Saving Susie

Saving Susie

My child lay on the bathroom floor, eyes refusing to open, hands clenching into blue fists. Time froze as I stared dumbly, uncomprehending...

It was a sunny, mellow Sunday afternoon, Memorial Day weekend, 2004. Church was over; we had decided not to go back that night. The day was too beautiful, relaxation too inviting.

The backyard pool sparkled, noisy with the shouts and laughter of kids having fun. Sam, fifteen, was hoisting eight-year-old Micah high over his head and tossing him into the water. Susie, at eleven, lean and summer-tanned, was floating on her back while her daddy held her.

I adjusted my lawn chair at an angle where I could see their antics and respond to the continual pleas of “Mom, watch me!” My suspense novel was calling and I stretched out like a cat ready for a nap.

Just as I started to read, piercing screams from the pool jerked me to attention. Those were not happy screams. I leaped up, dropping the book, to see Wayne lifting two screeching children out of the pool.

Susie came down the ladder first, holding the right side of her head and screaming. Right behind her came little Micah, holding his head, his sobs competing with hers.

“They hit heads,” Wayne explained over the ear-splitting shrieks. “Sam was throwing Micah up in the air, and his head came down on Susie’s.”

Wayne and I communicated in universal parental sign language: shrugs, half-smiles, and eye-rolls. Oh great. Just when things were so peaceful. 

I put an arm around each of them, doing all the motherly things: comforting, looking for lumps, hugging, offering Popsicles---whatever might bring the noise level down.

We three shuffled to the patio bench and sat as a unit. I tried to tune out the squalls while gently probing their heads with my fingers: no lumps, no blood, just the continual loud sobbing from them both. It seemed to echo across the pasture, bounce from the roof, surround us in unending cacophony.

At last, enticed by the idea of a Popsicle, Micah’s tears tapered off. I sent him into the house to lie down and tried to do the same with Susie, but she continued to clutch the right side of her head and wail.

Susie was our drama princes. She held a special title in our family---hypochondriac! She had been magnifying her aches and pains since diapers, so the fact that she continued to carry on was not especially impressive.

I helped her into the downstairs bathroom, where she sank to the tile and curled into a ball. She still clutched her head, but the sobs had weakened to moans and sniffles. 

Relieved that another childhood crisis appeared to be diverted, I ran upstairs to give Micah some Tylenol for his headache.

Back downstairs, Susie was still curled into a fetal position, clutching her right ear. Her eyes were closed, but the crying had lessened. 

“Let’s get you upstairs to your bed,” I suggested, taking her shoulders to help her stand. 

She moaned and slithered back to the floor. “My head hurts so bad, Mom,” she whimpered, hand still covering her right ear.

I gently pried her fingers away and ran my hand once more back and forth through the wet hair, over the spot she indicated. Nothing. No lump, no bruise, no cut. Maybe a concussion, I guessed. What do they do for concussions?

I thought of my friend, Sam Bower, whose husband was a surgeon. We had just had Sunday lunch with them at our favorite pizza place. Her son, Isaac, had sustained a concussion last summer. She would know what to watch for. I quickly dialed her number.

She explained what her doctor had told her to do, and we agreed that even if either child had a concussion, there was not much to do for it but watch them carefully.

I hung up and checked on my daughter again. She appeared to be sleeping. I knew that was not good, so I knelt beside her. “Suz, honey, are you all right? Don’t you want to go upstairs to your bed?”

Her eyes fluttered open. “It’s a little better, but it still hurts so bad. If I try to sit up, it really hurts!”

I gave her some children’s aspirin and brought a blanket to cover her on the floor. She was still dripping wet from the pool and shivering.

Feeling uneasy, I called our doctor. His partner answered and said the kids were probably OK. It was fine for them to go to sleep---just wake them up and ask them their names and where they lived every few minutes.

I felt better, and decided we would have nothing but a couple of big headaches that evening.

Micah was settled on the couch with a Popsicle and cartoons. I paced from him back to Susie. She lay still, eyes closed, in a pool of vomit.

Fluttery warnings tickled me. I touched her arm and she woke up. “Honey, you threw up. Let me get you into the tub and clean you off in case we need to take you to the doctor.”

“No, Mom,” she whispered, eyes still closed, clutching her head. “It still hurts.”

I guessed she would want to sleep for a while, and since the doctor had said that was OK, I insisted that we clean her up. I half-dragged her to the edge of the tub, ran some warm water, peeled off the wet swimsuit, and lifted her in.

She cried out as she rose vertically, then lay down on her back in the water while I sponged her off, getting most of the vomit out of her hair. She seemed to be relaxing, so I told myself that it was over. Just a bad headache.

When it came time to get her out of the tub, I tried to lift her, but her body went limp and she grabbed her head with both hands, crying out in pain. 

Fear hit me with a fist. Something was wrong. Even our drama queen would not carry it this far.

“Wayne!” I shouted. “Come and help me!”

Together, my husband and I toweled her off and wrestled her limbs into dry clothes. Her eyes stayed closed and I kept hearing the doctor's words: "It's OK for her to go to sleep."
But my mother-meter was going off. Something wasn't right.

She curled back onto the floor, dressed and dry, but quiet now.
I stared at her, my heart thudding painfully. Should I leave her there? Was she really all right?
Once again, I knelt and touched her shoulder. “Suz, honey, can you answer me?”

Her head moved slightly.

“What’s your name?”

“Susie,” came the whisper.

I sat back, staring at her. I wanted to feel reassured, but a knot had formed in my stomach. I reached for one of her cold hands. It was clenched into a fist and her fingers were turning blue.

“Wayne!” I screamed, still staring at her, disbelieving. “Wayne, come here, quick!”

He rushed through the door and I showed him her hands.

“Suz!” I shouted, hovering over her face. “Suz! Answer Mommy! Can you hear me?”

Nothing.

“Susie, this is Daddy! Can you hear me? Now you need to tell me if you can hear me, so we know you’re OK.”

No response.

Wayne stood. “I’m gonna call the doctor back. I think we need to take her in.”
He disappeared.

My heart hammered out of my chest and time seemed to stop. I was watching the scene from somewhere near the ceiling. This wasn’t happening. Why did she just lie there like that? There was not a mark on her!

“Suz, I’m not kidding! If you can hear me, you answer!” I was angry, scolding her. It was a game, a silly game for attention and she needed to stop it.

“Susie, I’m gonna spank you if you don’t answer me!” I threatened. My hands shook and my voice rose in panic. What was I saying? What was she doing?

Oh God!. What’s going on? What's happening?

Mandi, seventeen, took my hand. “It’s OK, Mom. The doctor will look at her and give her some medicine or something. It will be all right.”

Hysteria threatened as I stared at my child's lifeless form on the floor. I should be the one comforting my children, but I was a robot, every instinct telling me it was not all right.

Wayne appeared at the doorway. “The doctor says to get her in right away. Let’s go!”

