Right after the pandemic hit and we were in lock-down in Lisbon, I had written to Shannon (our home church’s global mission director and daughter in Christ),
We are living in a surreal cocoon, preparing for a new world and praying for a new world.
I would have forgotten those words had Shannon not echoed them on an online video to FBC back in March.
The caterpillar metamorphosis is such a powerful analogy for us all. The crushing of the caterpillar within that cocoon ultimately brought forth new life, a beauty in flight. That’s all of us at one time or another. Even for those of us who are tattered butterflies.
Here’s the long and short of it.
The Short Version First:
With the pandemic, language barriers, and a less uptight culture (one Bill and I had been alerted about beforehand) where getting one thing done in a day is a productive day, we are grateful for all of these happenings in the past two days.
Bill’s physical health:
So far, he still has no feeling from his waist down. He had a second visit from Dr. Fernandes Thursday with a more optimistic response from Bill’s first prognosis. His dura (the connective tissue in the spine) appears to be intact with 90% compression.
Dr. Fernandes thinks by Monday, August 3, Bill’s back will be stable enough to travel in a medical evacuation flight to the designated spinal cord rehabilitation centers in the US.
Since one of our pastors’ wives and dear friend speaks fluent Portuguese, Melissa has been working with the administrative staff at Santa Maria University Hospital. Friday afternoon we received the forms we needed with the doctor’s signature. I got those to son Nick, and he faxed them to the rehab centers for evaluation on whether or not Bill can be helped through their specific program.
Presently, the Shepherd Center in Atlanta does not have any beds for those with Medicare. The Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago’s contact person is working on it. (This is the one I favor, and it is listed as #1.) No word yet from Kessler in NJ or McGhee in Philadelphia, but they only got the information Friday afternoon. They also have tremendous programs with a respected history.
Bill’s emotional/mental and spiritual health:
He sounds good, especially strong spiritually, trusting God. In fact, increasingly so.
The Longer Version:
Many have asked for specifics. Being a visual person, I get that, so I will share for those who have time. Writing is healing for me.
I just discovered he can get FaceTime calls. Seeing his now scruffy face (they shave on Tuesdays) with his smile assured me we will get through this.
I must say how overwhelmed Bill and I are with your support. I see where you are. When I just read the last comment, I saw the views of all of you from all over the world praying just in the last two days since the first update was sent out.
Bill and I are honored and humbled for those we’ve met over the years, those many individuals last June at the ABWE missionary training, the Malta conference we attended for those in ABWE European missionary fields the week after we moved to Lisbon. We see you on this map. For those we don’t know, we do. This map connects us in prayer not only for Bill, but also for our world. Thank you.
What happened as I know it:
Friday morning around 10:00 AM Lisbon time, Bill went to the school—GLCA—to do some outside work. This is the Christian school where I taught high school art this past semester, and Bill volunteered to help however he was needed. I had students from all over the world. Many of the students are with their parents in missions and have lived in many other countries. Some students are from Nepal, Pakistan, Lithuania, Korea, Portugal, etc. and are seeking an English education. I want to tell you sometime how they all enriched our lives.
The school is on a beautiful hillside that overlooks the city and mountains. Bill was planning to finish up on power washing the outside.
The temperature was already in the high 90s. While trying to fix a leaking hose, he thinks he blacked out and fell off a ledge about six feet. Once he regained consciousness from the fall, he had the upper body strength to reach into his pocket for his phone and call Andrew. Andrew and Mollie are a young couple who take care of the facility.
I received a phone call from Bill’s number around 11:00. I answered with a “Hi!”
It wasn’t Bill, but Andrew, saying that an ambulance was on the way to the school. Mollie was on her way to pick me up. She got us back to the school while the ambulance drivers were securely strapping him in and starting IVs. I answered their questions—no meds, he doesn’t even take an aspirin, surgeries, etc. Yet, when the ambulance driver asked me his age, I couldn’t remember, 67, 68? I don’t think “age.” Under the Portuguese sun, I tried to subtract 1951 from 2020 while trying to determine how to take a year off since his birthday isn’t until December.
The driver must have done the math for me.
Bill was taken to the closest hospital, Beatriz Angelo. Security wouldn’t let Mollie come in, even to translate. I did get to talk with a receptionist who spoke English. The emergency room was packed. So many desperate people with no hope. I tried to imagine their stories and pray for them along with Bill. At least Bill and I have hope and opportunities.
Do any of us even fathom the opportunities we have?
I kept checking with the receptionist when there wasn’t a line of incoming patients or ambulance drivers admitting those passing through. So many. All I knew was that Bill was going to get X-rays and a CT scan.
Someone brought me his clothes and his belt in a plastic bag. I kept his belt in hand as a touch point, reviewing Ephesians 6 in my mind. The belt of truth, girding him with strength. So many memorized scriptures—Promises from a Mighty God—flowed through me.
Maybe three hours later, a young Portuguese doctor who spoke English came out and told me Bill’s back was broken. He would need to be transferred to Santa Maria University Hospital for back surgery the next morning. I nodded and absorbed the news, my Covid mask firmly affixed.
