26: A Touch on My Shoulder

26: A Touch on My Shoulder

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

A Touch on My Shoulder

Angels descending, bring from above,
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

~Fanny J. Crosby

The emergency room doctor tapped my daughter’s knee with a little hammer, but didn’t get the usual involuntary knee jerk in response. Nor did Bethany’s foot flinch or toes curl when her reflexes were tested. Perplexed, the doctor shook her head. She continued to poke and prod. Bethany didn’t respond in any way.

“I’ve never seen anyone this debilitated before,” the doctor admitted.

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I looked down at my beautiful twenty-three-year-old red-haired daughter lying helplessly on the examination table. She appeared to be paralyzed. She couldn’t move her fingers or toes, her arms or legs. She couldn’t even turn her head. Bethany’s eyelids were frozen in a half-shut position that made her look even more pitiful. What was wrong with my dear girl?

At the beginning of the examination, the doctor had asked the usual questions: “Is she allergic to any medications? Does your daughter take illegal drugs? Did she mix alcohol with prescription drugs?”

“No, not Bethany,” I replied with certainty.

Normally healthy and very active, Bethany had recently been honorably discharged from the Army after serving her country for four years as an Arabic linguist. She had come down with the flu over the holidays. When three weeks passed, and she still wasn’t well, I became concerned.

I called her every day. “Are you vomiting? Coughing? Do you still have body aches and pains?” I pressed. “Maybe you should go see a doctor.”

“I’m just so tired,” Bethany replied wearily. “And there’s a strange tingling sensation in my feet and hands. But don’t worry, Mom. I’m bound to get better soon.”

But she didn’t get better. The tingling sensation got even worse. A numbing paralysis spread to her arms and legs. One afternoon, she called. “Mom, come get me. There’s something really wrong.”

My heart lurched. I barely recognized my daughter’s strained, feeble voice, but I did detect the note of panic in her tone.

“I’ll be right there,” I assured her. “I’m on my way.”

My friend Nancy and I made the drive to Albuquerque in record time. When we arrived at Bethany’s apartment, we found that she was barely able to walk or lift her arms. The tingling numbness had spread throughout her body. My daughter moved stiffly like a robot. She was extremely pale and barely able to open her mouth to speak. Something was terribly wrong.

“We’ve got to get her to a doctor,” I told Nancy. But once again, Bethany insisted that she would be all right. She believed she was simply dehydrated and weak from hunger. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten a sensible meal.

“Mom, just take me home,” she pleaded.

Against my better judgment, I did so. It took all of my strength and Nancy’s to assist Bethany down two flights of stairs and into the truck.

Two hours later, Bethany was in the ER at our local hospital.

“She may have Guillain-Barré syndrome,” the doctor told me, after looking up something in a thick medical tome. “It’s a rare disorder — the sensory nerve myelin becomes damaged. I’ve never seen a case, but she’s got the symptoms.”

As there was a serious possibility that Bethany’s lungs would soon be paralyzed, the doctor decided to have her transported by ambulance to the university hospital in Albuquerque.

I had just enough time to call my husband, who was in Chicago on business, and ask my friends Nancy and Jennifer to put Bethany on their church prayer chains. The two-hour ride in the back of the ambulance seemed the longest of my life. Stunned by the sudden turn of events, I tried to pray, but my words were an incoherent jumble.

Glancing down at my helpless daughter on the stretcher, I agonized: What if she died on the way to the hospital? I’d never felt so alone and frightened in my life.

By the time we arrived, it was nearly 2 a.m. The doctors and nurses in the emergency room immediately took blood samples and performed a spinal tap. I blinked back hot tears when Bethany — as floppy and limp as a Raggedy Ann doll — did not respond to any of their poking and pricking.

“You’d better sit down,” one of the nurses told me. “You look exhausted.”

I dropped heavily onto a tall stool outside the door of the examination room. I did feel weak, and realized that I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in more than twelve hours. I was trembling too — from hunger and nervous anxiety. I had never felt so powerless and miserable.

It was then I felt a warm, reassuring hand on my shoulder. A deep comforting voice said, “Everything will be all right.”

In an instant, my body stopped trembling. I felt calm. My stomach stopped churning. Heaving a sigh, I turned to thank the kind wellwisher, but no one was behind me. In fact, there was nothing behind me at all — just a blank wall. No door, no corridors, no windows.

But I was certain that I had heard a voice close to my ear. I had felt the warm pressure of a hand upon my shoulder. I got goose bumps when I realized that an angel of God had spoken to me. I believed in angels, but I’d never ever expected one to speak to me. Nevertheless, I believed what I’d been told. How could I not?

When my anxious husband arrived the next day, he found me smiling and composed, sitting next to our daughter’s bed. He almost cried when I lifted Bethany’s eyelids so she could see her dad.

I repeated the message the angel had given me. Bill raised an eyebrow, but my calm, unwavering assurance was convincing. I was filled with “a peace that surpasses all understanding.” If the Lord had gone out of His way to send me a message, I certainly wasn’t going to doubt Him.

The doctors, having indeed diagnosed Bethany’s condition as Guillain-Barré syndrome, recommended an experimental treatment of intravenous immune globulin. We were cautioned that she would be in intensive care for three to six weeks, and would require months of physical therapy. We were warned that she might even be paralyzed or partially paralyzed for the rest of her life.

But Bethany astonished everyone with her rapid recovery. She was released from the hospital after only one week and required no physical therapy at all.

“It’s amazing!” the doctors declared.

“It’s a miracle,” I told them.

That was more than a dozen years ago. Bethany soon married and had a beautiful baby boy. She remains healthy and even participates in the occasional half-marathon.

We’ve met other people with friends and family members suffering from the paralyzing effects of the Guillain-Barré syndrome. They always marvel that Bethany has recovered fully.

But I knew she would. An angel had told me, “Everything will be all right.”

And it was.

~Shirley R. Redmond

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