25: They Don’t Belong to Us

25: They Don’t Belong to Us

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

They Don’t Belong to Us

I’ve seen and met angels wearing the disguise of ordinary people living ordinary lives.

~Tracy Chapman

Dustin had always idolized the idea of being a drifter. My youngest son was nineteen and roaming the Western U.S. with friends. He frequently disappeared off the grid for months at a time before reappearing again. I worried about him and prayed that he was well.

One night, I came home from work and almost immediately received a call from a hospital in Santa Cruz, California. My son had been in an accident.

“You must come immediately,” the doctor told me.

He stated that Dustin had been drinking with friends. Rather than take the pedestrian bridge from the Santa Cruz Boardwalk to town, they decided to take a shortcut on the train trestle. The trestle was about forty feet over the Santa Cruz River, which was several feet deep and contaminated.

As the boys crossed the bridge, Dustin suddenly disappeared. His friends realized he had fallen into the water. In a panic, they ran to the end of the bridge and searched for him in the river. A retired nurse, Wilma, heard their frantic cries as she rode by on her bicycle. Hearing their fear and desperation, she slid down the hillside to help them.

They searched for about fifteen minutes before finally finding his body. He was not breathing and Wilma immediately checked him. No heartbeat. She could smell the alcohol. She later told me that she was hesitant to perform CPR because the contaminated river was known to harbor diseases. He had been underwater for so long that she doubted it would make a difference, but she decided to do it anyway.

Wilma worked on him until the EMTs arrived. They took over CPR and started his heart again. Dustin was transported to the Dominican Hospital and immediately admitted to the ICU. He had no brain activity and was put on life support with a machine breathing for him. One hour later, they located me in Washington State.

As I spoke to the doctor and he told me Dustin’s slim chance of surviving, flashes of Dustin played in my mind. My husband was deployed in Iraq and all of my family lived out of state. The doctor didn’t know if Dustin would make it through the night. I told him I would fly out as soon as I could.

I thought of Dustin and his wandering ways. He was a bohemian, supporting himself by his wits and guitar skills. He often played for money and scavenged for food, but he loved exploring. He often called and told me about the fascinating people he met on the road. Traveling around the country was romantic for him. I, on the other hand, always felt fearful for him. Did he have enough to eat? Where was he sleeping? Was he safe? His accident on the bridge confirmed my greatest fears. And now I was going to California to decide what would happen to him.

I dropped to the floor and wept. Wept for grandchildren I would never know, wept for not having hugged him more, wept for yelling at him. I wept that I would never see him at his wedding or hear his voice again. The reality of a forty-foot fall into five feet of water and being submerged for fifteen minutes was too much for me.

As I sobbed, I suddenly felt more peaceful. I would take care of this and take care of him. I called my boss, Al, and told him what had happened. I calmly said that I would fly out in the morning and would be in touch. I did not know when I would return. Al, a retired Air Force man, immediately offered support, as he knew Dustin’s father was deployed. Did I need a ride to the airport? Did I have someone to be with me? Was there anything that he could do? I thanked him and told him I had already started arrangements and notified the Red Cross to get Doug back.

I flew out at six in the morning and arrived in California. I quickly ran through the airport and drove to the hospital, sixty miles away. I walked into the ICU and told the nurse who I was. She immediately took me to my son. Dustin was intubated and under a cryotherapy sheet. They had lowered his body temperature in an attempt to save him. His monitors showed no brain activity. He was ashen and so very cold.

As I sat at his side, I touched him. I touched his arms and his legs and his face. I gave thanks that I was with him. Nothing the doctors told me was sinking in, and they finally left. As I sat in the open bay, a cleaning lady came in. She asked if I spoke Spanish, and I nodded. Then she asked if this was my son, and I tearfully said he was. As she tidied his area, she smiled and said, “You know, they don’t belong to us, our children. They belong to God. He lets us keep them for a little while but eventually they have to go back to Him. He is going to be okay. You will, too.” She emptied the trash and quietly left.

As I wiped my tears, I realized she was right. For all the doctors had told me, not one word offered me any peace of mind. They spoke of parts of the brain, comas, nursing homes and slim chances. This woman spoke volumes with her simple words.

I sat for a little while longer and went to find the doctors again. When I did, I asked them to remove Dustin from the life support machine. They were horrified. “You just got here,” they said. I calmly told them I had made my decision. They asked me to wait for my husband. I calmly told them that I would not. I told them Dustin was existing, not living. He would not want this, nor would his father. After several discussions, they honored my request and took him off the machine.

Two days later, Doug and I were still in Santa Cruz, at our hotel. We received a phone call from the hospital. Had we seen Dustin? No, he was not with us. Security eventually found him, skateboarding outside with his friends. He had decided the hospital room was a bit restrictive and escaped, after polishing off every crumb of his lunch.

You see, Dustin began breathing after he was taken off the machine. Later that day he woke up and said hello to me. He stunned the doctors by getting up and standing, a mere sixteen hours after I arrived in California. After some initial short-term memory loss, he quickly regained all function and an impressive appetite. He was released four days later.

Other than a slight tremor, Dustin continues to rock out on his guitar and dabbles with the banjo. He has no recollection of the accident. He works at a body shop as a detailer. We keep in touch with Wilma, who delights in knowing Dustin is well and walking around. Dustin has a girlfriend and no longer travels. I suspect he’s starting to settle down.

The miracle of Dustin’s accident continues to resonate with everyone touched by it. The impossible can happen, and it happened to us. Most of all, I learned comfort can come from the most remarkably humble people whom we may only meet for a few minutes yet magically strengthen us for a lifetime.

~Teresa DeLeon-Cook

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