Miracle or coincidence?

This is part 2 of What has God got to do with it? You can read part 1 here.

15 August, 2008

The following statement from Dr. Moore Sr., Annie’s Oncologist, was made on the fifth day of her hospital stay. At the time, he was a senior member of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society‘s National Board of Directors, had previously been a scientist, and was in his 39th year of practice. He was a blood cancer specialist and when he talked, folks listened. The statement speaks to the precarious balancing act that was going on between life and death. Annie was on the edge, and no one quite knew which way she was going to fall.

“Bob, we have to make our stand now. We are running out of time and if we don’t get those platelets up soon, Ann is going to start bleeding. She will have a brain hemorrhage or start bleeding from her nose, eyes, ears, stomach, and anywhere else she can bleed. We will not be able to stop it.”

He explained that with her bone marrow being so compromised with the myeloma, her platelets were not going to come up. The only way to stop the myeloma was for the chemotherapy to start killing the cancer. Then, even with the chemotherapy, we should start seeing a slow gradual platelet rise. This statement speaks to why Annie was not in the ICU. If she started bleeding, she would not survive.

Note: Platelets are one’s blood clotting mechanism. Normal platelets range from 140,000 to 400,000. Annie’s platelets were stuck between 1 and 5 thousand. Critical low! Example: A few days after Annie entered the hospital she had a stroke. It’s almost impossible to survive a stroke with platelets as low as Annie’s. Reason being–once the bleeding starts there is not enough platelets to stop it. That had the doctors talking–but, even before the events of this day, Annie was known throughout the cancer community as their little miracle girl. Somehow, some way, she kept beating back death.

As a caregiver, we’re sometimes just going with the flow. We don’t know from one minute to another what to expect when dealing with a critical and terminally ill cancer patient. Things can, and often do happen beyond the imagination of many. In other words, we have no control over what’s going on. We are simply being pulled along for the ride at that moment in time. We have no idea where we’re going or where we’ll end up. And simply put, fear of the unknown locks into our emotions and before we know it, we are on the emotional roller coaster ride of our lives.

Full of painful highs and lows

Annie was a lifelong Atheist. She didn’t believe in God, and would forcefully shut down any conversation going in that direction. Knowing how she felt about God, when she initially received her very short prognosis, I never even considered bringing in a pastor. The last thing I wanted to do was upset her while she was fighting such a difficult battle.

The stage has now been set for an amazing story whether you are a believer or not. I’ve tried so many times to understand what happened that night, but I always end up back in the same place—I’m not dying and therefore can’t possibly understand what goes on in the mind of a terminally ill patient with a death sentence. You just can’t put yourself in their shoes. But I know this, when Annie came out of that coma, she told me it was very dark and she felt a deep sense of loneliness and never wanted to go back there again.

The Spiritual Awakening

It’s now 10:00 P.M., and Annie has just been rolled into her room on the cancer ward. It’s been a very long day for her, she had her last radiation appointment and many medical tests and exams during the day. She probably didn’t even know what was happening to her as she was in and out of consciousness most of the day. When she was placed in her room, the word the nurses used was the dreaded “Coma” word. I hated that word!

While Melissa and I were waiting out in the hallway, we were both very tearful, and as we discussed the day’s events our attention became focused on a figure at the end of the west hallway. At the end of the hallway, where it intersects with the north and south hallways, we both saw this big-framed nurse go walking by heading south. She stopped, looked down the hallway at us, then kept on going.

I said to Melissa, “Did you see that funny-looking hat she had on?” It was like the old-fashioned 1950s nurses’ hats.

Melissa looked at me puzzled and said, “I did!”

About that time, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her coming our way. As I shoved Melissa into Annie’s room, I was saying, “Don’t look now, but she’s coming our way.” She was a short, stocky, older looking lady and I guess the thought of her being Annie’s nurse was worrisome to me.

As you walk into Annie’s room, which was facing north, on your immediate right was a large bathroom. Once you move past the bathroom, you’re in her room, which was about the size of a small bedroom. Annie’s bed was against the north side bathroom wall, so she couldn’t be seen from the outside of her room.

Melissa and I were standing about five or six feet from her bed and facing her. There were a couple of people standing in the doorway blocking entry to the room, but I could see the nurse with the old-fashioned hat standing behind them trying to look over their shoulders.

All of a sudden, she just pushed her way into the room and moved herself over to Annie’s bed. At that time Annie was unconscious. She put her hands on Annie’s cheeks and said, “God loves you so much, you’re such a beautiful lady.” She said that a few times, repeating herself. That was a jaw-dropping moment for Melissa and I. She then said a long and, what I felt was a very powerful, prayer. She stayed by Annie’s bedside for a while, quietly talking to her. I don’t know what she was saying, but I’m sure it was spiritual. Just watching the delicate way she touched Annie gave me chills.

A few minutes later Annie’s nurse came walking over to Melissa and me. She told us they’d done all they could for now and that the blood would be arriving soon, so they could start the transfusions. She told us Annie needed at least three or four units of blood.

I asked the nurse how she was doing and she replied, “We don’t have any expectations either way. She’s a very sick lady, but hanging on.” It was all about the numbers; the blood counts had to come up soon, as Annie was compromised in many ways at the moment.

As the nurse walked away, the nurse that was praying for Annie walked from the bed and over to us. The first words out of her mouth were, “You must be the family.” I told her we were and that my name was Bob, and Melissa was our daughter.

