It was exactly one year today when God saved the life of our son, David! Those who know us will recall the events surrounding last Christmas. What started as a family holiday in sunny South Africa quickly turned into a nightmare.
Join me for a moment as we praise God for His miraculous intervention in the Blaak family! These are the events as they happened…
The ceiling stared back at me in silent horror. Afraid to sleep, afraid to speak, barely able to breathe.
“Why doesn’t the phone ring? What is taking so long?”
It was a parent’s worst nightmare. Unexplainable illness, uncontrollable vomiting, unconscious child. As the seconds painfully tick by, we lay there, fully clothed, bags packed, ready to jump into the car as soon as the insurance company says “go.” 10pm… 11pm… 12am… 1am… 2am… It was enough to drive anyone stark raving mad.
“Oh God, help! Save our boy! Please, Jesus! Don’t let him die.”
THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS
The drama started six days earlier. We had been enjoying a long-awaited family holiday along the South African coast. Friends of ours had generously offered us time at their holiday home. Sun, sand, exploring the dunes, long walks along a stunning beach, and peace and quiet… precious stillness after a busy year.
December 13, 2015
Our four teenagers had been body surfing in the late afternoon waves, enjoying the laughter and drama of sibling rivalry. The sun was setting and it was time to dry off. David came into the house complaining of a stomach ache. “Mom, my stomach hurts.” Within the hour, the vomiting started.
At first, it looked like food poisoning. Could it have been the food he ate earlier at the local cafe? No, if it was food poisoning, the vomiting would’ve stopped as soon as his stomach was empty. I was up with him most of the night.
December 14—DAY 1
This can’t be food poisoning; it must be the flu. Every family has had holidays ruined by an ill-timed case of the stomach bug. We took a trip to the pharmacy only to hear that there was definitely a bad flu going around. We got a prescription for anti-nausea and anti-cramping medication and returned to the holiday house. This should be over in 24 hours.
December 15—DAY 2
David continues to vomit… all day, all night. And again for another day and night. He’s not even holding down water.
December 16—DAY 3
Back to the pharmacy. Maybe it’s a 48 hr flu? We’ve GOT to get him hydrated. More meds plus rehydration packets. We try everything from water to juice, from Coke to imported Ginger Ale. No change. The vomiting is constant and his cramps are getting worse. He just sits on the couch all day with a bucket in his lap.
My constant prayer is “Father, what is going on?”
December 17 —DAY 4
We can’t play around with this any longer, so we take him to the local doctor’s office. He gets an anti-nausea shot in the butt, and they run lab tests which show possible signs of hepatitis and liver stress. What the heck! Dr says that if the shot doesn’t stop the vomiting, we must go home and see our family doctor.
Another night of no sleep. My heart is breaking for him. So much pain. We are so worried.
December 18—DAY 5
No change. Can’t wait any longer. We pack everything up and start the three-hour drive home, calling ahead to let the doctor know what’s happening. Erwin drives us straight to the doctor’s office and drops us off. Blood tests, urine tests, another anti-nausea shot. His face is hollow and his stomach has become distended. We are told that if the vomiting doesn’t stop, we will have to admit him to hospital.
“Oh, God, help our boy! This CAN’T be happening.”
No change. Just waves of fear. What is coming from his stomach now smells like sulfur. With each heave and wretch, worry and panic roll over us like a truck. Prayer chains are in full force.
December 19—DAY 6
David is admitted to Humansdorp Hospital. As foreigners, the admission process to a hospital is long and painful, requiring a coordinated approval process involving Aetna in the US (our actual insurance provider), the partner in the Middle East (overseeing all African clients), and the local insurer in Johannesburg (who coordinates medical care in South Africa).
It took a little over an hour, but he was finally hooked up to an IV. At this point, he was so weak and dehydrated that he just lay there. In six horrifying days, our precious boy (who was thin already) had lost almost 10 kilograms. Pale, thin, barely conscious, and still vomiting a disgusting brown liquid that I won’t even begin to describe.
Our amazing doctor diligently explored ideas and theories all day, collaborating with colleagues in nearby cities. Blood tests throughout the day now hinted at things like pancreatitis, but no one was really sure what was going on. Concern ran high in all of us.
