What If You Were Sentenced to Die?

AS A minister, have you ever thought how you would react to a pronouncement that you were doomed to die within a month or two? When you visit and comfort patients with terminal diseases, the thought rarely, if ever, enters your mind that perhaps the dread disease might strike you. . .

AS A minister, have you ever thought how you would react to a pronouncement that you were doomed to die within a month or two? When you visit and comfort patients with terminal diseases, the thought rarely, if ever, enters your mind that perhaps the dread disease might strike you.

After I had been hospitalized for more than ten weeks following a massive heart attack with its manifold complications, including diabetes, pulmonary pneumonia, phlebitis, and multiple pulmonary emboli —just a fancy name for blood clots in my lungs—I was always confident that some day I would leave the hospital and resume my regular way of life. It never occurred to me that I would die. Of course, it was disconcerting to see other patients being discharged after they had been my room mate for a week or two but never more than three weeks.

After the eighth week my doctor began telling me how much I was improving and that soon I would be released from the hospital. In fact, he even told me I would be out of bed walking within another week. I began walking and thought I was on the mend until one evening I received a terrible jolt. My doctor came to my room and said, "Mr. McKay, I want to have a little chat with you and put the cards on the table." I still remember those words a year and a half later. He continued, "This after noon the three heart specialists who have been working with me on your case had a consultation as to your future course of treatment. We have tried everything humanly possible to reduce your racing pulse but without success. We all agreed that you should be moved to St. Francis Hospital, which is one of the best centers in the country for the treatment of heart-diseases. Here you will be under the personal care of the director of medicine under whom I studied in New York City. You are fortunate, indeed, to have him because I consider him to be the greatest cardiologist not only in New York State but in all the country. If anyone can help you, he is the one."

Straight Facts

But on the second day at St. Francis Hospital I received my death sentence. The director of medicine sat at my bedside and said he wanted to give me the facts straight. My condition was so grave, he told me, that I was too far advanced for open-heart surgery. "A good part of your left ventricle," he said, "is permanently damaged beyond repair, much of it from your previous heart attack of four years ago." He said the remainder of my heart was failing fast from overwork, that he would do his best but thought it could not continue to survive the strain. He couldn't even assure me as to when or whether I would ever be released from the hospital.

Doctors, especially specialists who are authorities, just don't tell you these things, I realized, unless they know your case is hopeless. I was startled at the suddenness of this news, but I was not depressed. I was confident that when human efforts fail God could intervene if He saw fit and restore my health. I thought, What if I die? I knew the odds for living were against me. How would Margaret, my wife, adjust herself to a new way of life? Would I really be missed, except for the first week or two, by anyone else? I resolved then and there that if my life was spared I would proclaim every where God's great goodness and mercy to me.

How Could I Lose?

As my body became weaker, my faith in God grew stronger. It was comforting to know that prayer was being offered daily at Faith for Today, where my wife was, and still is, in charge of the Bible school. Petitions in my behalf were made weekly in several churches in metropolitan New York and also at midweek prayer services. My wife would tell me about people all over the country—Catholics, Jews, and Episcopalians—who, even though I was a Seventh-day Adventist, were remembering me in their daily prayers. This was cheerful news. How could I lose? My confidence in God was never greater.

At that time I remembered the Bible verse that to me meant that sickness brings us closer to the promises of God: "This is my comfort in my affliction that thy promise gives me life" (Ps. 119:50, R.S.V.).

One day about a week after receiving my sentence, I was somewhat encouraged to hear the cardiologist say to me, "I have been carefully studying the cardiograms taken at both hospitals and notice a certain pattern. Mr. McKay, I'm going to give you an electric shock treatment next Mon day morning. This may be a means of bringing back the normal rhythm in your heart. We are going to put you to sleep so that you will feel no pain." The delay until Monday was necessary he said because digitalis had to be eliminated from my system.

Imprisoned Again

But digitalis had been a crutch my body had leaned on heavily. My general condition worsened before the treatment could be administered. Again it was necessary to imprison me under an oxygen tent. Breathing had become almost impossible, even with oxygen. By Sunday, the day before the scheduled treatment, my life was ebbing fast. The resident physician (the cardiologist was away for the weekend) informed me that the shock treatment would be advanced to that afternoon.

The cardiologist was summoned back from his country home for this emergency. Unknown to me at the time, he had dis cussed this emergency measure with my wife by telephone and at her request agreed to delay the scheduled treatment until my ministers could arrive to offer prayer.

I was extremely calm after my name was presented to God in prayer by Elder William Lawson and Elder Herbert Hohensee, both of the Faith for Today staff. I was then whisked to the surgical room. Just be fore I lost consciousness I remember that I prayed intensely and was content in the knowledge that even if I never regained consciousness I would meet my dear wife and loved ones on the resurrection morn.

The proverbial saying, "The operation was a success, but the patient died," almost proved true with me. More than half an hour after the electric conversion treatment was administered, my wife was informed that I was still unconscious. Most patients are revived within several minutes. The cardiologist told my wife that the treatment was successful but that my heart was so flabby that the possibility of my survival during that night was much less than 50 percent.

That night—the most important night in my life—as I lay in the intensive-care ward, two ministers, Elder N. S. Mizher and Elder Herbert Hohensee, prayed fervently for my recovery and anointed my head with oil. At the conclusion of the service Pastor Mizher addressed me by my first name. "Don, I have every confidence that God is going to heal you, not gradually but at this very moment, because that's the way God performs miracles." At once all in the room experienced an unusual sensation. To me, at least, where everything had been hazy before my eyes, it now instantly be came lucid. I could clearly recognize every one around me.

The following morning Pastor Hohensee, who is not easily given to emotion, chokingly told my wife of this unusual experience. Sister Evangeline, the nurse in attendance, afterward told my wife how she had prayed continuously all night while at tending me. She had been instructed to take my blood pressure and temperature at short intervals and noticed an immediate drop in both as soon as I was anointed. The electric monitor, a relatively new device at that time, which flashes pictures of the heartbeat on a screen, indicated a sud den drop in my pulse.

I felt like a new man when I awoke the next morning. I even insisted that I be re moved from the oxygen tent. When I was wheeled back to my room that morning, the nurses on the floor were as startled as were Mary and Martha when Jesus raised their brother from the dead. One nurse commented to my wife later, "Mr. McKay's return was a surprise to all of us. We never expected to see him come back."

A few days later Sister Germaine, one of the nurses, while taking my pulse, half mumbled to herself, "My! it's 84!" I asked what she meant. "A week ago your pulse was 165 beats per minute; now it's 84, which is normal. Do you realize, Mr. McKay, that your recovery is in answer to our many prayers and is truly a miracle?"

Yes, indeed, my recovery was made possible through the excellent care of a good physician and because many, many sincere prayers ascended to the throne of mercy. But above all, God who is the Great Physician chose to perform the miracle of healing in my behalf. I am truly grateful as was Job for having passed successfully through the "valley of the shadow."

Maybe you or one of your loved ones is critically ill and has received the death sentence. If your spirits are low (even ministers get discouraged at times), remember that the miraculous power of healing didn't die with Jesus on Calvary's cross. God still performs supernatural cures. He did it for me, and He can do it for you.

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May 1971

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