Mason was in the hospital for 3 weeks. His condition was critical from day one and each subsequent day brought another life-threatening crisis to bear; liver failure, kidney failure, gram negative sepsis, endocarditis, internal bleeding, acute respiratory distress syndrome, three pneumothoraces, hypoxia, and stroke. Each one of these on its own was serious and potentially fatal, but together, they proved insurmountable.
It’s hard to watch your previously strong and healthy child endure such devastation. Days were long. Nights were even longer. Family surrounded us with their love and prayers, but mostly, we all felt helpless. We could only be witness to this unthinkable downward spiral.
But as the days and nights unfolded, we were blessed to receive comfort, guidance and protection as love and light found its way into our presence. It came when we least expected it, brought by people who were unknown to us at the time. These people are now indelibly etched on our souls. They offered gifts from their hearts as only those who understand life and death intimately can. As time has passed, separating me a little from the events, I’m able to see the true beauty of their gifts.
The first time I was aware of being in the presence of grace was the day that I found out Mason had had a stroke. His pulmonary specialist just casually asked “Has anyone told you that your son has had a stroke?” I was caught off guard-it was not something we had ever considered having to deal with. I went out into the hall to have a melt down, not wanting Mason to know how distraught I was. He had been in a medically induced coma almost since his arrival, but not knowing what he could hear or feel, I didn’t want to break down in front of him. I just started sobbing.
This woman came up to me and without saying a word, put her arms around me and held me while I cried. When I could finally speak she said “Now, tell me what’s happened.” We were strangers to each other, but she recognized a soul in despair and didn’t hesitate to step up and offer herself. I needed to be held at that moment more than anything and there she was.
We became friends, giving each other support and encouragement, talking as if we had known each other for years. She found out I was staying in a hotel down the street from the Med Center and without hesitation invited me to stay at her house. This loving, open-hearted woman invited a complete stranger into her home without a second thought. I declined her generous offer but we continued to run into each other almost daily. She was caring for her husband who had had a major cardiovascular event and whose survival was in question. But he did survive and was eventually moved to another section of the hospital. One day, a week or so later, this friend came back to our floor to check on Mason, but we were gone. She was deeply saddened to learn of Mason’s passing. It was just a few months later when we learned of her passing. The heart that she gave so generously to family, friend and stranger alike had stopped. Her name was Nancy and I will never forget her.
The second time someone reached out to me was with a message. Mason had been in the hospital for 11 days at this point. He had a cadre of doctors taking care of him and I knew them all by sight, name and speciality. Around lunch time I headed over to the cafeteria through a labyrinth of halls and tunnels, joining a river of people-doctors, nurses, family and friends of patients, all of us in search of sustenance. The hallway narrowed at one point, slowing down the process. A large group of doctors approached from the opposite direction. One man veered away from the group, crossing over to the side where I walked. He stopped directly in front of me, looked intently into my eyes and asked how my son was doing.
It took more than a few minutes to fill him in on Mason’s condition, all the while people were having to walk around us to continue on their way. When I had finished telling him, he said in a slow, direct voice; “You need to call him home. Do you know what I’m saying? You need to call him home.” Without another word, he turned and continued on his way. I had never seen this man before, indeed I never saw him again. He was quite clearly giving me a message and I received it eagerly, if inaccurately. To me, home for Mason was with his family and that was exactly where we wanted him to be. But in retrospect, I believe this man was talking about his true home-home with God. I may never know who this man was, but I do know he was there to deliver a message. It was a message I was not ready to hear.
The third event was a moment of divine intervention which came 2 days later. It was my 60th birthday and my son had to have surgery. He had suffered a stroke as a side affect of the endocarditis. A piece of ‘vegetation’ on his heart valve had broken free and traveled to his brain. In order to prevent any further strokes, they needed to install a mesh implant into a major artery to catch any potential clots. As he was being readied for surgery, the double doors into the CVICU opened to reveal what I could only describe at the time as an angel in a floor length pink surgical gown.
I’m not someone who thinks about angels, sees angels, talks to angels and yet she was known to me in an instant as an angel. I didn’t doubt it, not then and not since. She and her crew were there to take Mason up to surgery. But instead of just doing her job she came over to me to ask how Mason was doing. I filled her in and by the time I was through she called off the surgery until the surgeon could come down and assess Mason’s condition for himself.
Mason was in a fragile state where the least movement caused his oxygen levels to plummet. After personally witnessing Mason’s precarious hold on life, the surgeon assembled a large team of specialists and many other support personnel to participate in his transfer and surgery thereby increasing his chance of survival. When he was finally taken into surgery, there were no fewer than 20 people accompanying him. They remained by his side during the surgery and indeed he did survive-that day. We were incredibly grateful, especially for the angel in a pink surgical gown who cared enough to ask this mother how her son was doing.
Three events, none of them particularly earth shattering in nature, but outside of what I would consider typical, ordinary or predictable. Who were these people?
Well, Nancy was an exceptionally kind and loving soul who even in her own pain and distress reached out to help another soul in need.
The man who delivered the message? For the life of me I don’t know who he was. A messenger, an angel, a doctor? Yes, probably all three.
The nurse in pink scrubs was quite obviously of flesh and blood, walking this earth doing her job. But she was more. Her presence kept Mason alive that day. My son would not die on my 60th birthday.
May God bless these souls.