What Happened When I Almost Died

In October, 2011 I had finished conducting a wedding when I collapsed and was taken to hospital, where they discovered that I had two bleeding ulcers

“Sally Magnusson asked me on the BBC about my near death experience. She wondered if I had had the experience of going to heaven, meeting St Peter at the pearly gates and being turned back. I said no and she smiled: “That’s a shame, you could have made a fortune on the New York Times bestseller list,” referring of course to the plethora of “I went to heaven and met Jesus” books that seem so popular.”


As we reach the end of another year it is always a good time to look back and give thanks, and to look forward with anticipation. I have been writing for Christian Today for a year and thought I would share this very personal story which I hope will be helpful to others.

In October of 2011 I had finished conducting a wedding when I collapsed and was taken to hospital, where they discovered that I had two bleeding ulcers, one over a main artery. In the words of one of the doctors, I was “gushing blood”. After several endoscopies they were unable to stop the bleeding. The surgeon had to cut me open and try to save my life. I was in and out of a coma for several weeks, caught numerous infections, could not breathe (my lungs went down to 30 per cent capacity), developed e coli of the lung and for good measure almost died with pneumonia. Each time I appeared to be getting better I relapsed and each time that happened it appeared as though my prospects were getting worse.

Prayer for Healing

Of course, many people were praying for me. One man told me that he was woken at 3am and could not go back to sleep until he had cried out to the Lord for me. I heard this testimony afterwards from several different people. What was astonishing was that it came from people who did not really know me, from Malaysian Baptists to American Pentecostals, English Catholics and Scottish Presbyterians! My favourite was actually the two atheists who wrote me a card saying they were praying for me. When I recovered I could not resist thanking them and then asking ‘to whom’?

The Free Church then issued a call for prayer one particular weekend. You can call it coincidence but from that weekend on I began to get better. How one interprets that will depends on your pre-suppositions. All I know is that with a haemoglobin rate of four, the medical staff do not understand how I am a) still alive and b) not severely brain damaged.

The experience was not just one of physical pain and suffering. For me it was a deep and profound spiritual experience, and not in a pleasant way. In some ways the spiritual blackness was harder to bear than the physical pain.

In hospital there were things that happened and a darkness of the soul that even today I cannot really talk about. I was on a lot of strong drugs that were psychotic. I became severely delusional. I was still able to write, even though I was in and out of a coma. They took my laptop away after a blog from me appeared in the local newspaper. I have no idea how that happened but apparently I am the only person to have successfully blogged from ICU. I was very delusional, even writing at one point “I want to see Justin Bieber”!

I certainly did know the terrors of the night. There were times I could not pray. One time especially Annabel remembers was when I told her I was in hell and could not pray. I asked her to pray and she couldn’t because the blackness was so great. Instead my family just prayed the psalms. Ah, the psalms! What a treasure trove of wonderful medicine for the soul. How can any Christian survive without them? When I began to recover, because of the darkness of the experience and the anxiety, I used to watch this version of Ps 91 every night to help me go to sleep.

Family suffering and support

Another lesson I learned is that often the suffering of the family is worse than the suffering of the patient. When I got out and made a quite remarkable recovery the chief nursing staff spoke to me and agreed that there was little support for families whose relatives were in ICU for a long time. So we set up ICU Steps, which is a support group for relatives and those who have recovered and are trying to cope with life outwith the hospital.

God’s amazing provision

There is so much to be thankful for. I find it somewhat sad that some of my atheist friends mock this and think that you cannot be thankful to God and to science at the same time. But I am thankful to God for science, as I am thankful to him for all the means he uses, including doctors and nurses and the NHS.

When I first got home for a couple of hours one Saturday it was an incredible feeling just to drink in fresh air. That is a feeling that I rarely lose. Likewise with the other simple things in life – water, food, music and Talisker. And food. I was ‘nil by mouth’ for several weeks. I remember the first time they allowed me to eat something. It was one small portion of Ambrosia creamed rice. I hate Ambrosia creamed rice, but that first small spoonful tasted like nectar.

I know that God delights in the details as well as the big stuff. Sometimes it is the wee tokens that speak so much of his loving and gracious provision. At the very moment I arrived home there was a parcel delivery of a large hamper of goodies from Marks and Spencer. This had been ordered by a friend in the US who knew that I was ill but had no idea if, and when, I was getting out. His hamper arrived at precisely the moment I crossed my own threshold. But that was not enough. Also at the time a large bunch of beautiful flowers arrived – again ordered by someone who had no idea I was going to be coming home at precisely the point they arrived. They had no idea. But Someone did. Coincidence?

The beauty of the Bride of Christ

Everywhere I go in the world I meet people who say, “We have been praying for you.” The body of Christ can at times be ugly but when she is beautiful, she is really beautiful. I know of no family or community like it. It was quite ironic as well, that people who had a really strong dislike of me, or were upset at things I had said or done in the church, wrote and were genuinely concerned. One lesson I learned was that everyone loves you when you are dying!

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