Emergency Room

May 8, 2009

3 min read


Yesterday I prayed for a clear head and a productive work day. Instead, my baby lost consciousness and stopped breathing.

It was every parent's nightmare. One minute, my son was walking around, playing. The next minute, his eyes rolled back in his head, his body convulsed and then went limp, and his lips turned blue. I slammed down the phone, picked him up, and ran down the steps. It was surreal. Was it really me, shouting, "Help!"? Banging on my husband's office door? Calling for an ambulance?

Within seconds the paramedics arrived and assessed my baby, lying limp as a rag doll on the floor. They put a cold, wet towel on his chest to bring down his temperature. The ambulance pulled up and we were off, wreathed in a shrieking siren and flashing lights. Gone was my energetic, boisterous 14-month-old; a stranger -- pale and lethargic, barely conscious -- had taken his place. His breathing was shallow, faint. I fought off panic and crushing fear with prayer.

In a catastrophic instant, all I wanted was for my child to breathe again.

My last trip in an ambulance was over a year ago when I'd rushed to the hospital to bring this very child into the world, imbuing him with life. Who knew what the future held this time?

God, we are in Your all-powerful, loving Hands. Please, in Your mercy, make this beautiful, special child well again.

All I had wanted to do that day was to knock back some deadlines so I could be free to breathe again. And in a catastrophic instant, all I wanted was for my child to breathe again so I could stop my heart from its dread knocking against my chest.

After some questioning and tests, the doctors came to a decisive diagnosis: my son had suffered a febrile seizure, the body's response to a rapid rise in temperature. Highly terrifying, but medically benign. He would be okay, they reassured me. Would I?

We navigated the pediatric emergency room, caressing our distraught child who was, by this time, more than making up for his previous lethargic state by lustily screaming his way through the halls.

"His crying is music to my ears," my husband remarked.

I agreed. Anything but that frightening limpness, that devastating lack of life-force that had gripped him hours earlier.

Just yesterday morning, before this devastating ordeal collided with my hopeful plans for the day, I had written in my journal a short prayer of thanks. Re-read retrospectively, the words are almost eerie with foreshadowing:

I really pray to accomplish a lot today. Please, God, give me the gift of productivity today. I want to feel like my workload is lifting and getting done.

Thank You, God, for my job, for my family, for health and life itself.

God read my journal entry, nodded with infinite understanding, and then He sent my baby into convulsions so I could really appreciate my family, health, and life itself.

When I told my sister what happened, she related a beautiful story to me. A poverty-stricken man went to buy a lottery ticket, hoping his heavy financial burdens would be lifted. Trying to improve his chances at winning, he then went to a great rabbi and asked that he pray for the ticket to win.

"You should be healthy and well," the rabbi blessed him.

"But rabbi," the man repeated, "I need a blessing that my lottery ticket should be the winning one."

"You should be healthy and well," said the rabbi again.

After a couple more similar exchanges, the man left the rabbi's study feeling dissatisfied. He had made a request for his most pressing need; the rabbi had ignored it.

The next day, this man collapsed from a heart attack and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. The doctors told his family his chances of pulling through were minute. A few hours later, he awoke in good health, as though nothing out of the ordinary had transpired. The medical staff was astounded. It was then that the man remembered the blessing he had been given by the rabbi.

He didn't receive what he had asked for; instead, he was given exactly what he had needed most. And this gift left him richer than winning the Powerball Jackpot.


It is hard to truly appreciate life and health while you're busily occupied with trying to meet deadlines.

Even though I had written those words of thanks in my journal, there was a yawning chasm between my mind and my heart. It is hard to truly appreciate life and health while you're busily occupied with trying to meet deadlines. That is, until health unravels in a terrifying seizure and life seems to hang by a thread.

There were no deadlines met yesterday, and objectively speaking, my productivity hovered mostly around the nil mark. But there are some things in life that can't really be measured by word count, can't really be invoiced and typed in triplicate. And there's nothing quite like the pediatric emergency room to make this discovery.

Today, my prayer reads differently. It goes something like this: Thank You, God, for making yesterday's catastrophe end well. Today I'd like to focus on the really important things -- like love, hugs, and appreciating good ol' calm, day-to-day, humdrum life. Oh --and if You could throw in my ability to meet a couple of deadlines, that would be great.

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