[Editor's Note: A believer of miracles, this is the second installment in a three-part series by Jody Glynn Patrick.]
miracle n. An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God.
Miracles unfold everywhere around us — from the interconnectivity of the species, to the survival of teeny, tiny premature babies, to the promise of stem cells. The butterfly, able to transform its genetic makeup during transformation from caterpillar — how miraculous is that? The dance of the bees, the "Alleluia" song of the crickets…. Contrary to this definition of miracles, I think they abound in nature as well as beyond it.
It's also my personal belief that by claiming our miracles — spiritual or serendipitous — we come to better understand our values and our connectivity to others. And our individual response to miracles — what we choose to believe after having witnessed one — answers questions, too. So, over the these three connected blog postings, I'm revealing a few miracles I've witnessed in my life, and I encourage you to share your miracles, too.
Santa doesn't look right….
Summer Erin (yes, an Irish girl born in the summertime) was only four months old when we made the long car trip from downstate, Illinois to the Windy City. When we arrived in Chicago hours later, there was one important stop before knocking on the gramps' door, where we planned to stay for the next 10 days. We followed the map to Macy's department store to have our daughter's picture taken with Santa Claus. Still college students on a shoestring budget, the most we I could afford to give my husband's parents was a tin of homemade cookies and an 8×10 picture of Summer with Santa.
Finally it was our turn to step away from the long line of squirmy kids and parents and into the "holding area" as Santa finished with the child just ahead of us. But rather than feeling relief, as I glanced at the Santa, I intuitively felt that something about the situation was dreadfully wrong. It took a moment to register my discomfort.
He's drunk, I thought, shocked, noting Santa's flushed cheeks and the sweat beading above his thick brows. As we approached him, I hesitantly leaned closer, sniffing as inconspicuously as possible, searching out confirmation, thinking I would report him to store management.
He looked up at me with red-rimmed cloudy eyes, but there was no smell of alcohol on his breath or body. Had he been drinking vodka? He reached out for Summer and with a steady voice (no slur), he asked her name. He was doing all the right things, but then again, something was amiss. Though puzzled, I handed her over.
About three seconds too late, as he tucked her into his lap, I realized the truth: This man was very sick. His rosy red cheeks were fever flushed, not makeup blushed.
I wish I had listened to my instincts and run out of the store with Summer right there and then, but I didn't want to cause a scene. This will only take a minute, I thought, pushing down my panic. What could the real harm be, if she is only on his lap a moment? I'd wash her face and hands right after Santa's elf clicked the perfect picture of my perfect little girl. Other parents stayed. They must see what I see. And we've waited so long in line already….
Too long. We waited too long in that line.
It's a flu pandemic. And Summer is sick. Very sick.
No one had publicized it yet — maybe no one even knew it that day — but the next day, I heard on television that Chicago officially was slammed with a vicious outbreak of the Russian Flu. Unlike the typical flu season, with an "expected loss" formula in the "acceptable range," many, many more people died in 1977 after the Russian Flu skyrocketed to the level of "pandemic" in Chicago. This particular line of children (and a sick Santa) had created a perfect viral cesspool of germs — germs particularly devastating to infants and old folks.
A couple days later, Summer became lethargic. She obviously had the flu. We called a hospital, but the triage nurse said to keep her away unless her fever rose over 101. "Give her plenty of liquids, watch her closely, blah, blah."
It was my birthday, and as I blew out birthday candles, I glanced at her sleeping in a basket beside me … or was she just sleeping? I think in that moment I realized she was unconscious, but that was my last coherent thought before the room spun me off the chair and I fainted.
The onset of the Russian Flu was that quick and debilitating.
A day away… from what?
Of course, my first thought upon regaining consciousness was to get her to the hospital, and we grabbed a blanket for her and ran to the car. Because both she and I were considered contagious, Summer immediately was admitted to a pediatric infectious disease area, where I was allowed to be isolated with her for the next two days. But while I was just very sick for a couple days, it seemed she was dying. We watched helplessly as tiny IV lines failed. Her wee veins too small and even "cut lines" failed. The head of the team of intensive care pediatricians warned that she was in critical condition. Another day would likely decide the outcome.
We were only one day away… from what? After the isolation period, her grandparents literally camped around her bedside with us. Nothing changed the next day, or the next. She was no better, and, worse, she was still losing weight.
A couple days later, on Christmas Eve, my mother-in-law pressed money into my hand and ordered me to go to the hospital cafeteria for dinner. I hadn't slept a full night or eaten a real meal since Summer was admitted.
"She needs you to be strong now — you have to take care of yourself," Mary urged.
The cafeteria charged $5 that evening for any purchase, from a cup of coffee to a full dinner. Distracted by worry, I only thought to order a cup of tea. I felt lost in so many profound ways… After sinking on the closest bench, it finally dawned on me that I had forgotten to order food. I began to cry, upset at having wasted Mary's money and bewildered as to what do about it.
Within moments, a priest claimed the seat opposite mine. "You must have someone very special in the hospital, to be here tonight," he offered gently, reaching for my hand.
He came with a lilt and a prayer….
An Irish priest. There he was, in collar and flesh. Immediately, I felt carried in the sense of Footprints in the Sand — "It was in that moment that I carried you…."
Priests were still allowed to hug in those days, and he moved to my side to hold me while I cried. When I settled, he noted that I'd only ordered a cup of tea. He opened his wallet and took out a five-dollar bill. "This hospital embarrasses me, charging anything at all tonight," he said. "Take your money back."
Then he asked me to write my "wee child's" full name on the napkin before me, and he handed me a pen. I was confounded by the request until he explained, keeping his voice conspiratorial: "My congregation always chooses a special person to pray for on Christmas Eve. This is why I came to this place tonight — to learn the name. So write it down here so I'll say it right. We believe in miracles, especially on this most holy night."
I wrote each letter carefully. He took the napkin, read it, and pocketed it. He then said, "We will pray for your daughter Summer Erin at midnight mass, Mother, so put away your tears and your fears. Summer will be fine. Just keep the faith and wait." He kissed my cheek and left with those words.
When I later returned to the ICU, I was able to sit calmly beside my daughter again, and cradle her tiny blonde head in my hands. Gone was the fear that it could be for the last time. The "death watch" was over. That night, I slept soundly in the chair by her bed.
The next morning, Summer woke us with hungry wails for a bottle.
When the doctor came to see her, I told him of the priest's intercession on her behalf. I expected him to scoff, but instead he said, "No doctor knows why one critically ill child dies and another lives. Part of the reason I chose to work in a Catholic hospital is because we always allow room for faith, too. And in this case, I'm comfortable agreeing there was something of a miracle involved in your baby's amazing turnaround. Who is to say there isn't? Not me."
Yes, it was a miracle for me, too. A miracle of faith.