Incidentally, this was Saturday, the day some of our good friends were getting married. Of course, we missed the wedding, but we decided to escape the hospital long enough to eat the wedding meal and wish the happy couple well. No sooner had the soup been set down that I got a phone call from our doctor—a phone call that I will never forget.
“Mrs. Blaak, I’ve spoken with a surgeon in St. George’s hospital. We suspect that there is a blockage in David’s intestines somewhere. There is a bed and a surgeon waiting for you in Port Elizabeth. Come get your son now.”
How many of you know that time stands still when you are faced with the gravity and mortality of your situation? We raced back to the hospital only to discover the ugly realities of being a foreigner with foreign medical care. We were told that…
- they can’t release him from the Humansdorp hospital until St George’s hospital opens a bed for him. But because we’re foreigners, St George’s won’t open a bed until we pay a deposit of R50,000. (Approx $5000 CAD which we didn’t have.)
- Even if we did have the money, our insurance company told us NOT to pay the deposit because they wanted to bill the hospital directly.
- We were in a Catch 22, and our only option was to go home and wait for prior approval from the insurance company. It was Saturday night and our insurance agent was now going to wake people up (US, Middle East, and Johannesburg) to get this expedited.
David was unconscious by this point and all we could do was wait and pray… Pray and wait… 1 hour, 2 hours… 3, 4, 5 hours later.
We finally got the phone call at 2am and immediately jumped in the car.
On the way to the hospital, the nurse in charge called me to say, “Mrs Blaak, the ambulance drivers say that you can’t ride in the ambulance unless you pay R1800.” In the words of Fred Flintstone, that was “the camel that broke my straw back.”
I calmly and clearly said to her,
“You tell them that they are messing with a very tired momma-bear who hasn’t slept in six days. If they wanna poke this momma-bear, they are going to get bit! I KNOW that my insurance company will pay for ambulance transport. They will NOT leave without me!”Yeah, Momma. Africa has made me bolder and braver than ever. Click To Tweet
No more polite, little Canadian woman here. I arrived at the hospital and the nurse whispered to me, “No problem, Mrs. Blaak. They said you can go with them.”
FINALLY, SOME ANSWERS
December 20—DAY 7
After a stressful ambulance ride in which I lectured the two attendants about not having functioning seat belts in their vehicle, we arrived at St George’s hospital in Port Elizabeth.
- Two hours later, we woke David up for x-rays… there was definitely evidence a blockage somewhere.
- Shortly after that, a CT scan confirmed that David had something called “Meckels Diverticulum,” an anomaly in which the small piece of flesh which attaches your belly button to your small intestine is extra long (i.e., 4cm instead of the typical 2cm).
It was suspected that when David was playing in the sea, this piece of flesh had somehow wrapped itself around his intestine and caused a complete blockage in his digestive system. No wonder the medicine wasn’t working. No wonder the tests were showing signs of liver and pancreas stress! His organs were still creating fluids which were building up and rotting inside his gut.
- Apparently, only 4 percent of the population even have this anomaly, and only about 4% of those people ever have trouble with it. I told David that,
He didn’t think that was very funny.
In preparation for surgery, the nurses had to put a tube down his throat to empty his stomach. It had become so swollen with all of the poisonous fluids that had been building up over the last week. I won’t gross you with the gory details except to say that when the tube was finally inserted into his stomach, one and a half litres of the most vile liquid came out of him, violently and immediately. No wonder he had been in so much pain. As soon as this happened, he exhaled deeply and collapsed into his pillow.
David told me later that his biggest fears in life were 1. getting a tube shoved down his throat, and 2. having an operation. He faced both of those fears in one day. My brave boy.
He was exhausted and slept off and on until they came to take him for surgery. At one point, he even woke up to tell me a joke…
“Mom, I thought of a joke while we were in the ambulance, but I was too tired to tell you. You said that you had to leave the wedding before you got your STEAK, and I was gonna say ‘Because the STAKES were too high!'”
(Groaaaaaan. At least we know there’s no lasting damage to his corny sense of humour.)