He scooped Susie up, blankets bunching, long tanned legs hanging limply against his jeans. The other children huddled on the couch, eyes fearful, asking questions for which we had no answers.

As Wayne carried Susie out the door, I redialed the Bower’s number.

“Hey, it’s me again.” I tried to make my voice light, hoping we were not over-reacting. “I think this might be more serious than we thought. We can’t wake her up, and we're taking her in.”

“OK, I’ll be right there. I’ll meet you at the hospital,” she replied.

I tried to protest, but didn’t have the time.

I raced up the stairs to grab my purse, wondering for a moment if I should grab an overnight bag, in case they wanted to keep her. Then I was out the door behind Wayne.

He passed me, dashing back inside. “I think I’ll call the church. Ask them to pray. You know, just in case it’s something more serious.”

I nodded with understanding. Maybe we were being silly, over-protective parents. We'd probably be embarrassed later that we made such a fuss out of it.

Please God, let that be it.
 
I pictured our small church congregation, already assembled for evening worship. They were our family. They would pray when we couldn’t.

Susie was propped up in the back seat of the van, head lolling against the window. I slid into the seat beside her as Wayne threw the van into gear and roared down the road. I wedged myself between the seats so I could take her hand. My eyes searched her face for some sign of awareness. Weren’t we just taking precautions? Nothing could be seriously wrong. Two little kids bumped heads. How bad could it be?

“Suz, this is Mom. We’re taking you to the doctor to help you feel better, OK? You just hang in there.”

The briefest flutter of blue lips. “-kay.”

It was something. I took it as a gift. She could still hear me. It would be all right.

Within minutes, we screeched to a stop in front of our small hospital's emergency room. Wayne bolted from the driver’s seat and through the glass front doors. Before I left the van, he was back with a wheelchair and a young orderly.

It took all of us to pull her from the van seat and reposition her in the wheelchair. Her head lolled backward over the top of the chair as the orderly began to push it.

“Hold her head!” I yelled. I reached behind him to hold her head up with my hand. 

Once inside, all eyes riveted to watch our parade as we headed past the registration desk. The double doors into the emergency area flew open before us.

A nurse met us as people descended from everywhere to join the procession. They swarmed Susie’s wheelchair, which went on without us. 

A slim woman in a white coat introduced herself as Dr. Beeson. She asked what happened, and I explained as quickly as I could, my words tripping over each other. I noticed her look of skepticism as she heard my story, and realized how implausible it must sound: Two little kids hit heads? That’s all?

Over her shoulder, I could see my child already stretched out on a gurney in the trauma room. Scrub-clad professionals buzzed around her like bees at a hive. She was out of my hands now.

Dr. Beeson asked us to wait outside. Reluctantly, Wayne and I turned back the way we had come, leaving part of ourselves behind those doors that quickly locked behind us.

We made our way to the waiting room, lined with plastic chairs. The scattered assortment of people in the room watched us curiously. My eyes met the gaze of one stranger in the crowd. He nodded slowly and his forehead wrinkled, communicating compassion and silent understanding. Maybe his reason for being here did not seem so crucial now.

My friend Sam materialized in front of us. “Tim’s on his way,” she announced.

I started to protest, hating to bother a doctor on his day off when this was probably nothing but a slight concussion.

“No, he wanted to be here,” she said.

Wayne’s sister, Cathy, and her husband, Dale, flew through the double doors and joined us on the plastic chairs. 

We sat in a row, bouncing nervous feet, twisting moist hands, unsure why we were waiting. My thoughts ricocheted like ping-pong balls---from unprecedented terror to apologies for ruining everyone’s holiday. A sense of unreality shrouded our group like a heavy mist.

Dr. Beeson appeared in front of us. Behind her, Dr. Tim Bower rushed through the front doors and headed straight to the scary doors.

A blanket of comfort wrapped around me as I watched him. I ignored Dr. Beeson and focused on our friend's presence behind the scary doors. It would be all right, now. Tim would make sure things were as they should be. We would all have a good laugh when he came out and told us that Susie woke up and is fine. My rebellious thoughts refused to hear what Dr. Beeson was saying.

“She has a subdural hematoma---bleeding on the brain. We have paralyzed her with drugs and put her into a coma...”

Wayne bolted from his seat, face ashen. “A coma! She’s paralyzed?”

Dr. Beeson laid a patient hand on his shoulder. “No sir, just with drugs, until we get her stabilized, and get her to a hospital for surgery.”

Surgery? I tried to adjust to this news. This was more than an IV and an overnight stay.

Wayne sank back into his chair, not convinced.

Dr. Beeson continued. “We don’t have the equipment here that she needs. We are life-flighting her to St. Francis in Tulsa where a pediatric neurosurgeon is standing by.”

Our minds were in slow motion, wading through heavy mud. I could think of only one question to ask. “Can I go with her? In the helicopter?”

She smiled at me, compassion evident in her tired face. “It depends on which one we use. Right now, it looks like we will take the smaller one. It’s faster. And we have to take a lot of people with us in the chopper to keep her alive until we get there.”

I stared at her dumbly. I must not have heard right. Faster? Keep her alive? This was a joke. This kind of thing happened to other people, or on TV movies. We were just a boring, normal family enjoying a warm spring Sunday at home. How did we get here?

Tim joined our little group, and he and Dr. Beeson traded terse medical phrases, then she turned to me. “Would you like to go back and see her for a minute, before we get her on the helicopter?”

Wayne and I followed the two doctors through the imposing doors. The act of walking was suddenly complicated. My legs felt like rubber bands. A deep trembling had begun somewhere inside, rattling my bones and organs. It would stay with me for hours to come.

Before us, in the trauma room, lay our little girl. Her thin body was covered in a white sheet. Tubes and wires sprouted from every possible place and bleeping monitors surrounded her like an army. Professionals bustled about, tossing scary medical words like tennis balls. We slowed as we approached the brightly lit room, fearful now. We were on another planet and they had our child.

“It’s all right. Go on up to her if you want. We only have a few minutes, and then we need to go.” Dr. Beeson’s hand was warm on my shoulder.

We glanced around the imposing arena, reluctant stars in this horror show.

I picked my way through and around the tubes and wires to the head of the stretcher.
Susie lay motionless, eyes closed. A breathing tube was taped to her face and disappeared down her throat. IV’s criss-crossed her chest, connecting her to a ridiculous battery of machines and dripping lines. I leaned down and kissed her forehead, one of the few open spaces not yet taped or punctured.

Leaning close to her ear, I whispered, “It’s OK, sugar. Mommy and Daddy are here. You’re gonna be all right.”

A fierce, cruel thought shot through my mind: Is this the last time I will kiss my daughter?
A blue-uniformed paramedic politely waited for me to stand up, then smiled and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, I just need to start this line.” She moved into position to insert yet another mysterious tube into my daughter.

