May 15th of this year was an eventful day. My husband, Rolf, was scheduled for bypass surgery. We had to be at the hospital by 5 a.m., so we stayed in a hotel the night before to make things easier. We live in New Jersey but the hospital is in Brooklyn.
We checked in and were sent upstairs to prepare. Everything was going smoothly and we were laughing and talking as we always do. When my son, Brian, texted me and asked me how we were doing, I said we were so calm that we must be stupid. He said, “Not stupid, just faithful.”
A little later Rolf said, “I’ve been praying to Jesus and God my whole life now I may get to see them.” I said, “Stop it.” But that concept remained with me, for the following days. As they wheeled him away from me he said, “I always love you. Remember that.”
I went up to the waiting area and more than four hours later, the doctor came to see me. “The operation is over,” he said, “come to my office.”
In his office, he told me that there was a mechanical mishap, and one of the tubes on the heart/lung machine came off and air was introduced into Rolf’s circulatory system. Our doctor conferred with many other doctors that rushed to the operating room and they did what they could to get the bubbles of air out of his circulatory system. After all of that, our doctor did the bypass.
But a number of questions remained. Was his brain damaged? Would he wake up? What would his condition be?
The doctors tried to wake him up to see if they could find the answers to those questions. Rolf was very agitated and so our doctor decided to heavily sedate him to give his brain time to heal.
The days that followed were all the same. Rolf had lots of tubes and monitors in and around him. And, every morning, after Mass and Communion, I sat by his bed waiting for him to wake up. I talked to him. I sang to him. I played his favorite songs. And, most of all, I prayed.
My dear children took turns sitting by the bed with me and the doctor came down personally to explain to each of them what had gone wrong and answer any questions they might have.
Many people, relatives and friends, sent the simple text, “How is Rolf doing?” My answer was always the same, “He’s doing fine. Please keep praying.”
All I wanted was for him to wake up and be okay but that was not happening. The doctor said that he was not going to reduce the sedation just to make us happy. I was told that I had to be patient and that he wouldn’t wake up until sometime next week.
Sometimes I would imagine a future filled with difficulties, but the Lord told me clearly, “Be not afraid.” I tried to hold onto that and not imagine the future since I didn’t know what that would be. But, whatever it turned out to be, I knew that I would handle it. There were only three possible outcomes: full recovery, a level of disability, or death. I prayed that Our Lord would have mercy on us.
As the days passed, Rolf developed a fever and they treated it with medication. Meanwhile, he slept on. All kinds of tests and scans were done to try to determine the condition of his brain. There were some positive signs but the doctors seemed to agree that, until he was awake again, nothing was certain.
On Sunday, May 19th, they slowly began to lower the sedation. They told me he would sleep for three or four more days.
I continued to pray for his recovery and began the novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots. I imagined a series of knots in his brain and asked Our Blessed Mother to smooth them out. As I prayed the novena every day before Mass, I heard a very clear message from Mary: “No forgiveness-no healing. I interpreted this as meaning, I was not to try to place blame for the incident in the OR. I was to be kind and forgiving to all of the medical professionals. Then my prayers would be answered.
The doctor was completely honest and open with me and my children. Sometimes the news was devastating and sometimes it was mildly encouraging but I had to be patient and continue to pray. It was so encouraging to know that many people were praying for Rolf with me.
Things continued every day as before. They would shout commands at Rolf: “Open your eyes,” “Wiggle your toes,” and “Raise your arm.” At times, there was no response. At other times, it took so long to see a minimal movement, that we couldn’t be sure it could even be classified as a response.
The doctor stopped the breathing machine to see if he could breathe on this own. He could not. His life was being mechanically supported. Turn off the machines and he would die. After all these days of recovery, this was not good news. I had to persevere in prayer.
Things didn’t seem to be improving. Rolf had developed pneumonia and had a continuing fever. I just wanted him to open his eyes, wake up, and be the man I fell in love with over 50 years ago.
