What I Did On My Summer Vacation
(In Four Parts)

Carl Winderl

© Copyright 2020 by Carl Winderl

Photo of a player shooting a foul shot.

Part 1

In writings like 'this one,' the end is always so much better than the beginning.  And this piece, in four parts, will prove no exception -- by far.

On this past June 23rd, my wife, Ronda and I were in Corning, NY, helping our son and his family move into their new home (an olde Victorian actually), along with a move-crew from their church.  All day long it had been raining heavily on and off, and in a lull I was directing traffic on the front steps as the old washer and dryer were brought down from the 2nd floor and the new ones were taken upstairs.

After all the traffic directions, I stood alone on the front steps, then stepping down, both my feet flew out from under me, and I bounced down the steps landing hard several times on the back of my right shoulder, especially my back upper rib cage.

I caught my breath, struggled to stand up, embarrassed, happy no one I knew saw me, and limped around to the backyard, where Zach's family and move-crew stood in the drizzle.  I joked around to them about how clumsy I'd been, but felt okay.

For the next 2 days though I wasn't.

My back seized up:  I couldn't stand, sit, or walk very well.  Even lying down was torture.  Finally, Sunday after church Ronda drove me to an emergency room, where I was thoroughly x-rayed:  but nothing was broken, cracked, fragmented, splintered, even scratched.  Just a lot of deep tissue bruising.

Oh, and a spot.

In the upper third of my right lung a white nodule appeared.  Nothing that out of the ordinary, I was assured, not that big, the doctor said she saw them once in a while.  I was given some pain pills, copies of the x-rays, and told to check in with my primary care physician in San Diego and have another set of x-rays taken.

And so I did, two weeks later I made an appointment, had a 2nd set taken two days later, then needed yet another set done as back-up two days after that.

Then I was told to schedule an appointment with the pulmonary department for Kaiser Permanente.  The soonest I could meet with the head doctor was almost a week, and when I did she said she was ordering a CAT/Scan right away.

She was concerned -- but would wait for those to be returned before she levelled with me.

I was not that concerned because I figured, "God's got this."

Part 2

I mean if I had not fallen on those silly slippery front steps I wouldn't know there was a spot there at all to be confirmed.

Well, the CAT/Scan came back, I met with the Head Doctor of Pulmonary, and she was concerned.

What showed up was a .22 mm suspicious spot (a little bigger than dime-sized) and "active" lymph nodes right next to it.

Based on the history of lots of cancer in my family, the size of the node, and its placement, adjacent to the main bronchial passageway to the upper third of my right lung, the doctor announced I had a 35% chance of cancer.

Thirty-five per cent -- not bad, I thought -- not even half, not a majority, I figured I'd be in the clear.  No, she said -- 5 to 10 per cent is not a concern.  Thirty-five is.

She recommended I have it taken out immediately.

"Whoa," I said.  "I leave on July 25th to go live and teach for the fall semester in London."

"You'll just have to cancel the program," she said.  "This can't wait."

I told her that was not an option -- that Ronda and I teach a fall semester in London with a cohort of Point Loma Nazarene University students; we start on August 1st; room and board, play and train tickets, etc. have all been paid in advance.

What are the options?

So, my doctor, the Head of the KP Pulmonary Department, scheduled me for a PET/Scan -- a CAT/Scan on steroids, no, a type of CAT/Scan where radiated pharmaceuticals are injected into my body and 20 minutes later I'm MRI-like scanned and any "problem" areas light up like a Christmas Tree.  

What ‘lit up’? Only the two previously noted "spots.”

Next then was a Bronchoscopy scheduled for 7:30 on July 19th -- the clock was ticking.  A relatively 'simple' procedure:  once under general anesthesia I received a mouth/throat tube down through my esophagus so that a video camera could explore my upper lung and the 'problem areas'; once identified another probe would be sent down to biopsy a dozen samples of the mass for analysis.  The result:  technically a non-conclusive/we're not sure, but it looks like it needs to come out.

How much?  A lobectomy:  because of the mass and lymph node's locations the upper third of my right lung was to be removed; that is, one of my three right lung lobes.

And I was like, okay.  "God's still got this," because if I hadn't fallen, hadn't done all the scan work and gone on to London until December 1st, who knows how much more and where else these suspicious spots might show up.  I had no real x-ray record from the past.  So this was all one big unknown.

I asked the head pulmonary physician if this were her lung what would she do:  she said I'd have it done ASAP.

Then I asked who would she have perform the surgery:  she didn't hesitate at all -- Dr. Vincent Perricone, Chief Thoracic Surgeon for KP and Chief Teaching Surgeon for the UCSD Med School.

Sign me up I said.

Unfortunately, the soonest he could perform the surgery would be Friday, August 25th.  

Yikes.  I was supposed to be in London one month to the day before that.

We were both to fly to London on Monday, July 25th, but I changed my flight to Friday, the 29th, so that I could do a bunch of breathing, lung capacity tests, EKG's, blood work, etc., etc., etc., in preparation for the surgery one month later.  They wanted an established baseline for what I was like 'normally' to compare to me after the surgery.