I stepped back, trying to stay out of their way. Susie was no longer mine. She belonged to them now, the ones who were saving her life.

Wayne had knelt at the foot of the stretcher, one hand on her sheet-covered foot, head bowed as he prayed aloud. “Lord, she’s in your hands. Please take care of little Suz. Give us strength to accept your will.”

A sudden stillness settled over the busy room. The intense scurry and bustle paused. Then, a gentle touch on Wayne’s shoulder and the words: “I’m sorry sir, but we really have to go now.”

We raised our heads and stepped out of the way, watching the perfectly synchronized team roll her out a back door to the roar of helicopter blades slicing the air. A paramedic shoved something into my clasped hands. “We had to cut these off her, thought you might want them.” It was Susie’s new purple-and-white flowered shorts. The outfit she had bought with her own money. I squeezed them in my hands, clinging to the small piece of fabric like it was a life raft and I was drowning.

As we turned to go, Tim suddenly darted to the side, grabbed a folder, and caught the stretcher as it was being wheeled toward the door. He shoved the file under Susie’s pillow and rejoined us. “Her charts and X-rays,” he told us. “They’ll need them for surgery.”

In dazed silence, we followed like robots as Tim led the way back into the waiting room, stopping at the check-in desk. The co-pay could not wait.

Sitting at the Formica desktop trying to remember how to write a check, my hands shook so badly I could barely grip the pen. Halfway through the check writing, I looked up at Tim. “Is this really serious?”

I felt like a kindergartner trying to learn a new alphabet letter. The concepts were just too big to grasp. He would know the right answer. He would tell me the truth. Maybe he would explain it so I could stop shaking.

He nodded, face grim. “This is very serious.”

OK, serious. What does serious mean? A bad headache for a while? A stay in the hospital? A really sore spot?

“I mean, could she die from this?”
I didn’t really want to know.
He didn’t really want to tell me. He bit his lip, then nodded.

Oh God! Oh God! My breath caught in my throat.
He hadn't helped at all. My hand shook so badly I couldn’t write.

“Are you OK, Ma’am?” the concerned voice behind the counter asked. A hand passed me a box of tissues.

“I don’t know.” How can you know if you are all right as your child lies dying? How can you know if you will ever be all right again?

“Sam will drive you, I’ll follow in my car,” Tim was saying calmly, as a physician used to watching tragedy, and used to getting through it.

We obeyed numbly, letting others think for us, just following orders as our hearts lifted up into the sky with that black helicopter.

The ride was a chance to catch our breath, a thirty-minute interval between our past life and our new reality. Wayne’s sister and her husband followed in our van. Tim drove his car, calling ahead to find out who was doing the surgery, who they trained with, how good they were---and probably what they ate for breakfast that day!

I called our house on my cell phone, telling the kids where we were, but little else. I didn’t know what to tell them.
We arrived at the St. Francis helipad just seconds after Susie’s stretcher was wheeled into the ER. We jogged past the helicopter, shouting to each other above the roar of blades still whipping the air.

We rushed through the doors where more strangers waited by Susie’s stretcher. An older, bearded man stepped forward, his shrewd eyes sizing us up. Under happier circumstances, he would look like Santa Clause. By this time I knew what he was thinking: Have these people done this to their child?
.
He must have approved what he read in our faces, because he held out a hand. “Are you the parents? I’m Doctor Benner. I’m a pediatric neurosurgeon. I’ll be doing the surgery, and we have to hurry. I just wanted you to know who will be operating on your little girl. Tell me again what happened.”

How many times were we to repeat this story? It sounded so implausible, I understood why strangers were doubtful. We briefed him quickly as he stood attentive, head down, listening for any clue he could use to save her life.

“We’re going straight into surgery,” he explained. “Time is critical here. You can follow us to the family waiting area, but you’ll have to run.”

I reached instinctively toward him, needing to hear it from the man who would be opening up my child’s head, “Will she be all right?”

He sighed and looked from her still form to me. “Her skull is cracked and it has sliced a main artery. I will do my best, but you people have to understand---this is a very sick little girl.”

Acid hit my stomach in a sickening flood. I didn’t like the way he looked at Susie. He knew what he was looking at; I didn’t. I tried to read a bit of encouragement in his face, but it wasn’t there.

A young intern jogged up and announced, “Fifteen minutes, Doctor.” That seemed to spur them on. They turned as a unit, pushing the stretcher before them and breaking into a jog down the long hallways, our group right behind them. Shooting down endless corridors, into the elevator, running around corners, running for her life.

Our breath was coming in gasps when one of them broke from the group, turned around, and held up a hand. The stretcher and its minion kept going and disappeared.

“You’ll have to wait here. I’m a surgical nurse and I’ll come out and give you updates as the surgery progresses. Follow me and I’ll show you to a private waiting area.”

He led the way further into this confusing maze. We had no idea where we were in the bowels of this gigantic medical zoo, but it didn’t matter. Everything we had was now at the mercy of this place. It was all out of our hands.

The nurse settled us in a comfortable waiting room, showed us the red phone on the wall that would bring the latest news, and jogged away.
Within minutes, friends began appearing. We alternated between crying, praying, and talking, completing none of them, sometimes doing them all at once. Soon our waiting area was filled with our friends. The message had come to them during the evening church service, and they had stopped the service and prayed, then dismissed so that those who wanted to come and be with us could do so. Most came.

Amidst the hugs, prayers, and consoling words, my heart physically ached. Every ounce of concentration focused on that far-away operating room where my little girl lay with her head broken. Would I ever see her again? Would that phone ring and some strange voice say, “I’m so sorry....”
This was real. This was really happening. We were trapped in this movie with no script to follow, no director to shout, “Cut!” I could not get past the unreality of it. Were they all overreacting? How could she be so sick? There was not a mark on her. I had been talking to her just a couple of hours before. Her blond hair was still wet from playing in the pool. How did we get here?

The minutes ticked by. Each move of the long, black hand reminded us that we were speeding toward a big unknown. Would we have our Amy Susan back? How much of her would be left? Would she be a vegetable? Comatose? Never again to sing on her swing? Jump in the pool? Spoil her kitties? How could this be happening?

And he brought the child, whole, unto his mother...

The tumult in my brain could barely hear. My cries pounded wordlessly at Heaven’s gate. Fear sliced at my soul.

And he brought the child, whole, unto his mother...

Where was God? He had taken both of my parents a few short years ago. Was it happening again? Was He going to further torture me by taking my child?

And he brought the child, whole, unto his mother...

My mind finally began to decipher what my spirit heard. What was that? Where were those words coming from? Why was I thinking this?

And he brought the child, whole, unto his mother...

Like a ray of light piercing a dark cave, the words cut through my wall of terror.

And they made me angry. Where had they come from? I didn’t want false promises. I wanted the truth. Needed it. Frothy platitudes would not help.

