“Guess who wrote to me?” I asked Yip, knowing he’d never guess. “Your sister?”
“No. Mayo Clinic!”
I’m not sure how they located me. It’s been over 50 years since my heart surgery in 1961. A time when the concept of computers was akin to science fiction, and mobile phones had yet to be invented. I conceded and filled out the survey. I mused, “They are probably patting each other on the back to discover I’m still alive!”
Sixty years-ago heart surgeries were a new frontier. I was seven years old when the hole in my heart was discovered. It was shock for my parents. (I must add that Dad, who was a doctor, liked to claim some of the credit over its discovery—but only after it all came to a good ending.)
The experts of the time advised my parents to have the surgery done immediately. Without it my lifespan would be critically shorter. But the surgery was dangerous and the big question was, was I to be, or not to be? A decision was made, and before leaving for the operation, my father told my older sister, “Frieda may not come back.”
Dad loved to tell me the story, but I treasure my own memories:
I was in 2nd grade (far left with a ribbon around my neck) and tried to be a nice student. I tried to be a friend to classmates who had no friends (encouraged by my mother). I was awarded the certificate of “Best Friend.” My parents found this hard to believe. “Who, Frieda? Best Friend? Impossible! She always pouts and cries! It’s hard work to be her friend!” It was so unbelievable to them, they decided I needed to see a psychiatrist. But first I was first sent to the family pediatrician to rule out any physical causes. Dr. Blood was as good as her name suggested. She diagnosed a hole in the wall of my heart where blood was escaping. She then explained that after the long hours of school I had no energy left, leaving me in tears and pouting. (I still cry when I’m tired. Must have become a habit.)
Dad, a child psychiatrist, was intrigued by the surgery and wanted to understand all aspects of it. He studied it and drew pictures of the procedure, including the (now old- fashioned) heart and lung machine that would be attached to my body. He made multiple carbon copies and mailed them to my relatives.
Mom and Dad packed me up and we traveled to the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Michigan. I was excited, probably from all the gifts I received. Understandably, my sisters were a bit jealous of the gifts, especially my blue silk pajamas with matching robe (I felt guilty about that). I ended up with a lot of very nice things. I felt quite angelic in the soft blue silk. I had a small suitcase, the perfect size for me to carry by myself (which I proudly did). I had stuffed animals and zillions of ‘Get Well’ cards. It was a time my parents allowed me to get pampered.
I was kept in the dark about the risks, and loved having my parents all to myself at the hospital. Before the operation, a nurse was taking me to the lobby to meet my whole family. She asked if I’d like to walk or ride? I looked at the wheelchair she was offering, an ancient wicker one with a backrest twice as tall as I was. Greeting my family in a chariot would be a magnificent entry. “I’ll ride!”
I awoke in the ICU with my mother dozing beside me. It took a few moments for me to figure out where I was. I tried to peer through the foggy, heavy plastic walls of the oxygen tent. “Mommy?”
She immediately woke and gave me a reassuring smile. “I’m so thirsty!”
“I’ll call the nurse.” She rang a bell.
I was given water in the tiniest cup imaginable. It seemed to me to be about one inch tall and half full. It had a huge straw in it that was bent at the top. The nurse waved her finger at me. “Drink slowly!”
That was when I discovered two pipes protruding from my chest, and not long after that a glimpse of the long scar down the middle of my ribcage with about 25 stitches in it. On my abdomen was another long rainbow-shaped scar with the same number of stitches. The excitement and novelty of this new experience diminished as pain set in. Nonetheless, I progressed well and was given a good report. My parents were overjoyed.
Soon, we were heading home. At first all went well, but soon I developed severe chest pain. The doctors tried all sorts of drugs, from aspirin to steroids, which led to nightmares and hallucinations. Scary, geometric figures from outer space came charging at me in the night and sent me knocking on my parent’s door. Dad always got up and led me into the kitchen saying, “I’ve got just the thing for nightmares!” The ice cream emerged and he’d dish up two bowels. We laughed and talked nonsense. His psychological ploy was incredibly successful.
But a cure was not found. I was confined to a wheel chair for the next 6 months. All physical activity was banned. The pain in my chest lasted about 10 days and would show up about 2 times yearly. This continued over the next 20 years. When the pain came, I had to lie with my head propped up on two or three pillows in order to breath. Twenty years on, the pain still chastised me.
Soon after Yip and I married we were caring for 100 children. (No starting small for us!) Yip’s mother planned to visit from Canada for three weeks. The pain began. It was more severe than I’d ever experienced before; it shot down my left arm like arrows, indicating signs of an approaching heart attack. Two friends came to pray for me, and one of them brought their son, a young boy named Brad. Brad was curious about what had happened to Frieda, and now curious to know what would happen to her when they prayed.
