LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Rev. Russ Smethers was bleeding in the street when he fully understood the seriousness of his situation. He became aware again in a trauma room with metal tables and hospital lights.
“This is real, you know, and everybody’s saying, ‘You’re going to be OK,’” Smethers recalled Tuesday, adding that he believed the repeated assurances might mean he might not be fine after all. “Everything goes through your head.”
Smethers, 54, associate pastor at Abundant Peace Church in Las Vegas, was inside his home when an assailant stabbed him with a butcher knife 21 times on March 8.
After five days in University Medical Center’s trauma center and multiple surgeries, Smethers is well on the road to recovery.
“I shouldn’t be here,” he told reporters. “God’s will put me here and put the skill into the hands of the doctors and nurses so that I could be here.”
Smethers shared his harrowing experience while Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman presented a certificate of recognition to the hospital for saving Smethers’ life.
“People say, yeah, first responders are important, and that’s about all they say,” Smethers said. “There’s no meaning behind it. And I think all of us need to be reminded every once in a while exactly how important those first responders are.”
Smethers’ wife escaped the attack while Smethers fended off the man, whom they knew.
The assailant had been on methamphetamine and was recently sentenced for the crime, Smethers said, without sharing details.
The attack left Smethers with skull and facial fractures, sliced eyelids, a punctured lung and many stab wounds to his torso. He nearly lost his left thumb, and the tip of the knife broke off in his skull, which he describes as “a souvenir for the rest of my life.”
Smethers joked with paramedics in the street and in the ambulance, saying humor was an important coping mechanism just after the attack.
He remembers a surgeon sewing up his facial wounds and later a registered nurse holding his hand, praying over him. The nurse did that multiple times throughout Smethers’ stay.
“He says, ‘You’re going to be OK, pastor, we’ve got this,’” Smethers recalled.
He said he owed his life to the skill and compassion of nurses and surgeons.
“This is our sole purpose, is to save the lives of those in our community,” said Dr. Douglas Fraser, the hospital’s trauma medical director.
While Smethers’ physical healing continues, he said the emotional recovery will take longer. He is seeing a psychologist and has forgiven his assailant. But the experience has not shaken his religious beliefs.
“During the struggle, when I was being attacked, God did tell me, ‘You’re going through some stuff right now, but you’re not going to die tonight,’” Smethers said.
This article originally appeared here.