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Stories

Treating Toxicity: Pablo's Story, by Tim Leaman

And so the story poured out in desperate bursts and fragments — from the old surgery, to the fire that still burned in his stomach. A decade and a half before he had begun to have significant abdominal pain, and a surgeon in the Chicago area attempted to correct it but was unsuccessful. The aftermath was severe postsurgical complications, resulting in a long hospital stay, and later two repeat surgeries to attempt to resolve the problem. But the three surgeries, rather than solving anything, left him in worse pain than ever.

“I lost everything,” he said, as he described how his inability to work led to the loss of his job, the disintegration of his marriage and the onset of deep depression. Now, years later, after several moves and many doctors, he continued to have severe chronic abdominal pain, which hadn’t been controlled.

“He ruined my life,” he repeated over and over as he relayed the story, between spells of tears. His angry tone suggested that now bitterness, as much as pain, controlled his life. When I gently raised this observation, he didn’t disagree, rather going on to explain the pre-occupation he has lived with of gaining revenge on this surgeon. He had finally left the Chicago area, at least partly because of his recurring urge to find this man and kill him. Now distance was between them, but the hatred still burned.

Unsure what to offer, I asked, “Are you part of any church or religious background?" And immediately the tears began to flow again. A whole new story unfolded. He was a former evangelist, who had traveled for years throughout Central America and the Caribbean, preaching and leading crusades. He had been active in ministry in Chicago, together with holding a well- paying job there before all these medical complications struck.Together with everything else, his ministry had crumbled. He had continued to attend church, and was attending a Pentecostal congregation in the year since he had moved to Philadelphia, but he continued to struggle mightily with why God had allowed all this to happen in his life.

Renewing Pablo’s expired depressionmedicines and antacid medicines, along with referring him to a stomach specialist was an easy place to start. As it was already late, and we had long since passed our scheduled time for the visit, I considered delaying any further interventions until a follow-up visit could be arranged.

What more could be done anyway in a few short minutes for pains that has obviously been years in the making, I wondered. But something pushed me further. “I want you to restart these medicines,” I said, “but I really think that’s only dealing with a piece of your problem.” Knowing I was venturing out on a limb, I shared, “It’s clear this condition has taken over your life. The bitterness you feel toward this surgeon is consuming you. Unless you begin to release your hatred to this surgeon, I don’t think you’re ever going to be able to move forward. And I doubt we’ll be able to treat your stomach pain.”

I didn’t know what to expect. But as we continued to share, it seemed that something has struck a chord.

“Can we pray for you?” I asked, “that God would touch the places you’re hurting and help you to let go of this bitterness?”

Pablo readily agreed. And so the three of us prayed together for healing, for grace to forgive, for freedom, and for God’s love to be felt in Pablo’s heart.

A few weeks later, I got a letter from the gastroenterologist - and pictures from Pablo’s stomach. He had seen some active inflammation and agreed with continuing the antacid medicine.

Not long after that, Pablo returned for his follow-up visit. As the medical assistant brought him toward a room, he cheerily stopped to shake my hand and greet me warmly. As I entered the room, it was evident something had changed.

No sooner had I sat down, than he declared, “I'm a whole new person.” “Ever since we prayed together”, he said, “things are different. I’ve started praying for my surgeon. I forgave him and now I’m praying for his salvation. I’ve been able to worship again. I’ve felt peace. My stomach pain is gone. I talked to my pastor and there might be opportunities for me to start serving in our church. I’m a completely different person.”

As Pablo thanked me repeatedly, I listened in amazement, remembering how close I’d come to sending him home with just a few pills. Yet somehow, God had used a small step of faith, to bring a radical transformation in his heart and body. And the same medicines that had failed to control the pain previously, now were working perfectly - the extra acid of bitterness apparently forgiven away.

“God is so wonderful,” gushed Pablo.

I couldn’t agree more.

“He took away my manhood,” spilled out this sixty-year old man just before breaking into tears on his first visit to our office, as he shared with us his story of an unsuccessful surgery, now almost 15 years ago. Squeezed into the final walk-in slot of the day, I recognized this would be a challenging visit as soon as the excellent physician-assistant student working with me popped out of the room after spending only five minutes with the gentleman, to suggest that I join them from the start since it might be too complicated a story to tell twice.