April 10 was a perfect day! That day will live in the memory of my family for years to come, because that was my daughter’s wedding day. The weather was perfect. It was eighty degrees and sunny. (How many sunny eighty-degree April days do you remember in northeast Ohio?) The spring flowers were in full bloom. The flowering trees were breathtaking. The bride was stunning. The groom was handsome. The ushers and the bride maids were both well dressed and attractive. The music was outstanding. The ceremony went off without a hitch. The receptions, one at the church and one in the community, were perfect. It is safe to say everyone had fun. There is no other way to say it. It was a perfect day. This is also true.
April 12 was not perfect! The bride’s mother and I decided to go to Chicago to escape the post wedding blues. We decided to fly because it was cheaper to fly than park our car in the Windy City. I was at Cleveland Airport when I began to grow sick. That evening I knew I had a problem. The next day I found myself at an urgent care. They sent me to the Emergency Room at the Northwestern Medical Center. They told me I needed emergency surgery because I had an intestinal blockage. The next day, I woke up in pain with a long incision. The problem came from scare tissue from a surgery I had in 1958. I do not remember that surgery because I was only eighteen months old, but I do remember the pain from this surgery. I was told the surgery was successful, except they nicked my bowel during the procedure. Unable to fly home, a good friend came to Chicago to drive us home. I was not home for long.
Forty-eight hours after I got home, I had an intense pain like I had never had in my life. I found out later my bowel was working its way to the surface. I went to a local hospital, who sent me to their downtown location. It was there I met the surgeon. There were more tests and painkillers. In time, the surgeon returned and said to me, “Reverend Adams, you seem like a really good guy. You deserve the best care, and you are not going to get it here. I am sending you to the Cleveland Clinic. I have performed four surgeries that you need. They have done thousands.” That night I was sent to the Cleveland Clinic by ambulance. I was admitted in the middle of the night. In the end, I spent over a week in the Cleveland Clinic, but I never had a second surgery. It was decided my nicked bowel would have to heal on its own. I was warned it would take time and it would not be pleasant. Those words were not untrue. It did take time and it was unpleasant.
I spent my 64th birthday and Mother’s Day, May 9th, at home. It was great to be home, but I had souvenirs from the hospital. I had a port in my upper right chest for my three hours of antibiotics. I had three holes in my abdomen. One that needed to be packed daily. One was covered by a drainage bag. I was exhausted doing the simplest task. The visiting nurse came to twice a week. That means Kathryn and I were on our own for five days a week. I have said it a million times since April 13th, every family needs one medical person, not two, to do those messy medical things. My family has no medical people. I will always be thankful for two people. The first is my ex-neighbor Amy, who came five days a week to pack my wound. She is a practicing nurse. The second is my wife, Kathryn. She cared for me, flushing the port, and giving me those three hours of antibiotics daily. She was way out of her comfort zone. This is the truth. Without her, I would have been placed in a nursing home.
I am glad to report, things did get better. On our wedding anniversary, May 27th, I was released by the infectious disease doctor. The next day it was ruled I no longer needed the drainage bag. At some point, the antibiotics were stopped. My port was removed at a branch of the Cleveland Clinic, Akron General Hospital. In time, the three holes in my abdomen healed and the packing ceased. Today, my pain is gone, but my abdomen looks like a West Virginia Roadmap. The chills, caused by an infection, I was told, may have been the worst part, are no longer. I have no problem sleeping through the night or napping during the day. June 7th was another good day. I woke up and felt like a tired version of myself. I received no physical therapy, but I was encouraged to walk. I was told to eat my normal diet. I am not at 100% yet, but I am making progress. It has been a long four months. On my darkest days, I was thankful for two things. First, I was thankful I was in America. If this would have happened when I was in Slavic Eastern Europe, I would have died. Their medical care is archaic. Second, I am thankful for my hospitalization. Between Kathryn’s heart surgery and my abdominal surgery, we have spent more than $453,000 in medical care. I do not have that figure on hand.
