High-Tech God, Low-Tech Hearts
(c) Laurie Winslow Sargent
I lay crumpled on the floor, weeping, my hand resting on the phone. It’s way too early to call. . . she’ll still be sleeping. . .I can wait. But oh, how desperately I needed to hear comforting words from a dear friend.
I’m still amazed at how God took that moment of desperation and turned it upside down to provide help in a miraculous way.
Two weeks before, that same phone had rung midday to convey alarming news. We were living temporarily in Haugesund, Norway, far from friends and family. Understanding the local language took tremendous energy and thought. Consequently, when a co-worker of my husband’s called and spoke rapidly and frantically in Norwegian, it took awhile for me to grasp what the caller was saying. My husband had been rushed to the hospital due to a work-related accident.
At first, I remained calm. In eighteen years of marriage, Gordy had rarely been sick or injured, and never seriously. He was the picture of fitness, a muscular body builder, and so safety-conscious! It couldn’t be that bad, could it? Nevertheless, I rushed six-month-old Elisa and seven-year-old Aimee into the car.
I couldn’t find my eleven-year-old, Tyler who was outside playing. I felt torn. What to do? Leave my child to rush to my husband’s side? Regretfully, I left a note for my son, stating that we’d gone to the hospital. I had to trust the neighbors to care for him, but felt confidence in that. I discovered later that Tyler had heard the ambulance go by, not knowing his dad was in it.
In the emergency room, my concern mounted. Gordy sat in a tub, nothing but a towel draped on his lap, nurses pouring water over him. Parts of his body were charred white . . . strange looking, but not too alarming. Yet.
Through chattering teeth, he told me he’d been burned by chemicals. He’d already been doused with cool water for over an hour, including during the ambulance ride. He tried to act normal, joking a little, but his face looked strained. He suggested that I come back later when he was dressed, so I rushed with Aimee and baby Elisa to find Tyler.
I found out later how monumental the accident had been. Gordy and another man had been adding caustic to a tank of water to make it boil, in the process of making chitosan from chitin (a derivative from crab and shrimp shells). He’d done that for many years, but this time, the form of caustic and size of tank were different. Moments after the powder hit the water, the chemicals erupted as if from a volcano, with a tremendous roar. The men had run from the room as scalding liquid showered onto their backs and arms.
Thankfully they had on protective headgear. The chemical could have eaten away their faces. Still, in the emergency shower, Gordy frantically washed his head and face for fear of disfigurement and even death. Unfortunately, in his pain, he was unaware that the drain had become plugged. Chemicals pooled around his feet, burning them severely.
Gordy’s back received the equivalent of an extremely severe sunburn in some places. On his back and arms were blistering second-degree burns, likely to heal in time, but with scarring. On his feet were the deepest burns possible: third degree. One foot sustained enough nerve damage to require skin grafting.
For many hours and days I sat with Gordy at his hospital bedside with Elisa in a playpen nearby and Aimee and Tyler with faithful Norwegian friends. Gordy and I joke now that it was the only time in our married life he repeatedly said, “Please don’t go. Let’s just sit and talk.” Our attitude at first remained absurdly cheerful, baffling the nurses. One nurse took me aside, saying. “You know . . . it is really very bad. It is O.K. to cry.”
I reassured her that yes, I had taken time to cry. But overall, both Gordy and I felt God was in control and uplifting us. Every day I took handfuls of emails to Gordy from praying people around the globe: from Norway, throughout the USA, and even from a Mercy Ship stationed in South Africa. (Love that technology!)
Gordy, who proudly had never used a sick day in his entire work career until the day of the accident, bemoaned breaking that record while also realizing for the first time how many people truly cared about him. The nurses heard me read letters full of prayers and saw the three-foot scripture verse taped to his hospital room wall, brought from our international congregation at the North Sea Baptist Church in Stavanger. The hospital staff shook their heads in wonder at Gordy, that gentle, sweet American, who read books about God. That man who, instead of worrying about himself, worried about two co-workers who had also been traumatized by the accident.
Then came the lowest of the lows. The surgery was traumatic. The surgeons removed skin from a portion of Gordy’s thigh and transplanted it onto his foot. I was stunned when I saw him post-surgery, hooked up to every kind of tube imaginable. He suddenly seemed so fragile.
After the tubes were removed, things should have gotten better. Instead his true suffering began. The medical staff began decreasing his pain medication, for fear of addiction. Meanwhile, the most severe burns on his back became excruciating. Treatment was to leave his skin bare, open to air, with no creams, which might introduce bacteria. His back was healing—but as it did so, the tight, dry skin pulled on his back. It felt like it was on fire. Yet he had to lie on that burned back to keep the top of his severely damaged foot upright in a strange contraption that looked a bit like a covered wagon.
