Learning the Basics
Thud! Without warning, I collapsed to the floor. I tried to process what just happened.
“It doesn’t matter what happened,” I said aloud. “What matters is that I get up.” If my family saw me on my bedroom floor, I would never live it down. I am the butt of “falling down” jokes, slipping on ice everyone else manages to miss, ending up sprawled on sidewalks every winter. In the summer, I can catch a pebble wrong with my foot. It rolls away, taking me with it. I even tripped on my dress at my wedding. My new husband caught me before I fell. The ugly rip in my gown is visible in post-wedding pictures.
Somehow, this was different. I had been working long hours getting ready for a business trip to Boston when I noticed weakness and numbness in my limbs three or four days earlier.
“I am going to Boston!” I announced to a colleague. “I’m not about to give in to a rogue illness and miss my trip.” Lying on the floor, I questioned that wisdom. I simply could not get up. It was as though the messages from my brain weren’t getting to my muscles. Frightened, I immediately turned to God.
“Wow, God. We have been through some tough things together but I think this one might be the worst so far. Help me see Your presence in the long road ahead of me.” That was November 15. Instead of leaving for the airport, I left for the hospital.
My doctor got right to the point. “You have Guillian-Barre syndrome.”
Becoming very apprehensive, I asked, “What is that, and will I recover?”
He sighed, “With GBS, the immune system, which usually attacks only invading organisms, attacks the nerves carrying signals to the brain. Typically the myelin sheath (nerves' protective covering) is damaged. This interferes with the transmission of messages from the brain to the muscles and back, causing weakness, numbness or paralysis. Most people recover well; some end up paralyzed. A few die.”
“This is just the beginning,” he warned. With that he departed, leaving me stunned.
“Okay God, I need to see You in this soon,” I whispered. As if in answer, a nurse appeared by my bed.
“What happened to you, honey?” the concerned nurse asked me. “We’ll take good care of you. Don’t worry.” Suddenly, a weight was lifted from me. Here was someone who didn’t expect me to be strong and laugh this off. Her words were like cool water to my fearful heart.
Another nurse came in. “Did you eat today? I can feed you some warm soup. Would you like that?”
Within hours of being hospitalized paralysis had spread to my neck. I could no longer hold my head up. Nurses dialed the phone and held my head while I called my office and my church. One after another, they came to help; reminding me of God’s encompassing presence.
That night I was transported to a neurological hospital two hours away. When ambulance personnel came for me, nurses formed a line along the hallway to say goodbye. I heard one say, “Be careful driving. You have precious cargo.” I didn’t know these people, yet they were strong for me when I was weakest.
At the new hospital, professionals worked diligently to get my body functioning. Upon admission, I could do nothing for myself. I had to relearn the basics – sitting, standing, walking, dressing, brushing my teeth and eating. Repetition retrained damaged nerves to connect with their assigned muscles.
“Ouch!” I muttered as I poked myself in the face once again trying to get my fork within close proximity of my mouth. Eating was particularly challenging. Three weeks later, I experienced a breakthrough. I was able to take one step. The staff cheered with me over this tiny milestone.
“You can do it girlfriend!” the therapist shouted another day as I stood before five steps, trying to get my foot up on the first one. It was unbelievably difficult. When I made it, therapists and patients cheered. Each of us shared our victories, led by the enthusiastic staff.
I went home December 22, long after I had developed an appreciation beyond words for these people. At home, therapies would continue for another year.
Watching the staff at both hospitals, I was sure God answered prayers through them, showing His comfort and presence to the comfortless. What an amazing gift they are!
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