Now I’m Happy to Be Alive!
“You realize that you will die, don’t you?” the doctor asked. Ironically, twice before, death would have been a welcome relief. But not this time. Let me explain.
I WAS raised in a Long Island, New York, suburb, where my father was a popular race-car driver. He was a perfectionist who thrived on competition. He was also temperamental and very difficult to please. Mom, on the other hand, was a more peaceful, quiet person, who was so fearful of Dad’s racing that she couldn’t bring herself to watch him race.
My brother and I learned early on to maintain a low profile at home, something Mom had already been accustomed to doing. But it came at a cost. We all lived in fear of Dad. It affected me in that I never felt I could do anything right. My self-respect sank lower still when, in my early teens, a family “friend” sexually molested me. Unable to cope with my feelings, I attempted suicide. That was the first time I thought death would be a welcome relief.
I felt worthless and unloved and developed an eating disorder common to young women with low self-respect. I began leading a life of thrill seeking, substance abuse, fornication, and abortions—“lookin’ for love in all the wrong places,” as a line from a song goes. I was into motorcycling, car racing, and scuba diving, and periodically I took gambling trips to Las Vegas. I also sought the advice of a fortune-teller and used the Ouija board for fun, not realizing the dangers of spiritism.—Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
In addition, thrill seeking led to involvement in such illegal activities as dealing drugs and shoplifting. My search for love and approval also resulted in a long line of boyfriends and fiancés. All these factors combined to create a life-style that was much more dangerous than I realized.
One night, after taking a combination of alcohol and drugs in the pits at the racetrack, I unwisely allowed my boyfriend to drive me home. After I passed out in the front seat, he evidently did the same. I was jolted awake by the impact of a collision. I was hospitalized with many injuries, but eventually I recovered with only a damaged right knee.
Desire for Something Better
Although I had little appreciation for my own life, I was very concerned about the safety and rights of children and animals and about protecting the environment. I yearned to see a better world and, in an effort to help create one, was active in many organizations. This desire for a better world is what initially attracted me to the things being said by a coworker who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She kept referring to “this system” in a frustrated way whenever things went wrong on the job. When I asked her what she meant, she explained that one day soon life would be free from all anxieties. Since I respected her very much, I listened with interest.
Unfortunately, we lost touch, but I never forgot the things she had said. I realized that one day I would have to make major life-style changes in order to be pleasing to God. But I wasn’t ready. Still, I would announce to prospective marriage mates that someday I would become a Witness and if they didn’t like that, now was the time to break up.
As a result, my last boyfriend wanted to know more, saying that if I was interested, he might be also. So we began to search for the Witnesses. Instead, they found us when they called at my front door. A Bible study was started, but eventually, my boyfriend chose to stop studying and go back to his wife.
My Bible study was often irregular. It took time for me to appreciate Jehovah’s view on the sanctity of life. Once I adjusted my thinking, however, I saw the need to cancel skydiving trips and to quit smoking. As life became more precious to me, I was ready to settle down and not take chances anymore. On October 18, 1985, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. Little did I know how soon my life would hang in the balance.
Again Wishing to Die
A few months later—on the night of March 22, 1986—I was in front of my house, taking the laundry out of my car, when a speeding car hit me and dragged me more than a hundred feet [30 m]! I was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. Even though I sustained head injuries, I was conscious the whole time.
Face down in the middle of a dark road, I could think only of the horror of being hit again. The pain was excruciating, more than I could bear. So I kept praying to Jehovah to let me die. (Job 14:13) A woman appeared who happened to be a nurse. I asked her to adjust the position of my legs, as they were mangled. She did, and she also made a tourniquet with a part of her dress, to stop the bleeding from the compound fractures in one leg. My boots were found a block away, filled with blood!
Passersby, not realizing that I’d been a pedestrian, kept asking me where my car was. Not knowing how far I’d been dragged, I thought I was still next to it! When paramedics arrived, they thought I was going to die. So they called police detectives, since vehicular homicide can be a felony. The driver was eventually apprehended. They roped off the area as a crime scene and impounded my car as evidence. Both doors on one side had been ripped off.
Facing a Crisis
Meanwhile, when I arrived at the local trauma center, I kept repeating, even through the oxygen mask: “No blood, no blood. I’m one of Jehovah’s Witnesses!” The last thing I remember is feeling the huge clothing shears going up my back and hearing the trauma team frantically shouting orders.
When I awoke, I was amazed to be alive. I drifted in and out of consciousness. Each time I woke up, I asked my family to contact the couple who had studied the Bible with me. My family was unhappy that I had become a Witness, so they conveniently “forgot” to inform them. But I persisted—it was the first thing that I asked about every time I opened my eyes. Eventually, my persistence paid off, and one day when I awoke, there they were. What a relief! Jehovah’s people knew where I was.
My joy was short-lived, however, because my blood count began to drop and I experienced a high fever. Bones suspected of causing infection were removed, and four rods were put in my leg. But soon the high fever returned, and my leg turned black. Gangrene had set in, and survival depended upon amputating the leg.
