Seeing Angels by the Ocean
So this happened to me last month.
One minute I’m laughing with my wife and parents, celebrating incredulously as we settle into the best vacation accommodations we’ve ever been blessed with—tons of natural light, a full jacuzzi tub in the master bedroom, and a wraparound deck that gazes upon palm trees and spans the entire apartment—and the next minute I find myself sitting alone in a dank emergency room at the local hospital, staring at a piece of bloody gauze that had dropped onto the floor and wondering when I’d see my wife again, and in what condition.
How quickly life can change.
How quickly life can change. That was one of the thoughts that came to my mind as I waited for my wife to return from the CAT scan in that unfamiliar hospital. Another thought was: How do I keep it together as we work to deal with whatever is wrong here?
It was about 7:30 a.m. on a gloriously clear and sunny morning—the sort of day we’d been dreaming about for months as we’d planned our multi-beach tour through South Florida—but I couldn’t have cared less about the weather outside at that moment.
Instead, my thoughts were veering into the darker realms: disease, surgery, and mortality.
You see, my wife has had a complicated medical history throughout her lifetime—intestinal surgery as a girl, pituitary and ovarian surgeries in more recent years, and not too long ago a near-death experience in the hospital involving an accidental morphine overdose by hospital staff. I’d like to permanently forget about that stuff, but I can’t.
So, when blood began dripping from her nose onto my face the previous night as we prepared to kiss goodnight, unpleasant scenarios came to mind.
And then a bit later, when she actually began coughing up large amounts of blood, even worse possibilities shook me to the core. (If you’ve never seen a spouse or child or similarly close loved one practically choking on their own blood as it flows down their chin and into a waste basket that is becoming increasingly ghoulish, I can assure you it’s a frightful sight.)
We called 911, and the paramedics arrived shortly before midnight.
“Maybe it’s just a nosebleed from your earlier plane trip and the change from cold to hot weather,” they said. We had, after all, come to sunny Florida from the cold depths of February in Wisconsin.
I wanted to believe the paramedics, and I wanted to take comfort from what they were telling me. I mean, they were great. They did their jobs, and they also tried to keep things lighthearted and offer reassurances. “We can take her to the ER if you want,” they said. “But you could probably just control the bleeding on your own. And make sure to have her lean forward, not backward. That is probably what caused the blood to back up into her mouth. A scary sight for sure, but it might be nothing serious. If it gets under control tonight and doesn’t happen again before morning, you should be in the clear.”
Relieved, we said okay and opted for the latter strategy. We’d try to control it on our own and wait out the night.
(The four of us shortly after checking into our room; that night we had to call the paramedics)
The paramedics left, and the four of us—my parents, my wife, and I—stayed up in the living room and attended to my wife’s nose. As the bleeding seemed to subside, we all relaxed a bit and even laughed. What a story this would be! Eventually, my parents went off to bed and my wife and I moved to our room, where we kept ourselves distracted by watching television (which show, I couldn’t tell you). We held a lot of gauze under her nose and made sure that a mountain of pillows kept her head in the correct position.
Finally, my wife began to sleep; and around 2 or 3 a.m., I allowed myself to drift off, too.
But quickly, maybe two or so hours later, I was roused by my wife saying, “It’s happening again.”
The blood, once again, was flowing like a faucet, and I once again wondered: Is it related to her pituitary tumor or that surgery from several years ago? Is it something else completely, something just as serious if not worse?
I felt sick and shaky as I tried to decide what to do next. It was still dark outside as I mentally prepared for a day of unknowns and emergencies. I thought about what we might need to bring to the hospital if it turned out to be an extended stay of tests, scans, surgeries, or treatment plans.
After feeling sick in the bathroom for a minute and then encouraging my wife to keep pressure on her nose, I hurried over to my parents’ room and bashfully woke them from a deep sleep.
“Claudia’s bleeding again,” I said. They opened their eyes, trying to figure out if they were dreaming. “What do you think we should do?”
After a minute of discussion, I asked my mom if she’d call 911 again while I waited with Claudia in the other room and gathered a few things. And once again, the three young paramedics (now at the end of their shift), came up to our room.
Our first morning in those luxury accommodations began with me holding my wife’s hand as she was wheeled down the hallway on a stretcher. No, we weren’t going to the pool, or to the beach, but rather to the hospital. How strange.
