5 Life Lessons From My Serious Illness in A Foreign Country

I have always been a relatively healthy person. Heck, I rarely came down with colds or flu let alone anything more serious. However, that all changed when I was hit with the “perfect storm” of illness, infection and unforeseen complications.

And all 10,000 miles away from where I call home. Worse yet, my US-based health insurance didn’t cover a single cent of expense.

It all started innocently enough…

I had been diagnosed with a double hernia. A hernia is a tear in the abdominal wall. Often, a lump or bulge is visible. (In my case two bulges.) The bulge is actually the small intestine filling the hole created by the hernia itself.  Both men and women can get hernias, although they are far more common in men.

Here I am with my hernia surgeon Dr. Ismail prior to my prostate surgery.

There were two options for hernia surgery: laparoscopic and open surgery. I chose the more invasive and longer recovery option: open surgery. Why? A higher success rate.

That’s because a plastic mesh is inserted to provide the support that the abdominal wall is no longer able to provide.

Little did I know the decision for open surgery would have far greater impact…more about that in a moment…

The next decision I made was having the surgery overseas. Why? Because overseas I had someone who could care for me after my surgery: my wife Sharon. She currently lives in Malaysia. We met and spent time together in the US previously. Now she’s awaiting her immigration visa so we can be reunited permanently. (She’s not a US citizen.)

Now before you think Malaysia is inferior in terms of health care, it’s actually not far off from where the US actually ranks according to the World Health Organization.  What’s more, I was in a private hospital and one staffed with specialists.

The First

(And Unexpected) Complication…

I didn’t have a double hernia. It was worse. (No, not a triple hernia!) I actually had a “sliding hernia.” In this case, the bladder slides to fill the hole in the abdominal wall that was created by the hernia. That made the hernia surgery more complicated.

The good news? Because I opted for the open surgery, it was easier to spot and repair. The bad news? It meant I would be outfitted with a catheter for 10 days. This would allow time for the bladder to heal.

I have a fairly high pain threshold but the pain post-surgery was significant. I was told that the mesh is actually stitched to the muscle. And sometimes the mesh rubs up against a nerve. In addition, a simple cough or sneeze caused immediate pain.

But at least the worst was over, right? Actually, it had only just begun…


The Dreaded “I” Word...

After 10 days the catheter was removed. The next day I had chills and a fever of 103 F.  I had an infection. Now I’ve had urinary track infections before. No big deal right? WRONG.

I had cystitis, which is an infection of the bladder lining. I was given oral antibiotics. And while the fever subsided, something far worse took its place. These next four days were the most painful of my entire life.

Here’s what happened. When the bladder gets a serous infection, it can’t retain much fluid. So you have the urge to go. Frequently. Except in my case I was having serious difficulty. And the continual urge to go caused spasms, often only minutes apart. The spasms wracked my body with intense, unbearable pain.

And while I found no relief, I did discover something helpful. In between spasms, pacing back and forth in the bathroom helped me focus on something other than the pain. This also minimized any noise or disruption to my wife who was sleeping in the next room.

So over the course of four days, I was only able to sleep in small fragments, never totaling more than 2 hours per day. And the last day of that cycle I didn’t sleep at all. I spent the entire night in the bathroom.

Later that morning I was rushed to the emergency room. Where the next surprise was discovered…

The infection had spread…to my prostate. It was enlarged. Not sure if that made me more vulnerable or not. But it wasn’t just an ordinary infection. A CT Scan revealed an abscess.

I was readmitted to the hospital. I had the catheter put back in. And was given massive doses of antibiotics via IV.

Now where the prostate is located makes it difficult for antibiotics to do their job. And after several days it was apparent that antibiotics alone wouldn’t be enough…

Two Surgeries

And A Serous Hereditary Complication Later…

My hospital blood card. My blood type is extremely rare here in Malaysia.

My urologist, Dr. Tong, recommended two separate but necessary surgical procedures. First, they would pierce the Prostate abscess and drain its contents. Second, because the prostate was enlarged and impeding urine flow, I was to undergo a Transurethral Resection of the Prostate (TURP).

However, there was a holdup to having the surgery. The hospital didn’t have my blood type available. I’m A- like my Dad. Only 1 in 1,000 have that blood type. But that’s in the US. And yet in Malaysia, it’s even more rare. Maybe 1 in 25,000.

Without any of my blood type available the surgery was put on hold. But that didn’t stop one enterprising member of my family, my sister Lisa…

The US Embassy

Is Called Into Play…

My Chicago area-based sister Lisa, called the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. I was in a hospital located in Johor Bahru, which is actually closer to Singapore. (Where my wife currently resides…temporarily we hope.)

