60: Irish Angels in New York

60: Irish Angels in New York

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Irish Angels in New York

I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives.

~Tracy Chapman

As my husband, Doug, stood on the curb doing his best to hail a cab, I huddled under the hotel awning with my daughter, trying to angle her stroller away from the cold December rain. When I knelt down to check on her, I wasn’t surprised to see her watching the busy New York scene with curiosity. I tucked her pink security blanket tighter against her legs and kissed her cheek where bluish veins crept up the side of her tiny face to her temples.

Frustrated and wet, my husband gave up his attempt to flag down a taxi. Walking back toward me, I saw defeat and complete exhaustion in his expression. I knew the feeling. Just after her first birthday our daughter was diagnosed with a rare brain disorder. Since that moment, Doug and I felt like runners in a marathon race where the finish line kept disappearing.

Doug forced a smile when he saw me looking his way. “It’s cab-crazy over there,” he said. “I thought I was loud but this Kansas boy can’t out-yell these New Yorkers.”

We stood for a moment in silence watching people pour out of the hotel, some walking briskly under umbrellas while others joined the cattle call at the curb.

“How’s she doing?” Doug asked as he pointed to the stroller. It was a question that was fraught with mine fields, but I knew he was only referring to the chill in the air, not the tangle of arteries and blood vessels that slowly robbed our daughter of the typical toddler experience.

“She’s happy as can be. You know Katie, always up for an adventure,” I replied. And it was true. Though she had every reason to be willful and fed up with doctor visits, blood draws, echocardiograms and CT scans, she rarely fussed, flinched or expressed her displeasure. Each new doctor meant a different set of toys in the waiting room and the promise of M&Ms on the way home.

A clap of thunder caused my tired, anxiety-ridden body to flinch as the rain intensified. We had been in the Big Apple barely twenty-four hours and spent the previous night trying to pretend we were merely tourists trekking from the Midwest for a fun holiday getaway instead of brain surgery. We ate New York-style pizza for dinner and even stopped at a bakery for black and white cookies, an homage to the famous Seinfeld episode. Thirty minutes later, Katie paid her own tribute when she proceeded to vomit the black and white cookie all over my chest.

With only two weeks to go until Christmas, twinkling lights and other decorations were festooned across the city. We marveled at lighted snowflakes hanging from street lamps and animated nutcrackers in shop windows just long enough to forget why we were there. But the enormity of it was always with us, ticking in the background like the countdown clock on a bomb.

Even though Katie wore an ever-present smile, we knew she was running out of time. Despite the gnawing in my stomach telling me something was wrong and my continual pleas for doctors to look at her, really LOOK at her, it had taken months before we received a diagnosis. Finally we had a name for the disorder, vein of Galen malformation, but the prognosis was not good. The surgery to treat her condition was so precise that only a handful of specialists in the world were qualified to perform it.

Now, when it was time to check into the hospital where a brilliant doctor was waiting to save our girl, we were huddled under an awning in a strange city in the rain, waiting to catch a break and trying not to break down.

“Pardon me? May we offer you a ride?”

I turned in the direction of the voice and noticed a middle-aged woman in a long white fur coat looking at Katie and then back at me. Midwestern pride kicked in before I could think and I replied, “No thank you. We’re just waiting to grab a taxi.”

“It’s really no trouble. My husband is bringing the car around now,” she countered. It was then I noticed her thick Irish brogue, an accent that warmed me like hot soup.

When a black SUV pulled up moments later, she ushered Katie and me into the back seat before we could protest further and instructed her husband, a tall gentleman with broad shoulders and a full head of snow white hair, to help load our suitcases into the hatch.

Doug and I sat very still trying not to get the expensive leather seats wet with our rain-mottled clothes and checking our feet for mud even though we had been standing on concrete.

As the man pulled away from the curb, the woman asked where we were headed. We knew from our brief time in New York that people preferred short, to-the-point answers so we simply said, “Roosevelt Hospital, please,” and settled in for the ride.

I don’t know how she knew, maybe it was mother’s intuition, or maybe she spied the veins or the dark circles under Katie’s eyes, but the wife asked, “Are you going for the baby?”

I nodded my head, choking back a tiny sob as the floodgates opened and we poured out our story. We were only a few blocks away from our destination, but it was a cathartic release and the couple listened intently. Their children were grown and had kids of their own, but the previous evening, the entire family gathered in the city for a holiday dinner and Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.

At the hospital we thanked them a dozen times for the ride. While I was strapping Katie back into her stroller, the woman called Doug over and placed a laminated card in his hand. On one side was a picture of Mother Teresa, on the other, a simple prayer. She quickly scratched her name and e-mail address on a piece of paper and asked us to contact them about Katie’s recovery.

The woman hugged me one final time. After the embrace I noticed her face was wet with tears and shrouded in worry. She promised to pray for us. Then they were gone.

We would never forget that single moment of kindness. As the double doors of the hospital opened with a “whoosh,” we took a deep breath and looked down at our girl. It was time to find her miracle.

After three more visits to New York and two more brain surgeries, Katie is cured. During the frenzy of that first trip we lost the e-mail address of our kind Irish angels, but we still have the laminated Mother Teresa card. It sits prominently on our refrigerator as a constant reminder of a tiny ray of light delivered on one of our darkest days.

~Dani M. Stone

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