This past fall Marty hadn’t been feeling well. Each day he seemed a little worse than the day before. He was living in Michigan while his dad and I were in Tennessee.
Early one morning, much to my surprise, I woke up as though someone had given me a good shake. I sat up in bed with a sudden realization that Marty’s ailment was threatening his life. I prayed the word mercy over and over again. “Oh, Lord, please have mercy on our son.”
After a while Les woke up, perhaps because I was hovering an inch over his face, watching to see when his eyes would open. When they did, I blurted out, “Marty is in danger and needs to go to the emergency room!”
Les was trying to weigh the validity of my urgency through his sleep-clouded mind when a friend of ours from Michigan called. Les asked Carl if he would run Marty over to the emergency clinic and let the doctors take a look at him. Upon Marty’s arrival and after taking his vital signs, the clinic personnel called for an ambulance to rush him to the hospital. The doctors at the hospital immediately put Marty into a medical coma and placed him on life support. Our son had H1N1, pneumonia, and a severe sinus infection, and he wasn’t expected to live.
Marty spent the next twenty-one days on a ventilator and miraculously survived. His life today is physically difficult. His joints are full of arthritis, and the medical community can do little to alleviate the distress in his body caused by the virus, his medicines, and his coma.
During our hospital vigil, Les and I took shifts as we waited to see what God had planned. Many times our hearts were so full of pain it was difficult to breathe deeply. It’s still hard to talk about that time because it throws me back into scary feelings of helplessness. Until the doctor took Marty off the ventilator, we didn’t know if he would survive; so for twenty-one days we held our breath, waiting to see if he could maintain his.
I’ve been aware for years of how prayer comforts the human heart. Yet I was taken aback during this death-valley walk by the undergirding prayers that sustained us. They were palpable. I literally could feel the prayers of God’s people holding me steady as I moved around Marty’s bedside, through the hospital’s halls, and when I would lay my head down to rest. The prayers quieted my mind and heart so I could sleep. When a turbulent current of despair would threaten to swell, the prayers acted as a barrier to direct the rising panic away from me.
Many people wrote daily on my Facebook page to let me know that they continued to pray for Marty. The visual encouragement of those posts was like personal visits. Because Marty was contagious and was in a unit full of others with communicable diseases, we insisted our friends and family stay away. We could have felt all alone in this heartache if it weren’t for texts, Tweets, e-mails, Facebook postings, and cell calls. Mary Graham, friend and president of Women of Faith, sent text messages to me several times each day. Many times she simply said, “I love you.”
I had forgotten how powerful those words are when you’re battling your way through fear and pain. Scripture reminds us that “perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment” (1 John 4:18). Mary’s love notes often gave me the impetus to take the next step.
Love instills courage.
My friend Jan Silvious was a steady phone voice in the gale winds of our story. I knew whenever I needed to talk, she would listen; and when I needed input, she gently would advise. A trusted friend who is tracking with you in her availability and her prayers is a stabilizing force.
One day I arrived at the hospital, walked past the coffee shop, the gift store, down the now-familiar halls to a bank of elevators and pushed the “up” button. I realized we had developed a hospital rhythm, knowing every turn and twist without thinking. As the doors drew open, I leaned forward to step in and then saw something that made me jump back in confusion. There stood my friends Tami and her husband, Dale, who lived in another state. My muddled brain was having trouble figuring out how they could be in this elevator. As we hugged, I realized how wonderful it was to have friends share our pain face-to-face. It turned out they were on a business trip that took them to the same city as the hospital, and they didn’t want to leave without expressing their concern and love.
Before we arrived Tami and Dale had scrubbed up, suited up, gone into Marty’s room, stood at the foot of his bed, and prayed for him. Not knowing they would bump into Les and me as they left, they placed a love note next to Marty’s bedside, which I would read and reread in the days ahead. Later when I stepped into Marty’s room, I felt the strength of their prayers still lingering. I didn’t realize how tenderly my heart would be touched, knowing others had added their lifegiving, spoken prayers into this machine-congested, beeping, buzzing, sterile environment. Their hearts, enlarged with love, had touched mine.
We don’t always know what we need in a crisis until someone provides it. Then, and sometimes not until later, we realize how significant each contribution was to our sanity and to fan fresh hope into our spirits.
There’s no doubt about it: prayers and people matter.
The next thing that was a strong reminder during this chapter of our lives was “change can be good.” I’m all for change, actually — if I’m the one implementing it. Otherwise, I can find it threatening, which is what happened the day I arrived at the hospital and was told they were moving Marty from one intensive care unit to another in the same hospital. “Why?” was my insistent question that wasn’t being answered in a way that satisfied my anxious heart. I could hear my voice intensifying; then a thought rolled into my mind: What if this change is for good?
