In August 1998 I underwent surgery to correct a congenital spine defect. Because of the severity of my condition and complications that arose during surgery, I was forced to remain hospitalized nearly twice as long as expected.
The surgery was a grueling procedure described by the doctors as a “reconstruction” of my lower spine. To alleviate the excruciating pain following surgery, I was given morphine for five days. After that, the morphine was replaced with a lesser painkiller that provided little relief. I also experienced withdrawal from the morphine, which caused my feverish body to shake uncontrollably.
I was fortunate to have the support of my wife and friends who visited me in the hospital. However, one night I was left alone with pain, morphine withdrawal, and uncertainty about when I would be able to leave the hospital to return to the comfort of home and the companionship of my wife and our five children.
Sleep would not come that night. Time passed slowly as I could find no relief from my suffering. In an attempt to occupy my mind, I randomly selected a compact disc from my collection and placed it in my portable CD player; it was a recording of the April 1998 general conference. Peace came over me as I listened to the first line of the closing hymn of the Saturday afternoon session: “Jesus, the very thought of thee / With sweetness fills my breast” (Hymns, no. 141). As I listened, I visualized in my mind a vivid image of Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer, who descended below all things and suffered more than we can comprehend for each of us individually. Tears filled my eyes as I began to feel His love and His sweetness. The hymn continued, “Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, / Nor can the mem’ry find / A sweeter sound than thy blest name, / O Savior of mankind!” I listened to the hymn over and over. The sweet feeling spread through my entire body, enveloping me in warmth and peace. “To those who fall, how kind thou art!/ How good to those who seek!”
I began to drift away into a peaceful rest, free from the pain and torment of my physical condition. As I slept, I dreamed I was in the presence of the Savior. I felt His warmth, His peace, and His love in a way that is as real as anything I have ever felt. “But sweeter far thy face to see / And in thy presence rest.” I slept peacefully until after dawn.
I recovered from the surgery. Perhaps more important, I gained from this experience a strengthened testimony of our Savior’s love and a greater understanding of the power of the hymns to communicate this love in a way that transcends mortal limitations.