Pressured to Take Blood
Since my blood count had dropped dramatically, surgery was considered impossible without a blood transfusion. Doctors, nurses, family members, and old friends were called in to pressure me. Then, whispering began at my door. I overheard doctors planning something, but I couldn’t make out what it was. Fortunately, a Witness visiting at the time overheard the plan to try to force a transfusion on me. She immediately contacted the local Christian elders, who came to my assistance.
A psychiatrist was hired to evaluate my mental state. The clear intent was to have me declared incompetent and thereby override my wishes. This plan failed. Then, a member of the clergy, who himself had accepted a blood transfusion, was brought in to convince me that taking blood was OK. Finally, my family sought a court order to force blood on me.
About two o’clock in the morning, a team of doctors, a court stenographer, a bailiff, lawyers representing the hospital, and a judge marched into my hospital room. Court was in session. I had no prior notice, no Bible, no representation, and I was heavily medicated for pain. The outcome of the session? The judge denied the court order, saying that he was even more impressed with the integrity of Jehovah’s Witnesses than he had been before.
A hospital in Camden, New Jersey, agreed to handle my case. Since the hospital administration in New York was infuriated, they withheld all treatment from me, including painkillers. They also refused to allow the helicopter to land that was to take me to the New Jersey hospital. Thankfully, I survived the ambulance ride there. Upon arriving, I heard the words mentioned at the beginning of this story: “You realize that you will die, don’t you?”
I was so weak that a nurse had to help me make an X on the consent form to grant permission for the surgery. My right leg had to be amputated above the knee. Afterward, my hemoglobin count dropped below 2, and the doctors suspected severe brain damage. This was because they had failed to get a response when calling in my ear, “Virginia, Virginia”—the name on my admittance papers. But upon hearing, “Ginger, Ginger,” softly whispered some time later, I opened my eyes and saw a gentleman whom I had never seen before.
Bill Turpin was from one of the local congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New Jersey. He had learned my nickname Ginger—by which I had been known all my life—from Witnesses in New York. He framed questions that I could answer by blinking, since I was on a respirator and could not speak at all. “Do you want me to continue to try to see you,” he asked, “and to tell the Witnesses in New York about you?” I couldn’t blink enough! Brother Turpin had taken a risk by sneaking into my room, since my family had ordered that I was to have no Witness visitors.
After six months of hospitalization, I could still do only basic daily activities, such as feeding myself and brushing my teeth. Eventually, I received an artificial leg and was able to get around a little with a walker. When I left the hospital in September 1986 and returned to my apartment, for another six months or so, a health aide stayed with me at home to help me.
Help From Our Brotherhood
Even before returning home, I truly began to appreciate what it means to be a part of the Christian brotherhood. (Mark 10:29, 30) The brothers and sisters lovingly attended not only to my physical needs but to my spiritual ones as well. With their loving help, I was able to resume Christian meeting attendance and, in time, even to share in what is called the auxiliary pioneer ministry.
The civil lawsuit against the driver of the car, which usually takes a minimum of five years even to appear on the court calendar, was settled within several months—to the surprise of my attorney. With the proceeds from the settlement, I was able to move to a more accessible home. In addition, I purchased a van equipped with a wheelchair lift and hand controls. Thus, in 1988, I entered the regular pioneer ranks, devoting at least 1,000 hours to the preaching work each year. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed working territories in the states of North Dakota, Alabama, and Kentucky. I’ve put over 100,000 miles [150,000 km] on my van, most of them in the Christian ministry.
I have had many amusing experiences in the use of my electric three-wheeled scooter. Twice I’ve turned it over while working with traveling overseer’s wives. Once, in Alabama, I erroneously thought I could jump a small creek with it and ended up on the ground, covered in mud. Yet, keeping a sense of humor and not taking myself too seriously has helped me maintain a positive attitude.
Sustained by a Sure Hope
Sometimes health problems have been almost overwhelming. I had to discontinue pioneering on two occasions a few years ago because it appeared that my other leg might need to be amputated. The threat of losing my leg is constant now, and for the past five years, I’ve been completely confined to a wheelchair. In 1994, I broke my arm. I needed help bathing, dressing, cooking, and cleaning and had to have transportation everywhere. Yet, because of the assistance of the brothers, I was able to continue pioneering through this setback.
Throughout my life I sought what seemed to be thrills, but now I realize that the most thrilling times are ahead. My conviction that God will heal all present infirmities in his fast-approaching new world is what makes me happy to be alive now. (Isaiah 35:4-6) In that new world, I look forward to swimming with the whales and dolphins, exploring the mountains with a lion and her cubs, and doing something as simple as walking on a beach. It gives me delight to envision doing all the things that God created us to enjoy in that Paradise on earth.—As told by Ginger Klauss.
[Picture on page 21]
When gambling was part of my life
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God’s promises sustain me