Roy Exum: Me & Billy Graham: Part II

Monday, February 26, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Oh my gracious, what a Sunday blessing I hope I’ll always remember! I am so humbled by the kindness and warmth of my Facebookers’ comments and all the emails after my story, “Me & Billy Graham.” I have lived a one-of-a-kind life due to the giants who shared my life and it’s not lost on me that the biggest of those I hold in my heart aren’t necessarily famous or rich or successful or pretty. Love could care less.
Honor bright – I had no way of knowing the story would get over 300 “likes” on Facebook, a long list of comments from some of my favorite people and over 100 personal emails.
The worst thing you can do is write about yourself and, with my ego and my faults, I’m a lot like horseradish – even the smallest amount goes a long way. But I have been touched this weekend, my friends.
There is a cute “rest of the story” that I should have included. Actually there are a couple of things:
After Billy Graham held me in that hug and prayed for me, the pain that had me in its grip that morning at Mayo Clinic eased up and the waves of nausea seemed like they were gone. Oh, I was still in real trouble but when I got to the surgery floor, I was totally at peace, the panicky urgency that scrambled me gone.
Because of the nerve tests that morning we had to suspend the pain meds so one reason I was rushing to the OR was because the fabulous Mayo doctors predicted I would be in a tight twist and would need some strong pain meds the second they could get me on a gurney. As always, they didn’t disappoint.
Oh, I totally understand Dr. Graham, nor any other Holy man I’ve met, had no ‘magic touch’ but The Guy who Billy Graham gave his life was and still is undefeated. Billy’s soft voice and his aura had a huge physical effect on me that morning. Say what you wish but, as has happened throughout my life, it was “a God thing.” I am in constant amazement when these “God things” happen and so grateful that the older I get, the faster I can recognize the moments that never should have occurred but most certainly do.
This Sunday morning, as I read all the comments about my story and saw where so many had “liked” what I had written, how can that not be an unexpected blessing for me? Think about it. It shouldn’t have gotten such a response. It was a memory that morphed into a God thing.
Never fail to do the smallest kindness -- you have no idea how it can impact a fellow struggler. Wow! When I saw the response … boy, did my allergies kick in. I went through a pile of Kleenex just recognizing so many friends. A bunch of my readers just made my heart soar, I am in awe.
As Billy Graham prayed for me, can you imagine that famous North Carolina brogue even saying your name? Him sitting hugging me as he petitions Jesus on my behalf? I’m talking huge tears. Don’t fret: Within the next five minutes I was so loopy from “the needle of blessed relief” I don’t even remember the wave of anesthesia that followed.
The surgery was a long one. I didn’t slip out of the morphine fog until after midnight but when I did the floor nurses were jubilant. “Billy Graham came up here! He wanted to check on you … have you known him very long … I mean, it was Billy Graham! He’s the most famous person I have ever met in my life! He is better in person than on TV. He put his arm around me and I have a picture!””
Of course, that made me cry all over again. I was still in surgery when he visited my room but a bunch of the nurses, and several patients on the orthopedic floor had their pictures taken with him, got his autograph and such. I got a huge thrill over that – they were so excited -- and I adored what just his presence meant to a bunch of precious nurses in Minnesota. What I didn’t realize at the time was the door that Billy’s visit opened for me.
In the two weeks that followed I went back to the operating room nine more times.  What the surgeons would do would be to open my elbow about halfway to my wrist, wash out all the infection they could see in the tissue that they could, and then pack the joint and my arm full of beads filled with antibiotics. Then they would bandage the wound – not closing it – praying for it to drain until they could repeat the same procedure the next day, and the next.
Because I was so infected, I would be the last case of the day. Every time they worked on me the entire operating room would have to be re-sterilized. And because I was scheduled for surgery so often on the next day, I couldn’t eat or drink anything past midnight. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds because I was so medicated. Some nights the nurses had to feed me my yogurt, apple sauce and chicken noodle soup. I was zonked the whole time. Some night it was as though I didn’t even show up for roll call but, boy, is it a great way to lose weight.
Now get this: Because I was “connected” to Billy Graham, I had some wonderful moments during that month that I don’t believe I would have had. Because of “my friend,” I was treated royally. The nurses were in the room constantly and so many of them wanted to talk about God and heaven and being scared to die. “What will happen then?” “How do you stay so upbeat?” “Do you pray to be happy?”
I assured them I was no preacher and that, if they would only hang around long enough, they’d hear me cuss. I was on massive IV doses, the different infections calling for different meds, and it seemed to me the nurses were always sneaking a push on my pain pump, then smiling as I would instantly day-trip back to Narcotic Neverland.
My closest friends know I don’t talk much about the Mayo Years unless there is a real good reason, like meeting Billy Graham. But there isn’t much I want to remember about 132 (one hundred and thirty two) surgeries from 1990 until 2010.  In 2008 I had 27 surgeries that year and only by the Grace of God am I alive. I “died” for 42 minutes in the ICU that year and that wasn’t anything but very, very scary. Lesson learned? Never die until you have no other choice.
One day the circulation in my arms and legs actually stopped. My limbs became intensely cold … you lose all feeling, function, and hope. If you keep an eye out you’ll see where badly-infected people literally have to have amputations sometimes. I’ve absolutely begged three different surgeons in as many cities to cut my arm off. None would do it because even though I rejected four artificial elbow joints, I still have limited use of “my write hand,” which is what I call it because I am still unable to write with my left.
I had a big surgery at Vanderbilt on the day after Christmas in 2008 and my elbow drained constantly from December 30 until November 11, 2009. I’d have to change bandages four or five times a day and the fact I was miserable didn’t help. By then I had learned I can get through anything if not a soul will remember and the less people talk about it the better off I am. My church nickname was “HowsYourArm”? I’m still private about it but a lot of emails wanted to know more so … here it is.
In either 2008 or 2009 I was in the hospital with an osteomyelitis flare up and within a week all seven infections had woken up when there was another “God thing.” A television preacher was talking about when Jesus healed a cripple, as he often did. Because there were so many who had gathered around The Master that day, there was no way for his friends to get their stricken pal in front of Jesus.
Many of the houses back in Biblical times had open roofs – no ceilings -- so his friends climbed up the house, hoisting the cripple behind them. They then lowered the cripple by ropes to right in front of where Jesus was preaching. If you can imagine that, think about what happened to me when that preacher said, “Have you ever thought about all the people in your life who have held your ropes when you least deserved it?”
Boy, I’ve never forgotten that. So once again, as I try to thank those who liked my story “Me & Billy Graham,” I am reminded that those very names you can find on Facebook are still “holding my ropes.” That thrills me to no end. Selah.


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