Just before they wheeled him into the operating room, I had the opportunity to pray with him that Holy Spirit would wash over him and that he would go into surgery with worship on his lips. Then I sang over him,
“I’m no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.”
It was a powerful moment right there in the hallway and David became visibly calmer. He’s such a precious boy!
I’m so grateful for all of God’s tender mercies to us during this time. While David was in surgery, I escaped to the hospital coffee shop to eat something. (I still hadn’t eaten anything since the bite of soup at the wedding the day before.) I tried to eat, but the tears just started and wouldn’t stop. The stress and fear of the week was finally catching up to me. The manager saw me in the corner and came over to chat. I told her what was happening and, right there and then, she stopped to pray God’s divine protection on David, the surgeon’s hands, and on me.I could also sing, 'I'm no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.' Click To Tweet
What an incredible gift!
THE LONG ROAD TO RECOVERY
An hour and a half later, the surgery was over. The damaged section had been found and removed, and our surgeon was pleased with the results. Incidentally, this was the first Meckels surgery that he had ever done. Even our family doctor, despite having decades of surgery experience, admitted that this was his first diagnosed case of Meckels Diverticulum. It’s such a rare thing that it was a miracle they even thought to look for it.
Thus began the long road to restoring normal digestive function, a process which took about 8 days in hospital because the blockage had also caused his colon to completely collapse. It was long and painful, and there were moments that were terribly humbling for him.
Once again, we experienced undeserved favour when the head nurse moved David into a double room and saved the second bed for me so I wouldn’t have to commute each day. When does that ever happen? What a huge blessing! That privilege allowed me to help him get in and out of bed and to the bathroom on time. That privilege also gave us one-on-one time during a busy season that, to this day, remains one of my favourite memories with my son.
The best moment, apart from singing to him before surgery, came one evening when David said to me,
“Mom, can you please read the Word to me… especially verses about healing!”
For about an hour, I sat by his bed and read Scripture after Scripture, and the presence of God was so thick in that room. It was incredibly powerful and such a precious time!
CANCEL CHRISTMAS? NEVER
The biggest disappointment for David was that his recovery was not fast enough to be discharged in time for Christmas. This wasn’t just an appendectomy; he had major trauma to his digestive system, and those systems weren’t ready to come home yet. That meant he would have to spend Christmas in the hospital and miss our annual Christmas party. He was so disappointed.
Every year, we have a huge party with about 15-20 other expats who are also unable to travel home for the holidays. Turkey dinner, Secret Santa gift exchange, Christmas carols, pumpkin pie. The whole sh-bang!
With me being in the hospital last year, the rest of the family picked up the slack. The kids baked all the Christmas cookies and the pumpkin pies. (They had helped in previous years, so they knew what to do.) I helped Raelynne stuff the turkeys and then she took over the cooking process. It was amazing!
So, because David couldn’t come to us, we brought the party to him! On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, we took over his hospital room with decorations, a mini Christmas tree, presents, turkey dinner, and Santa hats! It was very special and made him feel very loved!
O COME, LET US ADORE HIM
It was only a couple of days after David’s surgery when we realized how close we came to losing him. A dear friend of ours called to say that her uncle also had Meckels Diverticulum, but his was never diagnosed in time. He also vomited uncontrollably for seven days, but on day 7 his gut burst and that poison sent him into a coma; seven days after that, he past away. Thank God our doctors had the discernment and wisdom to look for this unusual anomaly and order emergency surgery!
The reality is that our hearts are filled with soooo much praise for our Heavenly Father! Not just because it’s Christmas time, but because He has been soooo good to the Blaak family this year!
Specifically, we are grateful:
- That David is alive
- That we discovered the cause of his mystery illness
- That the cause has been dealt with forever, never to happen again
- That we had medical insurance and didn’t lose our house to pay for everything
- That he was in a hospital where they could give him the care he needed
- That we are surrounded with friends and family who hold us up in prayer when emergencies happen
We are truly grateful for modern medicine, discerning doctors, praying friends, and a faithful God!
Thank You, Father, for saving our precious boy!
Our hearts are FULL of WORSHIP!