Cutting the peats
Margaret, her father, her sister Mary Ann and two of her brothers at the peats in the 1960s

Portree harbour
A view of Portree harbour with the Cuillins in the background

More extracts from last year’s diary.

Thursday 22nd November 2012

The day of the operation

As I write this, it’s going on for 9pm. It’s been a stressful day as one would expect. We both woke up at 5am and couldn’t sleep again. Margaret was quite philosophical and calm. We went in to the hospital at 8am and they did some paperwork and took her blood pressure and yet another blood sample. The nurse couldn’t get the result of yesterday’s sample. Her blood pressure was nothing short of a miracle 137/66! Usually it’s in the 190s when it’s taken in hospital or by a doctor. And she hadn’t taken any pills. Well done Margaret. We said our goodbyes. There is always the worst case scenario in the back of our minds. What if something goes wrong and this is the end?

Off to the theatre

She walked off, accompanied by an auxiliary nurse to the theatre. The anaesthetist had seen her and told her what the procedure would be. She would get an epidural in the spine. That would help with the post-operative pain. Then she would get a general anaesthetic and she would be out for the count. After the operation she would be in the recovery room for some time and then be taken to the Surgical High Dependency Unit. I asked when it would be good to phone and the nurse said 3pm. They expected that she would be back in the SHDU by then.

Panic stations

I went back to the accommodation in Kyle Court, read for some time and then went down town to get a top-up for my mobile. I normally hardly ever use the mobile but this week it will be useful for phoning people. Later I went for lunch. I was praying for Margaret and thinking about her. I was sure God would be with her. At 3pm I phoned the SHDU from (Kyle Court) and Margaret hadn’t arrived there. Panic! Why was it taking her so long? Was there something wrong? I rushed over to the hospital, to the admissions lounge, where we had been in the morning, and asked the nurse at the desk what the reason for the delay might be. She didn’t know but she phoned someone and they said she was still in the recovery room. O well, at least she was still alive! She would be going to the SHDU soon she said, probably in the next half hour.

Operation over

I went to get a cup of tea in the hospital tearoom to pass the time and then went up to the SHDU. She was just being wheeled into the Unit. I had to wait some time while they settled her in but when I did see her, although she was sleepy and surrounded by tubes and monitoring equipment, she managed to speak and tell me how she felt. She was obviously relieved that the operation was over. Later when I came back to see her, she told me a doctor, who had been in the theatre team, was very reassuring and told her he thought they had got rid of the cancer completely. There were no complications and the cancer hadn’t spread, although they still had to wait for the pathologist’s report. We were both so relieved and praised God.

Tomorrow will be another day!

Sunday 25th November 2012

Knowing, doubting, despairing

I know I should written this diary on Friday and yesterday, but better late than never. Although, I must say it is better to write the diary for each day. So many things happen, so many thoughts easily forgotten, that unless you write them down on the day the sequence and many of the thoughts are forgotten. Of course, God is a constant in my mind and the story is always the story of how I relate to him. All the faith, the doubts, the knowing with absolute certainty, the doubting, the despairing … The process of being with Margaret and seeing her in the condition that she’s in brings home to me the existence of God with a stern immediacy.

Sips of water

Friday and Saturday weren’t as stressful as Thursday. I saw Margaret on Friday afternoon and in the evening. Naturally, she looked much less doped up than on Thursday although she was attached to all sorts of tubes and monitoring equipment. She was able to talk quite freely. We looked at each other and both appreciated that she was still alive. She was able to take sips of water, up to 30 ml an hour. She had a bit of moderate pain in her stomach. After I had been to see her, I phoned or e-mailed her relatives to let them know how she was.

No complications

Margaret is now being allowed to drink more water, which is a good thing. It amazes me how well she is looking. She saw the surgeon on Saturday morning. He told her the operation had gone as expected, without complications. They removed three quarters of the stomach. She would be in the SHDU for a few more days, he said.