More time passed, and I asked the receptionist for an update, finally pleading kindly, “Is there anyway I can just see him, hold his hand?”
She paused, looked into my eyes, then nodded. Ten minutes later she motioned me back to where Bill was. He was in such great pain, shaking his head, that he couldn’t live this way.
“Don’t pray against God’s will,” he said. “I love working. I get so much out of working.”
I kept repeating to him, “You are so valuable. You are enough just who you are. Even if you never do another productive thing–as we define our lives so often–we all want you here. You have a brilliant mind, a heart for God. You can write and share with others from all your notes from studying the Bible, those books on Apologetics.”
Two ambulance drivers were standing behind me, waiting to prepare him for the next hospital ride. I got to follow him out and sit with him in the ambulance. One driver fanned him because of the heat while the other one was getting the paper work.
I haven’t seen him since. Melissa picked me up, and we followed the ambulance to Santa Maria University Hospital. With more ambulances flowing into the hospital and a packed emergency room, by the grace of God, they said Melissa could stay with me to translate.
She spoke with the receptionist and nurses for me. One resident came out and told me that Bill would need surgery, possibly in the morning. That was it for more hours. Finally my phone rang. Someone had given Bill a phone to call me.
Since they were not going to let me see him, Bill wanted me to go home. I could only imagine where he was and how he was. Yet, all the while I had God’s loving arms around me with a profound peace only a Good Father offers so gently, so fully.
In the meantime, Melissa checked to see if we needed to get Bill into a private hospital. Our friend Lionel (he and his wife Carol have been in Portugal since the late 80s) found out from a doctor friend that Bill was in the best hospital with the two top neurosurgeons in Portugal. We found out later Bill’s doctor is one of them.
Melissa and I returned early the next morning (Saturday) and were told Bill had his surgery late Friday night. He had a plate with screws placed. With more requests, I was able to send his cell phone and glasses to him with a pen and paper.
As Melissa and I sat outside the hospital on a bench, talking and praying, she said,”Look, two love birds just flew into that tree.”
They sang a little song and then flew off–bright green bodies and orange beaks.
I once wrote about learning to sing a new song in a time of distress after the Sandy Hook shootings. I’d discovered songbirds don’t sing the same songs. They regenerate brain cells continually for new songs, sparking researchers to fathom in the late 70s that humans can, too.
Over those 24 hours, the Lord must have convinced Bill to fight for his life and to face rehab. Your love and prayers washed him in great peace. Bill’s strong work ethic will be seen and his voice will be heard wherever he is.
Moving to Lisbon didn’t change everything. Coronavirus didn’t change everything. Who we are and who we become in the midst of it is what changes everything.
This is unprecedented for all of us, and, yet, whether we battle through it for generations to come or for the end of time, we get eternity. We just have to share hope to the hopeless.
This morning I found something I wrote years ago. It has circled back to remind me about this frailty of life with its profound beauty. I share it on my Art page.
One more thing:
Sunday night I spoke to my brother Clay. He was in shock about Bill, saying “These are things that happen to people like me, not Bill.”
We had a good conversation. He shared how in his early years as a clinical psychologist, he evaluated Workman’s Comp patients. Over 6000 of them. He said most never got beyond their accident, always living in the past. We talked about living forward.
I shared with him my conversation with Bill in the first ER Friday–how I kept telling Bill how valuable he was–because of who he is, not what he does, and how the Lord would use this for His glory, giving us opportunities to share His goodness.
After I posted Bill’s update Wednesday night our time, his wife Kalma responded by email at 3:09 PM CST. She would share my post about Bill with Clay. I don’t know if he read it. Kalma found him at 3:30 P.M. and he had died. Clay had his aortic heart valve replaced twice–one at 30 and then at 50, but he swam everyday and was in good shape. He still had his hearty laugh.
My heart’s prayer is that for all of the burdens he felt for Bill, that heavy weight on his heart, that he reached out to the Lord in his prayers for Bill and claimed God’s fullness for him, too. He is my brother; I love him. Our mother died July 21,1997, so I picture them in heaven rejoicing right now where there is no pain.
For those who knew Clay, watch Sean Connery in Finding Forrester. It’s like watching my brother in life. His rough exterior was torn down each time he counseled children and their parents, as he spoke of Kalma and her two children who became his. He is loved.
Thank you for letting me share this.
I just had to say it out loud to make it real. Your prayers are received here and on high. For all of the words of inspiration, songs, videos, we are being nourished by you.
Right now two things reverberate.
One is a scripture Debbie Miller sent. I had just shared in the first update that we shouldn’t, we couldn’t, let our lives slip away. The verse she shares along with the names of Jehovah prove He is with us in those slips.
Another is a phrase from Bill and Carolyn Wheeler’s message recently received:
Ann, he is God’s Bill, too. With both of you caring for Bill, tomorrow will be a brighter day!
I also found this prayer I had written years before. I pray it for all of us.
Lord, even though I do not see you, I believe in you and love you. With our deepening relationship is an inexpressible and glorious joy just as your Word promises. Help me not to trust in my “feelings” but trust in you and your joy that no man can take away.