It began on Bainbridge Island in the middle of the night. My husband sat by the side of the bed in the dark. When I asked what was wrong, he couldn’t speak.
The 911 responders took him to a hospital designated for strokes. After 12 hours in the ER and 12 hours upstairs, the doctor said her hospital had no neurologist but not to worry, she’d sent his tests to three off-site neurologists who agreed nothing could be done surgically. She reminded us we’d gone past the 24-hour window for that anyway while we’d waited in their hospital. The plan: She’d treat his stroke medically.
My son and I requested a discharge, put him in our car, drove an hour home, took 10 minutes to regroup, rushed to the 3 p.m. ferry and drove up a Seattle hill to another hospital.
Five minutes after arrival at our new ER, we were in a room with a neurologist and a neurosurgeon. At first the mood was downcast. Yes, too much time had passed. Still the neurosurgeon ordered more tests.
My son and I waited. We were finally with neurologists, but I knew it was too late. The plans my husband and I had made for going to Seattle in an emergency had disappeared in the confusion of the night. I’d lost hours that could have saved him.
Years ago my husband and I visited a church in Assisi, Italy. I wandered while he sat, his back against a stone wall. After we left he said he’d heard voices singing inside the wall. We returned but as I expected, there was only silence. Still he was insistent. “It sounded like angels.” So we agreed it was a miracle. Old churches were full of miracles.
While my son and I waited, I thought of that wall in Assisi. I’m not sure why.
When the neurosurgeon returned, he looked at the three of us. I waited, so ready for a miracle I knew wasn’t going to happen. He took a deep breath, “If I get in there and have a problem, I’ll have to stop, but I think I can do this.” He paused. “You have five minutes to decide.”
We said yes.
Sometime after midnight the neurosurgeon came to the waiting room to show us photos of the twisted maze he’d taken to remove the blood clot and of the stent he put in place where the artery had ruptured, of small areas beginning to die from lack of blood that now had blood.
He also showed us something else. The doctors who’d said no — they never stood at my husband’s bedside, saw his will to live. They only studied his tests, and because of that they didn’t know what was possible. As our neurosurgeon left, he added, “You had a great advocate in your neurologist. She had faith.”
This was odd because later, that neurologist said almost the same words about another doctor.
I could have done better, but that’s not what I want to say. What I want to say is that miracles exist, and they come in the form of loving and helping hands reaching out to pull you back when you are lost and sinking. Some come from people you never see. Some from people you never even knew existed.
In Assisi, it turned out our miracle was the presence of cloistered nuns living behind those walls, singing their hours. For us in Seattle, it was the presence of one person after another weaving a net that lifted us out of danger.
I’m not sure if I prefer the miracle of singing stones or of brown-robed nuns, but what I know for sure is that we are miracles to each other. We truly are. We may begin in silence and confusion, but the walls just may sing.