I also met with the surgeon on Thursday before I left for London, and he walked me through the surgery and the complicated but necessary month-long recovery period.

Plus, I asked him, if he were me what would he do.  His reply, he'd have the surgery next week.  He made it sound urgent.  It's not like he was looking for work.  Every Friday he performs this surgery on 4 - 6 patients; I was to be his first at 5:30 a.m. on Friday, August 25th.

So, here was the surgery I was to looking at:  it's called VATS -- video-assisted thoracic surgery.  A 5" incision was to be made between my ribs for the camera and robotic arm with its various "utensils"; 2 more holes/incisions would be made under my rib cage near the bottom lobe -- one for the laporopscopy and the other for 'drainage.'  A chest tube would be inserted for accidental lung collapse (they were going to collapse it, when they were ready); a spinal tap, an epidural for my chest cavity and thoracic area, plus a breathing tube down my throat into my lungs, a morphine drip, and a very cool arterial shunt inside my left wrist that would monitor and record every breath I took, measuring its effectiveness, etc.

And of course a urinary catheter and maybe some other minor doo-dads I've now forgotten.

 That was what I had to look forward to when basically they were going to amputate my lung:  fully one-third of it.

But I still felt, "God's got this."

Part 3

I flew to London on July 29th, started my classes on an accelerated schedule so that I could ideally have my one-month recuperation in San Diego and when I returned October 1st I'd pick up where I left off, albeit perhaps a little more careful about not catching cold nor any other upper respiratory issues.

I did all my condensed teaching in London for three and a half weeks, and then Ronda and I flew back to San Diego on Tuesday, August 22nd, so that on Wednesday I could have more last-minute bloodwork, etc., do all my pre-admit paperwork in-person, and on-line, pay my share of the hospital fees, meet with the anesthesiologist for an hour and 15 minutes to walk step-by-step through the procedure, and at the end of the day I had one last CAT/Scan so that the surgical team would have an up-to-the-minute picture of what they were going after.

And then Thursday morning at 11 Ronda and I had an appointment with the surgeon who was going to head up the team removing that part of my lung.

It was a long and busy day for me:  plus I had fasted all day in prep for the CAT/Scan.

At the end of the day we celebrated by dining at the 1st eating establishment we came to after leaving the hospital:  Carl's Jr.

I went to bed on Wednesday night, thinking, praying, knowing:  God's got this.

In retrospect, I think I maybe felt a little like Isaac the night before he and his dad were to go up on the mountain.  I felt real peace and trust.

Thursday morning I awoke, did my usual writing, reading devotional morning activities, and at 9 a.m. I was sitting on the stairs putting on my shoes getting ready to head for our appointment with the surgeon, when lo & behold my Iphone rang, and it was him.  Why was he calling me?

He was calling to cancel my surgery.

He had seen the previous day's CAT/Scan images and said:  "Your spot has reduced to a snowflake.  I'm cancelling your surgery -- giving your slot to somebody else."

I started weeping; Ronda had overheard our conversation and starting jumping up 'n' down on the steps.

I still get teary-eyed at the thought of those moments, even as I type this.

Well, we kept our appointment with him because we still had that hour slot.  So, in his office, he put up on his huge flat screen the previous day's CAT/Scan images and the ones from a month prior.  He actually beamed as he pointed out the difference, saying, "Here's the mass -- here's the snowflake."  To me it looked like a pinpoint, but I wasn't going to debate him.  I asked him how he would explain it; he shrugged and said, "It evaporated."  He truly was as happy as we were, because not often in his office does he share in such good news.

Then he pronounced the 'kicker':  "you couldn't bribe me to do surgery now!"

I said, "I know what happened.  I've been healed."  Then I proceeded to tell him the long list of people who'd been praying for me:  family, friends, colleagues, even the students in London formed a circle around me the day before I flew back to San Diego, laid hands on me, and Ronda prayed down the fire.

Plus, Zach went forward in his church in Corning, NY, on a Sunday morning to be my "stand-in," so that the pastor could anoint him in my place, while he knelt at the altar and the elders and his and Jordan's friends came forward to lay hands on him, -- again, in place of me.

In my previous meeting with the surgeon I had shared my faith, told him of my calling as a Christian professor, and of our intended plans to be missionaries in Zagreb, Croatia, starting March 1st, 2018.

His response:  he encouraged me to keep having people pray for me, and if the spot & node don't return let those prayers be used for something else.

Finally, he told me to be sure and have a follow-up CAT/Scan in 4 to 6 months to keep track of my lung.

Well, Ronda and I drove home on clouds of delight, wonder, and awe.

As soon as we walked into the house she made phone calls to her mom, then Zach, and Allie.

After her calls, I came down stairs, told her to come sit beside me on the couch, and revealed to her what had happened to me on Thursday, August 10th, at 8:45 a.m. in a chapel service held daily in the Christian residence which was our home away from home while we and the students were living in London.

