One of the medical workers who often served me during those long nights in the hospital had a genuine spiritual interest, and that led us to several spiritual conversations. He was a deep thinker and the concept of our purpose in this life was one topic he wanted to discuss. I had already come to my firm conclusion that God’s basic nature is best understood as Servant of servants, not only as Lord of lords and King of kings. The latter two are more about his sovereign authority, whereas the first is about his heart and nature. With that in mind, it dawned on me that life’s broad purpose is to begin by getting right with God and then representing him by being the best servant possible to the most people possible. That’s the essence of our purpose on planet earth—to be God’s image bearers as we imitate Jesus after we become his child. In doing this, we need to figure out the giftset with which God has blessed us and use it to the full.
Healthcare workers are servants, many of them amazingly so. I have always felt that way, for I have had many friends and family members who served in these roles. Since the Covid pandemic hit in early 2020, most of us have elevated our views of medical professionals to hero status. The NFL season of that year was played in front of empty stands for the most part. Weird. However, at the Super Bowl held in Tampa in early 2021, many vaccinated medical workers had been invited and were in attendance. When that was announced and the cameras turned to show them, I couldn’t keep from crying. I can’t now. Why? Because of their courage to put their lives at risk to serve people like me.
Joy, our daughter by marriage, is a Pediatric RN. Many of the mothers coming in to give birth had Covid and she cared for them and their beautiful newborn babies. There were shifts without many babies being born and at times she was assigned to work in the emergency room. She spent hours in the presence of those battling the virus, fighting for their lives. Joy, and many like her, braved the circumstances and did their jobs. They were, and are, my heroes. They are praiseworthy servants.
Some medical workers perform tasks that you don’t ordinarily even stop to think about. When I went into the hospital, I was too weak to do nearly anything. I was rolled in with a wheelchair and helped from that into my bed. I literally could not lift my heels off the bed. And guess what? I couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom either, even though I had severe diarrhea and was throwing up in projectile fashion. I had my diaper changed by more different people in that hospital than when I was a baby (by far). But they did it with great attitudes. When I apologized for causing them to have to clean me up, they replied cheerfully that this was why they were there—it was a part of their job. As sick as I was, the process wasn’t really awkward or embarrassing. I couldn’t help being in my condition and my heroes were there to help me. Thankfully, I could at least talk and thank them profusely for their service. May God bless those who serve in ways that I would find very difficult.
The hospital I was in has a major focus on serving cheerfully. The surveys they send out repeatedly ask for our experiences with medical personnel and the attitudes with which they served us. I’ve never been in a more upbeat, happy atmosphere medical setting. It was an atmosphere of servanthood with a smile and I’ve no doubt that my healing was significantly assisted by that type of service. I have wished for some way to thank them after the fact. I’ve even considered going back up to that twelfth floor and trying to find certain ones to again thank when now back in a state of sound mind and body. The next section describes interviews medical students had with me and some of the advice I gave them, which included this very topic.
The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School is a part of the sprawling campus which houses the hospital I was in for those 23 days. It is the largest medical school in Texas, which is impressive given the size of the state and the number of medical schools in the state. It is also nationally well known for many reasons. Thus, the hospital I was in is known as a teaching hospital. In the earliest and worst days of my stay there, I was surprised by the entrance of a professor in the school along with several of her students. She explained that a part of their schoolwork was interviewing patients. Although it made sense to me, I was in such bad shape that I couldn’t imagine the teacher subjecting me to that experience. However, I decided to make the best of the opportunity and hope I made sense in so doing.
One of my first topics to share with them was the importance of keeping positive, upbeat attitudes in working with patients. I shared the results of studies I had read about, showing that medical personnel affected their patients significantly just by their attitudes. I recalled one study involving a hospital with two floors of patients having serious heart problems, life threatening ones in fact. One floor was blessed with an abundance of happy helpers and the other was not. The death rate on the floor without cheerful workers was alarmingly higher than the mortality rate on the other floor.
Of course, these students were having this very point drilled into them, for that is a vital part of the goal of the school. Mark Mancini, who strongly encouraged me to go to UT Southwestern, said that the doctors made you feel like you were their only patient. I saw a lot of different specialists during my time there, and the majority of them gave off that vibe in making you feel like you were very important to them. One of them, a Dr. Fuller, would spend up to a half hour at a time discussing my condition and possible steps forward, my case being unusual and somewhat complicated. He allowed me to help make several decisions that were not in line with normal protocol and carried some risks. Another doctor, after she was replaced on my case, spent some serious time researching my condition and its cause and came back to share her findings with me—in spite of having been reassigned to other patients. Her empathy was clearly genuine as she spoke gently while patting my arm.
