Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Lifeguard (11/09/06)
TITLE: An Orange Lifejacket
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Panic slices me with frigid precision; I can’t breathe!
“Lord, I feel faint. I’m going under!”
My fate seems inevitable; soon I will drown beneath the torrent’s surly weight. I claw like a palsied rag doll swept downstream in a frothy display of relinquishment.
Iciness seems to press from every side, crushing me. I gasp for breath, overwhelmed both by my circumstance and the paralyzing fear it evokes.
Silenced and literally drowned by despair, I face a raging current of professional opinions and statistics that bludgeon my stricken heart with flood-stage force.
I could lose my voice. I could suffer a relapse. I could die!
Then unexpectedly, I envision myself wrapped in a puffy orange lifejacket – the kind I wore as a child at my dad’s lake cottage. Why has this image appeared? Why can I float and breathe without fear?
I slowly paddle upstream with awkward, laborious strokes. Even though every muscle aches and I doubt my strength, eventually I touch an overhanging tree branch.
Then I hear the sound of a garbled voice. I open my eyes in surprise to find I am not clutching a branch but rather the stainless steel railing along the edge of my hospital bed!
Everything hurts; I can hardly move, or even breathe. Intravenous needles feed my arms and hold me captive. The shadowy walls of my hospital room swirl in the night’s darkness. Am I dreaming? Or was I dreaming, or perhaps hallucinating? A nurse stands by my side, asking me questions.
“Have you been asleep?”
“Yes, I was sleeping. But I had such a strange dream!”
Thick bandages remind me of the previous day. Cancer – the doctor found cancer. I remember faking a stoic smile while internally weeping a monsoon of soulful tears. Those tears pooled in my heart until, in the midst of groggy, drug-induced sleep, I found myself drowning.
“How are your pain levels – zero being none and ten being intolerable?”
“I think I’m at a seven. But please, can I tell you about the dream?”
The nurse seems hardly human. Her angelic face - surrounded by a tall white collar and white crown-like hat - is framed by light streaming into the room from the hallway. She answers by pulling up a chair.
I begin to speak with a faltering voice that requires all my concentration and energy. “Everyone left for the night. I felt really lonely and scared, but then the sleeping pills knocked me out. I dreamed I was drowning in the rapids of some icy mountain river! The images seemed so real until an orange lifejacket turned up.”
The nurse leans onto the steel railing, her face aglow with interest. “An orange lifejacket? What happened then?”
“Well, I started bobbing on the surface of the water, and then I could breathe again. And I thought – no, I knew - I was going to live! Then I touched what I thought was a tree branch along the shore.”
“The orange lifejacket showed up just in the nick of time?”
“So although you were exhausted you were safe again?
“Yes, that’s right. Only the tree branch turned out to be this hospital bed rail.”
I feebly pat the railing and she grabs my hand and holds it in her own.
“Well,” she says as her slate-blue eyes penetrate mine, “It is obvious to me this dream is prophetic. You went through a life-threatening experience, sort of like a near drowning. But a heavenly lifeguard rescued you! I’m technically not supposed to ask things like this, but something tells me to do it anyway.” A peaceful expression breaks across her face; she stares through my eyes and into my soul. “Do you know Jesus?”
I wonder if I hear her correctly.
“Yes, I do.”
“Ah - He’s your orange lifejacket.” She squeezes my hand. “He is here, right now, even though you feel helpless. He is guarding your life!” Tears of discovery and gratitude trickle down her cheeks. “Now I’d better get busy. I need to take a blood sample and get your pain medication.”
She dabs her face with a tissue from my bed tray and finishes her work, then turns toward the door and whispers over her shoulder: “I’ve got a prescription for you, dear girl. Don’t ever take off that orange lifejacket.” With a wink, she is gone.
Ten years later, I’m still following her advice.
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