Now securing blood for one of their citizens is a little out of the US Embassy’s jurisdiction. Even so, they did make some inquiries. And a US Embassy representative was kind enough to call both my sister and me multiple times.

And whether it was the Embassy or the hospital itself, the A- blood was secured. The surgery was a GO!

I had both surgical procedures at once. They went well. However, because the entire surgery is internal there is some internal bleeding and debris. For that reason, I was given massive IV fluids to flush that stuff out of my system.

And because I was still battling the infection, I remained under observation at the hospital for three days after the surgery. On the day of my discharge, I had the catheter removed. I was able to go on my own. YAY!

However, after a couple days, I began having difficulty again. So the catheter was put back in. And this was the 4th time a catheter was called into play. And I have to tell you, that whole process is not pleasant. I’ll spare you the gory details. Guys, I think you know where I’m coming from, right?

And that leads me to the real gist of all this…


This has been quite an ordeal. And my sincere hope is that the life lessons I’ve learned will be of benefit to you as well.

Truth be known, I was so focused on the physical impact of all this, I’m still processing the various mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. I’ve found that writing, journaling and ultimately going public about it all has been cathartic for me. It’s a valuable step in the healing process and feeling whole on all levels.

So what did I learn?

Life lesson #1:

It can happen to anybody

Like I expressed earlier, I’m normally a healthy person.  But that didn’t protect me from everything that happened. And sure, what I experienced, especially the sequence of events is quite rare. But it DID happen.

Life lesson #2:

go BEYOND the physical

I was put to the test in multiple ways. How much pain could I endure before my body gave out? How could I function with no sleep for nearly 120 hours straight? You know what helped me get through this hell? My line in the sand: I refused to be a victim.

I realized this after confronting some serious self-talk issues. You know, “why is this happening to me?” or “Please make it stop, I can’t take it anymore.” Once I became aware of the unhealthy self-talk, I experienced a HUGE shift. Instead of feeling like a victim, I told myself “I’m a warrior and this WILL NOT beat me.”

That one evening where I was up all night I was I full warrior mode. I was armed with some prayers from the Bible about health specifically.  I must have said each one dozens of times. That’s what helped me get through my absolute lowest point. And I’ll never forget it as long as live.

Enlisting the mental and spiritual gave me the needed strength to combat the overwhelming physical challenges confronting me.

Life lesson #3:

Trust as you have never trusted before

I’m a VERY independent person. One of my biggest values is freedom. And yet with this onslaught of events, I was forced to put my trust in others. In doing so, you have to believe that those you trust have your best interests at heart.

This was made even more difficult because I was so out of my normal environment. In short, trusting new doctors, medical staff and many others in a foreign country.

Now, I didn’t trust blindly. I relied on my instincts. And the counsel of those I already trusted like my wife and family members.

But I also had to let go and trust that everything would turn out ok. And it did. I even trusted that sharing this with my subscribers (and you reading this now) was the right thing to do. It was indeed.

Life lesson #4:

those who care will step up BIG time

There’s nothing like a crisis for you to fully appreciate those close to you. I was amazed and gratified many times over.

Especially how my family and friends mobilized on my behalf. And how they remained vigilant no matter what twist, turn, complication or setback came my way.

I’ll be eternally grateful for that outpouring of support. And more importantly, their actions that led to results.

Life lesson #5:

There are ALWAYS silver linings

While I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on my worst enemy, it’s also true there are silver linings.  And blessings. Here are a few that come to mind…

  • I’ve grown closer to my in-laws
  • I’ve grown closer to my family and trusted friends
  • My wife Sharon has gone above and beyond her marriage vow of  “in sickness and in health”
  • I proved I can rise above even the most formidable of life challenges

And how about a totally UNEXPECTED silver lining? I lost my double chin! It’s true. The flabby neck fat is gone! Not sure if I was burning calories at an accelerated rate or what happened exactly.

And while I still have a ways to go, the worst is over. Thanks for reading about my journey.


heading home as things progress (and improve)

After nearly two months away, I’m going home. I had the catheter removed. I was told it will still take another couple months for “things to settle down.” I’ll also experience another first: I’ll be transported to the gates of my flights via wheelchair. Can I walk? Yes? Just not for long distances…yet.

