By Brock Hudson, Houston, Texas – as printed in Guideposts.com
(Victor Valley)–Fine time for a stomach ache. I was driving home to Houston from a family weekend in San Antonio with my wife and children. “Must be indigestion,” I said to my wife as the first cramp hit. “Maybe you should drive.”
By the time we reached Houston I was curled up in the backseat feeling like I might actually die. We saw a hospital sign and turned in. The doctors there weren’t sure at first what was wrong. By the time they determined I had acute pancreatitis caused by a tiny gall stone blocking the common bile duct, I was too weak to be transported to Houston’s Memorial Herman Hospital.
Time, for me, no longer had any meaning. I was barely aware of finally being moved to Memorial Herman. A combination of illness and medication sent me in and out of consciousness. I had dreams—vivid dreams that I thought were real. Stranger still, if I woke up the dreams would begin again the moment I dozed, picking up just where they left off.
People came and went from my hospital room. Sometimes they spoke about my condition, saying words like “lung failure” and “kidney failure.” And then “pancreatic fluid” and “infection.”
The words made little impression on me. My world had become the world of my dreams, and at some point I had one that changed my life.
In the dream I was seated at the head of a stunning valley. On either side of a thin, shining rivulet that ran through the base of the gorge, majestic mountains stretched up to the sky. In front of me the sun set like an orange ball of fire. The day was ending in the valley.
My attention focused on the mountain ranges. They were at war, I knew. A war that my life depended on. The mountains on one side of the river were Death. The mountains on the other side of the river were Life.
Each side was fighting over me, yet I couldn’t bring myself to care which side won. I’ll either live or die, I thought. I didn’t care which.
I caught my breath as a bolt of lightning struck the mountains of Life, throwing the whole valley into shadow. The mountain exploded from the hit. Great boulders tumbled down the side, smashing apart on the way down and crashing into the river.
The mountains of Life erupted in a volcano, spewing red hot lava into the sky and across the river. The rocks hissed and sizzled. A landslide hurtled down the slopes of Death, sending an avalanche of rocks over the side. The whole valley seemed to shake and rumble with their power.
I couldn’t take my eyes away from the sight, so beautiful and terrifying. I wasn’t afraid for my life. I was simply awed by the tremendous power on display in the battle before me. Which side will win? I wondered. Which will be the strongest?
The blazing sun sank below the horizon, taking its light with it. The mountains went quiet as night fell. Was this the end, or just a pause in the battle? All I could do was hold my breath and wait.
A tiny spark flew through the sky and exploded in a shower of lights. Fireworks? I thought. Here? Where did they come from? A second firework went off, followed by another, then another. They filled the sky like millions of shining angels. The show dwarfed the grand finale of any Fourth of July on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., or New Year’s celebration in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Showers of pink, green, red, blue and purple lit up the valley. As one pyrotechnic burst faded another took its place. Dying embers wafted on a breeze toward my spot at the head of the valley. The heat they brought seemed to penetrate my chest, comforting me with its warmth. What are they? I wondered.
The answer was explicitly revealed: prayers. The fireworks were the thoughts of people on earth praying for my recovery. They went on for what seemed like hours, and I never got tired of watching them flash and shimmer in the sky.
The last explosion of sparks died away. The valley was quiet. In that quiet I understood that the war was over. The message was clear: Life had won. I’m going to live. I knew it for certain.
When I woke from the dream, I was a long way from recovery. The doctors were still pessimistic about my chances. I continued to drift in and out of consciousness. I had more dreams, though none as vivid as the one in the valley.
One afternoon, weeks after I’d first arrived in the ICU, I opened my eyes and recognized my wife beside me. She took my hand. “Hang in there,” she said.
I was too weak to tell her not to worry about me, that I was going to be all right. The doctors still put my chances around 20 percent for survival. But I made it out of ICU. My recovery was slow. The pancreatic acid still caused infections. Over the next few months I lost 60 pounds, went on a feeding tube and had countless procedures to position, reposition and remove drain tubes from my abdomen. But I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I knew all the discomfort would end and I would be well. That battle had already been fought and won. Now I just needed to stick it out.
Today I’m back home with my family, and back at work at my office. You might say things are back to normal, but the truth is they’re not. I see things differently since I watched that war in the valley. Once you’ve seen life conquer death, you can’t get too worked up about inconveniences like traffic jams or spilled coffee. The biggest change is the way I see the people in my life. I never knew how many friends I had until I found out how they’d worried about me.
“Did you know you needed a blood transfusion in the hospital?” Lauren asked me one afternoon. “I sent out an email asking people to donate in your name. Turns out the blood bank was completely overwhelmed. The staff thought you must be a rock star or a professional athlete!”
I still remember those fireworks exploding in the sky for what seemed like hours. Each tiny spark representing a prayer offered for my healing. My friends didn’t know it, but their prayers had turned the tide in the battle. And I will never stop celebrating!