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Horror and Heartbreak, Half a World Away

My husband, Darrell, and I had an experience so frightening—so deeply heartbreaking—that we felt at times we were in the midst of a nightmare. Sadly, the painful path we were suddenly forced to walk along was both stark and real.

Then came the good news…

Despite being half a world away, we were not alone! Hundreds, if not thousands of people from around the world began to pray for us. The compassionate prayers uttered on our behalf brought about the very thing we needed—a miracle!

A Critical Diagnosis

Three years ago, my husband and I were on a mission trip in a partially communist country. The trip started out amazingly well! We had no issues during our 47 hours of travel, and the first full day was spent ministering to the people of a very beautiful country.

Late that afternoon, my husband was overcome with sudden, severe pain. Darrell was rushed to the hospital, where he fell under the care of a doctor who—sadly—willingly chose to forgo his Hippocratic Oath. Instead of treating my husband as the critically ill patient that he was, he viewed Darrell as the enemy. After unspeakable care, a torturous CAT scan and exploratory surgery, my husband finally had a diagnosis—a ruptured colon. The doctor chose to “rinse Darrell’s abdomen with saline and give him antibiotics. He should get better in a few days.” Having no reason to doubt his medical decision, we completely trusted him.

Tragic News

As my husband lay in the hospital bed becoming sicker—and greener, I received an email from my siblings in California. They wanted to call me via Skype. I was so excited to hear from my family! I longed for their love, humor, and encouragement—being that we were in the midst of a very frightening ordeal.

I quickly learned that my siblings were not calling to cheer me up—they were calling with the unexpected news that our beloved mother in California had only one to four hours to live! I was unaware that she was going to have a surgical procedure, and at that time nobody knew there would be a devastating prognosis—including her doctor. My heart was not prepared for such tragic news, and my eyes began to well up with tears. I found it hard to believe that I was about to lose my precious mother, while I was already so worried for my husband.

Immediately, I felt engulfed in the love of God, wrapped about me securely during my desperate time of need. God was truly my Loving Father when I absolutely needed Him!

A Special Sign

Little did we know that while our world was being shaken, the Holy Spirit was waking some of our dear friends in America. Despite it being the middle of the night, our friends felt compelled to check their email and Facebook. In shock, they began to read about our frightening situation.

Suddenly, I realized I was not alone! I began to receive messages of comfort—the written words from loved ones—half a world away. While my husband lay in the hospital bed, too weak to speak, I stepped out onto the balcony of his Ninth Floor room. As a Christian missionary, I absolutely knew that God loved me. But at that frightening moment, I asked God to make Himself very real to me. I learned firsthand that God, Who created the universe, could easily make His presence known. I stood on that balcony with anticipation and a frightened, hurting heart. Within minutes God brought me two beautiful birds that had very specific and very special meanings to me. Most people would be satisfied with such a personal sign; however, since I was in the midst of a “big” situation, I needed a “big” sign! After seeing the two “Joanie-sent” birds, I said, “That’s good, God, but... that’s not it.”

My heart needed something extraordinary, and I am thrilled to share that my God delivered! I scanned the skies for my sign, when I noticed a crow begin to fly towards the Ninth Floor of the hospital. Mind you, the bird did not go to the Tenth Floor, and he did not go to the Eighth Floor—he flew directly at me! As the crow grew nearer—about to land on the next room’s balcony—I could clearly see that he had a french fry in his beak!! You see, My Heavenly Father knows that french fries are my number one comfort food! He knew the magnitude of the trial I was facing, and He made sure that I felt special—and very loved!

Surgery on Demand

I entered Darrell’s room with tear-filled eyes, full of excitement sharing what God had so kindly done for me. However, I was no sooner jolted back to reality when I got word that my precious mom had passed away—and at the same time, I could see my husband was getting even sicker. I earnestly began to pray, asking God to spare my husband’s life. My constant prayer was, “Please, Lord, not both of them at the same time.”