I also want to thank my two primary physicians, both of whom had to think and move quickly as conditions changed. First, let me thank Dr. Ismail for performing my “sliding hernia” surgery and dealing with all the complications. Next, I’d like to thank Dr. Tong who performed my prostate surgery for the abscess and prostate resection along with the resulting complications.

Both physicians provided excellent care and took as much time as needed to answer ALL of my questions. In fact, western physicians could learn a thing or two about patient care from these two fine physicians. Thank you both. Considering how fast things were happening you both provided care and comfort in addition to your surgical skills. I wish you both the best.

Which life lesson hit home for you? Have you dealt with similar challenges? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments below.

Marc Harty is an online publicity expert, professional speaker, Internet marketing consultant and CEO of MainTopic Media, Inc. Marc’s Online PR Made Easy can help anyone at any skill level generate targeted web site traffic on autopilot.

  • One more thing: because of the unusual series of events, I am actually a “case study” for the hospital. I was interviewed several times by a nurse named Khonnie.

    She also asked for a photo of my hernia scars…now there are some limits to HOW much I chose to share about everything that happened.


    ~ Marc

  • Wow, Marc, what an incredible journey. Glad you’re all better now. 

  • Marc, thanks for sharing this.

    Be well!


  • DonO

    So glad you’re OK – puts the whole ‘Enlightened Warrior / Mind Of Steel’ work in context, yes?

    Really sorry about 4x catheter in your dinger, I cringed when I read about that. It’s not something I would do as a personal development process, lol!

  • Don,

    Thanks and your point is well taken. Painfully so I might add..

    ~ Marc

  • David,

    Doing my best. Thanks for connecting…miss ‘ya!

    ~ Marc

  • Bill,

    Me too my friend. Hopefully the end of this difficult journey is at hand. Lets reconnect via chat when I get back, ok?

    ~ Marc

  • Randy

    I feel for you bro! You are lucky to be alive. I’m laid out flat from the first chemo right now. Almost passed out in the bathroom this morning. I understand the feeling of not being in control of your body. Only place to turn is to the mind, to our own sense of inner fortitude, or whatever that place of faith and perseverance is inside of us. Wishing you much good health and safety, Marc. Love, Randy

  • Notaclue1211

    WOW, didn’t know all the details, but so glad you’re on the mend, and having Sharon w/you was just terrific. Take Care (and I really mean it) hope to see you healthy and back in the states., Love Aunt Di

  • Dan Safkow

    Wow, Marc! I did not know you were going through this! Thanks for sharing your story, especially the silver lines. Glad you’re on the other side of it.

  • Dan Nickerson

    Did you get to keep the green hairnet?  Because you definitely rocked that look.

  • Fleur

    Dear Marc
    Through all these setbacks please give glory to God for the transformation taking place in your life from one based on self sufficiency to one wholly trusting in the Lord. We are with you in this journey, praying and believing that when the catheter is removed tomorrow you will be able to function normally with no more setbacks. Two responses are required on your part; one, exercising your faith to believe in Jesus for healing and restoration; two, closing all open doors that have allowed the enemy to penetrate. Ad that means confessing your sins and weaknesses to God who is forgiving and ever ready to help you overcome. It also means forgiving all those past or present who have hurt you in any way. Lord, I thank you for healing Marc and softening his heart.  Love, Fleur

  • Diane Roehrig

    Marc:  Thank you for the lessons from such a horrible experience. each one of them is so valid.  Here I was feeling sorry for myself because my water heater flooded my den and office while you were on the other side of the world going through so much pain.
    I am humbled by your courage and faith.    Prayers for your complete and speedy recovery are being lifted for you daily.

  • Kangbengsue

    Dear brother Marc, Shalom! I have been praying for you. My name is Rebecca Kang a very good friend of sister Fleur Vaz. Stay strong and our Lord Jesus, which i sense in my spirit has great plans for you. God know, understands, all what you are going through, i perceive in my spirit as i prays for you that He is doing many things for you, preparing you as well as sister Sharon, your beloved wife, for greater things to come. Jeremiah 29v,11=13.  Isaiah 66 v.13.  Matthew 21 v.22.  Take care. Regards to sister Sharon n to you. Rebecca kang Beng Sue.

  •  Diane,

    Thank you so much. While it has been an awful ordeal I have learned so much about myself and those around me.

    means a lot to me that you took the time to share. I am inspired by
    your comments and this is so essential for me moving forward.

    ~ Marc

  •  Hi Di,

    Wasn’t sure how much you knew. Thanks for connecting. And YES, hope to be back in the US soon. This has turned into quite a tale, hasn’t it?

