“You don’t look like what you’ve been through!” people say. And they ask, “How did you get through that?” In answer, I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that I have had moments of anger, questioning, and deep hurt over what happened. But then I consider the truth I’ve learned, that out of our pain, out of tragedies we have lived, our God is constantly at work to serve His highest purpose, the salvation of many.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
My heart raced, pounding as if it would jump right out of my body. Pain gripped me mercilessly, holding me prisoner, powerless. What in the world is happening to me? I thought as the room swarmed with white coats and green scrubs. What was all of the fuss about? Feeling confused, I watched them scurry like determined ants. Wait a minute; this is about me!
I sensed the panic in the room, swelling by the second. The expression on their faces, all directed at me, confirmed my worst nightmare–it’s a fatal emergency. Fright overwhelmed me, and I looked at my husband, Shawn. Appearing just as alarmed, Shawn gazed at me, seemingly helpless to change the unfolding scene. Something was terribly wrong. Sweeping into the room with haste, the doctor explained, “We have to reset her heart. Where’s the husband?” Like a student in class, Shawn raised his hand, “Right here!” With his attention directed at Shawn, the doctor urged, “OK, it’s your job to keep her here.”
Holding my hand with both intense tenderness and strength, Shawn fixed his eyes on mine and started talking. I can’t remember what he said, but our conversation rose above the dread-filled air in the room. In that moment it was just me and my husband of only 11⁄2 years. Still newlyweds, deeply in love. My room buzzed with what seemed like the entire staff from the floor. This was my ground zero.
I had seen reactions like this before, about 15 years earlier. Filled with new graduate excitement and youthful vigor, I embarked upon my first career, in full-time professional physical therapy, working on acute care and in the intensive-care units. It wouldn’t be long before I would observe, and, in some cases, act out as a physical therapist, what I had read about in textbooks. And I would witness the pace and focus of medicine's servants in a patient's room, all with one mission in mind—saving life.
Now I was the patient. The physician announced, “Tricia, this will probably hurt; it won’t feel good.” He was about to reset my heart’s rhythm, and they had to act quickly. Unbeknownst to me, my heart was threatening to race me right out of existence.
Shawn continued his conversation with me, seeming to ignore the crowd of worried medical professionals. Like lovers in the park, we kept talking, until, suddenly, he was alone, in what he describes as the single most frightening moment of his life—the moment that his wife’s life seemed to slip out of his hands. I felt nothing; heard nothing; sensed nothing; said nothing. But my heart slowed to a near halt and was then slowly brought back.
Death is a thief. One instant you’re here— breathing, hearing, talking, smelling, feeling. their hour will come” (Eccl. 9:12, NIV). Thankfully, my God brought me back.
But how in the world did I get here? Months of abdominal pain diagnosed as ovarian torsion; a diagnostic pelvic laparoscopy because of persistent discomfort; and now having my heart rest by panic-stricken nurses and doctors?
Just a year prior I had married a wonderful man, was officially commissioned as a pastor in the gospel ministry, and nearly to the date, preached at our denomination's annual Pastoral Leadership and Evangelism Council (PELC). The Holy Spirit moved among us mightily; 120 pastors and leaders felt compelled to gather immediately afterward for a moving and protracted prayer session.1 I could never know that after such a year of blessing I would be fighting for my life.
It had all started with the onset of sudden abdominal pain months earlier. Terror gripped me as I nearly fainted on the cold bathroom floor. I was home alone and frightened by what had come as suddenly as a tsunami. I reached for my phone: “Babe, I think I am going to have to go to the hospital.” Hanging up, I dialed 9-1-1. “Hello, what’s your emergency?” The voice on the other end sounded calm and distant. I explained the best I could, wondering all the while if I was over-reacting, yet certain I needed immediate medical attention. I felt so scared, frightened by the severity of the pain. I’ve never experienced pain like this before, I thought. “Please, I’m in pain. I need help.”
Having nearly passed out, I knew something was terribly wrong. I had never experienced such symptoms. I’d incurred sports injuries from my athletic days, but had never had pain like this, nor nearly fainted because of it. As a physical therapy student, I was definitely not a fainter, not at the sight of blood, when watching heart surgeries performed, knees replaced, or working on cadavers.
The paramedics arrived, assessed, and took me to the hospital. The pain continued. As I watched, hospital workers frantically dashed from room to room, to nursing station, and again from room to room in the ER. I knew that only God would be able to help me. I know that humans have a level of understanding in pathology. But I also know that we can go down the wrong diagnostic path without God’s guidance. Lying there in the hallway on a bed, I prayed, holding my hand over my throbbing abdomen. After numerous tests and assessments, they sent me home with a probable diagnosis, ovarian torsion, and a prognosis of recovery within a week.
I continued to follow up with my gynecologist (OB/GYN), who assured me that this malaise would resolve within a few days. It did not. Instead, the pain grew worse. Multiple visits to my doctor, numerous diagnostic imaging tests, provided no reasonable answer. I kept pushing through—working, traveling, attending meetings; hurting. Until my OB/GYN determined to take a look inside by way of diagnostic pelvic laparoscopy, moving, reasonably, from least to more invasive procedures. After months of pain, I agreed. Such pain should not be ignored. It is the body’s way of letting us know that something needs attention. Unaddressed pain can yield disaster.
Procedure scheduled, we arrived on time to sign the necessary paperwork. The morning of November 29, 2017, seemed like any other day. They completed the simple probe without any reasonable findings to account for the level of agony I had been experiencing over the previous months. With instructions and prescriptions in hand, Shawn took me home to recover over the next few days. Unbeknownst to us, that would be the last “normal” day we would enjoy that year. We walked into the outpatient diagnostic facility with no clue that this would be the beginning of the greatest test of our faith, our marriage, and our life.
God be praised, I not only survived, but, by His grace, discovered triumph. I came to appreciate what I preach in the most direct way possible, personal experience. Now a great truth controls my thinking. It is the knowledge that what I experience can make me a greater blessing. Paul has told us of God, “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:3, 4, NIV). Now I can. And I can stand with my unnamed sister from two millennia ago, who lived in pain until Jesus healed her and insisted that she tell her story, which, I’m told, “is Heaven’s chosen agency for revealing Christ to the world. We are to acknowledge His grace as made known through the holy men of old; but that which will be most effectual is the testimony of our own experience. We are witnesses for God as we reveal in ourselves the working of a power that is divine. . . . God desires that our praise shall ascend to Him, marked by our own individuality. These precious acknowledgments to the praise of the glory of His grace, when supported by a Christlike life, have an irresistible power that works for the salvation of souls.”2
It is with this faith that I write and share my story. I know that someone who has faced or is currently in a sudden “storm,” difficulty, or adverse circumstance, someone who needs both encouragement and salvation, will find it through my story.
1 See https://www.adventistreview.org/church-news/story-holy-spirit-disrupts-adventist-pastors’-meeting
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 347.
Tricia Payne pastors in the Lake Region Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. This article is based on material from her book, The Fight for My Life: What I Discovered as I Triumphed Through Tragedy.