My husband was admitted on a Saturday evening, but by Wednesday afternoon he was green with sepsis and peritonitis. The poisons that were inside of him came pouring out in his breath. Then suddenly, my deathly ill husband jolted from his quietness, and sternly demanded surgery! He exclaimed, “Whatever it is, take it, just take it!!”

I quickly ran from the room to the nurse’s station exclaiming that my husband was crashing, and he outright asked for surgery. Within a few minutes, a large group of hospital staff began to gather around the station. Soon, the doctor who had been feigning care for my husband arrived in our room. Sensing our frustration and fear, he said that it was time to call in a colleague. (Finally!!)

The Realm of Peace

With so many people praying, God answered our prayers by not only replacing the doctor who seemingly wanted my husband to die, but replaced him with the number one surgeon in the entire country!

After Darrell’s life-saving surgery, the surgeon came out to greet me carrying a surgical tray which held Darrell’s entire sigmoid colon. Seeing the grotesque bubbles and colors of the abscessed specimen, along with the dark discoloration around the rupture, I understood why it looked like Darrell was dying—because he was! (Darrell finally shared with me, some 14 months later, that he had had a beautiful, peaceful, near-death experience. Tears welled up in my eyes upon hearing how content he was—that if he had died that day, it would have been fine, because the realm he was in was that perfect!) After surgery, Darrell was taken to ICU to recover for a couple of days from the complex surgery that left him with a colostomy.


Not only did I lose my beloved mother without hugging her goodbye or kissing her cheek and telling her what a wonderful mother she was, I also learned that I was going to miss her funeral.

Despite my latest heartbreak, God once again comforted me in an incredible way. He showered me with an abundance of grace. The Psalms became real, and became a balm to my soul. I was comforted so distinctly, that at one point I felt like my body was hit with a wave— similar to a wave from an ocean, but without getting wet. It was incredible! I was able to dry my eyes, stand up tall, and be strong for my husband, who truly needed me.

God also gave me the strength to smile. I was in a hospital full of people that quite possibly did not know the Lord. I had to be strong or they would think my God was unable to help me. When the hospital workers learned of my mother’s death, they began to peek into our room and look at me. I purposed to always smile at them. As they began to come into our room, they noticed the Gospel tracts lying on the hospital tray. There were stacks of tracts in the three languages spoken in that country. The workers would point to the ones they could read, and I would nod my head yes, smiling at them. What a thrill it was to see them take the tracts with joy. I was also blessed to lead six precious English-speaking souls to the Lord, while standing at the foot of Darrell’s bed. God was so good to us, making it very clear that yes, we were still on a mission trip!

The Humorous and the Inhumane

While Darrell was in ICU, he was extremely weak and his words were few. In fact, his inability to speak made for one very funny experience! The two nurses caring for the patients in ICU looked through Darrell’s toiletry bag and pulled out a jar of hair wax. The ladies could not read the English words on the jar’s label, so they unscrewed the lid to smell the light green mystery product. They must have liked the clean, fresh scent because they scooped the wax with their fingers and proceeded to rub it on my husband’s arms, chest and back! He was simply too weak to ask them to stop, and to explain that the product they were smearing on his body was actually meant for his hair!

After Darrell’s release from ICU, he was back in a regular hospital room. He was once again under the care of the first doctor—who by all outward appearances was not doing much of anything to spare my husband’s life.

Darrell's recovery was slow, but we rejoiced when he made any progress—the first time he stood, his first, short walk, and the first time he could drink their amazing tea!

Then, as if our story wasn’t dramatic enough, the local newspaper declared there was a conflict between the United States and their country, and it made the front page—in large, bold letters! The doctor who clearly had issues with Darrell stared at the headlines for an overly-exaggerated amount of time. He sighed out loud, then looked at Darrell with utter disgust. You could almost hear his thoughts, “You are the enemy!”

This caused the doctor to treat my husband so inhumanely, that we cannot share specific details in our public speaking sessions—it really is that graphic!

