April 25, 2018

Rooted in Faith and Fellowship

A Christ-Like Way to Respond to Human Need

By Steve Reams

In September of 2015 I came perilously close to dying from a very rare case of Legionnaire’s Disease. How close was I? I spent nearly three weeks hooked up to an ECMO machine – a device formally known as an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation machine, the job of which is to remove blood from a patient’s body, oxygenated it and then return the blood to the patient. I was hooked to the ECMO machine because the infection had caused my lungs to stop working. I checked into Piedmont Hospital on September 24th with what appeared to be acute double pneumonia. My breathing rapidly declined and by the next morning I had to be intubated for the next three weeks and rendered unconscious for two of those. I spent a total of three weeks in the Critical Care Unit and a fourth week as a “regular” hospital patient before finally being released on October 23, 2015. I did not eat, drink or speak for nearly four weeks. While still unconscious and on the ECMO machine, I underwent emergency surgery to repair a bleeding ulcer that was so severe that it required blood transfusions. When I did wake up, I was too weak even to reach across my body and simply touch the bed rail. When it was time for me to stand, it took a team of five medical professionals and a mechanized walker just for me to get on my feet and take a few steps. The medical staff, who were wonderful in every way, were unable to make any promises to my family regarding my projected recovery for fear that it might not actually happen.

Spending four weeks in the hospital as an extremely ill, virtually helpless patient can be miserable and lonely. Fortunately, I slept through two weeks and was otherwise supported by Piedmont’s amazing staff. However, my wife and three kids were on the outside looking in on what appeared to be potentially deadly situation. Nonetheless, even with the daily threat of death to a husband and father, life marches on and my wonderful wife, Jill, had to care for our three children (then ages 16, 13 and 9) without my help. She had the difficult task of shielding them as much as possible from the reality of my dire medical situation and helping them remain optimistic that their father would someday return. She did this all while managing her own fears and concerns. In addition, she had to get them to school, help with homework, take them to sporting events, pay the bills, maintain the house and keep the children fed and clothed. Thankfully, she was never alone in these tasks. Our church family at Second-Ponce never passed up an opportunity to fulfill a need. They gave rides to children, offered play dates, sent flowers and cooked meals upon meals. We had so many dishes and casseroles that they filled not only our freezer but the freezers of many of our neighbors as well.

The ministerial staff at Second-Ponce visited me in the hospital and spent hours consoling my wife and praying for strength for her to take care of our children and help them through this frightening time. My mother and sister, who were here for the duration of my illness to support Jill, the kids and me, were fully embraced by the church who took care of them and treated them like family in a way that they will ever forget. We could not have survived without the help of my mother and sister and they definitely needed and felt the love and support of our close church family.

Our church family prayed as well. These were not quickly-offered prayers in passing. Rather, the church engaged in intense, deliberate prayer. There were updates and prayers at Deacon’s meetings, staff meetings, committee meetings and, apparently, every time two or more were gathered. Our Sunday school class led the effort to keep the family fed and supported during this crisis. They visited and prayed, entertained and supported our kids, and even took up a collection to provide Jill with some much-needed personal time outside of the house. Our Sunday school class truly led the prayer effort to the extent of taking their entire hour-long class and going to the church chapel to focus prayers for my recovery. I received more concern and prayer support than I could ever deserve. I have no doubt that the church knew I was close to death and my conversations with medical care givers indicates that they were right. When the chief ECMO nurse told me that she “had the hardest time getting my oxygenation levels above 0%,” I think that meant it was close. I have no doubt that the prayers of my fellow church members, Sunday school class and ministers played an important role in strengthening and supporting my family and my recovery.

I have sometimes wondered why I recovered. Almost as soon as I left the Critical Care Unit and first watched the news, I saw stories of tragic deaths that made anything I had experienced seem mundane by comparison. I do not know why tragedy exists and I do not know why sometimes there are miracles. What I do know is what the Bible teaches about how Christians are supposed to respond in the face of great human need. Christ taught that following him means feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and visiting the lonely. (Matthew 25:31-46). In other words, there is a Christ-like way to respond to human need. I received fantastic support, prayers and care from many people including the medical staff at Piedmont Hospital, my co-workers at Smith Currie, my extended family and friends far and wide, and even people who only knew me through others, for which I will be forever grateful. I am also thankful for and proud of how our church family responded with unbridled care during our family’s time of trial. I know that their wonderful reaction isn’t something that can be turned on and off at a moment’s notice. Rather, it is developed through the discipline of worship, study and service, all of which our church practices continually. The care and training provided by our ministers and the fellowship and love of our membership helped develop a congregation that was ready, willing and able to act as Christ would have them act when the need arose. I am thankful and humbled to be included among this group. My prayer is that I too can live up to the challenges that Christ calls me to meet when I encounter human suffering.