    ~ Marc

  •  Hi Dan,

    Hopefully the worst is behind me. Still dealing with a few things and trying to regain the stamina to resume a normal day, even though I’m still housebound for at least another week to 10 days.

    Will miss you at UIBC 2.0 and LA.

    ~ Marc

  •  Hi Fleur,

    Thank you for your unwavering spiritual and emotional support. That’s even more impressive when you consider what your own health challenges have been.

    ~ Marc

  •  Rebecca,

    Sharon has shared with me your involvement. Thank you! I am very blessed to have someone like you taking such a interest in my health and well being.

    ~ Marc

  •  Hi Randy,

    I was wondering about you! While hopefully health crisis is reaching a positive conclusion, yours in just beginning! My wishes and prayers for your health and well being are on the way!

    I still want to do that skype call when you’re up to it. We’re dealing with some internet challenges here that hopefully will be resolved in the next 48 hours.

    I am here for you and want to find a way we can have a good laugh about this! (Looking at me in a sarong is a good place to start, LOL.)

    All my best, Randy.



  •  Hey Dan,

    It was a casualty after the surgery. But I still have the memories and the visual proof…

    Thanks for the laugh. Through it all I must say my sense of humor helped carry me through the difficult patches.

    ~ Marc

  • So glad to hear you’re doing better and that you have focused on the positive. It speaks much to your character and outlook.

  •  Hi Mickie,

    Thanks. It means a lot to me that you took the time to read and post.  And thanks for the kind words.

    I look forward to getting back on track and to the business ventures we’ve discussed previously.

    ~ Marc

  • Marc, You messaged me on Facebook which brought me to this post.

    I have just 2 things to say. #1. I am glad to hear your ordeal is over. It sounds horrendous.
    #2. You’ve helped. Thank you 🙂

  •  Jason,

    Wow, that was fast! I was hoping we could meet this fall but my event in the UK was cancelled. Considering I still have the catheter, and still having a few more tests, not completely out of the woods but hopefully the worst is behind me.

    Glad I could help in some small way. Let me know if there is anything else I can do. And we are overdue for a IM chat!

    ~ Marc

  • Amazing story Marc and congratulations on being the warrior and deciding to shape your future. Negative self-talk is a real “killer” of a lot of things.  Dreams, goals, and yes even lifes sometimes.   I wish you quick healing.

  • Tim,

    First, it means a lot you’d take the time to post here with your launch in its final days. Second, I appreciate your kind words. And lastly, I’ll be sending out an email to my list today recommending your new video product. Really cool approach!

    ~ Marc

  • Marc, thanks for sharing your story.  It is truly inspiring.  Life has a funny way of teaching us lessons when we least expect them and it clearly has for you in this case.  However, in your case it shows that you have come out the other side of this experience a much wiser and stronger person.   I l;ove the positivity….Stay Strong & Propser.

  •  Anton,

    Thank you for your kind words. I am glad we connected on FB. And I am reminded about Lance Armstrong’s autobiography where he said getting cancer was the best thing to happen to him.

    It changed who and what he was. Glad I didn’t have to go to THAT level to get my life lessons!

    ~ Marc

  • Dechen

    Marc, thanks for sharing and is really a lesson to be learn from you where it happen so far away from your own country, I can imagine what happen if we are in oversea and happen 10000 miles away without anyone we know or family around. 

  • Gary

    Hey, glad to hear you came through a real ordeal with some positives.  Strange timing on this–I am working a a big deal for my company that will give us an office of 400 in Kuala Lumpur–and may other places around the world.  Hope you and Sharon are doing well–everything is great with Joan and me.

  • Gary,

    Great to hear from you! Been WAY too long…would love to catch up. Isn’t there an anniversary this year at U of I? I’m curious…how did you find this? Via my Facebook feed? However you did, I’m glad you did.

    And yeah, it’s been an adventure. I was traveling for speaking and had a few unexpected surprises.

    Say hey to Joan for me. Again, so glad to reconnect…

    ~ Marc

  •  Dechen,

    Thank you for your kind words. I have had many memorable events during my trips here and this is no exception!

    I’m feeling much better and taking it slow.

    Hope you are doing well.

    ~ Marc

  • Andrew Lock

    Wow Marc, what a story.  I can’t imagine what you went through.  Thanks for sharing.   I’m glad you’re getting well now.

  •  Andrew,

    Thank you for the kind words. Yes, quite the ordeal but it taught me quite a bit. So in that regard, it was a bit of a gift.

    But I’d sure prefer learning an easier way!

    ~ Marc

More Stories