41: Hand of God

41: Hand of God

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Hand of God

It is only in misery that we recognize the hand of God leading good men to good.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It was the phone call that nightmares are made of. My one-year-old son had fallen from our second story and fractured his skull. I needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible to say “goodbye.”

I drove like a crazy woman, sobbing, screaming, and cursing God for this tragedy. We’d named our son “Matthew,” meaning “gift from God,” so why was God so hell-bent on taking him away? Hadn’t we been through enough? I’d had a dozen surgeries to try and get pregnant. We’d done a year of infertility treatments only to be told it was hopeless. And then, when I did miraculously get pregnant, I began to bleed and spent the next thirteen weeks in bed before delivering our son eight weeks prematurely. It felt like the only “hand of God” I knew was a hand to take away.

Matthew suffered respiratory distress syndrome, sleep apnea, croup, and bronchitis during his first year. It was only in the last few weeks before his first birthday that we’d finally believed that he would live.

And now this.

I was unprepared for the sight of my son at the hospital. His head had swollen so much that he looked like a little alien. Both eyes were completely black and blue — or, at least, the part we could see. The pressure in his brain had swollen both eyes shut and folded his little ears in half so that they muffled Matthew’s hearing. The brain scans told a horrific story — nearly a third of Matthew’s left hemisphere was destroyed, and with it his large and small motor skills, spatial skills, emotional centers and speech centers. If he survived — and that still was an “if” — he would probably never walk, talk or function normally.

But that didn’t matter at that moment. What mattered then was my child’s suffering. His writhing. And thrashing. And the screaming. I’ll remember that sound until the day I die — the piercing, animal-like sound of raw, unbearable pain.

In the beginning, the only thing that stopped the awful sound was to nurse my child. Yet, within hours, they wouldn’t let me. Matthew’s temperature had spiked, and they feared milk in his stomach would trigger a seizure or stroke — and kill him. So, instead, I held my baby as he screamed, and I died inside. Oh, it was true sometimes I couldn’t help it and gave in to nurse him. Our situation was bleak, and if my child had to die, I wanted him to have experienced some final comfort in my arms.

But he didn’t die. In fact, a week later, he got down out of my husband’s arms, looked up with a smile… and ran across the floor! We were astounded.

Yet that joy was not to last. Even though we’d been allowed to bring our child home, something wasn’t right. A bubble like a balloon began to form over his fracture and pulse. As it grew, his movements stopped. First Matthew’s right foot began to drag, then he lost the use of his right hand, and then his face drooped and stopped moving.

We took him back to the neurologist only to learn that the fracture was growing and, with each heartbeat, was destroying more of his tiny brain. He would need surgery immediately to remove the dead brain cells and close the fracture.

But this was 1991, and that kind of surgery was still rare and new. We reached out to every medical professional we knew and found a brilliant doctor who’d come from South Africa and was practicing at the local teaching hospital. Because of apartheid, he’d done many surgeries like this on people beaten during that terrible time. And, as fate would have it, when we called for an appointment, someone had just canceled. We were able to see him the next day rather than wait the usual three months.

When Matthew saw this doctor, he waddled up to him and snorted. The doctor squatted down and snorted back, and a bond was formed. Within days, we were at the hospital preparing for surgery.

It was supposed to take two hours.

Five and a half hours later, the doctor came out to reassure us. “You have to be frantic,” he began. “It’s okay, but it was much more involved than we thought.”

The plastic surgeon was still working to puzzle Matthew’s skull back together again and would take another hour or so, but the doctor wanted to share something with us.

“I don’t know what your belief system is,” he began. “People say that I create miracles all the time. I’m in the business of miracle-making. But they’re not really miracles — just good luck and technical knowledge. But I need to tell you that a real miracle happened in there just now.

“The surgery was hard, but I wasn’t alone. Something — someone — was guiding my hands to do things I never dreamed I could do. It was incredible. It was as if I wasn’t even doing the surgery — that the hand of God, or whatever you want to call it, was doing it through me. I’ve never felt anything like it. But it was strong, and we all felt it. I don’t know who your son is or what pull you might have, but I would call what happened in that operating room a real miracle.”

That was twenty-six years ago.

Today, Matthew is still a miracle, and definitely a gift from God. Despite learning disabilities, horrific headaches and ongoing anxiety attacks — the legacies of his fall — Matthew is a behavioral specialist for developmentally disabled young men, dealing with the most severe behaviors and non-verbal young people because he “really understands them.” He’s working two jobs to pay his way through college as he moves toward a master’s degree so he can continue his work with these special kids. He also volunteers at an animal sanctuary and has helped to settle new immigrants from Africa. And he hosts his own video-blog promoting veganism and animal rights. His life is about service, compassion, justice, and love.

Twenty-six years ago, I thought all was lost. Today, I realize that my son’s life is a constant string of miracles, grace and heaven-guided experiences. I have a faith and certainty about my son… and about all our lives in general. For I’ve felt the hand of God.

~Susan Traugh

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