We thank Thee

Despite the terrible news Abré J Steyn received from the doctor one morning, he prayed in thanks for all he had, instead of dwelling on what he’d lost. But he couldn’t imagine what would happen next.

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Suddenly I couldn’t move or feel the fingers of my left hand, which had undergone an operation about five hours before. Then a numbing paralysis spread to my shoulder. About to be discharged, I tried to get off the high hospital bed into my wheelchair, but instead, I tumbled headlong to the floor like a sack of potatoes.

After contracting polio as a toddler, I’ve had so many operations under both general and local anaesthesia that I’m now immune to the effect. As a result, I must undergo all dental and surgical procedures while I’m fully awake and aware.

I couldn’t convince the anaesthetist that day about this immunity, so he insisted on performing an anaesthetic block. After 35 minutes, the anaesthesia still had no effect. The surgeon then proceeded with the operation, while I took photographs of what he did. It’s remarkable how much pain you can endure if you must. Although gruesome, the worst part was when the scalpel or suturing-needle penetrated my skin.

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I hardly felt the internal surgery. After I landed on the floor, my doctor was summoned and he promptly re-admitted me for further observation. He realised that the block had kicked in five hours too late and that it had left my arm paralysed. The next morning, the doctor gave me alarming news. It was a very rare phenomenon. The paralysis could last weeks, months or even remain permanent. Any recovery would be slow, accompanied by a tingling sensation.

I was devastated. With useless legs, my hands and arms were all I had left to move about with. Now I’d really be disabled. Wanting to be alone, I asked the nurses to move me to the deserted stoep behind the hospital, where I phoned my wife to break the shattering news. I asked her to bring proper pyjamas, my computer and some books.

Realising the inevitable, I cried. But through my tears, I thanked God for a wonderful full life and for the courage to overcome impossible odds. I prayed for deliverance from this final ordeal.

Be thankful for what you have
We seldom realise the lasting impression our actions have on others. In my schooldays in Kimberley I had a teacher who started class every morning with a prayer of thanks for the birds, the flowers and for everything that made the day so beautiful. One day, during the severe winter of 1961, the weather was as lousy as it could get. An icy wind drove rain and sleet horizontally. A snow and hailstorm during the night destroyed all the flowers and the next morning, not a bird could be heard.

Before school, my classmates and I huddled together on the lee side of the class and jokingly speculated about what our teacher could possibly find to express thanks for that morning. To our surprise, he walked into class with a big smile and promptly thanked God for the lousy weather, because “it would make us appreciate all the sunny mornings, the beautiful flowers and singing birds, with which we are blessed most other days of the year”.

It made a deep and lasting impression on me, and to a great extent, it shaped my attitude toward what I have, instead of what I’ve lost. Three minutes after the first call to my wife, she received another. She thought I’d gone crazy.

Sobbing with joy, I asked her not to bring anything, but to fetch me instead, because after my prayer, I removed my glasses to wipe my eyes and got the shock of my life – I was holding my spectacles in my paralysed hand! No waiting. No tingling. Just suddenly! I was stunned and so was the doctor.

Take stock this Christmas
With Christmas upon us, we should slow down and take stock of our lives – think more about what we have, rather than what we want. Often, we have so much, but we still want more. Some of our most valuable gifts were received at birth, and we seldom imagine what our lives would be like without them.

Most of us are born “normal” and healthy – an enormous gift to be cherished. Millions, who suffer from chronic illnesses or debilitating maladies, aren’t as fortunate. There are others whose happy, careless lives are suddenly shattered by fateful accidents that leave them crippled.

How grateful are we that this isn’t our fate? That our legs and feet can walk when we want to go somewhere, or that our hands and fingers function correctly when we want to do something? How often do we say “we thank Thee” for all these blessings? Not very often. Instead, we take for granted that we can run, jump or dance when we feel like it. We think it’s normal for our fingers to write our names, thread a needle, play a piano or tie a fish-hook to a line. Do you ever think twice about your ability to see the beauty of a sunset, or spot an eagle in the sky? How often do you bow your head to say “I thank Thee” for not having to live in perpetual darkness? Could you imagine what it would be like to live your life without sound? To lose your ability to hear the rustle of the wind through the trees, the thunder of the rolling breakers on the beach, or a baby cry?

I bet that you’ve never gone on your knees to say “I thank Thee” for being able to use a phone, listen to the radio, watch TV, drive a car or surf the internet – things that millions before us never knew. May your Christmas this year be one of thanksgiving, rather than a list of “what-I-want” to Santa Claus. Contact Abré J Steyn on 083 235 4822 or e-mail [email protected]

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