A chat with a stranger

Yesterday, I went down town for my lunch at the Eastgate Centre. A man sat opposite me at the table. We chatted and after a while I told him about Margaret and that she was in hospital. I also told him a little of our story and some of the weird and wonderful things that have happened to us. He was a believer himself and went to church regularly. We agreed that things like what happened to us, like the picture falling, might be of great relevance for us, but not necessarily for others. I found that most interesting, for it brought home to me how very true that is. Even trans-physical effects that happen in our lives don’t necessarily mean a thing to other people. In fact, it might have a negative effect because they may think we’re a) lying b) trying to be special or c) that we’re mentally sick or deluded.

A personal proof

Many people will never understand that (because I was so sceptical and agnostic and thinking along the lines that religion was all in the mind) I really needed trans-physical intervention to bring me to my senses. I really now feel as if I have proof of a dimension beyond time and space, but the proof is probably only for me and Margaret.

The Satan of doubt

Even after everything that has happened, I am still troubled sometimes by the Satan of doubt. Certainly, it is not doubt as before. I place two huge visions side by side: one is the irresistible evidence that the universe was created by a super intelligence who communicates with humanity, the irresistible evidence being scientific and personal. The other from the Satan of doubt is the terrifying vision of the law of the jungle, nature red in tooth and claw, a merciless, unthinking world of predator and prey; endless suffering during the aeons of evolution; just chance and necessity, a totally meaningless world.

That second vision created doubt in my mind for decades. Thankfully, the powerful personal experiences I’ve had plus contemplation of the natural world and the discoveries of science have convinced me of the existence of Almighty God.

Monday 26th November 2012

The Maggie’s Centre

In the morning I phoned the SHDU and was told Margaret would be moving to the main ward in the afternoon. There’s a Maggie’s Centre beside the hospital and I went there while I was waiting to go and see Margaret. Spoke to a lady there from Dundee and who worked in a Maggie’s Centre in that city. She told me of other patients she had known with gastro-intestinal (GI) cancers in a GI support group in Dundee. It was good to speak with her and get a little information on what Margaret might expect, although, of course, everyone is different.

Soup and custard

When I visited Margaret, I was delighted with the progress she had made. All the tubes and monitoring equipment were off her and she had taken some soup and custard. I was amazed! She was still in the SHDU, not because she had to be, but because Ward 4C was full. She would have to wait until tomorrow. I praised God for the progress she was making.

The book of Daniel

Yesterday was a rather special day for me. For some time God has been speaking to me through the book of Daniel. I have wondered, what with Margare
t’s illness and everything else, whether maybe the trust I have in God is a delusion. When I have asked God the question what it all means he has taken me to Daniel 9:20-23 where the angel Gabriel speaks to Daniel. Verse 23 says: ‘At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.’

Looking for a nearby church to go to

On Sunday morning I listened to the Gaelic service on the radio. The reading was Revelation 1and the verse for the sermon was verse 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” I hadn’t been sure what church to go to in Inverness and I had thought of Ness Bank Church of Scotland. I looked it up on the internet and decided to go. In order to get there I had to go via the Crown district. I passed the Crown Church of Scotland and decided that it was easier to park there. And so I went to the service there.

Alpha and Omega

I was so glad I did. I felt that the service was made for me. The readings were Daniel 7: 9-14; Revelation 1: 4-8 and John 18: 28-38. The minister spoke of Daniel’s and John’s vision of the one ‘who is and who was and who is to come’ and of Alpha and Omega. It was as if God was directly speaking to me deliberately destroying any doubts I had from the previous day. Daniel’s vision of the son of man – or ‘the human being’ – whose ‘dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed’ is a most powerful vision realised in the life and resurrection of Jesus. I have now started reading the amazing book of Daniel.

Tuesday 27th November 2012

Porridge, toast and shepherd’s pie

In the morning, I added to the diary and then went down town to get a battery for Margaret’s watch. The battery had run out and she was missing having a watch. Not so important in the main ward, mind you, as there is clock there she can see. I visited Margaret as usual at 2.30 and was really pleased to see how well she is getting on. She is now free of all tubes and she had porridge and toast for breakfast and some shepherd’s pie for lunch. I could hardly believe it! Only five days since the operation and already she is eating solid food. Mistakenly, I thought she would only be getting soups and liquid food for some time. If she keeps going with her progress, I’m hopeful she will get out at the weekend. Three of her sisters are coming – from Lewis and Glasgow – tomorrow to visit her. She is looking forward to that.

