58: Circle of Prayer

58: Circle of Prayer

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Circle of Prayer

Prayer is not eloquence, but earnestness; not the definition of helplessness, but the feeling of it; not figures of speech, but earnestness of soul.

~Hannah More

Most likely, the doctor found the first birthday card startling. I pictured him pausing, trying to pinpoint my motivation, before tossing the correspondence in the wastebasket, only to lift the card back out and place it on his desk. There, he’d glance at it whenever he passed by, recalling that he nearly took my life, only to save it two days later. He probably thought it odd that I remembered the day he was born. But how could I forget?

At thirty, I needed a tonsillectomy. Years of strep throat and failed antibiotics necessitated their removal. I read the risks and possible complications listed on the surgical consent form. But like most patients, I signed without much thought to the medical warnings and envisioned nothing more than a soothing Popsicle in the recovery room, followed by moderate pain for a couple of weeks. I could not have been more wrong.

After the surgery, I went home feeling as though I’d swallowed shards of glass. My five-month-old son Holden needed my attention, so I rested in between caring for him. The next day, a warm, thick liquid trickled down my throat, followed by the distinctive taste of copper. I called the surgeon’s office as instructed for post-operative bleeding.

“Gargle with ice chips,” he said.

“Excuse me?” I asked, believing that I’d misheard him.

The doctor explained that a blood clot might be holding a vessel open and, if knocked off, the bleeding would subside. I gargled the ice, and it worked . . . for a while. The next bout of bleeding—heavier and faster—increased my worry, and I called the office. I gargled with ice chips once again as instructed, and the bleeding stopped. Later in the day, I headed to the hospital without calling the doctor because the bleeding had increased. Shortly after my arrival in the ER, the bleeding eased.

“It looks like the problem has corrected itself,” the doctor said as he looked around in my throat. “I’d hate to stir things up. I think we’ll let it be and send you home.”

The thought of leaving the safety of the hospital frightened me, but I didn’t object. The doctor appeared to be a bit rushed. I noted his dress clothes. “Going somewhere fancy?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s my birthday today. We were out to dinner. In fact, my wife’s still at the restaurant waiting.”

I had interrupted his birthday dinner. Probably made him leave before the arrival of his cake adorned with candles. I suddenly felt stupid for rushing to the hospital without calling for his advice. He instructed me to go home and rest and to call the office if a problem arose.

The next day, I actually felt better throughout the day. I went to bed with a sense of relief, but I soon found myself in a dreamlike state. Swallowing. Dreaming. Swallowing. Dreaming. Gulping. I shot up in bed to find my pillow soaked with blood. I shook my husband awake. The next fifteen minutes consisted of a speeding car, the running of stoplights, and my husband’s pleas for me to stay upright. Soon, back in the ER, a hose dangling from my mouth transported my life sustaining blood to a nearby canister.

A nurse stood at my bedside, holding my hand and brushing the hair back from my face. “We’re waiting for anesthesia to arrive. They’re on call this time of night. We’ve paged them, and they should be here soon.”

“How long?” I managed, watching my life travel down the hose.

“Fifteen minutes.”

“I don’t think I have that long.” Her silence confirmed my fear.

The surgeon paced outside the room and glanced at his watch every few seconds, failing to mask his worry. My husband cradled our baby in the corner of the room as the nurse continued to hold my hand amidst the unspoken yet palpable panic. The nurse anesthetist from the Labor and Delivery Unit stood nearby, as a substitute, if the anesthesiologist didn’t arrive shortly. The gurney suddenly lurched forward and clipped down the hallway as a strange man in scrubs arrived and placed a mask over my mouth, telling me to breathe deeply.

I awakened to the sounds of distant beeps, hisses, and whispers. Too weak to talk, I could only listen as the surgeon stood at my bedside. This time, he wasn’t rushed and looked a tad disheveled.

“We were all praying for you in there,” he said. “The surgical team formed a circle around you, holding hands while we prayed. We nearly lost you at one point.” I nodded, somehow knowing there’d been a higher intervention.

“I need to tell you something,” he said, his voice thinning.

He must’ve noticed my questioning glance. “During the initial surgery, I nicked your facial artery, and it weakened over time. That’s why you’ve been bleeding on and off.”

I knew that he risked repercussions by telling me the truth. Perhaps he told me out of fear that I’d later discover his wrongdoing. Or, perhaps, he did so because it was the right thing to do. Either way, I respected him for admitting his error.

He then explained the harrowing night in the surgical suite: the tricky cauterization of the artery the size of a pencil tip, too short to tie off; the impending need to cut my throat from the outside in order to repair the damage if the cauterization failed—a procedure he had never performed before; the lavage to rid my stomach of the large amount of blood; and the prayers over my body as they painfully watched the clock and waited to see if the cauterization would hold.

“I kept thinking about your baby,” he said. “How would I tell your husband that you didn’t pull through and that your son had lost his mother?”

With the mention of Holden, the realization struck that I’d been so close to death.

“God listened today, and I’m thankful. I pray that you can forgive me for my mistake.” He squeezed my hand before leaving the room.

I drifted off to sleep, low on blood and energy. But I was alive. Over the next six weeks, the risk of bleeding still lurked until I had completely healed, but I knew God would not fail me now.

I forgave the doctor for the near fatal mistake during my tonsillectomy and for rushing me out of the ER the following day to return to his birthday celebration. He had stood before God, asking for His help in saving my life, knowing the burden he’d carry if I didn’t survive. Knowing my husband would lose a wife, and that my son would grow up without a mother. If God could see fit to answer the doctor’s prayers and grant him mercy, I could grant him his wish of forgiveness.

In the years to follow, my appreciation arrived at his office in the form of a birthday greeting. After all, he had saved my life when given a second chance, and he had asked for God’s help that night to ensure my survival. And each day, I’m thankful the medical team believed in the power of prayer.

~Cathi LaMarche

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