Another two pieces of advice I gave to those first students who interviewed me grew out of my own experiences. Both have to do with preventive issues, how to avoid getting sick in the first place by taking care of your God-given body. One of these issues I am convinced help save my life. Many decades ago, I started having prayer walks early in the mornings. I found that praying while walking allowed me to concentrate better than any other approach. During the early part of the pandemic, I started walking in the afternoons simply for exercise. That being the case, I found myself walking further and faster than normal. Three miles was a short walk, and four to five became the norm. One day as I neared my house, I looked at my pedometer and discovered I was almost at the seven-mile mark. I continued walking all around my yard until I hit the seven miles.
When I had the extreme reaction to the chemo that nearly killed me, I would imagine that few 79-year-olds have the physical conditioning that I did. I doubt that many in that age group would have survived what I survived, and a definite part of it was being in such good physical condition. Certainly the multitude of people all over the world praying for me was a huge part of my survival, but I have no doubt that a part of God answering those prayers was my good health prior to the illness. Although the Bible is not a book on how to maintain good health, Paul does make this statement in 1 Timothy 4:8: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
Some people foolishly almost worship physical conditioning and healthy practices and fail to worship God. No matter how healthy we are and the extent to which we go to be healthy, we still get old and die (if we are fortunate enough to get old first). But since God gives us life in a body, we should take care of it and I’m thankful I have. It made a difference. Although my physical weakness after being discharged from the hospital was significant and lasted a significant length of time, I pushed myself, hard, and it paid dividends once again.
The second part of the preventative advice I gave was about eating. The Old Testament does specify what could be eaten during the Mosiac period and what should be avoided. I am not certain how much of it directly pertained to health, but I am sure that some of it did. I am blessed with a wife who is very health conscious and as a result, considers what we eat to be a very important matter. I am not a picky eater, and that being true, I am fine with whatever she cooks. Most of the fruit and veggies are organic and she simply does not eat red meat. I eat it occasionally when we dine out, but for the most part, I eat chicken, fish and vegetables and try to avoid starches and sweets. I have a challenge with the latter, but I do well enough to avoid developing sugar related physical maladies. I remember having lunch with a brother who said he had just read an article claiming that sugar was seventeen times more addictive than cocaine. I had a hard time believing it, so he pulled out his iPad and showed me the article. There it was, in cyber black and white! I think of refined sugar as a type of poison to help me avoid it.
One of the things that makes Covid more dangerous is being overweight. What makes you overweight? Besides eating too much, eating the wrong things, starches and sweets heading the list. One of my doctor friends in Boston started doing research on what might help him with some of his physical challenges and those of his wife, who had Lupus. He basically discovered that eating meat (including fish and chicken) and vegetables was the most beneficial diet. When his patients with Type 2 diabetes followed this way of eating, he was able to take many of them off insulin. After talking to his wife about their approach, I tried it for one full year—2000. I did not eat sweets or starches (bread, pasta, potatoes, etc.). I lost weight without trying and felt better than I had felt in years. My energy level was amazing and I slept much better than normal. Sad to say, I went off that eating regimen in 2001 and gained back a lot of my weight. For the last several years, I am back much closer to that same approach, which is a part of my overall good health at the age (gasp!) of 80.
I understand that medical professionals cannot dictate what their patients eat; they can only advise. But I wish they could be more demanding. When Theresa was pregnant with our now 54-year-old son, her doctor was an interesting guy regarding weight control. He set a limit on how much an expectant mother could gain and if she exceeded it, he dropped her as a patient. I doubt that a doctor could do that today without ending up in court, but if doctors could insist that their patients eat healthy diets, it would be a blessing to them.
Anyway, I didn’t go into all of this detail with those students interviewing me, but I did stress the importance of making diet and exercise a part of their work with patients. I am thankful for my exercise regimen, which helped me overcome the aftermath of my recent illness episode, and I am thankful for my wife who helps me to be more aware of healthy eating. Both have helped me survive and now return to the health I previously enjoyed before my cancer saga and chemotherapy reaction saga. The oncologist said that regaining my full health conditioning by walking far and fast was unusual for a man my age. My cancer is in the full remission mode for now and I feel very good for an octogenarian. I am content with that as I try to simply live in day-tight compartments.