The paramedics took my wife to a local emergency room in an ambulance, and my parents and I followed a few minutes behind in our rental car. Thankfully, a doctor listened to my wife’s request and allowed me into her private room off the main ER to stay with her. Others in this age of Covid haven’t been so blessed.
About two months ago my wife’s older sister, suffering from symptoms that were eventually diagnosed as stage 4 anemia, had to have a series of emergency blood transfusions in an Arizona medical clinic; and her husband wasn’t even allowed to be with her during any of it. She sat alone and scared and tried to connect with people via Facetime.
And a few weeks after that, one of my younger brothers stumbled—on his wife’s shoulder—into an emergency room in subzero Wisconsin, suffering from long lasting fatigue, dizziness, nausea and other symptoms that still haven’t been definitively grouped into any diagnosis. His wife (my wife’s younger sister, actually) was similarly denied entrance into the hospital.
Too dangerous in this age of Covid, they said.
Funny. With all of these billions of dollars for Covid testing—with all of this confidence in face masks—why couldn’t these medical facilities have found a way to clear a single family member for entry so that they could sit with weak and frightened loved ones instead of waiting by a phone? Sad.
But back to Florida, where my wife and I had actually happened upon a doctor with a heart (or rather been guided to him?). After a quick temperature check at the ER door (and with a mask dutifully in place) I was allowed into the hospital to see my wife. I found her in bed, in a small dark room, hooked up to monitors and IVs.
Our little cubby of a room sat directly across from the main hub of doctors and nurses going about another day’s ER business, but yet no one came to attend to us. I guess my wife had spoken to a doctor upon arrival, but because there was no “active bleeding” going on, he couldn’t diagnose or move forward.
We waited, and no one came. My wife had developed a migraine, and it was getting worse. She began to moan. So she moaned, and yet no one came. Perhaps they were used to such sounds there.
Finally, when I was able to speak to a nurse, I explained that it wasn’t the bloody nose per se I was worried about, or even the migraine of my wife’s that was getting worse by the minute. But rather it was the conjunction of those two things and how that might relate to her earlier pituitary tumor and surgery. The nurse seemed rather unconcerned (so just tell me what she wants in the IV for the headache, she demanded), but after my words were passed along to the doctor, eventually my wife was taken away for a CAT scan.
And that is when I began to lose it a bit. I found myself alone in that dark room, crying and staring at the empty space where my wife and her bed had been just a minute ago.
I found myself fixated on the bloody gauze that had dropped from her hands onto the floor, and I actually considered for a moment picking it up and holding onto it. What if something went wrong with whatever they’d pumped into her veins for the headache?
What if she was never brought back to me alive? (Again, several years ago she’d needed a shot of Narcan in the heart because hospital staff had given her too much IV morphine after surgery. Thank God I had been staying with her in the hospital room that night, because if I hadn’t been there to call the nurses into the room when her eyes were rolling back into her head, no one would have been there to revive her! Things like this do happen.)
I stared at the scarlet gauze. What if it was the last “piece” of my wife I had to hold onto?
I was sleep deprived and shaken, but in that moment—in that lonely hospital room—I worked to fall into faith, and in doing so was able to catch my breath a bit.
I imagined angels sitting next to me in that “empty” room.
No, it wasn’t empty. I wasn’t alone. I—we—were surrounded by guardian angles from above. And we were protected and guided by Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who had heard our prayers and answered them so many times before.
In times like that, what vision is more powerful than that painted by Jesus in Matthew 26:53?
“Do you think I cannot call on my Father,” He said, “and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
The next time you are feeling alone and scared because of some situation in life, whether external or internal, try to picture the protecting and caring angels all around you at the behest of the Good Shepherd. Try to remember you aren’t actually alone!
I prayed, seeking protection and calm.
In times like that, what visual is more powerful than that of Jesus rebuking the storm on the Sea of Galilee in Mark 4:37-39:
A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet. Be Still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
The storms in our lives come, often without a preceding weather forecast to provide warning, and when the waves begin to rock our boats and the winds bring us to the verge of drifting into mental and emotional oblivion, where do we find an anchor to steady the whole operation?
In faith. In the promises of the Lord, who assures us that we are not blindly pinballing through this crazy existence without direction or protection.