Daily, this doctor, in a filthy hospital, would touch my husband’s open wounds with his unwashed, ungloved hands. I cringed every time he did this, but I dared not say anything. I surely did not want to make our already horrible situation any worse. I could only silently pray for the Lord to take care of my husband.

The day of Darrell’s discharge, the doctor repeatedly came to our room asking strange questions. The first was, “What kind of training did you have, because your body...I don’t understand it...it’s as if you’re Superman.” He came back later and asked what kind of vitamins Darrell took, and later asked about his exercise regimen. He referred to Darrell as “Superman” on four separate occasions.

The Lord was so good to us. I believe He kept the reality of the doctor’s horrific actions out of our minds until we landed on U.S. soil. It was as if we had a veil of sorts—the inability to understand the danger—which was our emotional protection provided by God. I think had we known, it would have been too much for us to bear.

As I began to write my book, With Unwashed Hands, I researched medical definitions to explain “sepsis” and “peritonitis.” I also looked up the proper treatment for a patient suffering from a ruptured colon. Stunned, I read that there is only one thing for a doctor to do—immediate, life-saving surgery! I began to cry.

It was at that moment that I knew the doctor was simply waiting for my husband to die, and that explained why he was so baffled that Darrell was still alive days after the doctor said he had “the worst case of peritonitis I have ever seen!”—hence his referring to Darrell as “Superman.”

But thanks be to God, our Great Physician. He not only trumped the evil plot of a doctor, He did so with a miracle! I am forever grateful!

Not Just Along for the Ride!

As we began our journey home, we were advised to take a five-day layover in Thailand to make sure Darrell was strong enough for the long flight across the ocean. We went to church our first night there, and Darrell even preached!

After a fantastic service and a quick bite to eat, we settled in our hotel for the night. Darrell washed up and went straight to bed. He was sleeping alone in a twin bed, but I was prompted to go over and bother Darrell to peek at his incision, despite the fact that I purposed never to disturb him when he was resting. He groggily pulled down the covers and lifted up his shirt, revealing a dark reddish-brown circle on his incision—it was hot to the touch! Darrell had no idea he was going to sleep with an internal, fevered infection! We rushed him to a hospital, where it was revealed that the infection had already burned a hole the size of a quarter in his stomach sheath lining.

Darrell had three surgeries—some in Third World countries without adequate pain management. The miracle in this part of our story is that I should not have even been there. Years ago, I had a spinal fusion. Between five pounds of steel in my back and a ruptured disc, my surgeon did not want me sitting for longer than 30 minutes at a time.

Since Darrell had traveled to Asia many times, he told me that the long flights would be much too hard on my back. I agreed. But as Darrell was planning this particular trip, I told him that I felt led to join him. With Darrell in agreement, I accompanied him to Asia for the very first time.

If Darrell had had a man for a roommate, like in the previous 17 countries he had traveled to, I believe he would have slept with that burning infection and woke up in Heaven. How wonderful that God knew of our great need long before we even had it!

One Powerful Message!

When we finally returned to the U.S., we focused on Darrell’s gaining his strength back so he could have his colostomy reversed. After five months of healthy eating, the doctor performed the complicated surgery.

However, due to the mistreatment from the overseas doctor and a total of four abdominal surgeries, Darrell is left with multiple, bulging hernias and a ten-pound lifting limit. Thankfully, this limitation has not squelched my husband’s desire to continue serving on the mission field. Since his final surgery, Darrell has been to ten different countries with a message more powerful than ever!

(Working through MVP Missions, Joanie and Darrell Bolton utilize one of their greatest assets—their ability to genuinely and compassionately interact with people from all walks of life. Since Darrell’s military retirement in 2004, they have visited 24 nations, speaking in local villages and towns, teaching students in public schools, bringing food and toys to orphans, and encouraging missionaries—most often in Third World countries. For more information about the Bolton’s ministries, visit http://www.withunwashedhands.com.)

Article Link: http://ccmusa.org/read/read.aspx?id=chg20150201
To reuse online, please credit Challenger, Apr-Jun 2015. CCMUSA.