37: The Proof Is in the Cheeseburger

37: The Proof Is in the Cheeseburger

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

The Proof Is in the Cheeseburger

A good man’s prayers will from the deepest dungeon climb heavens’ height, and bring a blessing down.

~Joanna Baillie

My eighteen-year-old son Caleb lay in the ICU of Deaconess Hospital in Billings, Montana. The sunshine could not be seen in the windowless room. Even before Caleb had been transferred to the ICU, the days had seemed dark and filled with uncertainties — starting two weeks prior when he came home with a severe, throbbing headache unlike anything he had ever had before. He isolated himself beneath the covers of his bed. A few days later, with the help of a young muscular friend, we forced a disoriented Caleb into the car and headed to the emergency room.

After lumbar punctures, multiple lab sticks, a life flight, and prods and probes from half a dozen physicians, Caleb was fighting for his life. A couple of days after his admission to the medical floor, the pulmonologist was making rounds over the noon hour. While examining Caleb, he gave the order to transfer him to ICU.

“Look at his breathing,” he pointed out to me. “That’s what we call paradoxical breathing. He is no longer able to protect his own airway. We need to get him on a ventilator where he doesn’t have to fight for each breath. If we can help him save energy by breathing for him, then our hope is that he can use what energy he has to fight the meningitis.” I nodded and put the spoon down. I had been trying to feed my son — something I hadn’t done since he was a toddler, but with every bite it was necessary to remind him to swallow. It wasn’t that way the day before. He was holding his own utensils then. As a nurse, I understood the implications of all this, and it wasn’t good.

As his pale, limp body lay supine on the ICU bed, it was hard to believe this was my son — the one who two weeks ago was laughing and playing Hacky Sack with his friends in the front yard. Now he had tubes emerging from almost every orifice, including a feeding tube that fed him liquid nourishment since he was no longer capable of chewing and swallowing food. I tried to keep my mind off the dismal situation by busying myself with nursing tasks. I watched the urine that gathered in the measuring device attached to the catheter bag on the bedrail. I rubbed Caleb’s feet with lotion although I think he was too sick to care. I combed through his stringy black hair while telling him things we would do when he got better. He was still capable of saying short sentences and occasionally I would see a smile.

As the week passed, he became more disoriented. He continued to know who I was, but no one else. The worst morning of that week, Dr. Peterson, Caleb’s neurologist and primary doctor, came to seek me out in the waiting room. (Family could not stay in the rooms when report was being given to the next shift.) He asked me to follow him around the corner to a vacant hallway. “No! No,” I screamed inside. I didn’t want to do this. I had been on the other side of this too many times — when doctors took family members to quiet hallways.

“We have tried and done everything we know to do for your son, but today he is not only physically deteriorating, but mentally as well. That is always a grim sign. I had hoped I would never have to have this conversation with you.” The lump in my throat continued to expand as if it was a marble transforming into a tennis ball. Dr. Peterson didn’t stop there. “I feel you need to prepare yourself for the worst. We won’t stop doing what we are doing, but if Caleb gets better, it will not be because of anything we have done.”

A good friend from my hometown three hours away came to visit us after lunch. I told her what was going on, and she excused herself for a few minutes and made a phone call.

Later that afternoon, the youth pastor where we both attended church back in Wyoming came to see Caleb. He laid his hands on Caleb, anointed him with oil, and said a prayer over him. Before leaving, he encouraged me with words from the Bible, but I could not tell you what they were. I was in a daze.

The ICU did not permit family to stay at the bedside through the night. I spent a restless night at the Ronald McDonald House, one ear tuned to the phone in the hallway. A call never came and I released a sigh of relief upon rising that morning. I hurried and showered and opted not to eat breakfast. I wanted to get to the hospital as soon as visitors were allowed into the ICU. When I got to the doors of the unit, I couldn’t help but wonder if this might be the last time I would go through these doors.

As I hurried past the nurse’s desk, I saw Dr. Peterson with his head down, peering through charts at one of the tables. I didn’t stop to interrupt him, but hurried into Caleb’s room.

A surprise awaited me. Caleb was sitting up in bed. His brown eyes were open and bright, and he even had a bit of a smile. To my ears, his slow, slurred words put the most beautiful music to shame: “Mom, suppose I could have a cheeseburger?”

I had not shed a tear before this, but it was as if Old Faithful was erupting through my eyes now.

I had thought that Dr. Peterson was studying charts, but it turned out he was finished with all of that and had been waiting for me to arrive. The entire nursing staff and Dr. Peterson stood and watched me walk into Caleb’s room. They weren’t about to miss out on my reaction to a miracle — the one that Dr. Peterson said would have nothing to do with what they had done. I had no doubt that Caleb was on his way to recovery — the proof was in the cheeseburger!

~DeLila R. Lumbardy

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