I prayed that morning in the hospital, and I tried to remember the mountains of evidence that pointed to the reality of God’s presence, protection, power, and grace in my life. He’d seen me through past financial strains, past professional stresses, past health crises with my wife, and past health challenges of my own.
There had been so many “dark nights of the soul” that had been weathered by seeking the loving arm of my Savior. There had been so many earthly lightening storms that had been survived by seeking transcendence to a place above the clouds.
That last part is key: The insanity of earthly life can only be survived and put into perspective if we climb above it all, to a place where earthly life isn’t the be-all and end-all.
As it turned out, my wife’s bleeding episode likely was caused by a combination of airplane travel and an abrupt weather change from intense cold to intense heat. Maybe the half a glass of sangria she’d had at dinner that night had contributed to it as well (they say that alcohol can interfere with blood clotting and also enlarge the “superficial” blood vessels in the nasal cavity, thus contributing to nosebleeds). The CAT scan came back normal, and the hospital sent us on our way that same day.
Looking back, I could be tempted to feel foolish for assuming (or at least fearing) the worst about the situation; I could be tempted to feel foolish for “overreacting” to a nosebleed, even if it was something strangely out of the ordinary for my wife and something that looked like a veritable hemorrhage.
I could be tempted to feel ashamed for allowing anxiety to grip me, tempted to feel as if my faith was weak.
But I don’t feel foolish, really. I feel human. I only wanted to do all that I could to make sure a bad-looking situation got attended to as quickly and thoroughly as possible.
When it comes to the people we love, is there really such a thing as being too fastidious about medical situations that confound and alarm?
And regarding the question of faith, I don’t think that feeling momentarily anxious or depressed or angry or alone is a measure of bad faith. I think, instead, it’s how we respond to those feelings that counts. Do we pull ourselves to prayer in such times? Do we look up to a place above our circumstances? Do we look around, and try to see and feel the greater spiritual reality that surrounds us?
Do we try to stay connected and trusting, even when it isn’t easy? Do we slowly lift up our weak arms and keep knocking on God’s door, so to speak, even when our stomach is tied in knots and our head is throbbing with confusion?
Do we at least try?
God, I think, rewards consistent trying.
Over the next couple of days we tended to my wife’s lingering headache with migraine medication prescribed by the ER doctor, and before we knew it we were once again enjoying days on the beach that truly felt like the gifts from God that all such days are.
I was so grateful, and even at the time I realized that I needed to hold onto that utter feeling of gratitude and carry it back to Wisconsin with me.
I might even make a sign and frame it and hang it up in my home office: I will not take things for granted today!
What is the moral of this story? Well, for one, don’t lean backward when a nosebleed is occurring. Despite what you might have been told growing up, that only makes things worse and can actually cause blood to leak down the back of the throat and into the mouth, thus making things look even more disturbing than before (you want to lean forward and put pressure on the nose instead).
But much more importantly than providing nosebleed reminders, I think this story reminds us all to consistently lean on our “anchors” when unpleasant surprises or crises come rolling through our lives.
For me, the two monumental (and clean) F words—family and faith—are anchors that I have leaned on again and again to keep the boat from tipping during times of tumult. The promises of my Lord, and a spiritual connection to Him, help me to keep my sanity (even if it is only just barely sometimes) when the ground is shaking and the windows are rattling and the wolves are howling just over the hills.
There are other healthy anchors in life to be sure, but none more important than faith. So I will end this message with a few words from Jesus in Matthew chapter 7, words that talk about the importance of starting with faith, and then building the rest of your life up from that.
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)
Lean on the Lord this year during your times of trouble, and in fact find Him in devotion and prayer each day, even when things are going great. Make it a habit, and try to see each day of such spiritual connection as another brick that is being placed atop that stalwart rock of a foundation. Brick by brick, we build our faith and future that way. Brick by brick, we build a shelter for the storms.
Until next time, please remember to take care of yourself and your dreams,
Michael Priebe is a writer and personal development coach who has studied psychology, literature, and print journalism. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he graduated with honors. and over the years he has used both fiction and nonfiction formats to write about health, sports, professional life, politics, relationships, and spiritual issues. He puts out a variety of spiritually inspiring content at The Lovely Grind, and he blogs about his life at www.michaelpriebewriter.com. He invites you to find out more about his life coaching here, and he hopes you'll reach out to him on Facebook and Twitter.
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