by Pringle Franklin
It started out as an ordinary Wednesday in June. Philip and Rhonda Floyd were entertaining houseguests from Holland. Philip is a non-denominational evangelist based in Charleston, S.C., and their guests were Christian missionaries. They enjoyed a pleasant lunch downtown; during the meal, Philip was his usual affable self. Then Rhonda accompanied the visitors on a bus tour of the historic district. Philip had some errands to run, so he begged out of the tour.
At the time, it had seemed insignificant that Philip could not join them. But the life and death consequences of June 18, 2014 would hinge on Philip’s exact location. God would line up every detail in Philip’s day to strike him dead, send him to Heaven, and eventually bring him back to his earthly existence.
Philip arrived home first to their North Charleston residence. Normally, the house would have been empty. But a friend had asked to use their computer. Vickie had several business appointments that day near the Floyd’s home. Between her meetings, she had a block of time with nowhere to go, so she had asked Rhonda if she could hang out at their house to use the internet.
When Philip got home, Vickie was busy working on a document. Philip sat in a swivel rocker nearby and began to chat with her. Vickie was looking at the screen with her back to Philip. Suddenly, Philip began making a strange noise as if he were snoring. “At first she thought he was joking around,” Rhonda said.
Vickie glanced toward Philip. He was slumped in the rocker, eyes closed. She patted his face, but he did not respond. Vickie called 911. The dispatcher asked for the street address. “I don’t know the address! This isn’t my house,” Vickie said, panicked.
What should she do? Every passing second diminished hope for Philip’s survival. Then Vickie remembered: she had the Floyd’s address in her cell phone. Vickie found it and read it aloud to the operator. Next the dispatcher asked her to check for a pulse. Vickie couldn’t feel one, so the dispatcher talked her through the process of performing CPR. Vickie was instructed to pull Philip out of the chair by his feet and get him stretched flat on the floor. Vickie began pushing up and down on Philip’s chest. By chance, the Floyds live close to a fire station, and the EMS arrived within three to four minutes. Vickie kept up her chest compressions until the rescue workers took over.
“She saved my life,” Philip, 60, says now.
“If she had not been there, it would have been over,” Rhonda agrees.
Philip had no warning signs of the massive heart attack: his blood pressure and cholesterol levels were normal; he did not smoke; he was not overweight. “He had worked out that day. He was fit,” Rhonda says. Yet Philip has a family history of heart disease. A decade earlier, he had received two cardiac stints to prop open his blood vessels; these vessels are about the size of a No. 2 pencil, and the stints reinforce the vessel walls. The procedure had been a success.
Now unbelievably, Philip lay collapsed on his living room floor. The EMS crew could not find a heartbeat. They used the defibrillator paddles on him four times; finally, there was a faint response. Rescue workers hooked Philip to a CPR machine that would keep compressing his chest during the ride. They whisked him out the door, and Vickie dialed her phone with shaking fingers.
The bus tour had ended when Rhonda received the call on her mobile phone. “You need to come to Trident Hospital right now,” Vickie said. “They have taken Philip to the Emergency Room.”
When Rhonda arrived in the ER, she received the anguishing news that her husband’s vital signs were unstable; Philip was barely hanging on. “I pretty much was in shock,” Rhonda said. “I thought: I’m going to faint, I’m going to throw up.” After 40 years of marriage, Rhonda and Philip still adored one another; they were best friends. Rhonda was not prepared to live without her beloved blue-eyed Philip.
The nurses gave her a cold compress for her face and led her off to a quiet place to collect herself. She should prepare for the worst. Based on EMS reports, Philip had been without oxygen between 7 to 10 minutes; doctors indicated that, if he were to survive, Philip would most likely have extensive brain damage. He might even be a vegetable.
Meanwhile, Philip was in Heaven. There was no tunnel of light through which he traveled. He simply found himself immediately transported to the most beautiful of gardens. The light was luscious, buttery and pure, a fuller expression of radiance than exists on earth. All around him, Philip felt the comfort of being bathed by the love and holiness of God. He felt completely happy and at peace. Philip did not see God as a being; instead, he was intimately aware of the nearness of his Creator.
Philip looked around the garden. He could see for miles and miles; colors were brighter; details were clearer. Bursts of lavender blooms hung from vines like bunches of grapes; Philip had never paid attention to this flower on Earth, although it flourishes in his native coastal South Carolina. Months later, Philip would be surprised to spot these cascading flowers around Charleston, and he would learn the name wisteria. Seeing the wisteria clusters would stir up feelings of longing within Philip’s soul.
“It makes me want to go back,” Philip says. “I’d go back now if I could go.”
In Heaven, Philip felt as if he had all the time in the world. There was no pressure. He was aware of feeling blissfully free from the weight of gravity, from the heaviness of a mortal body, from the stress of living under the dictates of linear time.
