Last Friday afternoon, my mum was sitting in a restaurant when she started to experience extreme chest pain. She was taken to hospital where it was discovered she’d suffered a (thankfully small!) heart attack.
This kind of issue isn’t a new experience to our family…my dad has had 3 heart attacks over the years, plus open heart surgery. But, as I got the call and jumped in the car to meet the ambulance at the hospital, it was still a shock.
On Saturday, things were looking a little brighter. Mum was already starting to feel a little stronger, but that night, as I visited her in CCU, the man in the room next door went into cardiac arrest. As his relatives ran sobbing into the hallway and the medical team rushed into his room, we could hear the frantic sounds of them trying to restart his heart.
It felt too private and difficult a moment for us to be eavesdropping on, so as I got up to close the door, I felt God say to me, with real urgency, ‘PRAY for life to return to his body’. Before I even said anything, my mum started to pray, ‘LORD, we ask you to bring life back to this man…we don’t know him but you do. We pray for LIFE’.
Later as things quieted down, we opened the door and overheard a family member on her mobile. They’d managed to bring him back but he was very unwell and it sounded as though his organs were failing. For the rest of that evening, I felt quite heavy hearted about it all, but I kept praying for this man (as well as my mum!!), that somehow our miracle-working God would do something extraordinary.
Little did I know what was to come.
I’d been staying temporarily with my dad, while my mum was in hospital, as he has other health issues and needed support. On Sunday morning, my dad was due to preach at their church and so I took the window of opportunity to dash up the M6 to my own house, just to grab some clothes and also, say hi to my new home, which I’ve (ha!) barely seen since I moved in.
At home, I sat on the sofa for a few minutes, having a coffee and enjoying the peace and quiet and then, just as I was getting ready to leave again, my phone rang.
It was a friend of my parents’ ringing in the middle of church to tell me that just as he was about to get up and preach, my dad had started to experience extreme chest pain.
I could hear some commotion in the background, the paramedics had been called and I was told that my dad was in a lot of pain, but he was calm and laid out on four chairs. They’d taken the young children out of church and abandoned the service to attend to my poor dad! Our friend was trying not to panic me but I could tell the situation was serious.
Once again, I was back in my car, racing this time up to a different hospital, to meet an ambulance. I was on speakerphone for much of the journey, taking calls from the paramedics, family members, people at church. ‘DON’T ANYONE tell my mum!!’ I said to everyone. ‘Don’t anyone put anything on Facebook!!!!’
When I arrived at A&E, friends from church were there and the doctor told me they’d shocked my dad’s heart twice to get it into a normal rhythm. We were shown his ECG and his heart rate had peaked at 238 beats a minute. The doctor told us frankly, that he’d never seen anyone survive an episode like that before.
I said ‘well, he was in church when it happened and people were praying for him’. The doctor replied, ‘well, if there is a God, he was looking out for you today’.
By this time, I think my mum (in hospital on the other side of town) had somehow sensed something was going on. I had several missed calls from her, so I rang and did my best to explain what I knew.
By this point, my poor dad looked like he’d been run over by a truck. He was laid on a gurney in Resus, attached to a heart monitor and oxygen and being infused with a drug to keep his heart rate stabilised. So, after nipping our into the corridor to speak to mum in her hospital (who took it pretty well!), I went back to be with dad and we waited for him to be moved to coronary care.
As the sedation and morphine started to wear off and some friends arrived, dad started to rally round. He kept trying to talk through the oxygen mask and then complained that the dry air was making him thirsty. ‘SO STOP TALKING THEN!’ we all said! He laughed. We have a dark sense of humour around these parts.
As all this was going on, I sent out a fair few prayer alerts to friends who I knew would pray.
It’s funny, in times like these, real friends rise to the surface like cream at the top of milk. You also quickly discover that other people who you thought you could rely on, are considerably less helpful. One acquaintance replied to my message by simply sending me a picture of their dog with reindeer ears on, to ‘cheer me up’ (gee, thanks!). Others started prayer chains, another responded by saying she’d jump in the car to come and be with me, if I needed her. Like I said, cream!
Finally, late that night, dad was transferred to the heart unit and I popped over to see my mum in the other hospital about 7 miles away.
Both were now a bit more stable and it suddenly began to hit me what had happened. I went back to my parents’ house and it was quite strange being alone in their home, without their presence. In that moment, I had now become the ‘parent’, the pray’er, the caregiver. What an extraordinary and sudden turn of events.
But through all the crisis, the huge lows and the running between hospitals, fetching pyjamas and talking to doctors, arranging drugs, finding two overnight bags and packing them with all they’d each need for a stay in hospital, I was so aware of my Father’s presence. I remember saying ‘Lord, there is nothing that you and I can’t do together. Nothing’.
A lovely friend left me a message yesterday and she prayed a beautiful prayer, asking God to give ‘manna in the wilderness’, to give little blessings at each step of the journey.
And how true that has been. Both parents have started to get stronger but as more details unfolded, it became clear just how much God had orchestrated every detail of this, with perfect timing and precision.
A few examples;
I believe God removed me from the situation on Sunday morning for a few hours so that I didn’t have to see my dad in such a painful, alarming state. But, instead he provided a team of 4 nurses who were already at church, who were able to comfort him. My dad was surrounded by people who love him, praying earnestly while offering practical help. What more could I ask for? Although we avoid looking at the ‘what ifs’, we know that if my dad had been alone at home that morning, things could have been very different.
God provided an extraordinary level of care from medical teams at both hospitals. I often talk about the first class nature of the NHS but never have I been more grateful for their brilliance and care and for the world standard treatment both parents have received. I will defend the importance and sheer brilliance of the NHS forever.
Both mum and dad, as they recovered each from the initial shock, have quickly returned to sharing the love of Jesus with staff in hospital. Dad has prayed for doctors (with their permission) before they attempted to put a line into him, he’s talked to nurses about the afterlife, how he didn’t want to go there on Sunday, but he also knew that if he did, there was no doubt where he was headed. Mum, meanwhile, has been comforting an anxious family, who were worried about a relative in the bed opposite, and through chats, she now knows the religious affiliation (or lack of it) of everyone in the ward.
Through it all, we’ve had some incredibly precious moments, and beautiful conversations, as we’ve held hands, prayed, asked for God’s healing touch and looked for a way forward. I will treasure these moments forever…often, great beauty is found in the middle of great madness.
And the journey isn’t over. Both have to have more tests and tomorrow, my dad is being fitted with a heart defibrillator. We don’t know what the future holds but we do know that we serve a living God who is 100% there even in the middle of the biggest of crises.
And oh, guess what? Remember the chap who had a cardiac arrest (right back at the beginning of this blog)?
Turns out that he made it.
We were told that the following morning, he ‘started to rally’.
I don’t know what has since happened to him (my mum moved to a different ward) but I am so glad that we prayed for life. And who knows, perhaps by praying life into the atmosphere, we were also praying preemptively for what was to come into our family, the very next day?
All I know is, whatever we go through, there IS manna to be found. And in the worst times of our lives, God holds us together and brings purpose into our chaos.