“I just can’t take it if she is a vegetable,” I cried to our pastor. “Please,” I implored him. “If God has to take her, then ask Him to take her now! Don’t leave her as a vegetable.”

Fear dangled a picture in front of me of a family we knew, whose beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter suffered a mysterious stroke that had left her comatose---alive without real life. I could take death. But I could not bear that for Susie. For us.

And he brought the child, whole, unto his mother...

What is that! I stopped to face it, irritated. Don’t tease me with fluffy, false promises. Don’t give me a confidence that will be proven wrong. Where were these words coming from?
Then through my panicked fog, a memory emerged. I could picture the book as I had read it to the kids. A Bible story about a prophet bringing to life a widow’s son who had died. Susie had liked that one, and had even drawn a picture of it. I could see it so clearly in my mind that I could actually read the words at the bottom of the page. The picture was vivid and it wouldn't go away.

“What is this?” I sobbed to our pastor, as the minutes continued to tick away. “These words keep whispering in my ear, and I don’t know why. I don’t want to have false hope. If she’s not going to be OK, I can accept that, but I don’t want to hold on to some promise that’s not real, only to have it destroyed.”

He smiled his slow smile that so reminded me of my father who had died five years earlier. “If God has given you that to hold on to, then you hold on to it. You don’t have to understand it, just take it with thankfulness.”

I didn’t know why it was there. I had not asked for it. I was trying to prepare myself to accept the unacceptable---that my daughter may never come home. Yet, these insistent words kept intruding into my fatalistic thoughts. I was afraid to believe them. What if they were wrong?

If I could bring a boy back to life, I can bring Susie home- whole. It is in My hands, you know. It is My choice what happens to her. Trust Me. If she is not whole, it will still be all right, because I chose it for her. This is no accident. I am here.

The phone rang. Someone answered and held it out. “Where are the parents?”

I lunged for the phone and tried to embed it in the right side of my face. “Hello!”
“This is Dr. Benner’s nurse. We're out of surgery. There were no surprises; it went about as he expected. She's stable, her vitals look good, and they are taking her to recovery. Dr. Benner will be down to speak with you in a few moments.”

I breathed in and out. Had I been breathing all this time? I wasn’t sure. I looked up, still clutching the phone.

“We have vitals!” I announced. A small cheer went up.

From that moment on, each step was a gift. We had vitals! She was out of surgery and she was alive. That was the first step. That was the turning point.

Friends kept coming, each offering to pray with us. I could not pray, so they did it for me. My mind wouldn’t focus long enough to make a complete thought. Prayer was too slow. I was on warp-speed, assaulting the gates of Heaven with every breath, every heartbeat.

The crowd suddenly parted as the tall, balding surgeon made directly for me, and kept moving. “I need to speak with the parents, please. Parents, only. This way.” He ushered us into a side room.

“Please, this is our pastor. Can he come too?”

The doctor nodded and stepped behind us into the room, pulling the door shut.

We found seats, and I glanced at the clock above our heads. 8:20. I had forgotten about time. It was 4:30 when the kids had come out of the pool screaming. She had been in surgery for two hours.

“Well, it went about like I expected,” Dr. Benner began. “I took a piece of her skull about this big.” His large hands pretended to grip a softball.

My heart lurched. He took her skull? What did that mean? My baby has no head? I felt sick, still trying to focus on his words, my imagination trying to envision her body topped by a white turban.

“She had a large pool of blood on the right side of her head, which in turn has pressed her brain into the left side of her skull. It’s called an epidural hematoma---a bit more serious than the initial diagnosis in the ER. They did right getting her to us as quickly as they did. We transfused her two pints of blood.” He stopped to let those words sink in.

“Will she be all right?” Wayne voiced the question for all of us.

“The next forty-eight hours are critical. We really won’t know anything before then. Kids though, kids are resilient. I have to go right now and do this same surgery on a young man just injured in a motorcycle accident. His injuries are less severe than hers were, but right now I would give her a much better chance at recovery than him, just because of her age.”

We let that settle in, then the next question. “What is your best guess at her long-term problems?”

As one used to delivering bad news, he laid it all out for us, not minimizing anything, in case he was wrong. “It appears to me that the injury is mostly in the area of the brain where large motor skills are: walking, shoulders and arms, that sort of thing. We could be looking at some long-term physical therapy, possibly a wheelchair...”

Physical therapy! OK, we can do that.
He was not finished. “Of course, she was critically injured when she got here. We have to look at all the possibilities.” He held out a hand to number them. “One, she could never wake up. She was already into a coma and respiratory distress by the time she got to the ER.”

We gulped. OK, what next?

“Or, she could wake up and not be able to move. Paralysis, either complete or partial, is a real possibility. You just can’t know on these kinds of things. It’s too early to tell.”

He held out another finger. “Third, she could have some neurological issues, speech, memory, personality, thinking skills. My best guess is that she will have large motor-function impairment, but too soon to even guess the extent.”

He suddenly looked at his watch and stood. “I’ve gotta go, got that other boy coming in. My nurse will show you to the PICU, and you can see her after they get her stable.” Our heartfelt thanks followed him out the door, and then he was gone.

On shaky legs, we rejoined our friends, repeating his words. Then the nurse was there, calmly instructing us to follow him to the waiting room for families with children in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. The rest of our well-wishers said their goodbyes, assuring us of their continued prayers for us. Our friend Robert Sutton joined our pastor, the Bowers, and Wayne’s sister Cathy and her husband Dale as we blindly followed our guide.

Again, like lost mice in a maze, we paraded down long halls, in and out of elevators, at last coming to rest in a small room furnished with couches and easy chairs.

Another doctor introduced himself. “I’m Doctor Barton, head of the PICU this evening. We are getting your daughter stabilized. Can you tell me again how this happened?”

Wayne and I looked at each other and retold the story, now able to rattle off the high points in record time.

He was compassionate and understanding, adding a new reassurance. “These head injuries are the most difficult to diagnose. She is a textbook case of epidural hematoma: knock on the head, still talking, no outward signs, you think she will be fine, then suddenly goes unresponsive. You did the right things. You got her here in time. Time was so critical, but we got to her in good time, and Dr. Benner’s the best.”

We quizzed him for a while and he gave us his best guess. “She could be fine. Or she could have some large motor problems, walking, arms, like Dr. Benner suspects. Brain swelling is our biggest enemy right now, but these kids are tough. If you or I were to have this same problem, I wouldn’t be nearly so optimistic. But these kids, their brains haven’t finished developing, and it is much easier to correct these things in them, than in an adult.”

He assured us that he would be back when it was safe for us to go in to see her. “I need to install a line for some of her IV’s. I usually put it in the neck, right here...” He pointed to the lower part of his neck. “...but with these little girls, they don’t want a scar on their necks, so I’ll put it in her inner thigh. That will take me awhile, but when she’s ready, I’ll be back.”