People were praying, but I wasn’t listening. I was too busy having my own talk with God: “I know you can heal me, but I don’t know if you WILL heal me.” That was as much faith as I could muster. Then added, “If you can, at least, heal me while Yip’s mother is here.” (As though that was “the least”, God could do!)
After prayer I breathed deeply to check my pain level. There was no pain. I took another breath. Still no pain. I got up and moved around. Still no pain. I had been healed! Brad was amazed. My two friends who prayed were also amazed and rejoiced. Brad took note. He never forgot what he’d seen. It was the first time Brad’s father also witnessed such an instantaneous miracle. And me? It was a miracle that would mark the rest of my life.
While Yip’s mother spent the month with us, I had no problems at all. I cooked, cleaned, and took her on trips. Her last day arrived and Yip left with her for the airport. As I waved them off and turned to go inside, I was stabbed with sharp chest pains! My immediate reaction was, “God! This is not funny!”
I was alone, riddled with blasphemous pain. I was frustrated and asked God what in the world was He doing? I let Him know how unimpressed I was with His little joke. He responded. I heard God’s inaudible voice, very clearly in my spirit: “Trust in me, and trust you’ve been healed by faith.”
Now, I had to stop and ponder why God was saying this to me. What did it mean? How could I trust that I was healed by faith when I knew I was no longer healed? A self- examination began. Where was I not trusting God in my life? I honestly surprised myself when I found so many areas I was worrying about. I couldn’t be trusting God if I was plagued with worry. And I had vast storehouses of worry. What if there was an earthquake? What if there was a scorpion in my bed? What if my husband stopped loving me? (New wife syndrome.) What if a cobra bit me? How can we live without an income? What if Yip would die in an accident?
The list went on and on, then on and on. I had to evaluate every worry one by one as it arose, such as earthquakes. Earthquakes were not in my control; God was in control. I began to see the folly in worrying over things outside of my control, and realized it was useless for me to hold onto them. I threw earthquakes out the window. I continued down the list. I dealt with each worry until I was sure it was no longer hidden in a mental cupboard for me to uncover and indulge in again. I could breathe again. Literally! I could breathe! I took a deep breath. No pain. Another breath. No pain. I was elated and danced around the room. No pain. I was healed again—a second miraculous healing of the same disease, but this time I prayed alone. Healed twice of the same disease seems tongue-in-cheek, but that’s what happened.
It was now clear. My pain, my problem, was psychosomatic. God healed me physically of pain the first time. The second time He dealt with the root of the problem. If God had stopped after the first healing, I’d still be stuck with all my worrying. God cared too much about me to leave me with worry. I couldn’t trust God at all if I didn’t believe His words. I’d not only heard Him, but read the Bible and was aware of His promises, such as Matthew 11:28; Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Did I trust Him?
Two healings happened. God played the part of a teacher and showed me he could heal pain, but it was up to me to trust God enough to stop worrying. The cure was in my hands. I experienced firsthand, that stress can play havoc on our bodies. Worry can kill us—literally. And psychosomatic pain is REAL.
When I share this story, people are surprised, because the changed ME is very laid back, calm and peaceful (“Frieda” is German for peace). Worry stays light years away; as do those geometric figures from outer space which once haunted me.
And then, there is Jerimiah 29:11; “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
God knew the plans for my future. I needed to be stress-free. The future for me included three episodes of near death. When my first child was born it was only prayer that saved me. Second was a brain operation, which surprised me. Finally, to top everything was a rare condition that put 13 screws and rods in my neck and left me half lame. That is a recovery I’m still facing. Had God not loved me enough to help me throw worry out of my life, I would never have managed those hard times and many others.
(One daughter shares her hair over my pre-operation bald head.)
(Another daughter brought me a wig.)
It was thirty years after releasing my worries to God, I was in the hospital for a brain tumor operation. The night before the surgery, my surgeon came to visit. We had a brief chat and as he left, he turned and said, “Aren’t you even a little scared?” I thought to myself, “No.” I didn’t think he would believe that answer, so I said, “Well, maybe a little.”
The doctor shook his head and left. My rock-solid security was a miracle. Brad, the boy who prayed for my heartaches never forgot that miracle. It laid a foundation in Brad’s faith and confirmed his dad’s faith. My Dad loved to tell me the story of my heart operation, but his story was only the beginning of a bigger one; I had greater treasures to come. Miracles are never forgotten.
The Sun Came Searching
By Kim Balke
(Photo by Tom Balke)
Kim is a poet, friend and a heart-transplant patient, whose life is full of medical challenges. She cannot afford worry. The beautiful imagery of what she writes is from a deep, emotional and spiritual experience of knowing who to trust.