She identified herself as Beverly, and told us that “on her way to work tonight she had a premonition from God that she was going to meet someone very beautiful and special.” She looked straight into my eyes and said, “I believe I just met that person.” She then put her right hand on my left shoulder and her left hand on Melissa’s right shoulder squeezing rather tightly, but affectionately. She told us we’re going to get through this night, as she didn’t believe God would send her to visit someone that was going to die. She asked me what her name was, and we told her in unison, “Annie.” She then remarked, “I believe she needs some work.” Beverly indicated that this wasn’t her area of responsibility, but when she got through with her shift, she’d come back and check on Annie.

As she walked out of Annie’s room, Melissa put her arms around me and said, “Daddy, we just met an angel.”

I felt as if something very special had just happened, and I knew instinctively that overtime this night might play a significant role in Annie’s life; or was it my emotions wanting me to believe there was some sort of intervention playing a bigger role here. I must admit, I did find Beverly’s words to Annie very comforting. But it left me wondering if Annie was aware of her presence, or even heard her gifted words.

By the time Annie woke up, it was mid morning on the 17th, and she’d received 5 units of blood and 5 units of platelets. Over the next 2 weeks while in the hospital she had many more transfusions.

The afternoon of the 17th, Beverly stopped by with a little gift for Annie and they had their first formal meeting. Beverly walked over to her bed, held her hand, and introduced herself. I could tell by the expression on Annie’s face that she felt the love. She clung to Beverly’s hand with both of hers as they talked for a while. Then out of nowhere, Beverly asked Annie if she’d mind if she prayed for her.

Annie was looking up at Beverly when she said, “I don’t mind.”

I watched Annie close her little eyes, and we all bowed our heads. We then heard a prayer, so wonderful, loving, and peaceful it was probably one of the defining moment in Annie’s journey.

From that day on, anytime Annie knew Beverly was coming around, she’d get excited. Annie loved having Beverly in her presence, she made her feel safe.

In my opinion, and from what some of the nurses told me, this sort of event happens much more than we think. As a caregiver, we must always have the best interest of the patient or loved one in mind. And if, as was the case with Annie, the loved one has a spiritual awakening, just go with the flow. If you don’t know what to do or how to help, call on the clergy for help. We must not use our beliefs, to deny someone the chance to pursue what they may be seeing as an opportunity that we can’t possibly understand. Annie was an atheist in the truest form, so what happened? Apparently she saw something in the darkness that really upset her. She did not want to go back there. On the other hand there was Beverly, she represented the light. In Annie’s compromised position, that’s was probably a no brainer for her. And I believe, at that point Annie was exploring her options as she saw them.

The gift Beverly gave Annie was a little white box with a tiny mushroom bird and miniature cross inside.

During the hospital stay, Melissa got a very tiny zip lock bag and put the bird and the little cross inside of it. She pinned the bag and contents to the wall beside Annie’s hospital bed where she could see them when she was worried. The bird is significant, in that a song was written about it in the 1950s and sang by a famous gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson. It goes like this; “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, his eye is on the little ole sparrow, so I know he’s watching me.”

One afternoon, Melissa walked over to the bed to check on her momma, whom she thought was sleeping. She noticed tears running down her face and said, “Momma, are you crying.”

Annie turned her head over to face Melissa and said, “Mel, I don’t know how to pray.” Sad, but why would she know how to pray. Once the story was relayed to Beverly, she made a special trip up to the hospital and took care of Annie’s spiritual need. I would like to have helped her but I wasn’t sure if there was a right or wrong way to pray. Anyway, I felt the task at hand was too important to be handled by anyone other than Beverly.

I’ll close this blog with these final words. Annie was in the hospital for 2 weeks. When she got out we still had to make a trip or two a week to the infusion center for platelets or blood. That went on for about a month.

How did Beverly know it was Annie she was looking for?

She said that when she was looking down the hallway she saw a bed surrounded by people being pushed into a room. Beverly said the bed had a beautiful “golden ring” around it. Based on her premonition, and the fact that the cancer ward had forth to sixty patients on it, how else could she have known. Melissa and I, along with two nurses were standing there and we didn’t see the gold ring. But I guess we weren’t supposed to.

Beverly had been a nurse for fifty years. The last thirty of those years she was an oncology nurse. She retired before Annie passed, and became an integral part of Annie and this families lives. With her came everything good.

This two week period was very tough on Annie, me and Melissa for many reasons. It was difficult as Annie’s husband/caregiver to find words to promote stability in such fluid and anxious times. Yes, when I took Annie home I felt like, just maybe we witnessed some sort of a miracle, as my mind drifted to–or was it just another coincidence. I was just happy we were home.

Naive, would be a good word to describe what we just went through as a family. I really didn’t think things could get any worse. But they can and they do. And I’m not talking about dying, I’m talking about survival and the lengths and depths two people in love will go to, and through, battling this cancer, when sometimes the only weapon they have to fight with is their love for each other.

Written by Bob Harrison
Bob Harrison was raised in the heart of the Redwoods in the far northwest comer of northern California. The little town of Crescent City, California was located near some of the world’s tallest trees, with the west shoreline being the Pacific Ocean. Bob spent most of his time fishing the two local rivers where some of the finest Steelhead and Salmon fishing is located. He was also well known up and down the north coast as an avid motorcycle racer, winning several hundred trophies, and one Oregon State title. Bob graduated from Del Norte High School with the class of 1966, then spent a one year stint at the College of the Redwoods, before having a strong sense of patriotism and joining the United States Air Force. After three years of service, Bob met Annie, the love of his life, and they got married in England in 1972. Bob’s love of country pushed him on to what turned out to be a very successful career, retiring in 1991. Bob’s last military assignment was Wichita, Kansas, a place he and Annie decided to call home. Together they developed and ran two very successful antique businesses until the stranger knocked on their door and changed their lives forever; “Because of Annie.”

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks Willie.

    Reply
  2. Thanks, You said that part 2 would be great and indeed it is.

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