More waiting. Tim Bower left and brought back sandwiches and drinks. He insisted I try to eat, but the bread stuck like cardboard in my mouth and I could barely swallow. We pushed the sandwiches on the rest of our group, and waited some more.

2:00 A.M. Dr. Barton returned and told us we could go in, but only parents. We all rose as a unit, stretching the kinks out of our legs, hugging our friends as they promised to call first thing tomorrow. Only Wayne and I and our pastor could enter the scary-looking inner sanctum of the PICU.
We crept silently through the now-open doors, following the doctor. He handed us off to the night nurse, Connie.

With the gentle compassion that PICU nurses seem to have in abundance, Connie led us to the glassed-in cubicle next the nurse’s station where our daughter lay.
The face resembled our daughter, but tubes and wires had multiplied since we saw her in the ER. It appeared that no space on her thin body had escaped being poked, taped, monitored or intubated. A breathing tube was taped to her mouth. Another thin tube led from a beeping monitor into the top of her head and disappeared. A piece of monitor tape stretched across her forehead, and handfuls of IV lines threaded out from under the sheet to their various ports like spider legs. Three walls of monitors, all blinking, shining, or beeping surrounded the head of her bed. A band of white gauze covered the right side of her head. Connie gently pulled the corner of it back, so I could see a neat row of stitches keeping her skull together.

In spite of the intimidating monitors, I felt relief. Her head was intact. Only a two-inch swath of hair had been shaved to make room for the incision, from ear to crown. Maybe it wasn’t going to be so bad after all. We three stood by her bed, as Connie quietly explained each tube and wire and what the monitors meant. I could barely register any of it, but greatly appreciated the gentle spirit in which it was offered.

Our pastor joined hands with us and led another quiet prayer for our child, then left. Wayne and I stood by her bed, gazing at her. The nurses continued their silent procedures, moving around us as thought we weren’t there. Their compassionate smiles and kind words reminded us that they were used to terrified parents like us who didn’t know what to do.

“Would you like us to get you a place to sleep tonight?” one asked.

I wanted to stay in the room with Susie, which was fine, but Wayne needed someplace to rest. The nurse found a blanket and pillow and set Wayne up on the couch in the room where we had just spent 3 hours waiting.

I tried to get comfortable on the stiff, pullout chair, but after a couple of hours listening to the hissing and beeping, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep.

4:00 A.M. Maybe we could go home for a few hours and come back first thing tomorrow. I approached the nurse’s desk and asked.

The two nurses exchanged looks, then one stood. “She is awfully unstable right now. How far away do you live?”

The question felt like a rock hitting me in the stomach. When I told her twenty-five miles, the nurses looked at each other again. “I think it would be best if you could stay right here close by, in case things don’t go too well in the night. If you lived in Tulsa, it might be different. But tonight, you want to be nearby.”

Susie was too sick for us to even go home? I thought things were looking up, but as I would learn over the next few days, things can change quickly, and no one can predict what only God controls.

The nurse called around and found me an empty bed on the regular pediatric floor. I appreciated her efforts and hoped I could sleep, away from the noise and lights of intensive care.

I tossed and dozed until 6:00 A.M. when all guests had to leave the ICU for staff-change. We could come back at eight. After another unsettling look at our daughter, we kissed her good-bye and raced home to throw together whatever we needed to stay indefinitely. It was like playing a game without knowing the rules.
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We threw some things into a suitcase, filled the kids in on what was going on, and prepared to dash back to the hospital, leaving Wayne's mom in charge.

Our son Sam hovered near me, his face troubled, hoping for an answer we could not give. “Well, but they know what’s wrong with her, right? So, they can fix it, right?” His worried eyes asked me for a reassurance I couldn’t give. Not until later did I realize he felt partly responsible, since it was his throwing Micah that caused the accident.

We raced stoplights to be back at the hospital by eight. Susie had made it through the night, although still critical. Wayne and I spent the day in the ICU with her, welcoming guests who were only allowed in one at a time, answering the constant telephone calls, and taking turns sitting with her while the other went out to talk with a stream of friends who just kept coming. The gifts, balloons, and care packages began arriving, each one special because it reminded us that we were not alone. The time flew by, as wave after wave of visitors came. Since only three people at a time could be in the room, it took awhile, as each wanted to pray with us and kiss Susie.

Susie lay in a deep, drug-induced coma, on life-support, constantly monitored and attended to by some of the most amazing people in the world---pediatric ICU nurses. Their skill and quiet confidence kept our fears from exploding.

“We’ve seen many kids hurt even worse than Susie, in a coma for weeks. They wake up and they’re fine! She may be OK.”

We knew they weren’t offering a money-back guarantee, but their positive words helped quell the monsters that loomed behind every beeping machine.

Time inside a hospital is from a different zone. The tiny cars speeding on the ribbons of street many floors below seemed unrelated to the world where we now lived. Scurrying pedestrians frowned and checked watches, completely oblivious to the faces peering down at them from a prison of tubes and wires. We were citizens of another world.

I learned just enough about the beeping monitors and flashing numbers to make me dangerous. The numbers for the cranial pressure machine were the scariest. The first nurse had told me where the numbers should be, and at what point the swelling was too much. Susie would have to have emergency surgery if the number stayed at a certain level and they could not bring it down with drugs. Brain swelling was our number one enemy and I watched for it with great diligence.
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I perched on the edge of my seat, watching the numbers change. As they rose, I looked frantically for a nurse.
They were already on it, and after awhile, I learned to trust their vigilance and relax.

We had almost made the twenty-four hour mark, the point that Dr. Benner had told us was so crucial. If she came through that, she had a good chance of making it, although no one would know until she woke up much damage had been done.

The nurses urged us to go home Monday night. “You’ll need to be here when she wakes up, so take this chance to go rest.” We felt better with their urging, but it was still hard to leave.

What if? What if? What if? The questions hammered against our decision, but we went home anyway. We were told that the Ronald McDonald House was just down the street and the nurses gave us a paper to take to them to gain admittance. We knew we would need it soon, but put off registering as long as possible.

I wanted only to be in her room. It was my new home. Even when I left for a few minutes, the restlessness inside became so great I had to go back as soon as I could. The ugly green chair and the beeping monitors had become my furnishings of choice. I could only rest when I could watch the numbers.

The Memorial Day weekend came and went. We were unaware of it. Tuesday was time for Wayne to venture back to work for a few hours. It was hard for him to leave the drama unfolding in our new habitat, but he had things to attend to. He called the room several times a day, just to check.
Then the miracles began. Wayne’s job at a Christian advertising agency gave the company contacts with Christians all over the world. On Tuesday, when he clicked on his email, letters of encouragement clogged the screen.

--We are a church in Moscow. We learned of your daughter’s injury. We are praying for you.
--- Our pastor’s conference in Mexico stopped and had special prayer for the little girl who was hurt.
---North Carolina churches are praying!

