Facing a Medical Emergency
“I WILL be frank; what you have is a malignant tumor. If we don’t take it out in time, it will harm other vital organs. That is why I recommend the amputation of your leg.”
The doctor’s words hit me, as we say here in Peru, like a bucket of cold water. I was only 21. A month earlier I had begun to feel pain in my left knee and was treated for rheumatism. Within a few days, however, I could not even stand.
At the time, I was serving as a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Andes in central Peru. After returning to my hometown of Huancayo, I was accompanied by my mother down to the city of Lima on the coast. There, on July 22, 1994, I entered the best cancer hospital in the country, where I learned that my disease was called osteosarcoma.
A Matter of Conscience
I was soon informed that the hospital did not perform operations without the use of blood. One doctor even said: “I prefer that you die at home than that your death be on my hands.” But the local Hospital Liaison Committee (HLC), a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses who promote hospital and patient cooperation, intervened in my behalf. As a result, the head surgeon of the hospital gave permission for any doctor on his staff to operate if he wanted to accept the challenge. One doctor was willing, and I was immediately prepared for surgery.
I had many visitors prior to surgery. A priest, with Bible in hand, came by and said that my illness was a punishment from God. He urged me to avail myself of whatever treatment could save my life. I told him that I was determined to abide by the Bible’s command to ‘abstain from blood.’—Acts 15:19, 20, 28, 29.
Nurses would also come in and mutter: “How foolish, how foolish!” Groups of doctors came by as well. They wanted to see the young man who had refused to accept a blood transfusion for a type of surgery in which they considered blood a requisite. The most important visits to me, however, were those of my fellow Christians and relatives. The nurses were quite impressed by these many encouraging visits.
Successful Treatment Without Blood
Just minutes before I was put to sleep, I heard one of the anesthetists say: “I won’t be responsible for what happens!” But the other anesthetist, as well as my surgeon and the hospital directors, honored my request not to receive blood. The next thing I heard was an anesthetist saying: “Samuel, wake up. Your operation is over.”
Although my entire leg had been removed, I began to feel severe pain where it had been. I wanted to relieve the pain by rubbing my thigh, which, of course, was no longer there. I was experiencing the strange phenomenon known as phantom pain. I really felt pain, and it was excruciating, even though the limb from which the pain seemed to come had been removed.
Next, I was scheduled to receive chemotherapy. A side effect of this treatment is a loss of red and white blood cells and of blood platelets, which are vital to clotting. This meant that a new group of doctors had to be informed of my refusal to accept blood transfusions. Again the HLC communicated with those responsible, and the doctors agreed to administer the treatment without blood.
The usual side effects followed the chemotherapy—my hair fell out and I experienced nausea, vomiting, and depression. I had also been informed that there would be a 35-percent risk of a brain hemorrhage. I couldn’t help asking one of the doctors what was going to kill me—the cancer or the chemotherapy.
Afterward, the doctors said that they could not give the second dosage of chemotherapy without first building up my blood count with a blood transfusion. One doctor angrily told me that if he were able to, he would put me to sleep and give me the blood. I told him that before I would let that happen, I would discontinue the chemotherapy altogether. The doctor expressed admiration for my firm stand.
I agreed to take erythropoietin to build up my blood count. When it was administered, my blood count rose. Thereafter, the chemotherapy was given to me intravenously over a period of several days. I would lie there wondering, ‘Will this be the dosage that gives me a brain hemorrhage?’ Thankfully I finished taking all the medication without disastrous consequences.
Before my surgery it was the hospital’s policy to turn people away if they would not accept blood transfusions. But this policy changed. In fact, the very day after my surgery my surgeon did another operation without using blood, and this time the patient was not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses! Now a number of doctors in that hospital are working closely with the HLC, and they have agreed to accept patients who want bloodless surgery.
Adjusting to Limitations
Ever since I was a child, I had been taught God’s ways. I am sure this helped me to hold to my Bible-based convictions in this medical emergency. However, lately I have been distressed that I have not been able to do as much as I would like in God’s service. I mentioned my feelings to an uncle who is a Christian elder. He reminded me that even the apostle Paul had what he called a ‘thorn in his flesh’ and that this prevented him from serving God as fully as he wanted to. But Paul did what he could. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) My uncle’s comments helped me immensely.
Recently I was fitted for an artificial leg. Hopefully this will make it possible for me to render more extensive service to our God, Jehovah. I am thankful that I kept a good conscience during my medical emergency. I am confident that if I continue faithful, Jehovah will reward me with a sound body and life everlasting in a paradise earth, where pain and suffering will be no more.—Revelation 21:3, 4.—As told by Samuel Vila Ugarte.