62: Watched Over

62: Watched Over

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

Watched Over

Remember, Angels are both God’s messengers and God’s message, witness to eternity in time, to the presence of the divine amidst the ordinary. Every moment of every day is riddled by their traces.

~F. Forrester Church

I awoke suddenly and sat bolt upright in bed, then immediately curled into a fetal position. Never before had I felt anything as excruciating. I writhed in pain as I tried to find a position that provided just a moment of comfort, just a second of relief from the stabbing sensation in my right side. Worse than the seventeen hours of labor I had endured twelve years earlier, worse than the migraine that throbbed incessantly for three days several months before, worse than slicing my finger with the knife while chopping carrots a few weeks ago. This was a twelve out of ten. I was in tears, hardly able to breathe.

As I rolled from one side to the other, and rocked back and forth, my medical mind went through the differential diagnosis. Was it appendicitis? A ruptured ovarian cyst? Diverticulitis? An impacted stool stuck in my bowel? I couldn’t think clearly as the torture persisted, and eventually I stopped trying to figure it out. The pain seemed to move, from my flank to my right lower quadrant, from my belly to deep inside my groin. It wouldn’t stop. I pulled myself out of bed and, doubled over, made it into the bathroom. Perhaps if I evacuated, the pain would cease. I hugged myself tight, hoping for relief, and sat there until I had a bowel movement. But still, the pain was intense.

Puffy-faced and red-eyed, I looked into the mirror. “What is happening?” I asked myself. “Why won’t this stop?” Unable to tolerate the misery a minute longer, I called my ex-husband and asked him to take me to the hospital. Within minutes, Peter, filled with concern and confusion, was at my side, helping me into the car and rushing me to the Emergency Room. On the ER gurney, the nurse fired questions at me. “When did it start? Can you describe it? Does anything make it better? Do you have any allergies? Any medical problems I need to be aware of?” And on and on. Feeling as if I were in a trance, numbed by the pain, I tried to gain some lucidity and answer her questions.

Within minutes, the doctor was at my side telling me he suspected a kidney stone. They started an intravenous line and administered morphine. I felt a rush to my head and vomited! Peter, thankfully, was quick with the bin. I continued to pray for mercy and begged for the pain to stop, and eventually, in a fentanyl haze, it did. Feeling a momentary respite, I was whisked of to the CT scanner and the diagnosis was confirmed — right ureteral kidney stone.

The next twenty-four hours were some of the worst of my life as we waited for the stone to pass. Between episodes of intense physical suffering, I was drugged to the point of slumber. Due to the continuous administration of IV fluids, I made multiple trips to the bathroom and had to pee into a pan in search of the elusive stone, which never came. This sequence repeated several times throughout the next morning and afternoon until, without any expectation of my prayers being answered, the pain just stopped. For the entire evening, I smiled. I ate dinner. I talked jovially with the nursing staff. And then, Hank arrived! I had only met Hank three weeks before, but in that short time this fervently Christian man, a radio announcer at the community Christian radio station, had become a genuinely caring friend and my co-host on a new show.

With his cherubic grin and cheerful voice, he brought a bright shining light into my otherwise dark and dreary day. He shared with me that everyone at the station had been praying for my speedy recovery, and they were just managing to hold down the fort without me. The warmth in his voice consoled me, and for the next pain-free hour, I felt comforted and at peace. After his departure, I slept soundly until 2:15 a.m., when again, without warning and with shocking rapidity, the pain returned. Again the tears, again the nurses administering fentanyl, again the feeling of hopelessness and futility, for no matter how I moved, how I tried to escape, the pain stayed with me. It hurt so much.

When I awoke the next morning and the pain had once again subsided, I noticed, through glassy eyes, a peculiar faint white mark on my left forearm. It was not there before and I wondered if I’d scratched myself in my sleep. But it was not a scratch. It was new, but not fresh. In fact, it looked more like a scar that had always been there, like a birthmark, a part of me. I examined the mark more closely, licked my fingers and attempted to wipe it from my skin, but it was a permanent brand — two lines intersected in the shape of a cross. Slightly disoriented from my drug intoxication, I stared at it, perplexed, fascinated, and slightly freaked out, but not frightened. It made sense to me. For only the week before, a woman I’d only just met gave me a beautifully painted watercolor depicting the crucifixion of Christ with an intensely dark sky, soldiers and distraught bystanders looking upon his thorn-laden bleeding head, witnesses to the pain and suffering He endured for us. The message was clear… I was being watched over.

While the stone never spontaneously passed and I required a cystoscopy to retrieve it, the remainder of my hospital stay was uneventful, and, more importantly, pain-free.

The day after my discharge, as I enjoyed the company of a few new friends at an outdoor beach barbecue, I glanced up to the clear blue sky strewn with the most delicate wisps of clouds. Without trying to understand or analyze, I simply absorbed, with grace and thankfulness, the vision of a cross in the sky above me, identical in shape to the one now permanently adorning my arm. I asked the others in my company if they saw it too. They acknowledged that it was not my imagination — there was, indeed, a cross in the sky. For me, this made sense.

Things always seemed to happen in threes in my life. I believe things happen for a reason. I believe we are not alone during our suffering. I believe I am always and eternally, watched over…

I am a physician and a singer-songwriter, and I wrote these lyrics about the angels who are by our sides in the song “Watched Over” on my new album, Faith:

You never know who you’ll meet on the street

What kind of message they might want you to see,

But somehow I feel I’m watched over.

You never know where or when it might be

Or who the messenger will turn out to be,

But I know that I am watched over.

~Dr. Shari Hall

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