The thought seemed unreasonable because I couldn’t make sense of why the medical staff would change his care by what seemed to me to be a disruptive move. But the thought What if this change is for good? planted itself in my mind and wouldn’t be shaken loose.
I confess that I’ve been wrong many times. My conclusions haven’t always aligned with outcomes. So when this reminder, What if this change is for good?, tattooed itself in my head, I didn’t want to ignore it in case I blindly stood in the way of a breakthrough for our son. And yet… I didn’t want to stand back and allow the hospital staff to make a choice that further threatened Marty’s life either. A doctor assured me repeatedly there was no danger in the physical move; yet before they could get Marty into the new bed, he went into crisis. A flurry of running nurses surrounded him and worked to stabilize him. I was frozen outside his room, listening to their efforts when a male nurse joined them. Within a minute or two, he had discovered and corrected the problem, and all the life-support machines settled back into their rhythm. It would take longer for my erratic heartbeats to do the same.
I wasn’t informed until after the move that all Marty’s doctors would be different because he had changed floors. This set me off into an emotional tizzy. I felt that was a risky idea. The original doctors were familiar with his case while the new doctors would have to learn it. This seemed like lost time to me, which Marty couldn’t afford. But the drumbeat of What if this change is for good? remained, and I tried, in a knee-shaking way, to trust that the thought was from the Lord.
The new team of doctors arrived, headed up by a woman who was assertive and verbally direct. Obviously she was in command. Then she spotted my husband and me seated on a bench near the door to Marty’s room. She pointed at us and demanded, “Who are they?” I announced we were Marty’s parents, to which she commanded, “You may sit there, but you may not talk.”
I didn’t say a word, but I could feel my blood pressure rising. I scrutinized the doctor’s every move. I watched as she picked up a list of Marty’s meds, scanned down them, and then asked for a phone. One of her assistants handed it to her, and she called the in-house pharmacy, where she asked — no, demanded — that one of the meds be changed immediately.
After what sounded like a verbal scuffle, the matter was settled, and the change was made. That call turned out to be a breakthrough, as I would find out the following morning.
Then the doctor asked, “How long has this man been on the ventilator?” When she heard it had been twenty days, she said, “What? Twenty days? Why, he’ll be loopy. We have to get him off of it.”
When those words touched my ears, my first thought was, This change could be good. No one had been talking about removing his ventilator until she entered the scene. By morning Marty’s lingering sinus infection was gone because of the medicine change made the night before. One of the doctors met me when I arrived and had me go into a side room while they removed Marty’s ventilator. I couldn’t believe it was happening. My heart was ricocheting with both excitement and fear. Finally I was told I could go in to see him.
For the first time since admittance, our son was sitting up and breathing on his own. I rushed to his side and placed my hands on his arm. To my surprise, Marty jerked his arm away from me and whispered through his raw throat, “Don’t touch me!”
I was shocked. I thought all my son’s mother issues must have come up in his coma. I backed away to comply. Then he turned and weakly motioned to the nurse to come near, and he whispered, “Am I still contagious?”
“Oh, no, you haven’t been contagious for some time,” she assured him.
Marty turned back in my direction and motioned me toward him. I leaned forward so I could hear his raspy voice. He said, “Kiss me.”
“Kiss you?” I asked, to make sure I understood what he was asking, and he nodded his head. I quickly complied. (Later my friend Marilyn Meberg reminded me that our greatest human need is connection. Marty’s request made perfect sense.)
Need I tell you how relieved I was to know that Marty’s initial reaction was his desire to protect me and not to reject me? I gave birth to Marty when I was twenty years old. I was ill prepared for motherhood or real life. Within two years of his birth, I became phobic, and Marty grew up in the unstable atmosphere of my frayed emotions. So when he said, “Don’t touch me,” I knew he had reasons to have mother issues. Early on, when he was impressionable, I had smudged the lenses of his life perspective with my fears, and it would take time for him to see beyond the ground-in scratches of my brokenness and to get new lenses of his own.
Prayer matters. People matter. Change can be good. And ultimately, love rules.
Prayer: Oh, God who is near to the brokenhearted, please make Yourself known, for our pain threatens to blind us to Your nearness, and our fears deafen us with their scary recitals that are ever clanging in our ears. You alone, Lord, can attend to our desperation. Silence us with Your peace. Comfort us with Your tenderness. Mend us with Your love. Amen.
Excerpted with permission from Stained Glass Hearts by Patsy Clairmont, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2011.
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