How an Injury Changed My Life
AS TOLD BY STANLEY OMBEVA
In 1982, I was hit by a speeding vehicle. I was treated and soon resumed my routine of daily activities, despite suffering periodic pain because of a slipped disk between my neck and chest. However, 15 years later, I came face-to-face with the most faith-challenging experience of my life.
BEFORE and, to some extent, after the accident, I was full of energy. I enjoyed a good routine of exercise that included jogging between six and eight miles [10 to 13 km] on weekends, playing squash, and doing hard manual work. I assisted in the construction of Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as of a large Assembly Hall in Nairobi, Kenya, where we live.
Then, in 1997, my chest pains became regular and more intense. A medical examination revealed that an intervertebral disk had moved out of place and was compressing my spinal cord. This could be traced back to the accident mentioned at the outset.
Before my health deteriorated, I had secured a job as a salesperson. Included was a family health-insurance plan. My prospects in the business world appeared bright. But in mid-1998, I developed severe numbness from my chest to my feet. Day after day, my health declined.
Not long afterward, I lost my job, including all benefits. Our two daughters, Sylvia and Wilhelmina, were then aged 13 and 10 respectively. With my job gone, we had to rely on what my wife, Joyce, brought home at the end of the month. Confronted with the new circumstances, we adjusted our lives by cutting back on nonessentials. We managed to make ends meet.
I must admit that as the reality of my condition sank in, I became negative, self-centered, and irritable. At times, I was angry and bitter, taking issue with every little thing. I was always on the verge of depression. Nobody in the family was spared the stress. My wife and our daughters were confronted with a unique situation they knew little about.
At the time, I thought my feelings were justified. My weight shot upward. I had serious problems with bowel movements and with controlling urination. Often, I was deeply embarrassed. It was not unusual to find me alone in a corner, with my eyes full of tears. There were times when I got so angry that it was almost comical. I knew I was not reacting well to my situation.
As an elder in the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I had often counseled my fellow Christians about never blaming Jehovah for any form of suffering. Yet, I found myself asking—and not just once—‘Why would Jehovah let such a thing happen to me?’ Although I had used scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 10:13 to strengthen and encourage others, I felt that what I was going through was too much to bear!
A Medical Challenge
Getting good medical treatment proved challenging. I would visit a physiotherapist, a chiropractor, and an acupuncturist all in one day. The relief, if any, was very temporary. I consulted a number of doctors, including an orthopedic surgeon and a neurosurgeon. All agreed on one point: Surgery was necessary to ease the pain and remove the slipped disk. Because of my Bible-based beliefs, I clearly explained to these medical experts that no blood should be administered to me under any circumstances.—Acts 15:28, 29.
The first surgeon said that he would operate by opening my back. It was explained to me that the procedure might be quite risky. Yet, this surgeon could not guarantee that blood would not be used. I did not go back to him.
The second one said that he would access the spine through my neck. Such a procedure sounded horrible. Though he had no problem with my refusal of blood, he wanted the operation done immediately and offered few details. I dropped him too.
However, I was able to find a cooperative doctor with the help of Jehovah’s Witnesses serving on our local Hospital Liaison Committee. The procedure recommended by the third surgeon was similar to that proposed by the second one; it involved making an incision through the neck. Risks, he explained, would be minimal.
The graphic demonstration of how the surgery was to be performed horrified me. Knowing that such an operation would have to be done around such delicate body organs as the heart and lungs scared me the most. Would I come out of it alive? Of course, such negative thoughts did little to quell my fears.
On November 25, 1998, I underwent a successful four-hour operation at a Nairobi hospital. The surgery also involved the removal of a piece of my pelvic bone. The piece was shaped and then grafted to the affected point with a metallic plate and screws. This helped. But it did not eliminate all my problems. I walked with a lot of discomfort. I still suffer from persistent numbness.
As mentioned earlier, I had spent a great deal of time fretting and brooding over my poor condition. Ironically, many of the medical personnel would commend me for my calmness and optimism. Why did they feel that way? They could see that while I was in great pain, I still talked to them about my faith in God.
Although I was occasionally angry and bitter about what I was going through, I still relied upon Jehovah. He always supported me in all that I went through—so much so, that I was ashamed of myself at times. I made a strong resolve to read and meditate on scriptures I knew to be comforting in my situation. Some of these are:
Revelation 21:4: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.” Reflecting on the Bible’s promise of a new world where tears and pain will be gone forever proved consoling indeed.
Hebrews 6:10: “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name.” Although I had become physically limited, I knew that Jehovah would treasure my efforts in his service.
James 1:13: “When under trial, let no one say: ‘I am being tried by God.’ For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.” How true! Though Jehovah did allow my suffering, he was in no way the cause.
Philippians 4:6, 7: “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus.” Prayer helped me to gain much-needed peace of mind, enabling me to deal with my situation more sensibly.
I had used these scriptures to encourage others in distress—and they really helped! I came to realize, though, that then I did not fully appreciate their value. I had to be this sick to understand humility and to learn to put my full reliance on Jehovah.
Other Strengthening Aids
Many speak of the Christian brotherhood as a pillar and support in times of difficulty. Yet, how easy it is to take our Christian brothers and sisters for granted! True, they might be limited in what they can do to help, but they are always there for us. This was true in my case. It was not unusual to find them next to my hospital bed, sometimes very early in the morning. They even offered to contribute toward my medical bills. My heart goes out to all of those who were moved by my plight and came to help.
In our local congregation, the Witnesses know that I am now limited in what I can do. I currently serve as the presiding overseer and work with a very supportive body of Christian elders. I have never become irregular in the preaching work. During the height of my affliction, I helped two people come to the point of dedicating their lives to Jehovah. One is currently serving as a ministerial servant in a Nairobi congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
I still cannot find the words to thank my wife, who has seen me through the entire ordeal. She put up with my anger, my mood swings, my unreasonableness, and my frustrations. Whenever I was in tears and pain, she reassured and consoled me. Her strength and resilience in the face of adversity continue to amaze me. She has proved to be “a true companion . . . all the time.”—Proverbs 17:17.
Our daughters have learned to cope with my situation. They do what they can to assist me. They understand my needs and respond quickly, ensuring my comfort when their mother is not around. Sylvia has been my “walking stick,” helping me move around the home whenever I feel weak.
What about Mina, the youngest? Well, I remember a time when I was unable to get up after a fall inside the house. She was the only one at home. Gathering all the strength she had, she lifted me up and slowly led me to my room. She still has no idea how she managed. That single act of courage is indelibly marked in my mind.
Coping with this injury is the hardest battle I have ever fought in my life. It is a battle I still fight. Nothing has challenged my life and faith to this extent. I have learned a lot about humility, reasonableness, and empathy. Full trust and confidence in Jehovah have seen me through this problem.
I have learned the truth of the words of the apostle Paul: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the power beyond what is normal may be God’s and not that out of ourselves.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) I find enormous comfort in God’s promise of “new heavens and a new earth” to come. (2 Peter 3:13) I pray that Jehovah will continue to carry me toward that new world, for I am still frail and can accomplish little in my own strength.
[Pictures on page 20]
Christian activity with my family has helped me to endure