48: Mike’s Calf

48: Mike’s Calf

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Mike’s Calf

Symptoms, then, are in reality nothing but the cry from suffering organs.

~Jean-Martin Charcot

One often hears people say that God works in mysterious ways. Well, my husband is proof that God’s ways are not only mysterious; they are often veiled in circumstances that seem less than ideal.

It was a weird injury, one that bordered on unbelievable because of the way it occurred, and one that would ultimately save my husband’s life.

“You did what to your calf muscle?” I asked in late 2008, needing him to repeat what he had just said because I was sure I had misheard.

“I exploded it,” he said slowly, shrugging his shoulders.

“Like, exploded it exploded it? What were you doing?”

“I was on the elliptical at the gym and it just . . . exploded. Blew up. Like, the muscle part.”

“The elliptical?” I asked. “You mean, the machine you use so that you don’t injure your body actually running?”

“I know,” he said, looking sheepish.

“How fast were you going?”

“Just my usual speed. I don’t know why it happened. One minute I was fine and the next my calf felt like it exploded with pain.”

It was just another inexplicable event in the saga of unusual physical ailments he had been going through in the past few weeks. Each new ailment added to the confusion because they didn’t seem to be connected in any way. His palm had developed a lump. His fingernails had weird black lines in them. His sleep was interrupted by alarming hot flashes followed by chills. The calf was the strangest injury of them all.

In spite of all the ailments, he had stubbornly maintained a strict running schedule. He was training for a half marathon and every week he would kiss me goodbye and disappear on the back country roads next to our home for hours at a time, only to reappear sweaty and happy. But now that was definitely over.

I called the physical therapist to set up an appointment and in the meantime it took all of my powers of persuasion to keep Mike off his feet. When he went to work, his calf wrapped in an ACE bandage, he hobbled around, sometimes hopping instead of walking. He was frustrated to not be able to walk and even more frustrated because all of the progress he had made with running seemed to be slipping away. He grew discouraged and I felt helpless.

“Lord, why did you allow this to happen?” I prayed in frustration. “He was loving running and now he can barely walk, let alone do his job. Hasn’t he endured enough recently with all these weird health things? Please heal his leg so that he can walk again. And quickly? Amen.”

Mike’s physical therapist was kind, but also a bit bewildered by how his injury had occurred.

“I’ve never heard of someone exploding his calf on an elliptical machine,” she told Mike after he explained his injury.

“I’m special,” Mike said, with a grin that masked how disheartened he felt. The physical therapist stretched his muscle and used an intimidating looking machine to shock his calf with electricity, a process that looked incredibly painful from my perch in the corner of her office.

“Stay off it as much as you can. I’ll see you next week,” she instructed as she walked us to the door. Mike didn’t look at me. We both knew he wouldn’t stay off his feet; he couldn’t if he were going to continue to work. And he needed to work. Since I was in graduate school full-time, he was the only one making any money and we couldn’t afford for him to take the three to four weeks off they had suggested for a full recovery. This injury was not only a nuisance, it was also becoming a financial burden.

“Lord,” I silently prayed as we drove home. “This timing is awful. What are we going to do? He can’t stop working. Please heal his calf, like, tomorrow? We can’t take much more of these health issues.”

Mike’s ten-mile runs were becoming a distant memory and when his strange string of ailments landed him in the hospital, the doctors asked about his exercise regimen along with several other questions.

“I run. A lot. At least, I used to,” Mike said, and I could hear the sadness in his voice.

“Well, I have good news and bad news,” one of the doctors said after they finished their initial examination and ordered several tests. I grabbed Mike’s hand and held on tightly.

“The good news is that we know what’s wrong with you.”

I saw Mike sigh and then steel himself for what came next.

“The bad news is that your heart has problems, problems that require surgery to fix.”

The room seemed to spin and I could feel both Mike and I struggle for words. We came up empty and so the doctor continued.

“You were born with a heart defect and somewhere in the recent months you developed an infection in your heart. We need to replace your aortic valve because the infection has destroyed it. Every time your heart beats, it is flicking off little bits of infection into your body. That’s probably why you have had these weird injuries. Like with your calf. Although, that injury was pretty lucky,” she said.

I felt myself balk. Lucky? How was my husband, who had just been told he needed open-heart surgery, lucky? How was an injury that left him hobbling around barely able to do his job lucky?

Sensing my doubt, the doctor continued.

“The truth is, with this type of heart problem and how much you were running, you probably would have just fallen over dead during one of your runs. Your heart couldn’t sustain such intense cardio in its current state. Your injured calf most likely saved your life.”

Mike and I stared at each other in stunned silence. His hand began to shake in mine. My thoughts jumped to the long stretches of lonely dirt roads that Mike liked to run on, with no one but a herd of goats to keep him company. I knew the gist of where he ran, but not the specific roads and the realization of what could have been nearly floored me. He could have died, alone and scared, on a backcountry road and I wouldn’t have known where to find him until it was too late.

In the light of this new revelation the calf injury that had seemed like such an inconvenience began to look like a divine warning. I had been angry at God for allowing Mike’s calf to be injured and yet, in his infinite wisdom, he had allowed it in order to spare Mike’s life.

“Thank you, God. Thank you for allowing this injury and saving my husband,” I whispered.

Mike’s heart surgery was a success and strangely, after the surgery, his calf seemed completely healed as well. It hasn’t bothered him since.

Whenever life becomes difficult or circumstances seem dire, Mike and I look at each other and say, “Exploded calf.” It reminds us that circumstances that seem pointless or discouraging might just be divine intervention in disguise.

~Jessie M. Santala.

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