We were just starting worship one Sunday morning when the sister of my good friend slipped into the sanctuary and caught my attention. “Shirley is in the hospital and she is in intensive care,” she told me.
I was surprised because I had seen my friend just two days ago and she had been fine. Immediately everyone in the church began to intercede in prayer for her, wondering what could have happened to the healthy and active mother of two.
I found out later that Shirley had started to feel ill on the evening of the Friday I had seen her. She assumed at first that it was just an attack of irritable bowel, but by Saturday afternoon she had developed a high fever and intense pain. Her children were away, and the phone was not near her bedside. She was too ill to get up to get a glass of water or make a phone call for help.
Her mother returned to the house they shared in the early hours of Sunday morning, having been visiting relatives several hours away. She was astonished to see how ill Shirley was, and quickly took Shirley to the hospital.
Nurses discovered Shirley had a fever of 106 degrees F and her blood pressure was dangerously low. She was quickly taken to a bed in the emergency department and a doctor was summoned. After blood tests, a CT scan and x-rays, the doctor was surprised to discover that Shirley had a very rare illness called Pyometra. One of her ovaries had become so severely infected that she was in septic shock and her own body was poisoning her.
The doctor wanted Shirley to know how perilous her condition was, so she kept leaning close to Shirley and saying urgently, “You are a very sick woman.” Shirley told me later that she thought the doctor believed she did not understand the seriousness of her illness because she was not anxious or frightened as most patients are. She knew her church family was praying for her and was bathed in a feeling of peace and felt the presence of God.
Doctors put Shirley in isolation in the intensive care unit and put her on a cocktail of four of the most powerful antibiotics they had. Time and again she was told how sick she was, but she felt peace, and said she kept hearing a song repeat itself in her mind. In the confusion of her illness she was not able to put the snatches of the song together right away, but she was firmly convinced that it was a message from God.
I visited Shirley as soon as I was allowed and prayed for her. She was weak, but excited to tell me the about the song. She had finally been able to recall the name of it and the words to some of the verses. It was called Angel of the Lord, by Hillsong, and the lyrics went like this: “Surely (Shirley) the angel of the Lord is around me, I will not die but live to tell what He has done.” Shirley was thrilled by this assurance that she would not die, and that God would give her a chance to tell others about her miraculous survival. She was also quite tickled by God’s sense of humour in making a pun of her name.
Shirley told me that she had not been able to pray during her illness and she felt bad about it. She had only been able to cry out, “Help me God!” But God did help her.
The infection did not respond to the antibiotics and the specialist who was called in reluctantly decided that the only hope she had of survival was a risky surgery. He had hoped to be able to knock down the infection enough for her to wait and gain strength for a few months before operating.
Doing surgery on someone so weak was very dangerous. Shirley had no mature white blood cells and the doctor told her later that she was the sickest person in the hospital that day and one of the most challenging cases he’d ever had to deal with in his long career. “You gave me some gray hairs,” he told her later. An emergency hysterectomy was scheduled for the morning.
Shirley knew most people would be terrified of surgery under the circumstances, but again she had great peace. God showed her the faces of her friends who were praying for her. She knew there were some who stayed up that whole night praying. One doctor asked her, “Why are you so calm?” She replied, “I am a Christian. I know where I will go if I die and God is with me.” The doctor was puzzled and worried that she was giving up and said, “Don’t die on my watch.” Shirley laughed and said she wasn’t going to die. The surgeon, who was standing nearby, looked very sad when she said that. Shirley felt he did not think she would get through the operation.
When Shirley woke from the anaesthetic the surgeon was jubilant. He told her it had gone wonderfully and that she would recover, but of course Shirley already knew this. She spent another week in the hospital recovering from the infection and surgery.
On one of the last days of her stay there, a new nurse came on shift, took Shirley’s chart and left the room to look it over. A short while later she returned and stood staring at Shirley with a peculiar expression on her face. Feeling discomfited by the nurse’s strange behaviour, Shirley asked her what was wrong. She replied, “I have never seen anyone alive who had numbers like these.” Shirley had survived the unsurvivable by the miraculous grace of God.
Five years have passed and Shirley has had many opportunities to tell her story of survival. She considers the song Angel of the Lord to be her theme song. She is healthy and strong and happily tells anyone who will listen how God saved her.
~ By Kim Thompson-Pinder