Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022

We Had A Miracle

A distressed mother discovers that cliches about positive thinking are closer to the truth than she had previously dared to believe.

On a recent vacation in the US, an as-yet-unidentified virus attacked our 12-year-old's heart, causing what the doctors told us was acute viral myocarditis, leading to heart failure. At 7 am on Sunday morning, when he left the hotel with his dad for a quick trip to see some fresh snowfall in the mountains, R was perfectly healthy, his eyes bright with excitement at the prospect of seeing real snow for the first time. By 1130 the same morning, he was splayed out in the Paediatric ICU (PICU) of a medical centre in Arizona, sedated, his limbs paralysed, a forest of tubes and needles sprouting all over his body. Our little boy was on life support, and doctors were telling us there was a real possibility he would need a heart transplant.

What we needed — what R needed — was a miracle.

By noon, R had been moved from a ventilator to a more powerful oscillator, and it was clear that he would need to go on to a heart-lung machine as soon as possible. But the hospital we were at did not have the machine; R would need to be moved to one that did. The PICU chief worked the phones relentlessly, but R was turned down just as relentlessly - it was the middle of Memorial Day weekend and the relevant staff were on vacation; no one knew where a portable oscillator on which he could be safely transported could be found, or even if such a thing existed; and most terrifyingly for us, R's vitalstats were so sub-par that most hospitals saw him as a liability they did not need.

Finally, at around 5.30 pm, we had our first miracle — a children's hospital in faraway Utah agreed to take R. The doctor who accepted him was a former US Marine who had evacuated soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan and was acknowledged as an expert in the 'transportation of critically-ill children'. He began calling all the respiratory therapists he knew to see if any of them had ever used a portable oscillator. Only one therapist had. But that had been years ago, and the therapist had no idea where he could find one now.  Instead, he decided to cobble an oscillator together by tweaking a few circuits in the hospital's portable ventilator.  If the machine worked as it was supposed to, R and I — the small medical transport plane had only one extra seat — could be on our way to Utah by midnight.

The hastily-put-together oscillator worked like a charm. We had been gifted our second miracle.

At 3 am on Monday morning, as R was delivered safely into the hands of the Navy doctor and his crack team of critical care experts, my husband and daughter were speeding along dark highways in a cab whose Native American driver had agreed to make the exhausting 1200-km all-night run to Utah - nonstop. 

By noon of Day 2, thanks to technology, family and friends across the world had become aware of our situation. Gods of every name (and those without names) and form (and those without form) were being invoked, bribed and pleaded with in every kind of place of worship. Family flew in from across the country, bringing love, comfort, and home-cooked food. More and more people added themselves to a facebook group my daughter had set up to update people on R's progress, and wishes for his recovery poured in from every direction.

The desi medical network in the US, spurred on by a post my doctor sister had shared on her college whatsapp group, came into its own, pulling in every connection it had with the fraternity at the hospital, urging them to look us up. What they did not know was that we had three Indian cardiologists taking care of R already. It proved to us just how ubiquitous the Indian medical professional is, and how much his very presence helps to assuage his countrymen's desperate homesickness in moments of great crisis.

In short,  given the circumstances, things are were as good as they could be. But to me, then, it was all little more than background noise. Too numb to pray — and  too unaccustomed to prayer in the first place — I found myself in a bottomless pit of hopelessness, unable to 'stay strong' and 'think positive' as everyone was urging me to do, and worse, incapable of connecting to R. "Talk to him," my sister insisted. I couldn't — the prone, still figure in the PICU wasn't my boy. "You have to try," begged a friend. "In how many books have we read that the voice of a loved one can pull someone back from the brink?" I stared. People actually believed that stuff?

In the wee hours of Day 3, I stumbled into bed, too anxious to sleep but unable to sit up any longer.

As I lay there in the dark, suddenly and for no apparent reason, something changed inside my head — a switch flipped, and a huge rush of positivity, provenance unknown, surged through my being.  At almost exactly the same time, my brother messaged, letting me know from faraway Japan that a friend who was also a spiritual medium had said that R was going to be all right. It was the first time someone, anyone, had said it so unequivocally.  Casting cynicism aside — a message from the hereafter? really? — I embraced the hope the message held out with all my heart.

Plans began to form — tomorrow, I would read books to R, play him music he loved,  have his favourite films playing in the background all day.  I would surround him with memories, I would give him a reason to return. Minutes later, for the first time in 56 hours, I fell into a deep, untroubled sleep.

The next morning, PICU nurses told us, wonderingly, that R was suddenly doing much better.  Seven days later, when R walked out of the hospital on his own legs, doctors swore the pace and thoroughness of his heart's recovery was nothing short of astounding. They knew better than anyone, they said, the limitations of the science they practised, and they believed that it was really R's own will, courage, and spirit that had worked the magic.


But was that really all it was? In the last few weeks, feeling extraordinarily fortunate and hugely grateful, I have pondered that question often, thinking back especially on what I think of as our third miracle — the sudden, inexplicable flip in my own head on Day 3 from abject despair to joyful optimism,  the starting point for everything good that followed.

The only way I can explain it is this: at that particular moment, the prayers that hundreds of people were sending out into the ether, and the good wishes they were directing our way, finally reached a tipping point. The strength of that collective benediction pulverised the mountain of negativity on the other side of the scales, and lifted R — and me — out of the abyss.   

I now believe in the existence of a Power Bigger Than Us much more than ever before. I like to think that that Power does not reside outside of us, but inside. I like to think that when otherwise ordinary human beings  — doctors, nurses, cab drivers, spiritual mediums, family, friends, and the sick themselves - together choose to use that power — to go beyond the call of duty, reach out to a fellow human in distress, wish very hard for the same thing, will themselves to fight their monsters, or simply love — something extraordinary happens. The universe shifts, and the impossible becomes nothing. 

The author of this piece wishes to remain unidentified.