When my hip pain began in March ’95 I didn’t know that it was the onset of a life changing crisis which would affect me both physically and spiritually. My profession had prepared me to deal with others as they faced serious illness but I found that dealing with my own illness was much more difficult.
First, I will recount the story of my illness and then describe the ways in which my faith supported me. The diagnosis of primary cancer of the pelvic bone (osteosarcoma) was made 3 months later. My treatment was chemotherapy for 6 months and then an internal hemi-pelvectomy with an allograph (transplant) and a total hip replacement. In lay terms this is removal of the entire half of the pelvis and replacing it with a cadaver pelvis and an artificial hip. Limb salvaging surgery was rare at that time and had only been available for about 15 years in Canada. Prior to this amputation or palliative care were the only options. In Canada this surgery was done only in Toronto and only 25 persons had had this operation in the previous 10 years.
My chemotherapy was a horrible experience. I was nauseated, vomiting and had 2 intravenous pumps beeping day and night. For 72 hours I was unable to eat and too weak to do anything. To stop the vomiting I took medications which scrambled my brain. I couldn’t concentrate and I was emotionally labile, sitting and brooding for hours. It felt like “Hell on Earth” and I was totally dependent, especially on my wife, Carolyn.
After six chemo treatments I went to Toronto in Nov. of 1995 for surgery. The operation lasted 10 hours and I received 17 units of blood. After six weeks in bed I started to ambulate, but with the assistance of 3 physiotherapists. My post-operative recovery was delayed by many complications. First, my new hip dislocated. Then, just when I was ready to go home, a CAT scan of my chest showed a tumor, so I underwent a lung operation (thoracotomy). Fortunately the lesions were benign, but next I developed an extremely high fever due to a blood clot in my leg (DVT), and a serious infection in my hip. I was placed on antibiotics, told to pray and I was slated to have my leg and pelvis removed in 5 days. Fortunately my fever subsided with antibiotics, the amputation was cancelled and I was finally able to go home on March 13, 1996, 4½ months after my admission to hospital. When I left Toronto I had lost 40 pounds, could sit for only short periods and only walk short distances with crutches. I flew on a stretcher from Toronto to Winnipeg, but when we got home I felt my recovery was beginning. Carolyn and I had dinner with our family and it was our first night in bed together in more than 4 months!
I gradually gained weight; strength and energy returned. I can now walk a mile with arm crutches, rarely nap during the day, swim frequently, read, concentrate well and my weight is back to normal. I have minimal pain and can socialize normally.
My leg was almost completely separated from my body during surgery and yet has once again become mine. Initially it felt foreign to me because some nerves were cut and others stretched. All my muscles and tendons were severed from my pelvis. Many have reattached to my new pelvis and I now function at about 50% of normal with crutches. Angels truly have protected my leg.
Those are the medical details of my illness but the mental distress was worse. I spent many hours contemplating my dying and worrying about my illness. The loss of hope creates a feeling of futility in us, our self-image drops, our sense of worth is lost. Fortunately I had spiritual reserves to sustain me. We realize in this lost and fallen state how important God is in our lives. Our earthly hope in self is replaced by the hope instilled in us by our faith in Jesus Christ. In that time of despair I found four scripture passages which helped me. When I was ill and going through my deepest valleys of despair I would turn to these passages. They were Psalm 91, Psalm 103, Luke 11 and Romans 8. God would speak to me and a “peace beyond understanding” (Philippians 4:7) would flow through me. God has promised us that any trial can be endured with His help. He helped Carolyn and me during the darkest moments, even when hope appeared to vanish.
I was not alone; many friends counseled me during this time. Others prayed for me in their churches, prayer cells and in their personal prayers. This resulted in tremendous encouragement and support but ultimately I was left alone with my thoughts and found my solace in scripture.
PSALM 91: The key thought in this Psalm for me was that we are secure if we trust in God. “He who dwells in the shelter of the most high will rest in the shadow of the almighty.” (Psalm 91:1) This security is not dependent on us or our circumstances: all personal disasters or crises are covered by the umbrella of security which only God can give. There is, of course, a responsibility if we want this shelter. This security is ours only if we are willing to follow God. If we choose not to dwell in God’s shelter how can we expect to share in his promises?
As I read these passages my hope returned. I was reassured that I was secure even in my difficult circumstances. In my darkest hours my spirit soared. These promises were not only an abstract statement but a real and powerful force. How can people go through personal crises if they don’t put their faith in God? God will be your security even as He was for me.
PSALM 103: (a Psalm of David)
Psalm 103 is a Psalm of praise and thanksgiving. After reading Psalm 91 how could I not be filled with praise? I was no longer focused on myself but moved to praise God. What a change in emotions, from the depth of self-pity to the height of being in the presence of God himself. I could join David in singing praise in my heart. “praise the Lord, O My soul” (Psalm 103:1).
David praises the Lord with all of his innermost being. This is so meaningful to someone who is physically disabled. Our inmost being is intact, whole and not dependent on our disabled body. He praises with his soul which is eternal and will be with God.
LUKE 11: In Luke 11 and Romans 8 we see our relationship to God as our provider in all circumstances. I frequently cried out to God for relief of my emotional suffering and physical pain. When my problems became insurmountable I would turn to the promises found in Luke: “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you—for everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-13) I did not pray that I would be healed. If we pray selfishly and the answer we receive is not what we expect we blame ourselves for not having enough faith and God for not listening. Our responsibility is to pray in the will of God. What is the will of God? This is clear if we read his word: He wishes us to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
My prayers during my illness were directed at the promises given to me in scripture, namely, to give me peace under all circumstances. The psalmist reassures us by saying, “I am with you always, I will not tempt you beyond your ability to withstand it, you are my child and you will be with me in eternity.” (Psalm 73:23) My prayers were answered with peace, patience and self-control.
Many times I would pray, “Dear God you have promised me the Holy Spirit. Allow Him to work in me and give me the fruit as promised” and a feeling of peace and joy would overwhelm me. The veil of fear and despondence left. This did not necessarily mean that I would be healed or restored to any semblance of normality. This was not the important thing. I was not concerned whether I would live or die but rather how I would live until I died. Now my physical, emotional and psychological state is much healthier but I still pray that the Holy Spirit be with me.
ROMANS 8: The last passage which has been so meaningful to me is Romans 8. In this letter Paul deals with the lifestyle of a person living with the spirit. He discusses the hope we have for the future. In times of stress and mental anguish the whole concept of a continuing hope is often lost. In my misery I felt things were hopeless and my thoughts had to be directed away to a bright and glorious future.
Paul also suggests that we wait patiently. How difficult this is. Patience is easy when things are going well and we are enjoying life. When we are going through difficulties patience can be a real struggle.
When we don’t know what to pray for or how to pray the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us. Christ Jesus, sitting at the right hand of God, also intercedes for us. We are in the hands of the Holy Trinity; who are all concerned for us and our welfare. How this spoke to my heart and instilled a sense of perfect peace!
Since my return home I have had twenty wonderful years of recovery with increasing strength and return to normality. When I have concerns I return to the above passages for comfort. If you are going through difficult times I would like to share my “peace beyond understanding” with you. It works—give it a try!
If you wish prayer or a visit please contact me.
Harold Wiens MD, FRCP
#7-4025 Roblin Blvd., Winnipeg
12 December, 2016