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How I Breathed Past the Lie of Disease

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from a dear friend of mine, William Melendez. He is like no other person I have ever met, his battles unique and his writing, hauntingly good. This is an honest account of his literal fight with death. Being that he wrote this article, we can assume he won that fight, but not without walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

Being a person who suffers from mental illness I have dealt with the vicissitudes of aberrant mental and physical states. Nevertheless, after enduring years of mental illness and several gastric diseases, dear reader, I began to succumb to the lie of a sick man’s philosophy: life, with its ups and downs, was always something that happened to me, and of which, I had no control over. I was clinging to a deflated lifeboat, buffeted in the winds of an unruly sea. Two things controlled the course of my raft, sink or swim: the happenstance of life and the constant intervention of God on my behalf. Mostly, I spent my time praying to God that He would get me through whatever was happening to me. My only contribution to my circumstances seemingly consisted of begging.

At the end of a decade of gastric diseases, I found myself once again in the hospital, having gone through two surgeries, several procedures and about to go through another one. I had been taken from ICU to Interventional Radiology for a procedure. The resident began to work on my arm for the third or fourth time. But I could no longer stand the pain that he was inflicting. My veins were burning. I begged for him to stop.

The pain had been building up to a roiling boil while in the ICU; even the enormous amounts of opiates the doctors gave me were of no help. I had given up on pressing the button to my morphine pump: it was useless. Not to be dissuaded, the doctors persisted on maintaining an intravenous morphine drip and plied me with larger doses of methadone in order to continue working on me.

The resident paused and an argument between him and another doctor began over what to do with me. They left the cold room. It was then that the arm he had been working on began to go numb. Within seconds I could no longer feel my fingers or the water pick in my arm. Through the pain I tried to stay calm but to be honest, dear reader, I was so scared. I thought that there was no one to cry to for help.

The room was frigid and quiet. I heard a nurse somewhere. Out of my confusion, in a broken and anguished voice, I begged her not to let the doctors kill me. She swallowed back a laugh. The room went quiet again, except for the sound of my breathing.

The numbness in my arm began to spread to my other extremities. I could no longer sense my legs or my other arm that had been on fire only moments ago. At last I felt only the burning of my chest. Knowing that Jesus was right there with me I started babbling to Him about what was happening to my body and my rising fear and panic. My mind screamed for mercy as the absence of feeling raced up my chest. I could no longer perceive any part of my body. The brush of air through my nostrils as I tried to keep breathing was all that I could feel. The room was no longer cold and I was no longer on fire. I was nothing.

However, dear reader, as you well know, the Holy Spirit was there. He’s uncanny like that—no matter where or when He is there. He moved over my lack of me and quieted my mind with a warm comfort. He became my something.

God spoke into my consciousness. Now, you may be piqued with curiosity or, alternatively, you may be feeling wary by the preceding sentence. God spoke to him? Dear gentle reader, let me dispel any demons that may be tickling your ear and appeal to your better angels. He brought thoughts to my consciousness. The thoughts He brought to my mind were distinct, decisive and powerful. In contradistinction to how I was starting to devolve into a confusion borne from panic, His thoughts resounded with clarity. No diamond could be as pure, hard and perfect as those thoughts. I understood Him.

He wanted to give me a choice. I could die in that hospital, the pain would end, and I would finally be free with Him. Or, I could live. Nothing else, just live. No promises of a better or carefree new life, just life itself. However, He let me know, regardless of what I chose, neither one good or bad, He wanted me to make the decision. He would honor me either way, but He would not make the decision for me. I had to choose.

Now, dear reader, it is important for you to know something about my history of mental illness in order for one to fully appreciate the enormity of what God had done for me. For years I had struggled with protracted periods of suicidal ideation. I had been in and out of the psych ward again and again from repeated attempts I made on my life. Even when not suicidal I felt that death would be a release from all the pain: I could go home to Jesus, see Him face to face, and the pain would be gone. And yet, I have to admit to you, my dear reader, I was very unsuccessful at suicide. It was not due to lack of sincerity or effort on my part; the truth is that it was others who persisted in thwarting my ambition. I was even powerless to take my own life. To remind you, dear reader, it seemed to my mind that the lack of influence or say I had on my own life had left me with the sole option of groveling like a wretch so that God would pity me and make the painful situation I was experiencing end.

But now, my body lost to me as it lay on a cold, hard hospital slab, free from all sensation, God had given me a choice that would occur. No one would be able to interfere with the outcome, my decision. It was going to happen. Most importantly, God, himself, had ordained that I must make the decision as to how my life was to proceed. Now you can understand the relevance of my earlier digression, I had never in my entire life felt like I had the power to choose what would or would not happen with my life. What responsibility. What empowerment! I could decide the outcome of my life. What a gift He had given me! No begging for cessation. I was restored even before I made a decision because God had made it my decision. My body was not lost to me, but rather, for the first time God had given it to me.

Why did I choose to live? There were no promises attached to that choice. No promises of riches or fame or anything else to follow. No promises of a disease and pain free life, a life bereft of hardships with no worries or cares. Just life, unadorned and simple. Just a life, and because it was to be a life it suddenly seemed worth living. That was enough for me, for some reason. I had made my decision and He honored it. Not just for my life on that occasion during that hospital stay, but ever since, for as you read this right now, dear reader, the spectre of suicidal ideation has not visited me from that point onward and, what is more, I believe it never will. When God honors a decision, He makes it final; it truly is the end because He always has the last say.

He ended our conversation with one last piercing thought. He told me to breathe, just breathe. Never forget, breathe. So I did. I knew that as long as I could feel the air in my nose I would be all right. I breathed with all the strength of my mind. Since I could no longer feel the rest of my body, all that was left was a breathing tube. I was a breathing tube. I breathed. Always feeling the air coming in to reassure me of God's honoring my decision. I breathed with my lost body that had been found.

Later, after I went through my third surgery, the surgeons had punctured my lung and it filled up with blood. Nurses would get off their shift and gather around Caroline, my wife, comforting her for the inevitable that was coming for me. Sorrow hung over my ICU room like a shroud. But, dear reader, I laughed in my spirit. I knew that no matter what these people thought I was going to live! What irony. If you had asked any one there, they would have told you that I had no control over what was happening to me, what was going to happen to me. How wrong they were! I had made the decision that God had given me. When all around me thought me dying I was busy living!

If you will forgive a little poetic dalliance, dear reader, I saw Death as she passed by the door of my room. She never even looked inside. She kept walking down the hall. She wasn't there for me, nor would she be.

William Melendez lives in NYC with his wife. He is currently learning how to love the Christians in his local community in more devious and irritating ways. He is also very, very hard to kill.


Wow... this is an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing.

I can appreciate the signature statement about irritating your community. I'd say your statements there summarize your life in NYC pretty well. :o)

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Wow...well done William! I'm sure writing this was difficult and perhaps healing at the same time. It was a hard read for me, too real... Your words brought me back to that hospital. I'm so thankful you made the choice to be here today and tell your amazing story. Thank you. I love you.

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A proud St. Louis native, Won Kim currently works in NYC as Social Media Director at Reader's Digest Assoc. and is a husband, father of two boys. He talks in short spurts at