TITLE: The Heart of Faith [excerpt]
By Valerie Van Selous
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Miracles happen, sometimes. One summer there were a group of people who prayed like maniacs for a young girl to recover from an illness. They acted on their faith and their prayers were actually answered and the girl lives on. This is my story. That same summer, the same group of people prayed like maniacs for a man to recover from an illness, and the man lives on only in memory. This man is part of my story too, he was my dad. While tales of life and death are universal to all, this one begins in a quiet, northern New Jersey suburb in Holy Name Hospital, the place where I was born seventeen earlier.
To look at me lying on the hospital bed in a coma, I was an ordinary-looking teen, brown eyes, a thick, curly mop of shoulder length brown hair [that was probably frizzy and matted down to the pillow] an average build [somewhere in between slim and plump]. What you wouldn’t know is that I was a “bookworm”. Unusually, my face was burrowed behind a paperback or I was hunched over in a corner furiously scribbling in a spiral bound journal I picked up from the local drugstore. I wrote lists, thoughts, poems, and stories. I could, and often did, get lost in my dreams. One summer day, the day I fell into the coma, I got lost in a dream-world for days.
The Greek word "koma" or coma means a deep sleep, a state of extreme unresponsiveness, in which an individual exhibits no voluntary movement or behavior. The official diagnosis of my medical condition was encephalitis/viral meningitis, medical conditions where membranes of the brain becomes inflamed. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Encephalitis is an acute infection of the brain characterized by fever, headache, and an altered state of consciousness, with or without seizures. Most cases of encephalitis are caused by viruses.” This proved to be true in my case, though my blood was tested for mosquitos, rabies, ticks, and Reyes Syndrome no cause was found, just an unexplained virus that travelled to my brain. To everyone’s frustration, no medical interventions were possible, other than the I.V. and the nurses who kept a check on my vital signs. How did this happen?
I had been recovering from a case of pneumonia, when the unidentified virus attacked. I called out to mom the night the germ began to affect me, before I slipped away. I needed help walking the short distance from my bed to the bathroom. I felt so tired, my arms and legs like strands of wet spaghetti. Mom lay by my side and fell asleep hoping I’d improve by morning. I did not. I felt dizzier and weaker than the night before. My world was spinning. I tried to get up and to get dressed, but nothing worked. I could not get my arms to move or my legs to bend, and I couldn’t speak. My parents, who thought I had a stroke, sat me down by the top of the stairway and pushed me down one step at a time. Each holding one arm, they led me into our brown station wagon and propped me up against the door because I could barely hold myself upright anymore. Mom and dad left my four confused siblings at home staring out the window, scared again. Today was the second time in the last three months they saw a family member swept away unexpectedly into the hospital.
You see, a double tragedy struck my home that summer. Dad was dying from stomach cancer. We found out that he was sick in April. In May when the doctors operated on Dad to remove his stomach, they found that the cancer had spread to other organs in his body. He was sent home and started chemotherapy treatments. Now it was July. Think about my mom…….I did, even during the twelve days I was trapped inside my body, unable to move and unable to communicate with the outside world, but able to see my surroundings.
“You looked so peaceful” my mom said when I asked her what I looked like laying there on the hospital bed. I know she is only telling a ½ truth, still protecting me after all these years. I looked scary. I had I.V.’s sticking out of my arms and a plastic, green oxygen mask covering my face.
While I had no idea what I looked like, I knew I was sick and in the hospital. I remembered the drive to the pediatrician’s office and the doctor’s stern words “get her to the hospital, now”. Looking into the mirror that was hanging on the door while on my way out of the room, my brown hair was straggly and going in all directions. My eyes were glazed. I barely recognized this girl in the mirror. The sight of her terrified me. What was happening to her…………to me? This thought and all my thoughts just drifted away. All my energies were used getting back into the car and then to the hospital. I was put onto a bed, the nurses put a striped gown on me, stuck the I.V. into my vein and took out my gold stud earrings. I worried about those earrings and feared I would never see them again. This was the first of many fears.....
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