My family rang in the new year a little differently this year. Our noisemakers and strobe lights came courtesy of an EMT ambulance, whose sirens and blue-and-red flashers helped clear a path to the emergency room for my mother-in-law, who was resting uncomfortably inside following her cardiac arrest several minutes prior.
A few days later I reflected back on those whirlwind 10 minutes or so that saw my mother-in-law brought back from death’s door. Late in the afternoon, my wife Lea and I pulled into my in-laws’ driveway, having done some last-minute errand-running before all the stores closed down for New Year’s Eve. Fortuitously, Lea went on ahead of me while I gathered the bags. When I walked in a minute later, I heard a commotion in the family room and quickly hurried to the back of the house. There I found a scene out of a fast-paced TV drama.
I’ve read accounts of emergency situations like this, many of them mentioning tunnel vision and the sense of time standing still or, at least, moving in ultra-slow motion. I’m not sure exactly what I experienced during those frenetic moments, but I do have a handful of images seared into my brain, images that, in hindsight, point to Emmanuel, the God-with-Us whose coming into this troubled world as a helpless infant we had celebrated just the week before.
The primary picture is of my normally soft-spoken wife, typically a picture of decorum, shouting at the limp, lifeless body of her mother–“Stay with us, Mom! Come back! We love you!”–manhandling her petite frame as a child would a rag doll as she first performed the Heimlich Maneuver and then switched to CPR when it became clear that was warranted. Lea was operating on God-given adrenaline, and it was an intense, frightening scene, one which was, depending on whether you were the recipient or the observer of those rescue efforts, either desperately for or definitely not for the faint of heart.
Other visual memories include one sister-in-law, an occupational therapist, rubbing my mother-in-law’s feet using a technique called reflexology, an exercise sometimes found to be helpful during physical crises like heart attacks and strokes. Another recollection finds another sister-in-law calmly relaying information from the 911 dispatcher, her voice no more agitated than if she had been discussing the weather in the Florida Keys.
And then in my mind’s eye I see my father-in-law and me, both prone to Alpha-male behavior, both of us rendered nigh on useless on the periphery of the proceedings . . . useless unless you count our prayers, in which case we contributed much to the goings-on. My mother-in-law has had a good and long life, but it hasn’t often been an easy one, so my prayer was simply, “Lord, don’t take her like this!” If it’s never a good time to die, it’s particularly bad timing to go while your daughter is trying with all her might to resuscitate you.
In reference to my wife and my two sisters-in-law on a recent Facebook post, my father-in-law eloquently wrote, “Had those three angels not been present, Nancy would have remained with her Lord, but He sent her back to continue her ‘work’ in His Kingdom. What He really expects from her now will be revealed to us at some future date and time.”
Indeed, I don’t pretend to know the mind of God here. I don’t know why Lea’s CPR “worked,” causing enough blood to course through her mother’s veins for enough time to allow the EMT’s, with their more-sophisticated equipment, to finish the life-saving endeavor–or why one of Lea’s brothers has performed CPR twice, on younger people in ostensibly better physical condition, to no avail. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
For now, on this 12th day of Christmas, I will simply reflect for a little longer on the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us 2,000 years ago. He was there, Emmanuel, in our midst that late afternoon and gave the supernatural strength to perform the tasks that were needed, and we are grateful. And I’ll think on my Bible Gateway verse of the day for January 2, Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (NLT). I think all the members of my family are a little wiser these days.
The Lord be with you!
My mother-in-law, Nancy Bahnfleth, was released from ICU yesterday, and, although she has a long road ahead of her, we are optimistic for her recovery. If the Lord brings her to your mind, we would covet prayers on her behalf.