Stack was on a ventilator for 21 days and in critical care for 36 days. When he was moved to a new ward at the end of April, he began the arduous process of starting to walk again.
“Three jolly physio people turned up dressed in their masks and hoods. They said: ‘Hello, Michael, we’re going to get you to walk.’ I said: ‘How?’”
“With the first push and shove, they got me to put my feet on the ground. They lifted me forward and moved me two steps. That was the beginning of the process of learning to walk again.”
Stack was, of course, used to hospitals, but as a chaplain rather than a patient. He estimates that he has ministered to around 5,000 people who have died on wards. As well as serving at some of the U.K.’s busiest hospitals, he was also national chaplain to the Association of Catholic Nurses in England and Wales.
A few years ago, he published a book about the Church’s healing ministry. “Lord, When Did We See You Sick?” tells 12 stories of grace amid illness drawn from Stack’s ministry. In a foreword, Cardinal Nichols described it as “a moving testimony to the healing power of our prayerful companionship with the sick and dying.”
Stack noted that the title is from a passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says that we will be judged according to how we treated “these least brothers of mine.”
“That’s probably how we’ll get into eternal life: you’ll get the calculator out and see how many times you actually helped somebody,” he mused. “Or you’ll say: ‘I didn’t see any of that. I didn’t see anybody sick.’ Because we’re too busy, too busy working or enjoying ourselves here.”
Stack plans to add another six chapters to the book. And yes, one of them will be about his own unexpected recovery.
After eventually testing negative for the coronavirus, he was allowed to leave the hospital. He returned to his sister’s house, where he continued his rehabilitation program. He progressed from a walking frame to two sticks, then to one stick, and finally was able to walk on his own.
By August 2020, he was well enough to accept an invitation to return to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. He was able to thank the medical staff who saved his life and visit the critical care unit where he went to the brink of death and back again.
“My sister said, ‘Oh, you’re a bit of a Lazarus, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘No, well, he was dead for four days,’” he recalled.
“It’s thanks to the prayers that so many people have offered for me.”
At the end of that month, Stack went back to Christ the King parish in Coventry, where he had been assisting before his illness. His health was still delicate, but he wanted to thank parishioners for their unceasing prayers.
In a short address, captured on video, he said: “Thank you for your prayers, all of you, which have made a tremendous change to my state of life. I was close to being called twice and, for some reason, the Lord has decided it’s not time yet.”
He told CNA: “I found that very emotional and very, very exhausting because I wasn’t really up to it. I don’t think I was really fit enough to do that. But I thought I’ve got to get up and do something and thank people.”
Standing at the pulpit and with a growing weariness in his voice, he thanked all those who had sent him cards. He said he was especially touched by a portrait a young Mass-goer drew of him looking sprightly under a smiling sun.
“Thank you very much indeed for your message, for your prayer, and for the prayers of everybody. I’m full of gratitude. Thank you,” he said.
And with that, he stepped away to resounding applause to continue his recovery.
Photograph of Fr. Michael Stack used with the kind permission of Con McHugh.