“Love alone is life” – A Testimony by Tom Taffel

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My work was cut out for me….get rid of the fear, my fear,  Jess’ fear, the hospital staff’s fear.  We read in the Bible that “Perfect love casteth out fear.” And that’s exactly what I needed to see in place of the morbid human picture; perfect love.

 

 

“Love alone is life”    

 by  Tom Taffel       

 March 5, 2012

 

On the second day of our “Capitals of Europe” group cruise we sailed into Marseille.  One of my oldest gay friends and passengers strained to lift a heavy bag and suddenly required immediate surgery to save his life.  The ship’s doctor told Jess he had one hour to disembark the ship because his strangulated hernia required immediate, emergency surgery at the nearest hospital: L’Hopital Nord, France’s second largest hospital, a general assistance/teaching hospital in Marseille.

 

Jess’ sister, his 98 year-old Mother and I quickly gathered his items of necessity and escorted him to the waiting van.  Sadly no one could remain in Marseille with Jess who was eighty years old and spoke no French. Jess was hugged good-bye and was assured he was loved.  From the gangway, we could see the van speed off, unable to imagine what awaited us all. My parting thoughts were: “God goes with him and stays with us.”

 

For the duration of the cruise, I kept in constant communication with the hospital, hoping Jess would be released a few days after his operation and would rejoin us, mid-cruise in Amsterdam.  But peritonitis set in and a second surgery was required to once again save his life.  To complicate matters, Jess’ kidneys were close to failing so he would not be released in time to rejoin the cruise in Amsterdam nor would he be allowed to leave the hospital in time to fly home with the group at the end of the cruise.  He was destined to stay in Marseille for a long time, alone.

 

On his 25th day in the hospital, Jess’ sister called asking if I would fly to Marseille to bring Jess home. I was the only one they knew who could deal with all the international issues and complications involved.  Beside, his family (which included two medical doctors), were too busy to get away for three days.

 

I asked God for guidance and then I listened, listened, listened.  I made arrangements with my visa credit card bank to accept a $30,000 charge from the hospital in Marseilles, while booking my flights to France, I was guided to buy $109 worth of beautifully boxed and gift-wrapped Parker ballpoint pens. 

 

I arrived at the hospital late the next afternoon.  My heart sank when the driver pointed out what appeared to be a prison was in fact the hospital.  Entering the dimly lit, blistering hot, smoke-filled lobby — as the lobby lights began to flicker and die — I asked the receptionist for Jess’ room number.

 

Walking down the sweltering hot, bleak and noisy halls, the din of construction was all around. Unlike an American hospital where a wing would be shut down for construction, jackhammers and torches worked around the patients.

 

After twenty-five days of hospitalization, Jess had lost 30 pounds.  There was nothing more the medical team could do.  He was failing to heal.  Jess’ doctor, (and professor of internal medicine), wanted him to return home, rather than pass away in the hospital.  For whatever reason, Jess was no longer receiving intravenous liquids.  In addition to being malnourished, he was seriously dehydrated, and this was the summer of 2003 – the worst heat wave in the history of France and Europe in which 14,802 people died from the excessive heat – in France alone!

 

I remember knocking on the closed, hollow, double-steel door, and hearing nothing, and slowly opening the door to hear a weak voice cry out: “hi-ho, is that my friend from San Francisco?”  The room felt like a sauna.  With no air conditioning, (or even a fan), Jess’ hospital room was unbearably sultry.  There was no bathroom, or even a cloth towel– only paper napkins.   There he was, weighing thirty pounds less than a month ago.  He was so pale, ashen gray, and dehydrated, but he wanted to come home.   When I hugged him, he was limp and weak. I was shocked and very fearful.  I was responsible for getting Jess home…alive!

 

Mrs. Eddy is emphatic, unwavering, and does not mince her words in “Science and Health” on page 411: 27 of the Christian Science textbook:  “Always begin your treatment by allaying the fear of patients.  Silently reassure them as to their exemption from disease and danger.  Watch the result of this simple rule of Christian Science, and you will find that it alleviates the symptoms of every disease.  If you succeed in wholly removing the fear, your patient is healed.”

 

Mrs. Eddy does not suggest we begin our treatment by allaying the fear.  She does not imply that this is a good general practice.  She states:  “always” and “always” means “always!”   Then she goes on to say: “Silently reassure them as to their exemption from disease and danger.”  For me, the key word is “silently.”  And so, I did just that.

 

My work was cut out for me….get rid of the fear, my fear,  Jess’ fear, the hospital staff’s fear.  We read in the Bible that “Perfect love casteth out fear.” And that’s exactly what I needed to see in place of the morbid human picture; perfect love.

 

I knew that I had a lot to do – and very quickly.  Having been in frequent E-mail communication with the ship’s port agent in France, I knew that I would not be allowed – under any circumstances – to spend the night in the hospital.  But it was so unbearably hot; the hotel in the town was far away and there was so little time to accomplish everything that needed to be done by morning.

 

The nurses’ station was depressing and hot with only one fan for two offices.  Drenched in perspiration I began speaking in my best high school French, explaining I was there to bring Jess back to the United States, they could not conceal their sad, sympathetic, forced smiles knowing the task before me.

 

Believing Jess should not be left alone that night and knowing the hospital rules, I humbly asked if I could spend the night in Jess’ room?   The answer was an expected, “ce n’est pas possible.”  I turned to God and humbly asked:  “What would you have me do, what would you have me say…and to whom?”  Without a moment’s hesitation, I presented both nurses beautifully wrapped pens.  They were at first reluctant, then receptive, then delighted.  A quiet conversation between the nurses ensued.  Then one nurse left abruptly.  The other nurse put her finger to her lips and said: “En silence!”   I understood.  God never takes us half-way, He takes us all the way.  I held to this comforting truth: every right idea carries with it everything necessary to complete that right idea.

