“Five Days to Live”
Lessons Learned from Tragedy
IT WAS on a Saturday afternoon that Wilson Rojas, a heavy-equipment operator in a Central American country, and his helper entered a mobile storeroom to put away equipment for the day. Wilson was looking forward to returning home to his wife, Clarissa, and their three-year-old daughter, Iriabeth.
But, for reasons yet unknown, at that moment some 200 detonators, 100 sticks of dynamite, 50 liters (10 gallons) of gasoline and three acetylene gas tanks exploded in a chain reaction. Wilson’s helper was killed instantly. Wilson was blown through the storeroom wall and landed, unconscious, some eight meters (26 feet) away.
Thus began a trying ordeal for the Rojas family. Wilson and Clarissa tell us what happened.
Clarissa: About 3:30 that afternoon my mother-in-law came by. She had already heard about the explosion and feared the worst but tried not to frighten me too much. Immediately I called the hospital, but all they could do was confirm the explosion.
Finally, about 4:00 p.m., a friend called from the hospital with the shocking news: “Wilson is critically injured. Right at this moment they’re trying to save his life. If he lives, they may have to amputate his right arm and his left leg.”
When I was finally allowed to see Wilson, I found him hovering between life and death. Whole pieces of flesh had been ripped off in the explosion and what was left was badly burned. Inhaled acetylene gas had charred his mouth, throat and lungs. The half of his body exposed to the explosion was perforated by hundreds of metal fragments. His face was unrecognizable. The medical staff gave me no reason to hope that he would live.
Wilson: From the moment the storeroom door closed, I don’t remember anything until I awoke in the hospital eight days later. I sank deep into despair when I learned just how serious my condition was. I’d lost the use of one eye, one ear, one arm and one leg. I couldn’t eat, and conversation was possible only through a hoarse whisper and with great effort. I was being kept alive by intravenous feeding.
Shortly after I regained consciousness, a nurse stopped beside my bed and routinely began to set up equipment for a blood transfusion. When I explained to her that I could not accept such treatment, she called the doctor in charge of my case. At first he tried to persuade me, saying: “The only way to save your life is by means of a blood transfusion. Your blood level is extremely low.”
I was anxious to explain to him why I could not accept blood as a form of medical treatment. Many Bible texts came to my mind, such as Acts 15:28, 29, which show that Christians abstain from blood.
“I’m not interested in your beliefs or in your way of thinking,” the doctor said. Growing angrier with every word, he continued: “Neither am I interested in your fanaticism nor in your foolish ideas. Don’t try to talk to me anymore because it won’t convince me. I’m interested in saving your life. If you refuse a blood transfusion, then I suspend my treatment. I quit your case. Besides, I’m reporting you to the hospital administration, which means that no other doctor will accept your case either.”
As he turned to go, I strained so that I could be heard, “But doctor, wait a minute. I’ve heard of a special treatment using iron substances that build up the blood. Another doctor recommended it to me. Wouldn’t that help me?”
“Here we do what we doctors say, not what the patient says,” he replied. “Anyway, you only have five more days to live. What do I care if you don’t want to be saved? If you want to die a fanatic, that’s your business!” With that, he turned and walked away.
Clarissa: Wilson’s case was so critical that he had been transferred to one of the larger and better-equipped hospitals in the capital. His burns had begun to heal slowly; he was conscious now and had managed to survive eight days since the accident. So I thought there might be hope. However, shortly after I entered the ward on the eighth day, a nurse called me aside. Three doctors and the head nurse wished to talk to me.
“Mrs. Rojas, we have a problem. Your husband is in urgent need of a blood transfusion, since he has lost much blood. His red blood cell count is extremely low. However, he has refused to accept blood. Of course, we know that, as a dying man, he probably doesn’t realize what he’s saying. So we would like you to authorize a blood transfusion.”
A cold chill swept over me, but I was able to answer immediately. “I can’t authorize a treatment that my husband won’t permit, because I respect his position. Our position is not based on blind fanaticism, but, rather, on a study of the Bible.”
But the doctor in charge of the case pounded the table with a clenched fist and declared: “It’s useless to discuss this any further. Let him die, if that’s what you both want. He didn’t die in the explosion, but he’ll die anyway of blood loss. He has five days to live, no more.” After that, he left the room. The other doctor looked at me and said: “The only reason we’re not sending your husband home is that he’s human rubbish, too critical to move.”
As I walked out of the room I felt humiliated. But what saddened me most of all was not being permitted to explain why, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, we are so firm in our resolution to avoid the use of blood in medical treatment. Furthermore, not one mention of an alternate treatment was made, nor was I allowed even to suggest any. It all seemed so hopeless. There was nothing to do but wait for Wilson to die, within five days.
After my signing the form freeing the hospital from all responsibility in Wilson’s case, all treatment aside from routine bandage changing was suspended. He was moved to a far-off corner bed. When he understood what had happened, he called me close so that I could hear him. In a voice barely audible, he told me: “I’m not interested in saving my life for this system of things. It’s hard to think of leaving you and Iriabeth alone, but we have the resurrection hope and we’ll see each other in the New Order.” We both prayed in silence.
Wilson: Everyone seemed to know that I was the patient who would not accept blood and who was given only five days to live.
I remember very well one young nurse who spent over an hour trying to convince me that all of them had my best interests at heart. She said: “With just a little blood you can save yourself. If you want, I can come back around midnight with the transfusion when all the rest are asleep. No one will ever know you’ve taken blood. What do you say? Shall I bring it?”
“You’re wasting your time because I’m not going to accept.”
