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Saturday, 26 January 2013

When your son goes under the knife - a dad's experience

New experiences all the time
One reason we should remain 'completely humble' is this: we don't know very much, and we haven't experienced very much. Think of the vast number and range of human experiences possible, from bereavement to divorce, from blindness to Crohn's disease, from addiction to abandonment, and so on, ad infinitium.  And now ask: how many you have personally passed through?

What, 1%? 0.1%? How little we have experienced of human life.

For this reason, we also ought to refrain from judging one another, for we may not have a clue what  that person is passing through. I am reminded of the (Inuit?) saying, "Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins."

We know all this, of course in our heads.....

A child under the knife
It is one thing to be in hospital for a personal operation as an adult, but quite a different experience as a parent of a child. As a general rule my family of six have enjoyed remarkably good health, for which we thank God. We had an early scare with our firstborn, who had pyloric stenosis as a baby and was only a shade away from death; but apart from the normal scrapes of family life the Lord has granted good health.

Two weeks ago our youngest son, eleven-year old Caleb, came home from school with a stomach ache and within 24 hours was admitted to hospital with a burst appendix. Then two weeks later he was re-admitted with complications and two additional times he had to go into theatre.

We who are ignorant about medicine can perhaps react to such events with 'fear of the unknown' but here are some of the new experiences Yvonne and I have passed through over the past few weeks.... 

The last kiss?
I remember when giving him a kiss as he left us for theatre wondering if that would be the last kiss. As much as we had prayed for a 'succesful operation', by which we meant 'returned to us in good health' we know that God is sovereign and we must always must say 'your will be done'.

Trust - placed Where?
When you take your loved one into hospital, and especially when you  deliver them to theatre, you entrust their lives into the hands of complete strangers. How trustworthy are they, you always think and ask yourself! One medic sensing our apprehension said something like, "Don't worry he's in good hands." At which point I thought (but did not say) "As good as any of these medics may be, I am not putting my trust in them, my trust is in God alone." We can sleep easy only when we say - and mean "My soul finds rest in God alone." (Psalm 62)

Why was the first operation not 'successful'?
I hate league tables, I hate the ridiculous statistics governments force upon schools and hospitals and police departments. Why? Because it turns the common man into more of a judge than he already is; it makes institutions more jumpy; turns teachers and clinicians into amateur lawyers more concerned with how others think they are doing their job than how they are actually doing it. There are 1000 other ways of encouraging standards (one: praise them for all the good stuff they do and encourage every patient, student, parent, etc., to do the same: we are planning to write a card of thanks). 

This judgemental spirit inculcated by successive governments has clearly worked on me, because I found myself, for a moment, asking "Why did he have to return to hospital? Did they 'fail' first time round?"

But why on earth should we think like that? Why should the first operation have removed everything? With a messy burst appendix spattering gunge all over the insides, it is amazing that the first surgeon - to whom we are very very grateful - got out as much as he did (he spent well over a hundred minutes cleaning up the mess). This is surely the only proper way to think. It's amazing that Caleb didn't die of peritonitis (the old-fashioned painful way of dying from a burst appendix - only 60 years ago, my own father almost died from this condition). I read on one medical website that until about 1900 appendicitis was non-operable.

How often and passionate do we pray the more important prayers?
Praying for Caleb's physical recovery has reminded me of the all together more important prayers for our children, that they might know God, trust in Christ and live for him all their earthly days. Do we pray for their spiritual wellbeing as much as their physical needs?

Why didn't God answer a little boy's  prayers?
When the surgeon told us that Caleb would have to go to theatre again he was heartbroken, because he had prayed three prayers (1) he would not have to go back to hospital, (2) he wouldn't be in the same bed if he did - for memory's sake, and (3) if he went back in, he wouldn't have an operation. (The main reason Caleb has become fearful of hospitals is that when the drain was removed first time round it was a very painful procedure, next week he'll have it removed in theatre. Here again, we could be judgemental about the nurses about the way they removed the drain, but who is to say they made a mistake? And even if they did, isn't that what we all do from time to time?). Prayer (2) was answered by a roof leak, but not prayer (1) nor (3).

I had to take Caleb aside and explain that the prayers we pray are always ones of ease and comfort - of course, none of us want to suffer. But in the infinite and good purposes of God, he does not always answer prayers in that direction. For some reason, in a broken world, the path to healing, the path to blessing is marked by suffering. The cross and the resurrection set up for us the model, or paradigm, for this way of thinking - no glory without suffering.

So I had to explain that whenever we ask God for things we must always add "if this is your will" - or else we are treating God as if he were our servant, and our plans as if they were the best plans.

Thank you for the medicine
With tiny insignificant niggles (such as car parking charges), the treatment we received was nothing short of wonderful. We plan to write and thank the ward and surgeons and staff, who from the highly skilled porters to the highly paid anaesthetists and surgeons did a magnificent job. Having been treated recently in an African hospital - wonderfully I might add, but basically too - we simply do not realise what wonderful care we have in the UK/West. If only as much breath was put into praise as it is in moaning, what even better places they would be.

And now that we have a new understanding of hospitals and operations and the like, God has given us a new sympathy and compassion for those who suffer in this way, and new prayers for the sick.


  1. Thank you Roy, for this post, which I found while searching for material for one of my own blogs. I have recommended this post and linked it it with something of my own story in a piece at
    Had a quick look around at some of the other things you have written here and wow, we're much on the same page in our faith, work for our Lord, and in a passion for the church, theology and thinking Christianly. I'll be visiting here regularly: is there a way I can subscribe?

    1. Fred, how nice to hear from you! And what an interesting blog you write! My oldest son (now 22) almost died of pyloric stenosis, mainly because of the pride of the senior doctor, who refused to acknowledge that his junior doctor was right in his diagnosis. When as new and ignorant parents we brought our starving skin and bones baby into hospital knowing something was wrong, the nurses rushed around at 100mph to save his life. We were told he was just a shade from death. Pride can kill, I guess is the moral of that story. Blessings to you. I am not sure how you subscribe to this blog, Fred.