Several years ago, I went to the suburbs of Cleveland to visit a parishioner. He was having heart surgery. Prior to the surgery, we talked for a while and then I prayed. After the prayer, he looked at me and asked, “Russ, have you ever been the one in need?” I that point, I answered, “No.” Today, I would answer differently. In the last nine months, I have struggled with the Coronavirus and had major surgery. Being in need is uncomfortable, but it positions you to learn about yourself. In the last four months, I have learned several things. Let me give you part of my list.
First, I learned I am not John Wayne. In the weeks, I was at home I discovered something you know. We may get 200 television stations, but there is nothing to watch on TV. We watched a great deal of old westerns, especially old John Wayne movies. In one of his movies, he got shot in the back and the bullet was longed near his spine. A doctor pulled out the bullet on the open range. Being John Wayne, after being shot and having the bullet expelled, he jumped on his horse and road off. It really was impressive. Let me state the obvious. I am not John Wayne. He rode off on his horse, I laid in bed or on my couch feeling all the pain. I am not John Wayne.
Second, I learned I do not do painkillers well. After my surgery, I was in a great deal of pain. The painkiller I was offered was oxycontin. I am told many try to steal oxycontin. I do not know why. I did not handle it well. I imagined all kind of things. One night, I imagined the walls around me were melting. One night, I imagined I was at the Parish House at Saint Monica’s Church in Garfield Hts. (I have not been there for twenty-five years.) One night, I imagined I was at a Burger King and tried to order a Whooper from my nurse. She reminded me I was on a clear liquid diet. I asked to get off the oxycontin because I needed to think clearly. It was the beginning of my recovery. It was a good day when I got off all the painkillers. Let me state the obvious. I do not do painkillers well.
Third, I learned life is hard. On Saturday, I was dancing with the bride and hosting my world. It was a perfect day. On Tuesday, I was having emergency surgery in a foreign land. It was a horrible day. Most of the next four months were horrible. I could preach on this theme weekly, and it would never get old. You know it is true. It is one thing to hear about someone else’s hardship. It is a completely different thing to experience the hardship yourself. When was the last time you experienced hardship? Maya Angelou (1928-2014) once said, “You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated.”
Forth, I have learned our society has a surplus of kind people. I am humbled by the kindness shown to me. I was in three hospitals during my saga. Everyone, from the housekeeping people to the surgeons, were kind to me. Fellow patients who heard my story, and they were kind to me. My neighbor mowed my lawn. My neighbors gave me food. One day, a stranger showed up with a casserole dish. I asked her the question, “Who are you?” She answered, “My friends and I were talking about your story, and I thought you may want to eat tonight.” Even my mailman, when he heard my story, said, and still says, “I am praying for you.” We have a surplus of kind people in our society because Christianity is part of national DNA. I have been to other parts of the world where kindness is rare. Let me take it one step farther.
We have a surplus of kind people within this church. The word spread fast about my emergency surgery. On the day after my surgery, I looked at my cell phone for the first time. I had 162 texts. Each one said, they were concerned about me and were praying for me. I received well over 100 cards. Some came from people who have moved out of the area. Some cards came from people who left the church because they were mad me. At one point, I lost 31 pounds, but you cannot be blamed. For weeks, food was delivered to my home. I cannot tell you how many people have offered to do something during my time of need. We have a surplus of kind people within our church.
One day, I was texting someone about all the kindness I had been shown. Her response made me think. She texted: Of course, people are kind to you. What else can we really do? She was right! Kindness of not optional in the Christian faith. Kindness is demanded! It is required! It is dictated! Your kindness is a sign that your faith is sincere, and it has been that way from the very beginning. Do you remember what the Apostle Paul said to the Galatians all those years ago? Galatians 6:10-11 says:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
So today I am not going to reprimand you for some poor behavior or habit. Today, I am going to encourage you to keep doing what you have been doing. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ, and you know the truth. We are not saved by our good works. Even non-believers can be kind. You are saved by grace and by faith in Jesus. You are saved by the sacrificial death of Jesus. He died so we could live. Your kindness is a way of thanking God for saving your soul. How are you going thank God today?