As the news spread of Philip’s collapse, scores of relatives and friends gathered in the waiting room, praying and supporting Rhonda with hugs, tears, and encouraging words. “I have never needed the body of Christ like I needed it then,” Rhonda says. The first night, the crowd grew to more than 60 people. Philip’s heart would stop in the cath lab while he was receiving stents to the blocked artery. Following that, Philip was placed in the intensive care unit, where twice more his heart would stop. A team of more than a dozen medical personnel surrounded his prone body, fighting to bring him back. Eventually, the lead doctor called Rhonda and the immediate family together for a private conference.
“We have done everything that is humanly possible,” the doctor told them. “We have worked as hard as we possibly can, but I am sorry to say, he is not going to make it.”
Philip’s blood pressure was critically low; his affected artery was leaking blood inside his chest cavity, making it difficult for Philip’s heart to beat. In some cases, this type of bleeding fixes itself or responds to treatment. But every time Philip coded and the medical staff would perform compressions on his chest, the bleeding would worsen. Eventually the doctors, nurses, and technicians collected their equipment and filed out.
The doctor urged the family to enter the cubicle where Philip lay strapped on a gurney. It was time to say their farewells. Philip was expected to die within 15 to 20 minutes.
Jessica Floyd was in a race against death; the eldest of the four Floyd children, Jessica had to reach her father’s side before he passed away. After receiving the anguishing news, Jessica had left her nursing job in Orlando, Florida, and started the 8-hour trek to Charleston. Jessica prayed that she would get there before it was too late. She needed to touch her father, to embrace him, while he was still warm and breathing.
Jessica was only 90 minutes away when the family was advised of Philip’s impending death. One of the relatives asked if the doctor could manage to keep Philip alive until his daughter could reach him.
“No,” the doctor said somberly. “In my opinion, it would be inhumane to continue.”
Yet there was one last hope; Kiki, Philip’s ICU nurse, would use a syringe to pull out the blood that he was losing in his heart while replacing it via rapid blood transfusions. She would empty the blood into a collection container and start again. “She was giving the heart more room to move,” Rhonda said. Kiki did not expect the heroic measure to save Philip; she was simply trying to keep him alive until his remaining daughter could get there to say her goodbyes.
As Kiki continued to work and Jessica arrived, the amount of blood flowing into the collection vial decreased. Philip’s blood pressure began slowly rising; he was stabilizing. The bleeding was stopping. Philip remained in grave danger, but miraculously, his body was alive.
Philip has no concept of how long he was in Heaven. It could have been 100 years or only one day; who can compare time on Earth to time in Heaven?
Eventually God the Father appeared in the garden; God was not an old man with a long white beard. He was a force without boundaries or shape. And yet, Philip could see the expression of his emotion when God spoke. God transported Philip to a high perch. The vast expanse of the universe and the stars surrounded them. When Philip had looked at the night sky from earth, space had appeared inky black. From Heaven, space looked bright, but the stars shone more brightly. “There is no darkness,” Philip says.
Philip was in awe.
God said: “Why do you worry about anything? As a matter of fact, I own it all.”
Philip could see the earth in micro-view; people were going about their lives, eating, drinking, working, bustling along city sidewalks. Next God showed Philip the macro view: as a planet, Earth was merely a pin dot in the universe. Philip saw Satan’s domain in the environs of the earth; Philip understood, without being directly told, that God had set a time limit on Satan’s sphere of influence. Thanks to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, it was a done deal.
God did not bring Philip here to explain evil: “He did not mention the devil to me,” Philip says. The Almighty had other matters on his mind.
As Philip gazed at the galaxies, he discovered an astonishing fact: the cosmos was operating in harmony with its Maker. The stars were worshipping God; the angels were worshipping God; on a smaller scale, the flowers, the water, the birds of the air were all worshipping God. In tandem with their condition as created things, all beings were worshipping as naturally as a human breathes. Everything in the heavens and on the earth was designed to rejoice in this adoration of the divine. The very act of worship is the proper response to God’s holiness and goodness.
“Only one thing is not worshipping me,” God said. “Do you know what that is?”
“I don’t know,” Philip said.
Even Christians were not worshipping God as He had intended because they were filling their minds with worry and fear. Philip understood. With God by his side, he enjoyed magnified clarity. “I will not worry about anything for the rest of my existence,” Philip told God. He did not say life because in Heaven, his existence extended into eternity.
“You must go back and take my message,” God said. “You must go back and finish my testimony.”
Philip did not want to leave the peace of Heaven. But one does not argue with the Almighty. “Okay,” Philip said.
Philip was immediately back in his body. He woke up in the ICU. It was 18 days later.
“I don’t fear death anymore,” Philip says now. “The greatest thing in the world is to die.” If you are in a relationship with Jesus Christ, he qualifies. If not, the loss is total separation from the Father.