It was now the seventh day after surgery. I was in a cab on the way to the hospital and got a call from the doctor. With a pounding heart, I answered the phone. “Rolf woke up. He asked for two Leinenkugels (his favorite summer beer) and a Pepsi,” the doctor exclaimed. My tearful response was, “Oh, my God, can he talk?” I rushed to his room to see him talking to the neurologist. When the neurologist said his cognitive development seemed fine, Rolf was impressed. I said, “This is a very smart doctor. He helped you a lot.”
All day long, Rolf was talking in a raspy voice asking for food and Pepsi. We had to take things slow but I was elated that he was back.
No remembrance of this ordeal would be complete without sharing the spiritual side of what was going on.
On that very first day, when I heard of the mechanical mishap in the OR, I wrote this in my prayer journal:
“Lord Jesus, You raised Lazarus from the dead. And he was dead for three days! My dear Rolf has been asleep for 22 hours. Please place your healing hand on him and repair whatever damage there might be.Let his body be fully healed in your most precious and powerful name I pray. I love you, Lord Jesus, and I will tell of your glorious healing power.” That same night I read this in the book, “Every Day Is A Gift”: We must strive to place ourselves completely in God’s hands. Then He will cause us to feel the effects of His goodness – WHICH ARE AT TIMES EXTRAORDINARY.”
Two days later I wrote, “Lord Jesus, please help me to stop imagining the future. My life and Rolf’s life are in your hands. I trust you. The only message You gave me was, ‘Be not afraid.’ I won’t with your help.” then I quoted scripture, “Lord, I believe in You. Help my unbelief.”
On the fifth day, I was losing hope so I had to write in my prayer journal:
I am writing this letter to record and remember all of the wonderful things you are doing for me:
1-You are keeping me strong even when the doctor is giving me devastating news.
2-You have given me prayer partners all over the US.
3-You have given my daughter the vision of a healing beam of light coming down from heaven and entering Rolf.
4-As in “Footprints,” you are carrying me and Rolf across the beach.
5-You are pouring liquid gold (signifying God’s richest blessings) down on me.
6-You have stationed angels in my hotel room and Rolf’s hospital room.
7-Jesus, the Great Physician, is in Rolf’s hospital room treating him.
8-You have told me twice, “Be not afraid.”
9-You have told me twice to pray the novena to Mary, Undoer of Knots and I started today.
10-So far, every single test and scan has been positive. This fills me with hope.
11-I believe Rolf’s healing will amaze the doctors.
12-I promise to give you all the glory.
Thank you, Father God.
When Rolf woke up, on the seventh day after surgery, I wrote:
Father God, Thank you seems like such a simple response for all that you have done for me. Rolf could have died. He could have lost so much. And now he’s back. I owe You so much. You are so good to me.
Blessed Mother, I never talked to you before as I talked to you while I was praying that novena. And the words I prayed gave me new insight into your awesome love, mercy, and concern for us, your children. Thank you, dear mother, for hearing my prayer, Thank you for praying for Rolf. I am so happy.
About three weeks after the operation we were at home and I wrote:
June 7, 2019
So much has happened since Rolf came home.
-The pneumonia is healed.
-He is walking around the block.
-He is using the exercise bike.
-He is still tired and he calls it malaise but maybe it’s a little depression.
-He is eating well.
-He is sleeping a lot and that is healing.
-His voice is getting stronger and he really wants that.
-I keep replaying the entire thing in my mind.
-I remember how Our Lord, Jesus, brought me through.
-I also remember my prayers to my Blessed Mother and I know she prayed for us because the answers came so quickly and so perfectly.
-The doctor said our whole family: me, Eric, Gloria and Brian were “so special” and he really appreciated that we didn’t lose control and yell and scream, but that we just prayed. I told him that is our faith and in the novena I was praying, it said you have to forgive if you want an answer and we had already forgiven.
-I imagined a horrible future for Rolf and I’m so thankful that it never came to be.
-I rebuked those thoughts in the mighty name of Jesus Christ whenever they came up.
-It meant so much to me to know that so many people were praying for us.
PRAYER CHANGES THINGS!
In closing, I just want to say that so many doctors came by Rolf’s room just to see the “Miracle Man” as they called him. They were right. He is really a “Miracle Man.” Thanks be to God!
Judith and Rolf Friedmann are members of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral Parish in Freehold, where Rolf serves as a deacon.