In this agonizing state, after nearly two weeks in intensive care, he was told he might have to endure a second operation: on his other foot. Finally, overcome, Gordy wept. As I saw that tower of strength dissolve, I cried with him. My precious husband was in agony.
I went home and crumpled to the floor, sobbing. What would help Gordy at that moment? What could I ask God to do for him? Shouldn’t I make a specific request? My mind was in a whirl of despair and confusion. I simply cried out, “God, please help us!”
As I sobbed, I felt a desperate need to hear the voice of one of my dearest friends, Cyndi, across the world in Washington State. She already knew Gordy had been injured. But I knew words from her would comfort me. And since she worked in a hospital, might she know someone working in burn treatment? Someone who could suggest a less painful treatment to ease Gordy’s suffering?
I looked at the clock. With the nine-hour time difference, it was 6:30 a.m. , her time. Cyndi would still be asleep. I shouldn’t wake her. Of course, she wouldn’t mind. But what difference would an hour or two make? I could wait, couldn’t I? Shouldn’t I?
And as I cried, during the exact moment my hand was resting on the phone, it rang. In a daze, I answered it.
“Laur? Is that you?”
I sobbed, “Yes,” I tried to speak further but no words would come out.
Indeed, it was Cyndi. She sounded alarmed. “Laur? What’s happening?! How is Gordy? The Lord woke me up and told me to call you.”
I finally blurted out, amidst tears of distress and relief, “He did! He did wake you! Oh, Cyndi . . .” I poured out the events of the day.
Heartened, I felt new confidence and made other phone calls. One was to our family doctor back in Washington, who urged me to trust the doctors in Norway and their methods. Yet he encouraged me to request stronger pain medication for him and to reassure the doctors that Gordy had no previous history of medication addictions. I also boldly called--at her home--one of the intensive care nurses who had been touched by Gordy’s undemanding and kind attitude. She also urged me to be aggressive: “Be a voice for your husband!” She told me to insist that the hospital staff get a doctor from any floor, any department, to attend to Gordy’s pain immediately.
Astoundingly, within a few short hours after talking to Cyndi, I received via e-mail a burn treatment plan from a nurse at one of the best burn treatment centers in the US. It suggested use of a specific, sterile cream to ease Gordy’s dry and burning skin. The staff agreed to use it, and at my request they also found a doctor to prescribe him additional medication immediately.
Gordy’s pain was reduced dramatically. In a bizarre twist of circumstances, within a few days of Cyndi’s call, he was allowed to return home. The foot he’d had surgery on was healing nicely. The second foot was bandaged and we were all holding our breath to see if that one would heal on its own. The doctors figured he could wait at home as easily as he could in the hospital, although they felt dubious about his avoiding a second skin-grafting operation. If I recall correctly, the burn on that second foot was about the size of a dime, and the odds of it healing spontaneously were not high.
As he was resting, Cyndi called again and was astonished to find Gordy home and me gone, only a few days after I had spoken to her in such desperation! I was at a ladies retreat for a day in Stavanger, to seek prayer on Gordy’s behalf and because I too needed a brief break from the trauma and stress. Gordy had urged me to take the baby and go, insisting he’d be fine with the other kids to fetch what he needed.
Meanwhile, at the retreat, an American woman who was the keynote speaker asked me if she and others there could lay their hands on my foot, in the exact location of the wound on Gordy’s foot. I felt a little silly having them do that, yet guessed that it allowed them to visualize his wound more easily as they prayed. The crazy thing was that as they did that, my own leg began to shake uncontrollably. It was a bizarre feeling.
I returned home and Gordy spent a few more days with the bandage on, then we returned to the doctor for the unveiling. The doctors were extremely surprised, yet very pleased, to see that the foot had healed. No second surgery would be needed.
Now many years later, Gordy and I sometimes speak of those terrible weeks of suffering, yet we can’t help but marvel as well. The wound on his second foot could have healed on its own, although how hard could it have been for God to cinch up a wound the size of a dime, when he had did something far more miraculous?
Consider the odds. God reached across the ocean and multiple time zones all the way to Washington State, to supernaturally awaken a dear friend at the exact moment I prayed for help. Then he prompted her to dial an international call at the exact moment my hand lay on the phone in Norway. Try to recreate that scenario, on purpose!
My plea, “God help us!” was all I could think to pray. We cannot always find precise words nor know solutions when we pray. Yet God knew that not only did I need comfort from a friend, Gordy needed practical help. So God prompted an nurse at one of the finest burn treatment centers in the United States (Harborview Medical Center) to send that email which led to the comfort of my husband within hours of our desperation.
That God is high-tech and ever-ready should be no surprise: after all, he created the very minds which in turn, create any new technology. But in the end, it still boils down to human hearts and minds that are open to God’s leading. What use is technology without women and men of faith who not only waken at the touch of God and hear his promptings, but choose to act on that, even when it seems odd? Even when it would be easier—and far more logical—to simply roll over and go back to sleep?