Proof of Heaven

I bought a book today called Proof of Heaven by Dr Eben Alexander, although I don’t really like the title (not proof surely, but evidence. There are many books nowadays about near death experiences (NDEs) and if it was a run of the mill NDE book I certainly wouldn’t have bought it. What makes this one different is that it’s written by an eminent American neurosurgeon who was in a coma for seven days and who recalled the most amazing experiences while in the coma. The blurb on the back says:

The book’s blurb

Eminent neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander always considered himself a man of science. His unwavering belief in evidence-based medicine fuelled a career in some of the top institutions in the world. But all that was set to change.

One morning in 2008 he fell into a coma after suffering a rare form of bacterial meningitis. Scans of his brain revealed massive damage. He was not expected to survive. As has family prepared themselves for the worst, something miraculous happened. Dr Alexander’s brain went from near total inactivity to awakening. He woke a changed man, certain of the infinite reach of the soul, certain of a life beyond death.

In this astonishing book, Dr Alexander shares his experience, pieced together from notes he made as soon as he was able to write again. Unlike many other accounts of near-death experiences, he is able to explain why his brain was incapable of fabricating his journey into the afterlife.

A gripping story

The last sentence is probably the most important. Here is a professional brain surgeon who is convinced that there are no naturalistic explanations for what he experience while in the coma.

Dr Bruce Greyson, Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine says of the book: “Proof of Heaven is a gripping story, unique in the literature of spiritual experience, that may well change how we understand our role in the universe.”

Wednesday 28th November 2012

Counting blessings

Yesterday I was writing the diary in the morning. I received an e-mail from our minister. He expects to be in Inverness tomorrow and will visit Margaret. I visited her as usual in the afternoon. She is making good progress although she was a bit tired. In hospital, Margaret sees many cancer patients who are in a much worse condition than she is. She can certainly count her blessings. She is really very fortunate that they caught the malignancy so early. It gives us hope. Margaret had various visitors today, two sisters who travelled from Lewis and another sister from Glasgow. Her granddaughter from Lewis was also in to visit her at night.

Thursday 29th November 2012

Delighted to be getting home

Great news this morning. Margaret is getting home tomorrow. I found this out when I phoned her this morning and was totally surprised to hear the news. I went to see her in the afternoon. She was delighted to be getting home. I hope she will be okay for sitting in the car all the way back to Skye. She had visits from our own minister and from two members of the local congregation. They do hospital visits every Thursday. Everyone is surprised at how well Margaret is getting on and how she is able to eat any kind of food she wants, although in small portions.

The consciousness question

After reading Dr Alexander’s book it strikes me with greater force than ever that a key question is the consciousness question. It is either a product of the brain, say an epiphenomenon, or the brain is merely a conduit, a reducing channel, for something much more basic and wider. To me, it’s becoming ever clearer that it must be the latter. ‘Overwhelmingly clear’ would not be too strong a phrase. The information we see in the information-rich universe is not created by our brain consciousness but by another consciousness external to us.

Life – a horror to be endured or an eternal journey?

What link does this have to human suffering? If part of us, as consciousness, survives death could it mean that this life is meant to be a place of evolution of the soul? Learning through suffering … But what if some people see death as the absolute end? Then life ultimately means nothing. Suffering is a horror to be endured until there is at last relief in death. But if consciousness is more than ‘of the brain’ then this existence could be part of an eternal journey. And the suffering would have a deep meaning because it is through suffering that we learn the most valuable lessons. The meaning of the suffering is learned through the process of suffering. Suffering makes one look to the Creator of suffering and the Creator of love. For it is in the midst of suffering that we learn the meaning of love. Love is ultimately the gift of God, for God is Love.