You never know how you’ll respond to an emergency until you’re in an emergency. That morning, I learned — not how I would respond to an emergency, but — how God will respond with and through us, if we allow Him to do so. My natural tendencies, I think, would be to overreact and dramatize. Yet, with the gifted words “God will provide. God be glorified” playing through my head, I remained cool, calm, collected, and filled with peace. I turned to prayer. I was assured and able to reassure.
(This post is the second in a series. To read the first post, click here.)
More men piled into our family room, and I realized I wore a set of pajamas I’d never, ever consider wearing outside the house. Pushing my embarrassment aside, I followed the police officer into the kitchen to answer his questions. Where had Ray been the evening before? What had he done? Might he have used any drugs?
With the officer’s queries addressed, I returned to my children, who had moved from the family room to the adjoining living room. They sat on the sofa, skillfully distracted by one of the firemen.
“M’am.” Another fireman appeared at my side. “We’re attempting to revive your husband,” he said quietly, so the children wouldn’t hear. “We’ve defibrillated him twice. Each time, his heart has restarted, but it won’t maintain the rhythm.”
I nodded and closed my eyes.
God will provide. God will be glorified.
“We can’t load him onto the ambulance until he’s stable,” the fireman continued. “We’ll keep trying. When we do move him, we’ll need to bring him through the front door.”
I nodded, slow on the uptake.
“You might want to take the children to another room.”
I stared dumbly up at the man.
“So they don’t see him when we bring him through, m’am,” he clarified. “It might be upsetting.”
I nodded, and, after a moment’s hesitation, ushered the kids back to our tiny master bedroom. We sat together on the bed and began to pray more Hail Marys.
Before long, the child-entertaining fireman appeared in the doorway.
“They’ve loaded your husband onto the ambulance,” he informed me, “and are taking him to St. Vincent’s Hospital. You can go to the emergency room there.”
As quickly as they had arrived, all the strange men were gone from our home. I sent the kids to get dressed and hurried to change into something more presentable. I called my parents. It wasn’t even four a.m, but they answered. I told them what little I knew, and asked them to meet me at the emergency room.
I texted a friend who had an early adoration shift on Thursday mornings to ask for her prayers. I texted others who I knew rose early to pray. Another friend, Erin, having woken in the middle of the night, randomly sent me a Pinterest link. I responded with our news, adding her to our prayer chain, and asking her to spread the word of our need for prayer. I realized the dog had escaped during the commotion and, when a neighbor appeared to see how he could help, sent him on a mission to locate the dog. The kids and I piled into the car and headed to the hospital.
God will provide. God will be glorified. The words persisted. The peace remained.
We arrived at the emergency room and were escorted to a private waiting room. My parents joined us. A staff person delivered Pop Tarts and apple juice to the kids. A doctor entered the room.
“I’m Dr. K–, the cardiologist on staff this morning,” he said. “Your husband was defibrillated a total of eight times: three while he was still in your home, twice in the ambulance, and three more times in the emergency room. His LAD artery, commonly known as the “widow maker,” was 100% blocked. I was able to clear the blockage and place a stent. Your husband’s heart is now operating at near-normal levels.”
There was a “but” behind his words, and I understood it perfectly. Ray had been without oxygen for a long time. Having worked with developmentally disabled adults after college, I knew what a lack of oxygen could do.
“Mrs. Engelman,” the doctor asked, “do you have any idea how long your husband wasn’t breathing, before you started chest compressions?”
I reviewed the early morning events with the doctor. I had heard those terrible breaths, but I thought it was sleep apnea. I had waited several minutes, maybe more, before responding. Not only that, I had learned upon the 911 operator’s instructions that I’d been doing the compressions wrong. For those several moments, I hadn’t even been effectively pumping air into his lungs.
“Three minutes? Five minutes? Ten?” I couldn’t be sure.
The doctor probed. I looked at my phone, knowing only that I’d woken at three on the dot. Twenty minutes had transpired between my waking and placing the 911 call, immediately after which I’d begun the faulty-but-better-than-nothing chest compressions. How many minutes, though, between Ray’s last breath and that phone call?
Ultimately, it didn’t matter. The result was the same. Ray’s heart might be functioning, but his brain, deprived of oxygen for that indeterminate length of time, was not. He was not waking up, and not responding to stimuli. They were not sure whether he even had enough brain capacity to maintain the most basic of bodily functions. They were also unsure whether his kidneys and other organs might have been damaged, as well.
“We have your husband on life support,” the doctor said. “All we can do now is wait and see.”
“And pray,” I added.
“Yes, you can absolutely do that,” he said. “That’s the most important thing.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. There’s a lot to be said for the knowledge that your loved one is in the care of someone who believes in the Higher Being, and in the power of prayer.
My mom left to take the kids home, while my dad remained to offer his support. I made phone calls to Ray’s family and contacted our parish to request a visit from the priest. Ray was moved to cardiac ICU. Medications were administered that would keep him asleep, also helping to ensure the best possible outcome. Capitalizing on research that had been popularized only months prior, Ray’s body was cooled to several degrees below its normal temperature to help aid in the healing of his brain. I held his cold hand, knowing that he did not feel the cold. Still, my heart ached for him. “He’s always hated being cold,” I told one of the countless nursing staff who flocked around his bed.
Our priest arrived. He spoke with me briefly and administered extreme unction.
“We assume that he had contrition for his sins,” the priest explained when I expressed concern at the length of time since Ray’s last confession. “And we trust his sins will be forgiven.”
Ray’s life still hung in the balance, but his eternal life was assured.
God will provide. God will be glorified.
Slowly, Our Lord’s providence began to unfold.
Click here for installment three in this series: The Days I Got Schooled in the Power of Prayer
**I’d like to send a special “THANK YOU” out to all emergency responders, most especially the unnamed men (and possibly women – I don’t have a clear memory on that!) who came to our house that morning and fought to save the life of my husband, the man who entertained my children, the man who so thoughtfully suggested I move the children, all of them who didn’t give up on Ray but kept on trying. Thank you to Dr. K and all the emergency room and ICU staff, as well. May God bless you ALL abundantly!