Adventist Review Online | Lessons from the Edge

Former Adventist Review editor William G. Johnsson reflects on the year he looked death in the eye

The year of 2014 was the worst of my life. It was the year the wheels came off; it became my annus horribilis—the horrible year. When at last it was over and I began to feel better, I put it out of my mind. I let it go, didn’t want to talk about it. Then, about a year ago, the Lord struck me between the eyes. As I sat with my wife, Noelene, in our favorite restaurant, He said to me, “You ought to be glad for your annus horribilis. Just think what you learned from it.” Glad—glad for that horrible year? Yes, yes, yes! Here’s why.

I’ve had a long, full, and healthy life. I’ve hardly missed a day of work in more than 50 years. I’ve run marathons and even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. My heart numbers have always been great––resting heart rate at 42, blood pressure at 120/60, normal cholesterol and weight. I bragged, “Whatever else happens to me, I’ll never die from a heart attack. My heart is as strong as an ox.” Famous last words!

In March 2014, we were visiting family and friends in Australia. I had preached at the little church my father helped build and toward the close of the sermon, I began to feel ill. I struggled to finish. Greeting the members as they departed, I just wanted to lie down on one of the pews.

A pain on my left side became insistent, creeping to the top of my arm and down to the wrist. I told friends, “I need to see a doctor.” I was quite sure it was something that could easily be remedied with an antacid tablet.

Before long I was in an ambulance careening down the city streets, sirens blaring, lights flashing. Still in my church suit, I went straight into surgery. I struggled to comprehend what was…

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