99: Grace

99: Grace

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses


I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.

~Anne Lamott

“I should be studying for mid-terms,” I thought, “not lying here in bed.” But my mystery illness forced me to return home from college mid-semester, and now I had to wait for a referral to a specialist, one who was booked until the end of the month.

I had been so positive about getting answers for my muscle weakness, but I woke up with my emotions just as heavy as my body. I started doubting the hope I was holding on to. At this point, I had been lying in bed for two months with no improvement.

I was falling in and out of sleep when I heard a knock at the door. It was my physical therapist. She took one look at me and said, “Skipping P.T. today?” I was so weak I couldn’t respond. She asked me to lift my head. I couldn’t. She seemed confused as to why I had gotten so much worse. We skipped that day and she went home.

I tried rolling to my side, but I couldn’t do it. I felt so helpless. I just stayed there in bed with my eyes closed, wanting to escape from reality.

A few hours later, there was knock at the door again. It was a nurse. After I had fainted from exhaustion at the doctor’s office a month prior, he decided I was too weak to leave my house, so he ordered in-home care. But it was a Friday night. Nurses never came this late.

My mom walked the nurse upstairs to my bedroom. She looked very concerned.

“Hi, Alyssa, I’m Grace,” she said. “I saw your blood work, and your numbers are all over the place. We need to get you into a hospital soon.”

“We’ve been trying to get to a specialist so she can be referred to a different hospital, but she’s been stuck on a wait list,” my mom explained.

“You know what?” Grace said. “My brother worked at USC Medical Center. I’ll get you an appointment there first thing Monday morning.”

Up until this point, doctors had been telling me that I was stressed and just needed rest, or that something was so wrong that life as I knew it would never be the same. What I needed was someone to acknowledge that I was living in a very dark place, and to shine some light into my situation. Thank God for Grace.

Saturday morning, I woke up to the sound of my dad and brothers coming home from a baseball game. My dad came right up to see me. “How are you feeling?”

I just shook my head.

“You want to get up and try to walk around?” I just closed my eyes. He had no idea how weak and exhausted my body was. There was no way I could walk.

My brother Frankie came up to talk to my dad. I focused in on their conversation. It felt good to have life around me.

As they talked, I turned back inward and realized it was becoming more and more difficult to breathe. I tried not to panic or exert too much energy as I fought for even the smallest breath.

“Can’t breathe.” I could barely get the words.

I tried again, using every ounce of energy I had. “Can’t breathe.” I had my dad’s attention now. “Take me to USC.”

With my mom on one side and my dad on the other, they walked me down the stairs and into the front seat of our Suburban. My dad sped all the way as I focused on inhaling and exhaling. Finally, we arrived at USC Medical Center. Because of Grace, my name was in their system and I was approved to be checked in and seen by their doctors.

The doctors immediately diagnosed me with the muscle disease called myasthenia gravis. They explained that I was in the process of having a myasthenic crisis, and a few days later, discovered a cancerous tumor near my heart.

They found all of this and more. They not only diagnosed me accurately, but they treated me with excellence. Medications, intubations, chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries were all a part of my healing process. It was a long journey, but I can now breathe, walk, and talk on my own, living a full life. I even picked up where I left off in school and completed my master’s degree.

I found out later that Grace was off work that night when she came to my house. She was in her car skimming through her paperwork when she came across my file and saw how serious my blood work results looked. She felt compelled to see me immediately.

Without Grace coming to my house that day, I don’t know what would have happened to me. She was an intuitive nurse who went above and beyond.

She gave me grace in human form.

~Alyssa Annunziato

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