Father’s Weekly Message

Beating the odds to survive – testimony of God's healing mercy and loving support of people

The first contact at the Emergency Unit of Panorama Hospital already indicated serious trouble as I was rushed through the different stages of being examined. The examining doctor grimly noted: “You have the symptoms.” I thought I could have had a dozen of ailments, but he meant only one thing: Covid-19. That’s it. He ordered a test to be taken, wrote a prescription and ordered me to go home. He added that the observations they took did not make for good reading. The oxygen in the blood was very low and my temperature was soaring above 39 C. Then why did he send me home? The thought flashed through my mind if I shouldn’t be hospitalized immediately. Previously I was admitted to hospital immediately when the blood saturation oxygen level dropped below 92. Clearly, it was lower this time. I could not resist the suspicion that he did not think that it was going to end well, anyway.

Many people who lived and walked with me in prayer and support made the comment that I have a testimony to give. By that they meant, that I have something to say about how God saved me from the jaws of death. And that it would only be fair to give Him the honour by saying something about it. Not inclined to “such stuff” because I prefer to keep such experiences private, I thought about it again and again. In the end, I concede that they are right. It was never just a personal matter, never just my experience as I found out what overwhelming prayer support was behind me. People expressed their anxiety and anguish. I have to overcome my reticence to give that testimony, which gives credit to those and God, whom I owe so much today. I guess the best way to do it is to just give a no-frills report.

Returning home from hospital that Sunday was physically not a problem at all but the thoughts about the seriousness of my condition were racing through my mind while I was trying to preserve some kind of calmness. Emotions were beginning to get hold of me. Part of me was confused, part of me was scared, part of me was filled with uncertainty. I had to arrange for a priest to do the funeral the next day, which, thankfully, was easy as Fr Chris from Tableview accepted without hesitation and offered his services whenever I needed them. Even the next day, Monday, I still felt well enough and saw to it that some things he needed were in place. That was possible because for the moment I managed to shove to the back of my mind the devastating news I had received the day before. I was still “bargaining” that I might get away from it because the results of the test were not in yet. It all hit home when the sms came from Pathcare that the test returned positive. By then I sort of on and off reflected on the diagnosis and the emotional effect it had on me. It was a mixture of disappointment as if I had done something wrong or was negligent. Then I was worried about those whom I had been with. Did I also pass this terrible disease to them? I had conducted a funeral on Friday, then one on Saturday. My mind was racing to find out where I could have picked up the virus, but to no avail. People had to be contacted so that they, in turn, could notify those who attended the funerals. In hindsight, fortunately no one was infected. But what about my technical support team and the parishioners who hurried to the Church to enquire after my health? Well, there was nothing I could do about it, but I felt guilty.

It was only the second day that it really hit me – the loss of appetite, the total weakness, the inability to even get out of bed, the high fever, the shortness of breath. Should I or shouldn’t I go to hospital? All indications were that I should. I strongly contemplated calling my pulmonologist to seek advice. I also knew that, as I know him, that he wasn’t going to come close to even see. The blood saturation oxygen level kept dropping to alarmingly low levels and the pulse rate was very high. (Thankfully someone donated a pulse oximeter to do these observations.) The difference for making up my mind was that my cousin Gail, a professional nurse, had just come from night duty and was free for the next seven days. She moved into the presbytery with an air of authority and no nonsense. Together we thought that I would be much better off at home. She proceeded to change the bedroom into a hospital ward and took observations around the clock, every four hours. Every centimeter of the house was thoroughly sanitized, and so was the Church. Rather than improving, I felt that every day my body was thrown into a battle I could only lose. I wasn’t getting better and there were no significant signs of improvement. The obvious thought was that this could be fatal, and it had every feel of it. I am COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), in plain terms a chronically seriously affected asthmatic. In the words of my pulmonologist, he has never seen anyone with such brittle asthma. And that was ominously life-threatening as far as Covid-19 was concerned.

Sometime during the first week I realized that I had to fight back. I took out my favourite picture of Jesus, the one where he is knocking on the door seeking entry, and the photo of the person I love most, my young boy, the son of my youngest cousin, and with the help of Jesus I braced myself. I was keenly aware of the army of prayer warriors who were throwing their spiritual weight behind me. My spirit changed, though my body was struggling. The Rosary was my strength in those moments.

Gradually there was slight change, not much but just enough to register some improvement. Still, I could barely go to the bathroom without being able to breathe comfortably. I was carefully and firmly nursed, which made all the difference. (The command, “Get out of bed”, always meant, “immediately”!) It was good that she was around because I could feed off her confidence. I wondered how people in hospital could improve without the moral support of visitors who form such a crucial part of the healing process. From the spiritual side, it was time to let God do the healing. And it happened. Though still weak, I could slowly do things for myself. I was exhausted after every movement and had to rest a lot.

Well, the blood saturation oxygen level was low, and just to be on the safe side, we decided to go to Vincent Pallotti Hospital to check if I needed to spend time in hospital. That was two weeks after I had first been diagnosed. The fear there was that I had an infection of the lungs or that there had been too much strain on the heart because the pulse rate was always sky high. All the tests came back with good results. The shortness of breath would go away with rest and time. Relieved I went home and knew the steep journey to recovery was well under control.

It still seems unreal and it became so personal. It was no longer about “them” and statistics. It was about me personally. I know that I beat the odds. This I fathom the more and more I am hearing and reading about the experiences of others. In my case, it could have gone the other way. In fact, the indications were that, humanly speaking, it should have gone the other way, given the severity of my underlying condition of asthma. I owe my recovery to good nursing care at home and to the myriad of people who prayed for me. There were those who from the third week began to bring food to make the workload lighter for the nurse. It has been for me a real experience of how much people love and care about me, from the moment I felt weak during Holy Mass, to being cared for during Holy Mass, to being almost bundled into the car to be taken to the Emergency Unit at Panorama Hospital (there was a need for decisive action, without which things could have really gone awry! There was no time for delay.), to the countless gestures of love and support. They made me feel that I belong.

Above all, I recovered by the grace of God. The powerful name of God is yet again filled with the experience of more love and mercy. To Him be glory and praise forever.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies (Bothasig)
July 29 2020