44: Caught Between Life and Death

44: Caught Between Life and Death

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Caught Between Life and Death

Prayer is man’s greatest power.

~W. Clement Stone

On Sunday evening, April 24th, the phone rang. I was sitting in my den reading a novel, and the sound of the phone startled me. Who would be calling me late on a Sunday night?

It was my brother James, and he didn’t sound very good. I could feel my stomach tighten.

“I’m in the hospital.” He took a breath. “I drove myself over here because I could feel my heart rate go really high.”

“How high?”

“Around 200. But there’s more. My heart has serious arrhythmia. My heartbeat is highly irregular, and it skips beats.”

I could feel my stomach tightening further as a cold fear crept across my chest. “Can they do anything about it?” I asked.

“They’re trying some medications, but so far my heart rate and arrhythmia haven’t changed.”

“Do you want me to come over?” James lived in Oshawa, an hour away from us.

“No, I don’t think so. They’ve got me lying down hooked up to all these machines. Look, I’ve got to go; they want to do some more tests.”

I hung up and began to think. My older brother had died at age fifty-eight just nine months before, and it was unthinkable that something could happen to my only other brother. I sat back in my wing chair, closed my novel and shook my head. My hands gripped the arms of my chair tightly as I shook my head in disbelief.

I tried not to think about my brother and his heart problems, but to no avail. On Monday night, the phone call came that I had been dreading. My brother called me from the hospital for a second time in twenty-four hours. I wasn’t looking forward to the news James would give me.

“Well, my heart rate is still really high, and the arrhythmia is just as bad. They’ve tried all the medications they have.”

“Can’t they bring your heart rate down some other way?”

He paused for a moment. “There is no other way. The doctors are concerned. If they can’t stabilize my arrhythmia, it won’t be very good.”

“What does that mean?”

“My heart will just wear out, and that will be it.”

I didn’t know what to say. My skin suddenly became clammy all over, and I felt tightness in my throat. “How long can this go on if things don’t change?”

“Days at most.”

We both sat in silence as I contemplated what might happen.

“There’s not much you can do except pray,” James added. “I’m hooked up to all these heart monitors, and they’re following my condition closely. But my heart rate isn’t coming down, and they can’t get rid of the arrhythmia no matter what they try.” James sighed and lowered his voice. “To be honest, they’re not optimistic.”

I paused as I tried to put aside my sense of dread. “I wish I could do something practical. Should I contact Milly?” Milly was his wife, but she was a thousand miles away in Mississippi with her father who was dying.

“Don’t worry. I called her. The nurse just came in, so I’ll let you go.”

I sat in my den staring straight ahead. I felt numb. I had this creeping fear that my brother was going to die. In nine months, I would have lost both my brothers, and I would be the only one of five in my family still alive. My mind took me back over the years to one scene after another of spending time with James — our trip to the Rockies, our summers at camp, and his wedding in North Carolina on the hottest day in history.

Then I said out loud, “God, I don’t think I can handle this.” At that moment, I did something I had rarely done before. I got down on my knees and began to pray. I prayed from deep inside me — from a place I didn’t even know existed.

“Oh, God, save my brother. Oh, God, please hear me because I have no one else to turn to. PLEASE!” I saw a vision of my brother in a dark place with life on one side of him and death on the other. He was walking a razor’s edge.

At that point, the tears began to flow. I don’t know why I began to weep, but I did. I felt my whole body convulse as I knelt there. Waves of emotion swept over me like I had never known. Every part of me was focused on one thing: asking God to save my brother’s life.

I don’t know how long I was like that, but it seemed like hours. Then, all of a sudden, a deep peace slid over me. It was amazing. I felt I could stop praying. The tears stopped and so did the shaking. I felt a lightness come over me as if something had been lifted off my shoulders. I opened my eyes and stood up slowly.

As I dried my eyes, I glanced at the miniature grandfather clock on my desk. The time was 9:42 p.m. The number stuck in my mind for some reason, and I headed upstairs to bed. I was very tired.

The next morning, the phone rang again around 10:00. I saw the long-distance number and recognized it as my brother’s hospital. My body went tense again.

“Hello.” I held the phone tightly in my hand. I expected the voice of a nurse giving me bad news.

“Morning.” James sounded so much better than last night.

“How are you feeling?”

“Good. You won’t believe this, but the strangest thing happened last night. Just after I talked to you, the nurse came into my room with a printout tape showing my heart rate. Suddenly, on its own, it dropped from 200 to 74, which is normal. And the arrhythmia just stopped. They couldn’t figure out how it happened, but my heart returned to normal all by itself. She was so excited she just had to show me.”

I sat in silence for a few moments. “What time was printed on the tape she brought in to show you?”

“9:42 p.m. Why are you asking?”

“James,” I could feel my hands shaking, “last night I prayed for you like I have never prayed before. When I stopped praying, I looked at the clock. It was 9:42.”

~Rob Harshman

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