My Recent Experience with God, the Almighty Orchestrator
It all started about 18 months ago—just a “no big deal” minor lower back pain and occasional sciatic pain in my left leg. Then six weeks ago, things suddenly changed for the worse. Three weeks later, in August 2015, I was diagnosed with a benign tumor in the lumbar region (L3-L4) of my spinal canal. An MRI showed a mass that was 3 cm long occupying the entire diameter of the canal, meaning that this part of the canal was fully packed, thus pinching the nerves. Immediately, the doctor referred me to a neuro-oncologist at UCSF. At the same time, my wife sent out emails to brothers and sisters in Christ asking for prayers for God to give us courage, faith, hope, and patience during this difficult time.
Since my diagnosis, I had stopped going to work. Every day I spent 23+ hours sitting and sleeping in a zero-gravity lounge chair. Putting pressure on my left leg would trigger excruciating, burning pain from my hip all the way down to my thigh and calf. Usually, the pain began on a level of 1 to 2 (on a scale of 1 to 10) in the morning and progressed during the day, so that by the end of day, the pain would be totally unbearable—a level 10. The pain did not respond to even the strongest prescription painkillers. Lying down only made it worse. So, I was totally immobilized in the lounge chair. The only times I got out of the chair was in the morning to take a shower and brush my teeth, and during the day to tend to my personal hygiene.
Since the neuro-oncologist at UCSF could not see me until October 12, which was more than a month and a half later, I immediately looked for other resources. Fortunately, since we had switched our health insurance plan from HMO to PPO one and a half years ago, I didn’t have the restriction of sticking with UCSF. Therefore, I contacted Stanford, but the best they could do was September 12, which was a month away. Then something miraculous happened.
God’s Miraculous Orchestration
My chiropractor, whom I had called to cancel my appointment, offered to refer me to two neurosurgeons he knew. On August 29, the office of one of the surgeons called and told me that they would see me in the late afternoon on September 1. After I explained to them that it would be less painful for me to walk and travel in the morning, the office made special arrangements so that I could have an 8:30 a.m. appointment.
My original intention was to wait for Stanford’s appointment on September 12 before making a decision about what to do. I decided to go on September 1 to see Dr. Brian Andrews (the neurosurgeon recommended by my chiropractor) just to hear his opinion on my case. It turned out that Dr. Andrews was the chairman of the Neurosciences Department and a founder of the California Pacific Neuroscience Institute of California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. Dr. Andrews explained my condition and said there was a possibility that he could perform the procedure to remove the tumor at 7:30 a.m. the very next morning, September 2!
First of all, they had to find out if there was an open operatory and if there was another surgeon who could assist him and follow up on my case, as he would be leaving for a two-week vacation the day following the surgery. The office immediately made several calls, and the hospital agreed to open a specific operatory that is normally closed on Friday mornings. Another surgeon was also available—it was the other neurosurgeon referred by my chiropractor!
Now, there was just one more thing left to be done: I would need clearance from my primary care doctor to prove that I was fit for surgery. With such short notice, it would be impossible to schedule a same-day appointment with my primary care doctor for a physical exam—not to mention the time required for blood test results to come back. However, my last annual physical exam and blood tests were done on August 2—just within the 30-day medical clearance acceptance window!
We never expected that everything could be smoothly arranged within 20 minutes! Then Dr. Andrews realized that he actually had to chair a meeting during the time of the surgery the next day. However, he decided to cancel the meeting because he wanted to treat me before his vacation. This was definitely divine intervention!
After that, I had an EKG in the next building and also went through the pre-admission procedure, so that when I arrived the next morning they would take me straight to the preoperative ward. After all of the shuffling and moving around, my pain level elevated sharply. By the end of the day, it was a never-before-experienced level 15! Every tiny move made me want to scream! That night, my wife sent out another email asking for prayers for a successful surgery.
The Surgery and Post-op Recovery
We arrived at the hospital at 6:00 a.m. the morning of the procedure. I was taken by wheelchair into the preoperative room where I changed and crawled up onto the gurney in great pain. The nurse said I was “royalty” because they normally never open that specific operatory on Friday mornings, and the nurses had come in early because of me. By the time the nurse rolled me into the operatory at 7:30 a.m., my pain was already at level 8 or 9.
The anesthesiologist said he would give me something that would make me sleep. I started singing “The Lord is My Shepherd” in my heart. As soon as I finished singing the first stanza, I was out. Then I felt someone tapping my leg and heard a voice saying, “Mr. Chan, we removed your tumor. Can you move your toes for me?” I opened my eyes and saw Dr. Andrews!
I looked around; it was done. I was in the postoperative room with a new, changed gown—all fresh and clean. Most of all, I was in no pain! But, of course, I was loaded with painkillers and anesthetics. I was weak and tired, but there was absolutely no pain! It felt good sleeping in a real bed. Just imagine! I could have had another day of sitting in my lounge chair, starting with a pain level of 1 or 2 in the morning then waiting for the pain to build to a 10! How could I have survived that day plus the long weekend that followed?!?
I continued to improve, although I was still tired and weak. Two days later, I came home after being discharged from the hospital. It felt so good to lie on my bed completely pain free!
Lessons from God
I asked God what He wanted me to learn from this trial, and I quickly found the answers:
The blessings of being in the Royal Family
When I look back, I can see God’s footprints in every chapter of my 18-month journey. During my most difficult time, I knew that my pain would soon be taken away because he would not let me suffer beyond what I am able to bear (I Corinthians 10:13). Then came the serendipitous and miraculous arrangement with the God-sent Dr. Andrews at the crucial and perfect moment! As the nurse said, I was treated as “royalty.” Even more surprisingly, I later found out that the two neurosurgeons who treated me are two of the very best in all of the San Francisco Bay Area. God even prepared us for this trial by somehow nudging us to switch our health insurance plan from HMO to PPO. If not for this change, I would still be waiting for the October 12 UCSF appointment. Being in the Royal Family means that I am not alone, and God will take things into His hands. I cannot imagine the fear and the agony if I had had to face this incident all by myself!
The power of prayer
There must have been hundreds, or even thousands, of brothers and sisters praying for me in the Bay Area, in Canada, Hong Kong, and the UK—from friends and family all the way to congregations in their churches. Apart from a successful surgery, God also blessed us with patience, courage, hope, and faith in the whole process. We were certain that this experience was part of God’s plan, and we were able to wait patiently for everything to unfold. In fact, we were not worried at all during the entire process.
The power of love
I was overwhelmed by the love, support, and care of those around me: visits, emails, texts, prayers, phone calls, food, and home care—you name it! It has made me realize that this is what I should do for others as well: Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31).
Through suffering, God makes us more compassionate
There are so many people in this world troubled by disease and sickness far more serious than what I went through. Many of them are fighting for their lives. I can now begin to fathom what they go through every day, facing challenges and pain—perhaps two times, five times, or even ten times more than I experienced. I salute them. Compared to them, I am blessed.
The love of Christ
And I think of our Lord Jesus Christ. The pain He had to endure must have been 100 times—even 1,000 times—more than what I, or anyone else, has ever had to experience. But He allowed this to happen to Himself because of His love for us. He willingly suffered and sacrificed Himself in order to save us from our sins.
Through my experience of suffering, I have grown closer to God. I can testify that God helped me every step of my journey. My story will be a witness of His great work and glory. And I wish that everybody would join the Royal Family of God. Amen!