The outpouring of concern and prayer was mind-boggling. We kept asking ourselves why. This was important to us, because Susie was our daughter. But what was it about our particular case that seemed to spark such an overwhelming response in thousands of strangers?
It soon became obvious that God had a purpose for what was happening to us, some higher plan that we may never know.

Our friend, Bob Carpenter, was a television announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals. During Monday night’s baseball game, he asked the regional television audience to say a special prayer for Susie.

The encouragement just kept coming. For the first time in my life, I truly understood what it felt like to be infused with the peace of God that passes all understanding. After Sunday night, an unnatural calmness settled on my spirit, allowing me to relax at times and not fear the future. I could physically feel the power of those thousands of prayers, lifting my head, keeping my heart from giving in to despair.

Susie’s Sunday school teacher, Julie, came to see us. “I don’t know whether to tell you this, but my mother said you would want to know. I hope it doesn’t upset you. In class last week, Susie raised her hand during prayer time and said she wanted to be closer to God. I told her we have to be careful what we pray, because God listens and answers.”

Tears sprang to my eyes as I looked at Susie’s still form under the sheet. “I think this is about as close to God as I want her to get.”

Between visitors, I tried to relax enough to read, but my mind wouldn’t concentrate. My thoughts drifted to Sunday afternoon. Was it only two days ago? After we got home from church, I was going to take a walk and Susie begged to go with me. She rarely asked, and I didn’t really want her to. I enjoyed the alone time. But I gave in reluctantly, and she had scampered by my side down the road, chattering endlessly about all things dear to the heart of an eleven-year-old girl. Now I was so glad I let her go with me. Would she ever walk by my side again or would I push a wheelchair?

Wednesday morning, we hugged the other kids, thanked Grandma again, and left home by 7:30. The sky looked heavy and ominous, but our thoughts were only on Susie. Wayne called the ICU each morning before we left home, just to make sure she had made it another night. They had asked for his cell number and we knew they would call it if anything happened, but we had to hear it for ourselves anyway. The nurses were used to terrified parents, and treated us with such patience and calmness we were able to relax on the drive to Tulsa.

I kissed Wayne goodbye in the car. He didn’t come in this time, needing to get to work early. Things were piling up.
I was buzzed through the security doors into the PICU, and knew right away that something was wrong. The glass partition doors to Susie’s cubicle were party closed, and her room was dark. My heart leaped into my throat. A nurse sat next to Susie's head, a portable workstation in front of her. She was on the phone, adjusting tubes at the same time.

She stood and met me as I approached. “She’s had a rough night. She’s acting up a little, but we’re working on it.”

Her voice carried a smile and her words were calm, but I knew something was up. My heart did another flutter-dance.

“Her brain swelling has been going up all night...”

I glanced at the monitor. The numbers were flashing an unbelievable 53. They had never been that high. I started to shake again.

“I’ve been on the phone with the doctor all night and I moved my work station over here so I could keep a close eye on her.”

We both looked at the still form on the bed. The only movement was the slight rise and fall of a chest being pumped full of air by a machine. My faith and calmness began to crack, and I wished that Wayne was here.

The nurse touched my shoulder gently. “She’s OK. We’ve tried several different drugs to bring the swelling down. Some she likes, and some she doesn’t. The doctor has ordered another CT scan this morning to see what’s going on in there.”

I was always amused at the way the staff referred to the patients as though they were consciously interacting with them. They used phrases like: “She’s acting up” or “She doesn’t like that.” It was humanizing and it took some of sting away from the obvious fact that your child was completely comatose.

I moved closer to the bed and took one of Susie’s limp hands. I bent low and told her I was here and it would be all right. I found that the more I spoke to her as I normally would, it helped me maintain my own control. After all, as a parent, we never let our kids know when we are afraid. We have to be strong for them. It was no different here. She was still my little girl in a scary, strange place and I didn’t know what she might hear or comprehend on some level.

The nurse stepped back into the room, on the phone again, jotting down information. Then she hung up and turned to me. “We need to keep it very quiet in here today. I don’t want to aggravate her at all. I want to keep the lights off and the sound to whispers. No visitors today.”

I nodded. Anything you say.
I settled myself in the green chair, piled up with blankets and pillows, surrounded by care-baskets of yummy snacks, magazines, and drinks. Our friends had been so good to us. The room was already filling with balloon bouquets, teddy bears, and gifts for Susie when she woke up.

My sassy mind always had to add, “...if she wakes up.” I tried not to do it, but it was there anyway. I wished Susie could see all the pretty things in her room. She would love the stuffed cats that were now surrounding her on the bed. Everyone who knew Susie, knew her passion for cats, so that’s what came pouring in.

Visitors began arriving again as soon as visiting hours opened. This time, I had to go out in the hallway to speak with them. No one but parents were allowed in the room. The pretty young nurse would have made an excellent army sergeant. No one got in that room without getting by her first. I had planned to spend a quiet day curled in my chair reading, but the room was buzzed every ten or fifteen minutes for another visitor. It was tiring, but it also passed the time, with encouragement and prayer coming at short intervals.

Dr. Tim Bower showed up that morning. He was allowed in the room and he stood at the foot of the bed, reading the monitors. “Wow,” he murmured. “They really have her under deep. She is so deep. That's about ten times the amount of anesthesia I use to do surgery.”

He stood and gazed at the numbers with me, but he knew what they meant. Every little bit, he would murmur, “Wow, that is high.” He pointed to the number for brain swelling, which had gone even higher in the last hour. “Do you know what those numbers mean?”

I told him I did. He never took his eyes from it. “Wow, that is really high, I wonder if...” He stepped outside and intercepted the nurse coming back into the room. They talked for a moment in hushed voices, she nodding and agreeing that something was going to have to be done very soon. I just stood there and shook.

Susie was rushed off to a CT scan and I called Wayne to fill him in. I realized I was hungry and wondered idly when I had eaten last. I couldn’t remember.

By early afternoon, the TV weathermen broke into programming with tornado alerts. The nurses began to scurry around, voices low and tense. I went to the window and looked outside. Dark clouds hung low overhead. Leaves and debris swirled through the parking lots, and at three o’clock in the afternoon, it looked like nighttime.

Then the power went off! In the bright world of beeping and hissing, everything suddenly went dark and silent.
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Shouts echoed across the hall and then, within seconds, everything came back on. The generators had kicked in.

A nurse rushed into Susie’s cubicle and leaned over her to check the machines. “The vent’s off!” she shouted over her shoulder. Then louder. “The vent’s off!” Two more nurses rushed in and huddled around Susie’s bed as they pushed buttons and checked machines.

The ventilator had shut off during the power outage and had not restarted automatically. They had to start it by hand. The quaking that had lived in my stomach all morning now mushroomed. The ventilator that was breathing for my child had failed. How long had she been without oxygen? Was this the final straw that would end her life? Or her quality of life?

