I’m by no means a professional writer, in fact I grew up with severe dyslexia having trouble in school, but one thing I have learned is that the Lord has always been with me!
I had returned from Ft. Bragg under my volunteer orders for Operation Enduring Freedom (2003-2004). I had hoped to gain promotion as a Platoon Sergeant (E-7) and Stevedore from that of a harder MOS as a Marine Engineer, which I worked in daily as a dual status technician on Army Watercraft. This was not to be, and I didn’t like the idea of being subservient to a soldier who made little effort when it came down to tending to her troops, once missing my promotion when returning home. So, I went back into the watercraft unit in which I worked full time for, as I figured it was allot nicer than going to the desert as a truck driver, which the Army pushed me to train for after leading a truck platoon on active duty. Yet I worried about returning to the grueling task of once again attempting to get my next level engineering license, taking months in school – a large amount of which I already knew, as I had spent time at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; but the Army TC had refused our much needed course materials! I had struggled with engineering academics since my time in the Coast Guard, yet felt gifted in my practical knowledge in some of which a Warrant Officer that was the head of maintenance, had tried to get me awarded earlier in my career.
On February 6th, 2005, was now off leave and had joined my old unit for their annual water survival training at Ft. Meade, Md. I think I had donned a floatation suite for the training which was a bit small for me that day, and even though the NCO’s weren’t required to do so, I thought it only appropriate to partake in the full level of training since my absence and return. At noon on that day, I finally removed the neoprene suit, only to experience what I thought was severe heartburn and ask to lie down for just a few moments from my Commander. Immediately CW4 Gunport called 911, and the paramedics my brother had worked with showed up on seen, and none to soon, as just when they had hooked me up, my heart completely stopped, and I sank into a void of darkness!
I suppose this was the “first stage” of death, but as I lay on my back in that void of darkness and loneliness, I immediately felt the presence of a man pressing (R) shoulder to shoulder against me! As I looked over I could make out a ghostly figure of a man in a robe, shoulder length hair and a beard! It was Jesus Christ, and there was no place I could go in which I was separated from him, alleluia! Without Christ, it would have been the loneliest experience which I had ever experienced! As the Paramedics defibrillated my heart, it was as if a manhole cover was slid open from above me, I could see the men working on me as I seemed to emerge from the abyss!
Later as they continued to defibrillate my heart enroot to the hospital, I can remember wishing I could see where I was, yet no windows were in the ambulance. All the sudden, I was looking down upon my own ambulance in perfect clarity of mind and vision! I prayed hard to the Lord not to take me yet, as I worried about my wife, and having not completed my earthly mission in my ascension. The Lord answered my prayer, and the next thing I can remember was in being loaded into the medivac helicopter for air lift before passing out!
A Footnote: I had worked around helicopters before and had hoped I would finally get a flight which I could remember; but I guess I’m just being silly. Also, it was three days after my Ordination credentials were received, and it was a big hit for the men at work – as they roared with laughter! This was also near to my twenty years of military service too.
When I arrived at Washington Hospital Center for emergency stenting, I woke up ever so briefly to see my wife in the ICU unit beside me, and I told her to hide in the corner. I didn’t wake up again until three days later. I was not expected to survive the night I learned later, and the staff discovered Elaine, forcing her to leave the ICU.
As I finally awoke the first thing, I saw was my Mother and Father at the foot of my bed watching me, and I’m sure with plenty of prayers. My Brother the PA at the Naval Hospital sat beside me. My twin sister flew in from Texas and her son, later my friends, Sergeant Majors and Army Officers came in to visit. Later after two weeks my stent started to clog up again in my proximal LAD, and they rushed me down to the operating room again. The Wife and I were sure this was it this time, when a nurse spoke to me calmly and exclaimed to me “Mr. Dell, the Enemy knows who you are, but this will not affect the things which the Lord has planned for you!” …. I was stunned as I had never seen this nurse before, yet she had repeated back to me a private prayer I had prayed weeks before about being like Paul, Silos, and Jesus!
