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"What I did not know was that tragedy awaited me. I could never have predicted nor imagined the emergency surgery, the painful month-long hospital stay and months of recovery ahead," said Tricia Payne, lead pastor of Conant Gardens Church. " However, while I did not know, God knew."

January 14, 2021

The Fight for My Life: What I discovered as I triumphed through tragedy

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! My heart raced, pounding as if it would jump right out of my body. Pain gripped me mercilessly, holding me prisoner, powerless.

“What in the world is happening to me?” I thought as the room swarmed with white coats and green scrubs. “What is all of the fuss about?” Feeling confused, I watched them scurry like determined ants. “Wait a minute. This is about me!”  

I sensed the panic in the room, swelling by the second. The expression on their faces, all directed at me, confirmed my worst nightmare — “It’s a fatal emergency.”  Fright overwhelmed me, and I looked at Shawn. Appearing just as alarmed, Shawn gazed at me, seemingly helpless to change the unfolding scene. Something was terribly wrong. Sweeping in the room with haste, the doctor explained, “We have to reset her heart. Where’s the husband?” Like a student in class, Shawn raised his hand, “Right here!” With his attention directed at Shawn, the doctor urged, “Okay, it’s your job to keep her here.”

Holding my hand with intense tenderness and strength, Shawn fixed his eyes on mine and started talking. I can’t remember what he said, but our conversation rose above the dread-filled air in the room. In that moment, it was just me and my husband of only one-and-a-half years. Still newlyweds, still in love. My room buzzed with what seemed like the entire staff from the floor. This was my ground zero.

I had seen reactions like this before, about 15 years earlier. Filled with new graduate excitement and youthful vigor, I embarked upon my first full-time professional physical therapy career working on the acute care and in the intensive care units. It wouldn’t be long before what I read about in my textbooks, would be observed and, in some cases, acted out by me as a physical therapist. An alarm would sound from the patient monitor and in dashes the nurse. Then another alarm pings and an announcement blares overhead. Like college sprinters, an entire team runs together to a patient’s room, with one mission in mind — save life. 

Now I was the patient. Turning his attention toward me, the physician explained, “Tricia, this will probably hurt; it won’t feel good.” The doctor was about to reset my heart’s rhythm, and they had to act quickly. Unbeknownst to me, my heart threatened to race me right out of existence.

"Now I was the patient. Turning his attention toward me, the physician explained, 'Tricia, this will probably hurt; it won’t feel good."'
"Now I was the patient. Turning his attention toward me, the physician explained, 'Tricia, this will probably hurt; it won’t feel good."'

Shawn continued his conversation with me, seeming to ignore the crowd of worried medical professionals. Like lovers in the park, we kept talking, but for a moment he stood alone, and I was gone. Shawn describes it as the single most frightening moment of his life. The moment that his wife’s life seemed to slip out of his hands. For me, I felt nothing. I heard nothing, I sensed nothing, and I said nothing. There was absolutely nothing, as my heart slowed to a near halt and was then slowly brought back.

I understand well the concept that death is like a thief that surprises us, stealing. In one instant you are here — breathing, hearing, talking, smelling, and feeling — and in the next moment gone. Ecclesiastes 9:12 says, People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a trap, people are caught by sudden tragedy. I was caught! How in the world did I get here from months of abdominal pain diagnosed as ovarian torsion, to undergoing a diagnostic pelvic laparoscopy due to persistent discomfort, to now having my heart reset by panic-stricken nurses and doctors?

Just a year prior, I married a wonderful man, was officially commissioned as a pastor in the Gospel ministry and, nearly to the date, I preached at our denomination’s annual Pastoral Leadership and Evangelism Counsel. The Holy Spirit moved in such a mighty and powerful way that 120 pastors and leaders gathered afterward to continue in prayer. I would have never imagined that after such a year of blessing, near the end of the following year, I would find myself fighting for my life, and it all started with the onset of sudden abdominal pain months earlier.

What I did not know was that tragedy awaited me. I could never have predicted nor imagined the emergency surgery, the painful month-long hospital stay and months of recovery ahead. However, while I did not know, God knew. God always knows what lies ahead of us. I am ever grateful that, even in the midst of our tests, the Lord is merciful and compassionate. I am much better now. God carried me through triumphantly, and later prompted me to write a book about it (entitled The Fight for My Life) to encourage others facing unexpected trials.

I discovered that in God’s hands, pain is never wasted. He can take even the unpleasant and work it all together for our eventual good if we trust Him. Through the unexpected, through what seemed unfair, even through the pain, I can confidently say God is still merciful. God is still good. I learned to trust Him more. I learned to trust His heart. James says, Consider it joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4 NASB).

Tricia Payne, lead pastor, Conant Gardens Church