The nurse turned to me, her face pale. “There, we got it on. It’s all right. She was not off oxygen for long enough to hurt her.” She seemed to be speaking to herself as much as she was to me.

“You’re going to have to move out into the hallway. They're saying a tornado or very strong winds are coming toward us. We all have to get away from the windows.”

I looked into the hallway. Beds and monitors were lined up and down the hall as nurses closed the glass cubicle doors. “What about Susie?” I asked, calming myself as I watched the ryhthmic rise and fall of her chest.

The nurse hefted a large blanket over the bedrail and covered Susie from head to toe. “All patients not on life-support are moved into the hall. Susie and one other boy down the hall have to stay in the room, we can’t move them. I’ll cover her with this to keep her safe from flying glass if the windows blow. But you’ll have to move your chair out there.”

I looked at her. She looked at me. She was young, probably no kids yet. I was not leaving my little girl alone, on life-support, in a room with a tornado coming.

She read my thoughts. “Well, if you promise to stay put, you can move your chair over to this side of the bed, away from the windows. We have to shut these doors, but we will leave it open just large enough for your chair.”

I thanked her and did as she told me. Huddled close to Susie’s bedside, I reached for her lifeless hand and stroked it, praying that the storm would be over soon.

We heard a loud crash and down the hall, someone shrieked. Loud as it was, we could tell the sound had not come from the PICU.
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The storm roared on. Outside, it was black as night. Torrential rain and hail slammed against the windows. Mandi called my cell phone to say she was caught in the storm and could not get home; the roads were blocked with fallen trees. I urged her to stay in her car until it passed. I thought of her sitting in a little car, stranded on a country road, trees falling on all sides. My thoughts flitted to Sam and Micah, home alone. The winds shrieked against the window as Susie’s monitors beeped on.

The TV weathermen were shouting at us, ties askew, looking like they were fighting off the tornadoes single-handedly. Then one reported that a huge plate-glass window in the crosswalk at St. Francis Hospital had blown. That was only a few yards from where I sat.
I bowed my head, my brain too exhausted to pray. I rested my head against Susie’s blanket, closed my eyes, and waited. At that point, a tornado sucking us all into the sky would just be one more thing.

In a few minutes, it was over. The rains slacked off and the sky brightened. The electricity came back on, and there were cheers and claps from the nurses in the hall. They scurried around, putting the ward back to rights, removing the stifling blankets from the two most critical patients.
We had come through it all right. Maybe. We would not know whether Susie was all right until she woke up. If she woke up. Had the loss of the ventilator caused more damage? Would we ever know?

Wayne called and I told him we were all right. The words felt thick and heavy, like they were coming from far away. I had never been so emotionally spent. "Come and get me,” I said. “I just need to go home.”

I waited on the curb for Wayne to pull up. It was the first day he did not come in to see Susie. We fell into bed and slept the sleep of the dead. Even in sleep, our ears were always listening for the phone call that would tell us Susie was gone.

Thursday morning it did ring early. Our hearts stopped beating as Wayne answered it. It was the hospital. Susie was stable and they were taking her for another CT scan, so she would probably not be in the room when we got there. They didn’t want us to worry when we arrived and saw the empty room. We could breathe for awhile now. Another night brought us that much closer to having our daughter back.

Later that morning as I snuggled in my mound of blankets in the old green chair, Susie’s bed rolled through the cubicle doors, assisted by a handful of orderlies and nurses. Their movements were perfectly synchronized to keep the machines and portable oxygen tanks going while she was en-route. It felt strange to watch my baby girl being handled by so many strangers when I had not been there. I didn’t know those people. As a mother, it didn’t feel right. But as a mother, I had to let them do their jobs so she could live.

An hour later, the floor doctor swept in, his entourage of interns right on his heels. “Great news!” he announced. “The CT scan was beautiful! I wish my brain looked that good under the scan!”

I stared at him, uncomprehending. The eyes of the eager interns darted from him to me. Some day, each of them would be the doctor in charge when someone’s baby was in the ICU. They were soaking it in, learning. This was how to do it.

I rose stiffly and joined the throng at her bedside. Dr. Banner beamed. “We’re going to do another scan this afternoon. If it still looks good, we’re going to disconnect the pressure monitor. It’s just not representing what is really going on in her head. Those numbers aren’t what I’m seeing, and they are just worrying us. Nurse, take that off please!”

As a nurse moved forward to remove the monitor tape from Susie’s forehead, I gaped at the doctor. I was afraid to believe what I was hearing.
He smiled at me, enjoying the moment of personal satisfaction that made this job worth it. “She may be going home this weekend.”

My heart dropped. Home? As in Heaven? My focus had been so intent upon trying to accept a negative long-term prognosis, I could only think in that realm. Wayne and I had just discussed whether we could donate her organs, if it came to that. We had not reached a consensus.

“Home. What...you mean like...our home?” I managed to squeak. This was as difficult to comprehend as her initial diagnosis.
The group of interns smiled and looked from me to the doctor, their heads swiveling simultaneously as though watching a tennis match. He was still beaming, studying Susie’s latest CT results.

“I think we can start to bring her out, off the meds, see how she does, by Saturday. We’ll wean her very slowly.”

My heart flip-flopped. This was all new. I had to mentally change gears. We had been in survival mode since Sunday, taking each hour at a time, not daring to hope, but praying for strength to take whatever God wanted for us. Now, her doctor was saying she was ready to wake up.
But would she?

After he left, his eager little huddle following close behind, two nurses slipped quietly into the room, adjusting tubes, obeying orders. They exchanged secretive worried looks, then one looked at me and leaned closer. “The doctors sometime get a little overly-excited when they see a positive result coming. She won’t be going anywhere by this weekend. She may start to come out, we are hoping for that, but she will have a much longer time before she is ready to go home. We never send anyone home from ICU. They go out to the main floor first. And she won’t go there until she can be taken off all these machines. I just hate to see parents misled. I don’t want you to be disappointed when it takes much longer than you thought.”

I appreciated the warning, but was still reeling with the idea that she might be coming back to us at all. We had tried so hard to turn loose.
Thursday and Friday flew by, anticipation and fear trading places, back and forth, hour after hour. We had been warned that it would be slow, and that coming off the ventilator could be rather traumatic for both patient and parents.

Friends, visitors, and phone calls kept pouring in, keeping me busy greeting everyone. One close friend, Paula, came to visit. She had not been able to come until now and shock glazed her eyes as she stared at Susie’s still form, tethered with tubes and wires. As we prepared to leave together, I bent down and kissed Susie’s forehead where the brain pressure monitor had just been. “I’m leaving now sweetie. I’ll be back after lunch. You rest good and don’t worry. It’s all right.”

I raised up to see tears coursing down my friend’s cheeks. She had a daughter the same age as Susie and I knew she was seeing Hannah lying there. “How do you do that?” she sobbed. “I don’t know how you can just be so calm! She’s just lying there like that, and you’re just talking to her---” Her voice broke off. “Your faith is really inspiring me.”