Within a day after I awoke, I received a phone call that said I was no longer insured under TRICARE, as I had been off active duty for more than a year! That started a long campaign with me and other service members in securing military medical treatment for not only line of duty injuries and sickness like myself but including combat wounded reservists as well! I can remember the late Astronaut Chuck Brady, telling me that Abraham Lincoln would have turned over in his grave if he had known veterans didn’t receive the care they had earned! With the help of the late Senator John McCain, my case along with many others, went all the way up to the Pentagon and TRICARE Reserve select was later passed into law.
This was an election year, and soon afterwards my Military Medical Board started feeling the pressure in completing my case file, which had grown to the size of a phone book! The poor NCO who decided to work my case (when others wouldn’t) got reprimanded from the command responsible for handling my case. It was tragic; the poor Soldier who made it as easy as he could on us, got in trouble for the technicality of not having us present everyday of administrative turmoil! But as they say shit rolls downhill, and the poor man got relieved from a very hard position and job!
Three weeks later after returning to Church, the sermon was on the Good Shepherd lying down with the lamb; it was as if the Holy Spirit dumped over me like a bucket of water, and I then knew in faith that the Good Shepherd was lying down with me the day my heart stopped!
13 years later my hearts hardware to my implantable defibrillator had grown “vegetation” or infection right into the chamber of my heart. It was a major emergency which only my device nurse became alarmed about when pointing out a pink spot right below the “can” located at the top of my left chest. Immediately Elaine and I rushed to the hospital again in Baltimore, in not having enough time to even pack our belongings! The University of Maryland made test after tests, and scans after scan while debating back and forth what they should do, or in my case, not do! If that wasn’t grueling enough, I developed an allergic reaction to the strong antibiotic fluid being pumped into me. I had developed “Red Man’s” on every square inch of my body, which felt like rolling around in a field full of mosquitoes!
Elaine stayed with me many nights, but I could not help but groan being so uncomfortable. I had also left a fellowship which had accused me of being “Chastened of God” for following politics too much (a love for the world, as they saw it). Let me tell you, the last thing one needs to hear in such misery is a bunch of self-righteous Job’s Comforters during such a trail of life!
I would like to interject at this point, that my devise nurse also was in a church much like this and had to leave, and her political views were not really on par with mine, yet we were good friends for the love of Christ in our lives; and she ended up doing medical missionary work overseas, and told me the supplies always managed to reach her on time! We must be careful in how we view others walks in the Lord!
It was strange this time around in the hospital in fearing for my life, the only experience I had was in the catherization lab, they had put on some canned music and half dazed the song started playing “Knock, knock ,knocking on heavens door, by Bob Dylan – a man who once denounced his faith in Christ. The staff then scrambled to turn it off, as tears started running down my face. I was a one-time cowboy shooter at the range at that time!
At the end of that week, I was encouraged by a doctor with a thick German accent to arrange surgery at Johns Hopkins, with the man who invented laser surgery to the heart, Dr Love. The morning I was slated to leave (so that I wouldn’t have to be on suppression therapy the rest of my life), I saw a familiar sight outside my window, it was the small company truck my dad was with, and I worked for also making a delivery to the Hospital! To me, that was just the medicine which I needed to lift my spirit up!
Many times, within our lives it is the little personal things which our Lord knows about us, and not the grandiose spectacular things which the world sees as important! Knowing Jesus Christ is one of the most personal things we can experience, and that’s why we shouldn’t cast our little pearls before swine who will turn and render us with them! Often, people don’t want to see or hear these testimonials of hope, as they love the darkness, rather than the light, a testament to the fall of mankind from grace.
One thing which I have learned in growing in my faith, is that one’s experiences may go from spectacular to diminished, but it does not mean the Lord has left us, (or we have left the Lord) rather like a child the Father needn’t to have to hold us as close, as we grow into spiritual maturity.
I could write much, much, more about what I have learned of the Lord, myself, and others – but I could never stop in my testimonials. Yet the Principle of this letter is that we must live by faith, and in doing so we come to a deeper understanding of just how faithful the Lord is to us, if we simply take the time to rest and reflect upon him.
It has been 15 years since my career ending heart attack in the U.S. Army, but Praise God I have more time to write about Him now!