47: Traveling Angel

47: Traveling Angel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Traveling Angel

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

~Hebrews 13:2 KJV

It was a five-hour drive to Reno via Donner Pass from my home in Fresno, so I temporarily relocated to the neighborhood adjacent to the hospital to care for Mom. After three months in the hospital, she had already suffered a long list of life-threatening illnesses, infections and several injuries, with many transfers in and out of the ICU.

It was two in the morning and there was a new face on the ICU floor that night — a traveling nurse. I was exhausted but I made small talk about my job at a nurse staffing agency. She graciously listened as I rambled, but quickly returned to asking questions about my mom’s condition.

“It’s funny,” I said. “I can tell when Mom gets an infection without you guys doing lab tests or taking her temperature. Sitting in her room for hours, I can see when she becomes restless and talks in her sleep, and then she starts ghost knitting.”

“Ghost knitting?” the nurse asked.

“Yeah, it looks like she is knitting. Repetitive movements with her hands, twisting phantom yarn around, back and forth, over and over. Sometimes, she lifts up the bedsheet and works it into her ‘knitting.’ She isn’t even a knitter,” I chuckled. “So I call the nurses in and let them know something is going on. They call the doctor, tests are run, and before long, Mom has a new bag of antibiotics in her IV.” We shared a nod of acknowledgement, two women who know the idiosyncrasies of the people they love. “After the third or fourth bout of pneumonia,” I continued, “they told us they put Mom on IV steroids to keep her lungs healthy.”

I stood to hold Mom’s hand. After that long in the hospital, Mom sometimes lost track of time. She became forgetful after days of lying in a bed. She didn’t want to hear about what was going on outside because she couldn’t get out there herself. Conversation was rough during these times.

Then, things got even worse. Mom stopped talking and she began staring through me as I sat next to her hospital bed. The nights became longer as she thrashed for hours on end. After a week of that, she deteriorated further, and began crying and drooling. The worst was when the wailing started — and never stopped.

Even with antibiotics she didn’t improve, and the doctors told me she was suffering from “unspecified encephalopathy.” Basically, her brain was broken, and they didn’t know why. There wasn’t a treatment for the unspecified broken brain except to wait — indefinitely. I was left to watch over my mom as the torment continued night after night, day after day, for three weeks. They sedated her and put her on a breathing machine, which was a devastating blow.

We watched Mom’s eyes flutter, her hands twitch, and her feet pull against the soft restraints they put on her so she didn’t break another toe by ramming it up against the bed railing. As I stood over her, I confessed to the temporary nurse, “I’ve been praying over her.”

“I know you have,” she said with reassuring confidence. She made her way around the bed, and I moved so as not to be in her way. “You’re fine. Stay right where you belong,” she instructed gently.

I confessed, “I can’t bring myself to pray for her to survive if this is the state she’ll stay in. I certainly can’t pray for the alternative. I know I have to pray, but I struggle for what that prayer should be. I just don’t know what to pray anymore, not that I’ll stop. I haven’t lost my faith.”

Mercy. In the dim light of the medical equipment, I heard that one word. It wasn’t the nurse’s soft voice. It wasn’t voiced out loud at all. It was a supernatural voice of authority, filled with compassion. One word. I began praying over my mother, out loud yet whispered, tears streaming down my face. “Heavenly Father, I pray for your mercy. Please have mercy on her body.”

Just as she wrapped up her tasks, the nurse looked at me. “I’ve seen this before,” she said. “It’s called steroid psychosis. They have your mom on a high dose of steroids. When you see the neurologist, ask him about it.” She left the room.

I left the hospital shortly thereafter. I would sleep a few hours and then return to try to catch the neurologist on rounds. Deep in thought, I realized I forgot to get the nurse’s name. That was unusual for me, but I was tired.

As I made my way back to the hospital early in the morning, the sun was coming up, but the light was still gray, much like my mood. Trying to track down one of her many doctors was usually close to impossible, even when “urgent.” But I had to try.

I headed up the elevator, called through to the nurses’ station for permission to enter the ICU, and walked through the automatic double doors. As I rounded the corner, I saw a man examining her chart. I introduced myself. He identified himself as the neurologist. Dumbfounded and stammering, careful not to reveal my source, I asked if he felt there was any merit to “something I heard” about steroid psychosis.

“Your mom isn’t on any steroids,” he replied flatly. I pleaded with him to double check since I had been told they put her on them weeks ago for her recurring pneumonia. He searched through the two long pages of medications and found it. There was unmistakable shock on his face. “That’s a long time to be on a high dose of steroids. We will begin tapering down her dosage today.”

Within a week, they took her off the sedatives and pulled out the breathing tube. The following week she improved more. Five weeks after my conversation with that neurologist, my mom looked up from her bed and finally saw me.

To my knowledge, that nurse never again worked in the ICU after that one night.

I inquired about her, but no one seemed to know who I was describing. Not surprising. In their minds, she was just a traveling nurse. In my heart, though, I knew she was a traveling angel.

~LJ Weyant

More stories from our partners