It did not take long when I woke up that early April 2009 morning to figure out that I was lying in a hospital ICU bed. There were tubes running in and out of my body. My arms were tied down to the bed- because apparently I kept trying to pull the tubes out. My hands, arms and legs were literally twice their normal size because of the IV fluids- I had been dehydrated. It was 5am and out of the darkness, and out of view, I heard a voice say, "Are you in any pain?" It was a doctor making early rounds. I thought that was a good question and after a quick inventory I shook my head "No" because the tubes in my mouth would not let me speak. He repeated the question a couple of times- perhaps out of disbelief. I did not know that I had been 9 days in a diabetic coma- nor how I got there.
Much of March that year I had not been feeling well. My favorite foods and drinks tasted bad to me. I could not keep anything down in my stomach- and was perpetually exhausted. Later in the month I had a lime green bowel movement and thought to myself "That is not good- I should have it checked out" which I immediately dismissed. To this day when I see "Obey Warning Signs" on the roadway I say "Yes Lord", I will.
I played the piano for church, as usual on that Sunday, but felt like I had just ran a marathon afterward. I went home afterward to rest and woke up 12 hours later- still exhausted. I slept most the next day. The next thing I remember was my helper leaving at midnight Monday night. I told him I would get up later and lock the door- which I did not do. Good thing. My daughter,not being able to contact me for two days, made the drive across town with her husband to see if I was ok. They found me unconscious on the floor lying in my own vomit and urine. I had been there for 20 hours from the night before. They called 911. Had she not come to check on me, I would have surely died.
The doctor came out to the ER waiting room and told them that he was sorry, but that her daddy would not be alive in the morning. My blood sugar was 2400, BP 60/20, temp 107 and all my organs were shutting down. My temp spiked to 112 and they packed me in ice. I was on a respirator and life support- in a coma. People simply do not survive, he said, with those kind of numbers
My family started to pray and make their way to Houston. I was alive in the morning, given a 5% chance to survive. They told visitors if I did not die, I would be a vegetable because of the high temp.
My son-in-law Dave left a msg with Pastor Rick saying that I was in ICU and not expected to live. Pastor came to the hospital and talked with the head nurse. She said she has done this for 30 years and people come in sometimes with very high blood sugar. Many of them die and none of them had blood sugar levels as high as mine. He talked with the doctor who told him that they've done everything they can and that I was in God's hands now. Turns out that's a pretty good place to be.
After prayer meeting that night, Pastor Rick felt like God was telling him to go and read scripture over me. So he got special permission to see me after hours. He saw my pale gray skin color, my oversized body, the respirator breathing for me, and the ice cooling me down. He opened his bible at random, not sure what to read. He said, "Chuck- here are red letters, words of Jesus. Let's start here." Of all the verses in the Bible, his eyes fell on that open page to John 11:4, right after Jesus was told that his friend Lazarus was dead. "This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that God would be glorified". He said he kept reading that verse over and over for a very long time. That's when he knew that God would do a miracle of healing. I remained in a coma for 9 days.
The day I woke up was a celebration day. People from church and friends came by to rejoice with me. My pregnant daughter, who had been there every day was my rock. Several people told me that when they came by earlier in the week, they found Pastor Rick and Pastors Neil and Joan Sayers praying over me- sometimes praying in tongues for God to do a mighty miracle. My 86 year old folks had driven straight through from Minnesota to Houston. They had been there the whole week. My brother Rick drove down from Denver. His daughter, Tonya, and her husband, Chris, flew in from California. Sister Patti and brother Randy also flew down. My brother told me that Tonya prayed a very powerful prayer with the family around my bed. Afterward, he fully expected me to wake up- which, of course I did- just not right then.
The moment I came out of the coma, I had bits and pieces of memories rattling around in my brain. They seemed to be memories of when I had been in a coma. I started to piece them together. I remembered being in a small room. It had locker room style benches, no doors or windows, and red lights flashing in the upper corners. I could see myself lying on the floor- and as I lifted up on my elbows to look around. A voice spoke to me and said, "You might die tonight. The decision has not yet been made. When the lights stop flashing, then you will know". I simply nodded my understanding and laid back down in total exhaustion, too tired to pray or even think of my family. I remember hearing a noise as I was lying there. It was the sound of people talking in an auditorium before an event. Crowd murmur. You could not tell who was talking or what they were saying. The noise kept getting louder. I started to hear snippets of what they were saying. At some point I realized that these were prayers being prayed for me. "In the mighty name of Jesus..." For your glory, God..." "Jehovah Rapha, our healer..." Somehow I could tell where they originated. Right next to me, in the building, city, state , country- even overseas. Later that summer I got emails from Africa from missionaries that my cousin Char had asked to pray for me. I literally had a dream team of prayer warriors. The crowd noise got so loud that I watched myself put my hands over my ears. Then, like someone flipped a switch- it stopped. There was a moment of silence followed by a shout of victory praising God for the miracle that He was doing in me. I thought of the shout that caused the walls of Jericho to come down. The shout eventually faded out and then the lights in the room stopped flashing. I remember saying "Oh-oh" right out loud. A voice spoke to me and said, " You're not going to die tonight. Not here. Not now." Then it said "Rest". And I knew that did not mean sleep. It meant that He was going to rest me - mentally, spiritually, physically , and emotionally. And that's what He did.