“Well, you think about it very carefully, because you’re going to die right here. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
The next day two friendly doctors stopped by my bed in a seemingly casual way. After talking about things in general, they asked me about my beliefs in regard to blood transfusion. Although I could scarcely talk, I managed to outline for them God’s view of blood.
“The best thing you can do is to forget those foolish ideas,” they replied. “Blood will give you life. Look, our motto is ‘Give life,’ and we guarantee that the blood we’ll give you will do you no harm.”
Even more difficult was the emotional appeal made by Eduardo, the patient in the next bed. As the third of the five days slipped by, Eduardo implored, “You have only two days left and I can see that you really are going to die!”
“God has given us the resurrection hope, Eduardo. If I have to die to uphold God’s principles, I’ll be proud to do so.”
Perhaps the most difficult times for me were the long, painful and sleepless nights. In a way the intense pain helped me. I hurt so much that I couldn’t concentrate on morbid thoughts of death or self-pity. Alone, and faced with the fact that no one really thought I would live, I learned to rely on Jehovah God as never before. My prayers became longer, virtual “conversations” with God. I felt closer and closer to him each day. This, and this alone, was what sustained me emotionally, spiritually and even physically.
Clarissa: That dreaded fifth day came and went, with Wilson feeling a bit better than before. Since all hospital treatment had been suspended, my family and I had begun our own. We nourished him with high-protein foods and administered the blood-building treatment a doctor had previously recommended to Wilson. Slowly, very slowly, then more rapidly, he began to improve. It soon became obvious to all that Wilson simply wasn’t going to die!
Soon a new doctor took over his case. He ordered a blood test. On seeing the results, he immediately ordered a second one. He said there must have been some mistake in the laboratory. Nevertheless, the second test showed the same results. The doctor was amazed at how much Wilson’s blood count had improved. He said: “Of course, his life-style—no bad habits or harmful tensions—helps to explain such a rapid recovery, but only partially. I really have no full explanation.”
Wilson: Although my rapid recovery impressed everyone, a sudden change darkened the picture. My damaged left leg began to pain me terribly. Upon removing the cast, it was found that gangrene had set in due to a blood clot in the knee. A specialist was brought in. After examining me, he concluded that the clot had been there for some time, no doubt due to the accident. He said that at any moment it could break free and end my life in a matter of seconds. However, there was a chance that the clot could be dissolved with drugs. If not, my leg would have to be amputated.
The drug treatment dissolved the clot, and once again I was out of danger. One day the specialist came to my bed and sat down. He remarked about my rapid recovery from the burns and infections, and now from the blood clot. He asked, out of curiosity I thought, just why I had not accepted a blood transfusion weeks before. I explained why and I can still vividly recall his words: “The reason that blood clot didn’t break free and kill you was the low blood volume and the thinness of the blood. Had you accepted a transfusion, you would probably be dead right now. My congratulations.”
Later on, when I told my wife what the specialist had said, we wept and thanked Jehovah together. It convinced us that obedience to God is always the best course. In my case, it literally saved my life!
Three months after the accident, I was able to leave the hospital. Months of therapy and out-patient treatment awaited me, but the worst had passed.
My recovery continued to defy all predictions. I was never supposed to be able to leave a wheelchair. But I thought that at least I might be able to walk with crutches.
Clarissa: He just wouldn’t give up. I can’t remember how many times I had to help him up off the floor. But finally he could get around all right on crutches. Still he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to use only a cane. Well, after more falls, he accomplished that, too. I remember that one Witness wanted to give him a beautiful, hardwood cane, but Wilson declined the offer. He said that soon he wouldn’t need it. To everyone’s surprise, he didn’t! It’s been more than three years now since the accident. Wilson can do so much more than anyone ever expected.
Wilson: As soon as I could get around a bit, I returned to visit my friends in the hospital ward. Most of them were still there and were very happy for my recovery. As I was walking down the corridor, I passed the doctor who had predicted that I would live only five days. “Hello, doctor,” I said.
“Do I know you?” he asked, with a puzzled look on his face.
“I’m the patient that had only five days to live.”
His face couldn’t conceal his surprise. “Oh, you really look well. Ahem, uh, you seem to have gained a lot of weight. And, uh, it’s really nice that you’ve recovered so quickly.” Then he hurried off.
Many other doctors, nurses and attendants recognized me. They all seemed glad to see me. I’m sure that all of them, even those who tried to convince me to take blood, were interested in seeing me live. They themselves were under pressure, too.
It’s one thing to read experiences about those who refuse blood transfusions in the face of death. But it’s another thing really to live such an experience. When you’re told you have five days to live, and you think of your family waiting for you at home, the consequences of the decision become very clear. How grateful Clarissa and I were for having studied the Bible well and deepened our knowledge of God beforehand. And how we learned to appreciate our Christian brothers! Their visits were so encouraging. Most of all, we learned to appreciate the gift of prayer. We don’t cease thanking Jehovah for having given us the strength to endure when we needed it most.—Contributed.
[Blurb on page 21]
“I’m not interested in your beliefs or in your way of thinking,” the doctor said
[Blurb on page 22]
“I hurt so much that I couldn’t concentrate on morbid thoughts of death or self-pity”
[Blurb on page 22]
“I learned to rely on Jehovah God as never before”
[Blurb on page 23]
“It soon became obvious to all that Wilson simply wasn’t going to die!”
[Blurb on page 23]
The specialist said: “Had you accepted a transfusion, you would probably be dead right now. My congratulations”
[Blurb on page 24]
“How grateful Clarissa and I were for having studied the Bible well and deepened our knowledge of God beforehand”
[Picture on page 22]
“You only have five more days to live,” said the doctor