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The blood-washing machine

By Sandra Gordon

Most days at New England Medical Center in Boston were fairly routine: I would arrive early in the morning, weigh in and get in bed. The nurses would numb my arm with Novocain, then insert two naillike needles that connected me to the machine. Blood would pass through one needle into a tube and out of my body to be filtered through the machine and brought back into my body. This would take place several times with each treatment.

I remember the first time I went to the dialysis unit. I looked around a bit nervously at the other patients already connected to the machine. Back in the 1970s, part of the machine consisted of a large stainless steel tub with a cylinder-shaped filter in the middle, all surrounded by water. It looked like a giant, old-fashioned washing machine.

As the poisons accumulating in my body were filtered out, my soul was vexed with questions: What is our purpose in life? What is my purpose? Is God real? Why is all this sickness coming upon me? Is there a purpose to my pain and suffering, or is it because of the lifestyle I have lived?

Six hours a day, three days a week, I spent connected to the blood-washing machine. I had plenty of time to observe what was happening around me, or watch soap operas on TV, or just think back over my short life. And think I did. I hated my life. I was married at the age of 16 to someone who made it clear he only married me because I was pregnant. Soon afterwards I was diagnosed with glomerulonephritis — a disease of the kidneys. My only joy in life was my daughter, Andrea.

I was 19, and New England Medical Center was becoming my second home. During my many hours on dialysis I mostly had time to think and observe. One of my fellow patients was receiving visits from his sister regularly. I would watch her and think, She looks so happy. On many occasions, she would make her way over to my bed and talk to me as my eyes were glued to the soap operas. Somehow, the conversation would always end up on Jesus. She talks as if He is her best friend, I thought.

As my own life seemed to be falling apart, I began to listen with more interest. Not only was my health failing, but my marriage eventually ended in divorce. As this woman spoke of Jesus with excitement in her voice and a sparkle in her eye, I started to reason with myself why I celebrated Jesus' birth at Christmas and His resurrection at Easter.

Then it hit me — Resurrection! That means Jesus is alive! Now, how must I live?

I started to realize that the toxins in my body were not only physical, but they were spiritual as well. Dialysis would temporarily clean the poisons from my bloodstream; but spiritually I needed something — Someone — to wash my soul.

It took me a couple of years to come around, but in 1977 I gave my heart to Jesus. By that time, I had received a kidney from my younger sister, Mary. I no longer needed dialysis. But now I was connected to the One who washed me clean by His blood. God had supernaturally touched me. I realized how important it is that we stay connected to our Heavenly Father.

Several years passed and I truly felt born again. I married a wonderful Christian man in 1981; my daughter was now 11. But something happened that once again brought me back to that blood-washing machine. I was young in age and young in my newfound faith. In my zeal and lack of wisdom, I stopped taking my anti-rejection medication. This caused some damage to my transplanted kidney. Further damage occurred when I became pregnant with my second child, Amy, who was born prematurely.

It was just a short time later that I conceived again. The strain on the kidney was too great. I was advised to have an abortion in light of all that could go wrong with my baby and me. Even though I was extremely ill I refused to have an abortion. God had seen me through it once, and I believed He could do it again. Where once I had hated my life, now I accepted myself in Christ and loved those whom God had given me. I did not want to leave my husband, Scott, my daughters, Andrea and Amy, and the child I was expecting.

I was the first pregnant woman to be on dialysis at the New England Medical Center. (I suppose all the others until then had opted for abortion.) Since then the doctors have used my records to assist others in keeping their babies.

God blessed my husband and me with a healthy son, Andrew. He is now a Marine reservist. Five months after Andrew's birth, in January of 1985, I received my second kidney transplant from my brother, Donald. In 2003 I was told that my body was rejecting the kidney and I would once again need dialysis and a third kidney transplant. Currently, my condition remains stable.

To most patients dialysis treatments are a shadow of good things that are coming. A successful kidney transplant would take care of the blood-cleansing process once and for all. In Hebrews 10:1 we are told, "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming — not the realities themselves" (NIV). Chapters 9 and 10 of Hebrews speak of the Old Testament regulations for worship and blood sacrifice. "The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22).

The writer of Hebrews also tells us:

"When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!" — (Hebrews 9:11-14)

I am forever grateful to God that in the past He brought purpose to my pain. My first time on the dialysis machine was the means the Lord used for me to hear the gospel message and eventually accept it and be cleansed from my sins. And what a cleansing I continue to feel deep within me. I believe my second time on dialysis helped other women gain courage to keep their babies. My third time on dialysis ... well, I guess we'll just have to wait for the rest of the story. 

Sandra Gordon lives with her husband, Scott, and three of their five children in West Townsend, Mass., and attends Mount Hope Christian Center (Assemblies of God) in Burlington, Mass.

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