It was Sunday, September 7 (2008) and the aftermath of Hurricane Hanna had blown through New York the night before. The afternoon sun shone brightly as the Caribbean Princess glided through New York Harbor, past the Statue of Liberty into the Atlantic Ocean. For a year we had anticipated this seven-day cruise with our friends Mark & Phyllis Whitt, to Halifax, Nova Scotia and back to New York, with stops at St. John (New Brunswick), Bar Harbor (Maine), Boston (Mass.) and Newport (R.I.) along the way. By midweek, I became increasingly short of breath but pressed on. After a severe asthma attack, I spent two nights and days in the ship’s medical ward, where it was determined that I had pneumonia in both lungs. Docking in New York early Sunday, September 14, I was ambulanced to New York Presbyterian Hospital at the Weill Cornell Medical Center, there to remain five days.
Overshining the entire two weeks are God’s mercies. Cathy, an attentive British nurse, spotted me in serious distress aboard ship and persuaded me to seek life-saving emergency care. The ship’s medical team was superb in every way. In New York, generous Christian friends Tony and Anita Gotto (he just “happened” to be dean of Weill Cornell Medical College) shared their home with Sara Faye throughout my hospitalization and with us both for two days afterward. While we were still at sea, Hurricane Ike hit Houston but mercifully our home was totally spared. I am grateful to be alive and we are thankful to be home.
I am reminded that little things are important and that actions have consequences. For persons like myself, who have had both asthma and sinus polyps, common pain medications (aspirin and NSAIDs) can trigger fatal bronchospasms. As we began the cruise, I was dosing heavily on Advil for back pain after moving furniture a week earlier. I had also run out of asthma maintenance medication and failed to request a refill prescription soon enough before leaving for the cruise. Then, when breathing first became difficult, I failed to seek immediate medical help. It nearly cost me my life. Spiritual health, like physical well-being, is God’s gift and is the subject both of scripture encouragements and warnings. Because these are not hard to understand, we sometimes take them lightly. In fact, they deserve and require our urgent attention.
During hospitaIization, I was also touched by the uniqueness and value of every person and the abundance of humble faith. Vittorio, a simple but pious 55-year-old gentleman, mopped my hospital room and shared his deep devotion to God. His mother, long dead, had taught him both faith and industry, and he had continued in both. His theology was flawed and his piety was superstitous but his sincere trust in God and in Jesus Christ were beyond question. God sees the heart, I remembered — and my eyes moistened at the thought. Lord, let me also live each day humbly, faithfully doing the work you have given me to do.