The first night after my coma in ICU I woke up in the middle of the night and sensed the spirit of the Lord there with me. I saw something I could not quite make out on the floor in the corner of the room. It looked like a person that had been crumpled up into a ball like trash and thrown away. As I looked closer, it looked a lot like me. I cried out "Jesus- why did you throw me away". I'm sure I heard Him laugh, "No- that's not you. That's who you used to be. Old things have passed away and behold all things have become new". He went on to tell me that there was nothing special about me that caused the miracle to happen to me. It was God's people- their prayers and faith that brought the miracle of my healing. He said that He does not have a bucket full of miracles that would someday run out. Everything He does is a miracle. He said that it did not take any more power for Him to raise me up from that deathbed than it did for Him to wake me up this morning. He said I would spend the rest of my life telling this story and letting people know that He is still answering prayer and doing miracles.
I went to my daughter's house when I got out of the hospital. I could not walk without a walker. Having no insurance there was no physical therapy to help. Pastor Rick, from his own experience, told me that the most important thing about recovery is exercise. That's what, he said, drives your appetite and rest. Walk on your walker to the end of the driveway, then the next day to the neighbor's mailbox. Then to the end of the block... etc. It took a couple of weeks to get off my walker. Then a few months to get back to normal.
Those of you who minister to others, and yourselves, on the piano will appreciate this next part. My cousin Gary's son, Justin, is a neurologist- brain surgeon. Justin told his dad that because my temperature was so high there had to have been damage to the neuron pathways that go from your brain to your fingers. When I heard that, I was deathly afraid to play the piano. What if I could not play? It took a couple of weeks before I found enough courage to try. I sat down at the piano and closed my eyes. I put my hands on the keyboard and started to play the Dennis Jernigan song "For all that You've done I will thank You". Tears of relief started to fall as I played through the whole song. Another miracle. Thank you Jesus. Jernigan did a concert at my church later that year. I told him this story. He started the set with this song in honor of the miracles God did in my life. It may not have been the highlight of my life, but it ranks right up there.
I ended up being in the hospital for three weeks. Every day they did dialysis in my room- or in the clinic- because my kidneys were damaged by the from the whole ordeal. When I got out of the hospital, they set me up for three days a week dialysis in a Davita clinic. It's not a particularly painful procedure but it's definitely not something that you look forward to. I remember sitting in the parking lot before my session crying- but thanking God for my miracle and for the opportunity to be there to have dialysis. I was truly blessed to be able to drive myself. Some people would come in an ambulance. They would put them in a wheelchair with a sheet on it. Then they would lift them- and the sheet- into the dialysis chair. Then reverse the process when it was over. Sometimes they did not even wake up. Quite a few had toes or limbs amputated.
Dialysis is like someone pulling the plug on your soul while you are sitting there in the chair. It doesn't hurt that much, but part of you is missing after the process.
They start asking you to get rid of the hospital catheter on the first day. It can very easily become infected and because it is connected to your heart- that could be fatal. They want you have a fistula put in your arm, which is a much easier and safer way to connect to the machine. My doctor wanted to wait for the fistula because, she said, sometimes your kidney function kicks back in 4-6 weeks after trauma. In June, she ordered a 24 hour urinalysis test. I recall her walking to my dialysis chair a week later reading the results of the test. She was shaking her head side to side. "I'm so sorry Mr Bollinger", she said, "but it looks like you will be on dialysis for the rest of your life. We need to schedule you to have a fistula put in your arm". They test for many things in the urinalysis test, but the main one she looked at was a composite creatine score. Normal range is 60-80. My score was 6. The news was like a dagger in my chest. I said to myself-"you know what? You can do this". There are a lot of things worse than dialysis.
I went to the fistula place and asked them if they could guarantee that there would be no chronic pain or diminished motor function in my hands. Of course they could not do that. So they grafted a high tech tube to an artery in my left upper thigh. They could poke the needles into it through my skin and set up the process using the tube. The holes would "heal" themselves.
In October 2009, they did another 24 hour urinalysis test. My church was praying and believing that God would heal my kidney function- as was I. I remember praying one night during the summer for my kidneys to be healed. Seems like I heard a voice that said, "You did not have anything to do with the miracle of your deathbed healing. That was God's peoples' prayers- and faith. But this, your kidney miracle, is on you". I started to cry. I said "I do believe you can heal my kidney function, Lord, I've seen what you can do". I took my bottle of urine into the clinic one early morning before my session. It was dark and no one was in there. It seemed silly, but I put my hands on that bottle of pee and prayed that God would work yet another miracle of healing my kidney function- for His glory. My dialysis center had 100 chairs. They said it was the largest in the world. They were uber efficient at every detail of testing and the process, so when I realized around Thanksgiving that year that I never got my test results, I asked the nurse to see if she could find them. It took her a while, but she brought them to me, I was surprised to see that my scores for most of the different tests were within, or very close to, the normal ranges. My doctor was not there, but she took the results to another doctor there that day. He looked at them and told the nurse that if I was his patient, he would greatly reduce the dialysis time- or take me off altogether. Later, my doctor agreed. In December, he asked if it would be ok to go from 3 days a week treatment to 2 days a week treatment. In January, he came to my chair, looking at recent test results . He said that there was no longer a reason for me to need to have dialysis and sent me home. Thank you Jesus
To Christy and Terie who drove down from Wichita
To Rick Eubanks who dropped everything to come pray for me in the hospital. He said he didn't know whether or not to bring a suit- for a funeral. He never did tell me if he brought one.
Willie Francis and Jay Everett went way out of their way to visit. Former co-workers. They will never know how much that meant to me.
My good friend Bil Cusack took time from his busy schedule to visit several times. He also took on my workload tuning pianos. He set aside a percentage of the proceeds and when I got out of the hospital, he cut a nice check that was a huge help getting restarted. Especially when doing dialysis 3 days a week.
My nephew Chase drove down from Waco. He stopped along the way and picked (illegally) some April Texas bluebonnets. He talked with my doctors and made sense of what was going on with me.