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IAN SUNDERLAND  1958-1981

IN THE BEGINNING

Ian was just another patient that came to the operating theatre where I was the department manager. I was far from being a Christian at the time but one glance at him as he was wheeled past me on the trolley was enough to pull at my heart strings: he was so scared and trying to very hard to disguise the fact. But God was already in the relationship and placed in my heart a compassion that was so overwhelming, I spent almost 24hrs weeping for this 28yr old young man that I didn’t even know! Though unaware of it then, I now know that the Holy Spirit often has a way of using the most unlikely people to intercede for the most unlikely people and in the most unlikely ways! It was a racking period and culminated in me finding my way into a local church to plead for him.


But let me tell this story properly …………


STRANGE FEELING IN THEATRE

I was the theatre superintendent (manager) so I didn’t scrub for operations very often. It was my job to keep a check on all the operating rooms and make sure everything was going smoothly and all the staff were working well and that there were no problems. Having visited Ian on the ward the night before, I made it my business to meet him at the door and go with him into the anaesthetic room as he had requested. While in there, though the anaesthetist was very sweet and reassuring to him, he hung on to my hand tightly. Even at the point of succumbing to the anaesthetic, he pulled my hand up to his mouth and kissed my fingers. I found this gesture gut-wrenching. The thing was, I knew that in this little provincial hospital, the few cases like this that we had done (mostly on elderly or even moribund patients) had result in the patient’s death, often within a few days. I felt that kiss to be tragic as I was almost certain this was going to be the last thing he did.


It was after that I began to be aware of some strange manifestations around the operating theatre. Every time I entered the room where he was, there was this presence or sensation in it. It was almost tangible, like walking along the bottom of swimming pool. And it scared me. I became convinced  that it was because I had allowed myself to become ‘emotionally involved’ with a patient and in those days, ‘getting involved’ was almost a disciplinary matter. But the dilemma remained that whilst I had this extraordinary experience in the operating theatre, just as soon as I stepped outside into the corridor, the sensation ceased. How could that be if it was my feelings creating it? Surely it would be evident where ever I was, all over the department, not just in one room! It seemed totally bizarre.


The next day I visited the ward which was my practice when we’d had a big case. My staff would want to know how the patient was and so I always called in the get an update. Ian was in a side room on a ventilator. Two junior doctors and a physiotherapist were in there and beckoned me in but the instant I stepped across the threshold of the room, there was that sensation again. I was really unsettled now and I fled!


The next day I was starting a week’s leave and was glad to. I wasn’t accustomed to this emotional roller coaster and was anxious to escape. But there was no escape. That evening I suddenly and inexplicably burst into floods of tears. I sobbed all evening, all night and all the next day. During the Friday evening, I started praying for Ian even though I’d never been in the habit of praying. God never figured that much in my life. But I prayed and prayed that evening for a man I didn’t know in the least. It was both exhausting and releasing.


POST-OP SCARES

Later I was to discover that many serious problems had beset Ian in that post-op period: machine failures, inexperienced doctors and nurses and grave oversights in care. Some weeks later a senior doctor told that that Ian should have died not once but FOUR times during that Friday evening and the twilight hours of Saturday morning.


But even as new a Christian as I was I knew why he has survived!


THE DAY!

The next day was the  21st of December, the Sunday before Christmas 1980. There was a hospital carol service in the evening and I was a member of the choir. I hadn’t joined this because of any faith on my part but simply because I enjoyed the singing! It was required for the choir to be in uniform for this event so after I changed, I took the opportunity to call in to the ward and see how Ian was doing. Entering the room which was serving as a temporary intensive care (we didn’t yet have one at this hospital) I was staggered to feel the same sense of presence that I had felt in the operating room during the surgery. But somehow it wasn’t quite so scary as it had been before. It was more comforting, more loving, somehow. Approaching the bed, I stood and looked at him for some seconds. He was heavily sedated and still intubated (a tube in his throat for connection to a ventilator) but was being trialed off the ventilator for a short while.


THE HOLY SPIRIT PRESENCE

As I stood there, still unaware of the drama of the previous 48hrs, I felt a compelling sense of compassion overwhelm me again and this voice in head saying “Woman behold your son”. For a moment I was scared all over again. Surely these were words the Saviour had said whilst hanging on the cross. They couldn’t be uttered to the likes of me! Surely that was blasphemous! But then, quite suddenly, without a shadow of doubt, I KNEW the identity of the ‘presence’ that had just spoken to me, that had been around me since the previous Wednesday. It was God - God Himself - and the peace that entered my heart in acknowledging that was profound. I left the room in a bit of a daze and went down to the little hospital chapel and there, on my own in the darkness, I gave my heart to the Lord. There was no sinner’s prayer or anything. I just simply said  “Okay God, if this really is you and I’m not making all this up, then I’m yours. Do with me whatever you want.”! Can’t get more basic than that but it seemed to suffice!


A  SERVANT OF THE LORD

I then lived my life in two arenas it seemed. On the one hand, I was pursuing a church life, getting confirmed and learning what it was to be a servant of the Lord, and on the other getting to know Ian and his wife and learning how to offer help without being intrusive. But also how to be involved without letting the hospital now which was a little difficult as Ian kept calling on me at work when anything trouble him or he just needed to talk.


The relationship was a difficult and turbulent one as Ian valiantly worked his way through all the emotional rapids of coming to terms with his approaching death. Although I became the repository for all his anger and rage, with the help of God and good Christian friends who were in on it, I stayed the course. Towards the end, things calmed so that we were finally able to share a more affectionate time.


THE BEGINNING OF THE END

Losing Ian was one of the most painful, devastating experiences I have ever had to live through and 35 years on, I still feel the loss even though I knew him for less than nine months. When God gives you a gift like that, it hurts to lose it. But most of all, I praise God for allowing me this great gift of faith which he presented to me through Ian. Because I that, I also believe that Ian was able to take hold of his own redemption in his final days because he knew this story, what had happened to me and why I was there with him in those final months.


God be praised for His wonderful loving kindnesses!



This story is told with the knowledge and loving permission of Ian’s family