Emergency surgery is frightening, and even more so when it’s needed in a foreign country. Judy White, of Wellsville, UT, faced this situation in November 2017, as she had to have her appendix removed in Xi’an, China. Yet what was a very challenging situation ultimately became an experience that Judy and her husband Terry say they will always cherish, given the strong love and support they felt from both their Chinese and American friends in China.
Judy and Terry are teaching at Xi’an International Studies University (XlSU), as part of the China Teachers Program sponsored by Brigham Young University. They have been in China since late August. The Whites teach English and other subjects to Chinese students. There are about 20 current or former BYU teachers in Xi’an, including myself; we constitute the majority of the Xi’an Branch of the LDS Church, which has about 30 members. Most of us understand and speak very little Chinese. The following story is based mostly on notes Terry took throughout the experience.
Terry recalls very well the night in mid-November when Judy became ill.
“It was around midnight. Judy requested that I give her a blessing. Words of healing came surprisingly quick and clear, and I followed the promptings accordingly. I blessed her that impurities of her body would be cast off. At the conclusion of the blessing, I was again surprised by the impressions that came to me very clearly. I blessed her with the ability to endure. To my mind, the blessing was conflicting—that she would be healed—which I interpreted to be relatively immediate, and that she would endure, which seemed to negate the likelihood of healing.
“Five hours later, it was clear Judy was not well. In fact, she was worse than when I had given the blessing. It was obvious she needed medical attention. My mind began to race, ‘Whom do I call? I don’t know a single doctor. I don’t have a clue where to find a hospital. I don’t speak any Chinese’.”
Terry attempted to reach his university contacts by phone or text, but none responded at the early hour. All the local Priesthood brethren were already on their way to the university for the day. Terry called his son, Bryant, who lives in Utah, and told him about the situation.
“I asked him to sustain me with his faith as I gave his mother and my wife another priesthood blessing. In such moments, tender feelings nearly overcome one’s ability to speak, but we enjoyed a precious priesthood experience together, half way across the world—praying and blessing the woman that I love most in this world.”
Soon, answers to prayers began. “It was as if the powers of heaven began to focus laser-like on our predicament,” says Terry.
A fellow BYU teacher had the phone number of Judy’s supervisor at XISU, Lily. Terry was able to reach Lily, who immediately came to assist the Whites.
“She walked us to the nearest clinic where we learned from a gentle, kind doctor that Judy was likely having an appendicitis attack,” says Terry. “Lily then ordered a taxi and transported us to the hospital. Tony, another Chinese professor friend showed up, and between them, Lily and Tony took Judy through the blood draw and emergency room process, and eventually to the ultrasound room.”
President Bruce and Sister Fia Hammond of the Xi’an Branch also soon appeared. Sister Hammond began to massage Judy’s temples to soothe and calm her. By now, Judy had been in intense pain for ten or more hours, but she would not be given any pain medication until many hours later, right before surgery. What Judy recalls as the “magical hands” of Sister Hammond were the only relief available.
Next to arrive was Lily’s sister, Embo, whom the Whites had never even previously met. In China, nurses provide medical care, but anything else – food, drinks, ice, toiletries, etc., must be provided by the patient’s family and friends. Embo became a crucial ally for the Whites. “She ‘mother henned’ me the entire time I was in the hospital,” recalls Judy.
“Embo brought enough food for an army as our lunch. She went to work immediately as a little general, calling doctors and arranging interviews with the lead physician who spoke English,” says Terry. “It was amazing. Hour after hour these friends were in fact ministering angels to Judy. Hour after hour we were sure that medical relief would arrive, but the only relief available came from these wonderful people.”
As the hours continued to tick by, additional supportive branch members joined the group at the hospital. The heavens were flooded with prayers from Xi’an, China to Utah, Idaho, Kentucky, Illinois, and Texas, as the Whites’ eight children and their families, and the members of the Xi’an Branch, united in prayers for Judy.
Finally, at 9:00 pm, Judy and a very busy doctor were cleared for surgery. Following the successful operation, “The initial prompting of the earlier blessing was fulfilled – the impurities of Judy’s body were indeed cast off. Immediately, she was relieved of pain, and she had successfully endured the day,” says Terry.
Lily had contacted a graduate student who was fluent in both Chinese and English; he arrived at the hospital and stayed overnight to assist the Whites. Embo remained at the hospital for the better part of the next two days. The Whites were required to pay for Judy’s care in advance, with insurance reimbursement to be provided later. Tony helped them deal with the unfamiliar billing system and even paid the final bill, confident that the Whites would reimburse him. Other Chinese and American friends were in near-constant attendance at the hospital. Fellow BYU teachers at XlSU offered to cover Judy and Terry’s classes in their absence.
The Whites were both touched by “the multitude of branch members, Chinese friends and strangers, doctors and nurses, family and friends that flooded heaven and earth with their love and their prayers on behalf of a friend, a fellow teacher, a patient, a stranger, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a grandmother,” says Terry. What was initially a frightening and challenging experience for the Whites has become a treasured memory of being loved and served by others.
We may not all be forced to endure unforeseen trials of health or spend days in a remote hospital, but we can both serve and be served in innumerable capacities, particularly in looking out for those among us who are not physically or spiritually well. Are we visiting the sick among us?