short stories published in Live and The Christian Journal. He has completed writing a book titled Dark Side of Winter and has another book in progress, Yellow; Tainted White. Dan lives in Seaside, OR. Visit his blog at danlewiscampbell.com.
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