Our parish priest and the priest from my parent’s parish visited the hospital to pray over Robert and offered to remember him in their daily prayers. My father’s cousin whom we called Ms. Annie May, the most devout Catholic I have ever known, came to visit Robert too. [Five years earlier she was diagnosed with a tumor of the brain, hospitalized and unable to regain consciousness, everyone awaited her death. In private she told me that she actually was pronounced dead by the doctors at one point, had an after-death experience, and in spite of her protests was told then to return and finish the work she was created for. Shortly thereafter she regained consciousness and her health. Only Ms. Annie would have the nerve to balk at a heavenly command!] I saw her at Mass one morning and asked her to pray for Robert. The following morning she arrived in CCU and prayed over him; thereafter, she visited him nearly every day and spread the word for others to include him in their prayers too.
Barbara was with him when I worked otherwise I could hardly bear to leave the hospital and slept in chairs, on the floor or wherever I could to be near Robert. Unable to eat, talk, or breathe on his own, his life swung in the balance. The staff was compassionate and tolerant of our plight as throughout the Christmas season Robert’s battle to live continued despite one mêlée after another. His susceptibility to nosocomial (hospital) infections especially troubled me and while I refused to worry, my concern was heightened. One particular incident wreaked havoc and sparked a crack in my faith.
The doctors were stumped by an unusual infection and could only be certain that it was not the MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) strain of staph that I deeply feared. Naysayer conjecture from others surfaced and I realized what was happening to us so briefly one day I went home to escape my senses. When I locked the front door I literally screamed to the top of my voice in every room to release weeks of otherwise restrained tension, showered, and returned to the hospital armed with a resolve to “live by faith, not sight,” and use my holy water along with my rosary.
When I returned to Robert’s glass compartment in CCU I stood over him, sprinkled him with the holy water from head to foot and verbally commanded in the name of Jesus that the enemy and all his agents loosen their hold and depart from my husband. I was no longer afraid, no longer timid or weakened spiritually by our circumstance, I was seething!
One morning an infectious disease specialist that I got a chance to talk with greatly consoled me when he confidently said he would find the culprit and order the right antibiotics to treat Robert. Somehow (although I believe that nothing is by chance) in our conversation I discovered that he was Catholic. A few hours later the doctor proved true to his word and Robert was breathing better than he had in weeks. The enemy wasn’t finished but at least I was reminded of who was behind all the mayhem and better able to cope.
Massive amounts of information to digest, doctors, nurses, monitor readings, mechanical ventilators that required respiratory therapists to increasingly suction Robert’s breathing tube to remove mucus from his lungs, the threat of a tracheotomy, pneumonia, and a host of other potential and ongoing complications distracted my usual focus on God. Just after I got my second wind we discovered that Robert would need a second lung surgery to correct yet another problem!
Ms. Annie May arrived the morning of that surgery and gave Robert communion. That was quite a feat given the ventilator mask on his face but she was an amazing woman who allowed nothing to thwart her work for God. I found a quiet place, said my rosary then got out my Pieta prayer book that Ms. Annie May gave me one morning at Mass in April! and said: “You’re going to need this.) I completed the “Prayer to St. Joseph over 1900 years old,” in the book, waited on God, and was careful to thank God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, and all the angels and saints for every blessing we received.
The second surgery heralded the end of our perilous journey. After six days of rehabilitation, on January 11, 2005, Robert was released from the hospital – albeit with eight prescriptions (including one that was so scary even the pharmacist pulled me aside to make sure we understood the possible side effects),and the rest of 2005 brought continued Blessings. Robert’s progress was steady and each follow-up visit to his doctors, all of them: oncology surgeon, pulmonologist, primary care, and heart, rendered good reports.
Of his thirty-six day hospitalization Robert said he recalls only the morning that Ms. Annie May gave him communion. It was his only link to reality; the host brought life back into focus and comforted his anxiety.
We deeply thank God every millisecond of every day for the extension of time he graciously blessed us to have. That’s how we now spend each day while we strive to complete our work here.
“But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3