I had a poetry book in my hands (I always have one with me, especially in church services, in case I feel 'inspired' to write something) and I showed her what I had written on a blank page:  "It's Your breath in our lungs, So we pour out our praise, pour out our praise -- Great Are You Lord!"  and beneath that, "Lee Abbey Chapel, 8:45 a.m., 8/10/17."

Then I told her when I 1st sang those words that morning I felt a warm tingle start in my chest and spread throughout my body:  I felt warm and peaceful all over.  That's the best I can do to explain it.  And tears fell and flowed, throughout the rest of the song, and even after I sat down, as John Wesley himself once said, "I felt my heart strangely warmed."  And that is what I felt.

Of course, the two of us had a little shouting spell, embracing and rejoicing, in front of our cat and everything.
She asked me why I hadn't said something before?  I shrugged, I don't know -- I just didn't want to cry, "Wolf!" if I was just experiencing a normal run-of-the-mill out-pouring of the Holy Spirit.  Really, I didn't want to get anybody's hopes up -- especially mine -- if I wasn't having my own little Aldersgate Experience.

Well the rest of the day was pretty much of a blur.

And the next day Ronda composed a general e-mail (much briefer and concise than this) to our prayer family, friends, and warriors letting them 'Know.'  And she of course included it to our students in London and the Lee Abbey community in the residence there.

So, we had a free weekend, basically, to relax and exult and extol before flying back to London on Tuesday, August 29th -- instead of being in ICU for 24 to 48 hours before I'd've been released to my own private germ-free room for 3 to 5 days with no visitors allowed -- just hospital staff and Ronda, for fear of contracting any kind of respiratory infection.  And Zach wouldn't have to fly in for two weeks of 24/7 dad duty, and Allie wouldn't have to do her week or so of the same.

Tuesday then, Ronda and I flew to London; Wednesday only slightly jet lagged I was out and about in the residence when the rector's wife, Flora, came up to me, hugged me, and welcomed me 'home.'  She and her husband, sharing the Chapel & Spiritual Life duties, had given me a card before I left to go home for the surgery, and in it she had written out Philippians 4:6-7 -- and told me they and so many others would be praying for me.  

Flora then laid her hand on my arm and said, "Carl, I was in that Chapel Service, when you were healed.  I was behind you and off to the side, and when we were singing that song I saw you:  you were crying, big tears were running down your cheeks, but what I saw, what I really saw, was that you were different from everybody else standing around you -- it's like there was this glow about you, like you were shining.  And there was happiness on your face.  That's when God touched you, didn't He?"

So, now you know what I did on my summer vacation.

And now you know too, when I say, "God's got this" -- you'll know I mean it, and I so believe it.

"Great are You Lord."

Part 4

Now you know I experienced some supernatural healing on Thursday, August 10th, 2017, at 8:45 a.m., in a chapel service at Lee Abbey London.

So flash forward from then to Monday, December 4th, back in San Diego, after finishing our fall semester in London:  I had the follow-up CAT/Scan, ordered by the KP thoracic department:  just to see what my upper lung lobe looked like.

Tuesday, no word.  Wednesday, again no word on the results.  Thursday, still no word.

We were anxious.  To know for sure.  What?

That "God's still got this."

For those who might be wondering, once you've been dramatically healed or been told your condition's in remission, you still "wonder."  A little.  From time to time.  And I did.

But, again, I didn't verbalize it.

So, Friday, mid-morning, my surgeon contacted me, and so did the Head Doctor for the Thoracic Department for Kaiser-Permanente for San Diego County. 

To wit:  the entire suspicious area was "clear and clean as a whistle."

No residue.  No cloudiness.  No Nothing.

Cue up the "Halelujah Chorus"!

Although I've re-named it -- the "Praise-a-lujah Chorus"!!!

And of course, it gets better.

The following Sunday in the 10 o'clock service at the Rock Church, San Diego, along with 3000+ other worshipers Ronda & I both "rocked" out on a very rousing rendition of:  "Great Are You Lord"!

"Merry Christmas!" my surgeon had communicated to me!  "Happy Holidays!" the thoracic department head wished for me.

"Merry Christ-mas"  -- "Happy Holy-Days" indeed.

Even so.  I'm to check back in next year again in December for a follow-up to the follow-up CAT/Scan.

Finally, for the past several months I feel as if I've been to the Graduate School of Healing, because of what I've been reading, talking about, and thinking about.

Three of my most oft-repeated questions and thoughts in my head:  one, why me?  two, why not someone else?  three, what do I do now with this experiential information?

Lastly, I'll close with two of the many comments I've received so far:  1) "obviously, God's not done with you"; 2 "they're probably not ready yet for someone like you up there."

I'm taking both of those as compliments.

Oh, and just this too:  what makes all this incredibly special is I was medically cleared to leave on March 2nd, 2018, for Zagreb, Croatia, where Ronda and I began a 2-year commitment to serve as teaching missionaries in a Nazarene Mission there headed up by 2 of our former students. 

How cool is that.

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