During the recovery, Philip’s family and friends wondered if he had seen Jesus or God during his near death experience. At first, Philip could only manage to annunciate one word. Whether he was upset, in agreement, or he was answering questions, the only thing that Philip said was, “okay.”
He struggled to produce other recognizable sounds. It wasn’t until months later, after countless hours of speech therapy, that Philip was able to communicate in sentences again. Working slowly, he could finally explain to Rhonda about his visit to Heaven and that final word spoken to his Father: okay.
For Philip to be deprived of speech was like a bird losing its ability to sing.
Before the heart attack, Philip had never met a stranger. Whether he was in the barbershop, poking around Home Depot’s tool section, or telling corny jokes under the Live Oak trees at church, Philip loved to chat: about Jesus, about his family, about the Carolina Gamecocks. He liked people, and people liked him. “I never have a bad day,” was one of Philip’s catch phrases; he explained that God the Father surrounded him with love and kept him secure, no matter what happened in his life. Philip had learned to rest in God and leave his worries in his Father’s hands. While he was In the ICU, Philip’s family created a sign proclaiming “We don’t have a bad day” and hung it near his bed. This was one of Philips truths to live by.
“I don’t have bad days anymore,” Philip had explained many times. “If I say I believe in God, and God doesn’t make mistakes, then this day, no matter what my circumstances may look like, is made by God and therefore is a good day!”
It was an incredible claim to make, given the circumstances.
After the terrible heart attack day, Rhonda wondered if she were about to lose her husband; or, if he survived, would he still be the gregarious, good-humored guy she had married right after high school? “He’s in there, I know he’s in there,” daughter Jessica would tell her. But no one knew for sure.
Early on, the hospital crew fought to preserve Philip’s brain function by employing hypothermia, a 48-hour process; they drastically lowered his body temperature and then slowly warmed him back up. It seemed to work. Eventually doctors performed a neurological exam and informed Rhonda that everything looked normal. She collapsed and wept from relief.
Yet the trouble wasn’t behind them. The staff began bringing Philip out of the medically-induced coma, and his family would engage him during his more alert phases. Oddly, after several days his condition seemed to worsen; he was less responsive on his right side. Further tests revealed Philip had now suffered a stroke which would impair his ability to walk and to speak. Nurses started talking to Rhonda about putting her husband in a long-term care facility. After all the energy spent to bring Philip back, Rhonda was not about to give up on him now.
“When I heard he had had a stroke, I felt angry,” Rhonda said. “I got mad at the devil. I was like, this is hitting below the belt. Something kind of flipped over inside me. I started saying, I’m not going to let you continue to ravage our family and his body. I’ll fight you on this one. I’ll fight you.”
Rhonda would need that conviction; the process of recovery would prove long and frightening. After a 34-day stay, Philip finally qualified to leave Trident Hospital when he could pass a swallow test. He would progress on to two different Rehab hospitals. When he entered Rehab, Philip could not walk; he could not speak; he could barely swallow; he was breathing through a tracheostomy. But Philip believed he would recover, and he pushed himself. He entered Rehab in a wheelchair, and four weeks later, he marched out step by precarious step, moving forward without even the aid of a cane.
“He’s my hero,” Rhonda says.
On the balcony of his upper-story room at Rehab, Rhonda and Philip would sit in the evenings and watch the birds fly overhead. “They’re worshipping, they’re worshipping,” Philip would say joyfully. Both Rhonda and Philip now look at nature differently. Sunshine highlighting a spring-green patch of grass or wind rippling across the face of a pond each proclaims the glory of God. Peace is available if one stops to soak up such moments of reflection. “I really don’t worry about anything,” Philip says, taking his time to get out the words. “I trust God. He is my Father.”
Such trust seems easier for Philip, who has had the benefit of seeing God in Heaven; but how can others explore a life based on worship?
“Make time for God,” Philip says. People are so bound by schedules, but God wants us to rest in Him.
“God says sit down and rest; man says no, hurry up. Hurry up!” Rhonda says.
“I am not in a hurry about anything anymore,” Philip says. “God is my provider, not man. Therefore I will only do what He says for me to do. If God said it, I’ll do it. If not, I won’t.”
Yet human nature leads to the selfish pursuit of personal desires; who among men can receive the Kingdom of God? “We can’t judge people. That’s the truth. God will judge men, not me,” Philip says. Mankind’s perspective — the anxiety of scarcity — makes it hard to get through the narrow gate; we don’t grasp that God would make it easy if we would trust him.
“He is desperately trying to get everybody in — He is not trying to keep anybody out,” Rhonda says. “People have to try really hard to escape his love.”
Despite longing to return to his Father, Philip wants to fulfill his job on earth. “I am not going anywhere,” he says, “until my destiny is used up.”
Editor’s Note: If you would like to support Philip and Rhonda Floyd, tax-deductible donations may be sent to Grace & Mercy Ministries, 8696 Blackshear Ct., N. Charleston, S.C., 29406.