 

I requested a “chaise roulante” (wheel chair) for our departure the next morning. The nurse made a notation in the logbook for the morning shift.   By the time I returned to Jess’ room, a cot had been rolled in and made up for me to spend the night in his room.  I was grateful.

 

In spite of Jess’ weak condition and inability to stand, the hope I saw in his eyes, I will never forget.  I felt an incredible bond, a pact.  I knew I couldn’t and wouldn’t fail.  I held to this uplifting thought: “He knows the angles that you need, and sends them to your side, to comfort, guard and guide.”  (Hymn #9)

 

Jess’ meager dinner arrived.  He wouldn’t eat the small container of generic  “Ensure” — which tasted like warm flavored chalk water.  Jess was dehydrated, but to what extent, I could never have imagined.

With less than two hours sleep that night, I started preparing.  But first, breakfast arrived: a bowl of warm water and granulated chocolate.  The chocolate would not go into solution but just floated on the surface of the water.   There was Melba toast and a piece of butter.  (Oh, for some good airline food.)

 

Two nurses arrived to instruct me in French – and show me how to change Jess’ dressing while standing in the airplane lavatory at 39,000 feet.  Because of the peritonitis, a gaping incision in his side had to be left open in order to allow drainage and healing from within. They gave me extra gauze and antiseptic to take along. They  couldn’t have been nicer, more helpful, loving and caring.

 

By 9:00AM no wheel chair had arrived.  The nurses were reminded a wheel chair was needed.  I went to pay Jess’ hospital bill.  The cashier took my credit card, but it did not go through.  I asked the cashier to try again, but it did not go through a second time — and that was that!

 

There was no room for complications at this point.  I silently acknowledged that God was indeed the master of details and we were in His hands.  And so, I reached into my pocket and presented a gift-wrapped ballpoint pen.  She made a third attempt and “voila!” the charge was accepted.

 

It was now 9:40AM and still no wheel chair.  There was another plea for one to be delivered, immediately.  Out came another one of those wonderful pens.

 

The scope of the challenges became clear.  Jess was in too much discomfort and just too weak, malnourished and dehydrated for a fifteen-hour journey.  His draining incision was not healed enough to travel, but now there was no other choice.  Jess would need to rally his frail body to a feat far beyond his physical strength and endurance.

 

His family gave me explicit instructions:  I had to return with Jess’ complete medical records, X-rays and proof of payment or Kaiser would not reimburse his expenses.  But the nurses were forbidden to give me any hospital records.  After all, this was a government hospital.  Two more pens came in handy.  The nurses immediately called the doctor.  Fortunately he spoke better English than I spoke French.  Understanding the Kaiser reimbursement dilemma, he authorized the photo copying of Jess’ complete medical file and the release of his X-rays.

 

The doctor was a very kind, gentle man and wanted to allow Jess his hope.  He wrote an overly optimistic note to Lufthansa’s flight surgeon which he felt would allow Jess to at least board the plane in spite of his compromised physical condition.  The medical staff had done all they could do and they wished us well on our long journey home.

 

At 11AM, a wheel chair finally arrived and soon we were on our way to Marseille’s International Airport where the temperature had already reached ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit.

 

The van driver immediately went into the terminal and called for a wheel chair – which never arrived.  We couldn’t wait any longer and we couldn’t turn back.  There were no alternatives as there was no space on any other Lufthansa flights out of Marseille back to San Francisco.

 

So again I asked Divine Mind for guidance.  I looked for a baggage trolley — made a makeshift seat out of our two carry-on bags and sat Jess facing backward.  He was too weak to hold on, so I held his hands tightly around the trolley frame as I pushed him through the airport concourse toward our gate.

 

Boarding the small commuter jet with the aid of our two pilots was a slow and tedious task, especially all those steps.  Jess collapsed in his seat.  He so desperately wanted to live and go home to America.  I buckled him in and immediately encouraged him to drink as much liquid as possible throughout the flight to Munich.  He was so pale and weak, I prayed throughout the flight: “Self-forgetfullness, purity, and affection are constant prayers.” (S&H 15:26)

 

Arriving in Munich airport, our Lufthansa pilots requested a special van to transport us to the waiting Airbus 340 bound for San Francisco.

 

Lufthansa upgraded us to business class, adjacent to the lavatory.  While Jess slept peacefully, I prayed Mrs. Eddy’s “Mother’s Evening Prayer:”  “O gentle presence, peace and joy and power; O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour, Thou Love that guards the nestling’s faltering flight!  Keep Thou my child on upward wing tonight.”

 

Upon arrival at SFO, we drove directly to Kaiser Hospital.  In spite of all the fluids Jess had been drinking on the flight, he was diagnosed with severe dehydration.  He was attached to two I.V.’s, had his incision cleaned and re-bandaged and within three days Jess was hydrated, nourished, released and working in his garden.

 

I feel very blessed. No experience ever leaves us where it finds us.  I was forced to grow.   I think my experience is best summarized by Mary Baker Eddy in S&H 518:13. The marginal heading reads: “Assistance in brotherhood.”   “God gives the lesser idea of Himself for a link to the greater, and in return, the higher always protects the lower.  The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother’s need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another’s good.  Love giveth to the least spiritual idea, might, immortality, and goodness, which shine through all as the blossom shines through the bud.  All the varied expressions of God reflect health, holiness, immortality- infinite Life, Truth, and Love.”