I put my arm around her as we walked away. “I had to accept Sunday night that we may never have her back again. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. No one is promising us anything, even now. We started with nothing. So at this point, everything we get back is just a gift. You learn to lower your expectations for good news. She has a pulse--
Yay! She is showing good color and vitals--Yay, vitals! Her brain swelling is going down. Yay! That’s more than we had Sunday night.”

She wiped her eyes and shook her head. “Look at me! I came up here to comfort you, and you’re having to comfort me.”

It was odd. I didn’t understand it myself. Sunday night, I had been a basket case. But then the “peace that passes all understanding” settled over my heart and I was not afraid, the way I had been. I did not know what God had for our family, but it would be OK, whatever it was. We were seriously considering that she may be moved to a long-term rehab facility. Maybe a nurseing home, if she recovered that much. Even then, somehow, I knew it would be OK. We would have the strength to face it when we needed it.

Sunday morning, Wayne took the kids to church and I drove to the hospital. They had told us Saturday night that she was showing signs of coming out from her coma. I wanted to be there. When her right shoulder had twitched, I thought, “Hey! We have a shoulder!” Each new sign was a gift to celebrate.

I walked into the familiar cubicle that now felt like home and glanced toward the head of the bed as I did each morning. She had been there one week.

Slitted eyes followed my movement across the floor.
I dropped my things onto the ugly green chair and rushed to her side. “Suz?” I lifted her limp hand from the sheet and bent closer.

The eyes tracked me and her head moved on the pillow.

My voice caught in my throat. “Suz? You’re awake! It’s Mommy! Can you see me?”

The eyes blinked at me, then the head dipped slightly.

Tears pooled in my eyes and I groped blindly for a chair. “She’s awake!” I croaked toward the brightly lit hall. “She’s waking up!”

A nurse appeared at the doorway, smiling and cheerful. “Yes, she’s been trying to come out all night. We’ve already had a good chat, haven’t we, Susie?”

Susie’s eye slits followed the nurse’s movements around the room.

I was trying to control myself, but my heart was threatening to burst out of my chest. Shouldn’t we call the President? The media? Shout it out the window?

I rushed to the phone and called Wayne’s cell. “She’s awake!” I cried. “She knows me. She’s in there!”

All morning she dozed in and out of consciousness, each time awakening a bit more. She reached her left hand to touch me and I rejoiced. Oh, thank you, God! We have a hand!
Wayne brought the other kids by to see her, although Micah, at age eight was too young to be let in. It was a bit intimidating for them, even though we assured them that things were looking up.

By afternoon, she had begun to fight the ventilator, struggling to reach it, not understanding why it was there. I explained it, but her mind could not comprehend. It was hard to watch. The nurses assured me that this was a good sign, but that it couldn’t be removed until she fought it hard and proved she could breathe on her own.

It was a hard afternoon, with her coming in and out, struggling to pull the vent tube out of her throat. I sat by her, holding her writhing hands down, keeping her from yanking the tubes, telling her over and over what had happened.
She seemed to understand, then she would thrash about on her left side. We began to notice that her right side was not moving.

At long last, the glorious news came that they could remove the ventilator tube. The respiratory therapist came and with a few quick movements, freed her from the ventilator. She calmed down and I sat on the bed near her and talked to her. She responded, although she could not speak aloud from the vent being in her throat so long. She nodded and tried to smile. I knew then, that she was coming back to us, maybe not exactly like she left, but then I would not be the same either.

The next week was a whirl, as she gained strength every day and was soon moved to the regular pediatric floor. But her right side gave us concern. Her hand and leg were not responding and the right side of her face sagged, like she’d had a stroke. Wayne blanched when he saw her try to smile, as only the left side of her mouth lifted.

Therapists descended like doves, working their magic to get her well. The first to come was a speech therapist. She held up cards with pictures on them and asked Susie to name them. Susie’s face scrunched up and she turned to me and rasped, “They think I’m dumb!”
We laughed and knew then that she wasn’t!

By the next Friday, Dr. Banner once again swept into the room and announced that she could go home if I could get her to the bathroom by myself. She still could not walk, but physical therapy had already begun. She could not support herself using a walker either, since her right arm was not working. It looked like a long, hard road ahead.

We drove away from the hospital with a load of balloons and stuffed creatures, amid many happy waves from the nursing staff. We went right into physical and occupational therapy in our town, and they had her walking and dressing herself within weeks. She regained strength so remarkably she skipped from the wheelchair to walking alone, rarely using the specially equipped walker!

By fall, she signed up to play Optimist League basketball again---her favorite sport. Her right hand couldn’t dribble the ball very well, but she ran better than she walked. Her coach was an angel and required everything that she could give, and not a bit more.
Seventh grade was mostly a maintenance year in school, as short-term memory loss plagued her, and concentration was difficult. It was months before the effects of all the drugs finally left her system, taking her through emotional turmoil and deep depressions. She would face long years of therapy, learning disabilities, and another surgery to help with her limp, but Susie was home.

And he brought the child, whole, unto his mother...

Those words had come to me unbidden, strong and decisive. They were never meant as a promise that she would come through it unscathed. They were a reminder of Who was in charge. Nothing accidental ever happens to those who are called by His name. It was a perfectly orchestrated event, specially chosen for us at that time, carefully selected to accomplish a divine plan.

I searched in vain through the storybook I thought the words had come from. I could still see them printed on the left side of the page, near the bottom. I read through the entire book, including the story of the boy who was healed but the words weren’t there. I've never found them.

Susie still walks with an awkward limp, and her right hand will never be as strong as it should be. She has compensated by re-learning how to do things with her left hand, and can type faster with one hand than I can with both! Her physical struggles are a daily reminder that God reached down and plucked her from death's door to accomplish a special purpose in her life. He has used what she suffers to build shining character into her life that is blessing countless others. Her radiance and love for people are supernatural gifts God is using in a mighty way.

Our small-town hospital was chosen to receive a prestigious award from St. Francis Hospital for the excellent way they handled Susie’s ER care. Our family was invited to attend, along with the doctors, nurses, and paramedics who had saved her life. Dr. Benner was present, telling Susie she was his best recovery in thirty years of brain surgery!

As we hugged and thanked Dr. Beeson and the nurses who attended the celebration, one ER nurse turned to me and said, “I wanted you to know something. That night in the ER, when your husband was praying over Susie, Dr. Beeson held up her hand for us to give you a minute. I have never known her to do that. Ever! She stops for NOTHING!
You know, we did the best we could, but we all know Who saved Susie.”

Epilogue: Susie McCombs graduated from high school on May 8, 2010. She is actively involved in missions, leads worship at her church, headlines her own band which raises money for charity, and she regularly volunteers in the children's wing of St. Francis hospital where she plays music for sick children.

Susie Today

Susie Today

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