Mary H is 48 years old and has struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. She is on disability for chronic neck pain with prior neck fusion surgery. 3 weeks ago she went on vacation with her boyfriend to Florida and her boyfriend heard her fall in the bedroom.
She had hit her head and the way it caused her neck to violently flex forward, her third cervical vertebrae dislocated over the fusion site severing her spinal cord. She was coherent but could not feel anything below her shoulders.
Her children, Heather age 20 and Peter age 24 flew down from Minnesota to be by her side. They both attend a community college but live at home with their mom. Their father has died.
We got the call from Mary’s sister Bonnie to help get Mary back to Minnesota. Although it was 2hrs away, they wanted her evaluated at world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Since the fall, Mary had had two neck surgeries and had a Halo brace but had been having heart neurological problem. Her sister told me as soon as the pacemaker was put it, she would be ready to fly.
In the reports I read Mary’s heart had slowed at times to critical level and even stopped for over a minute. The nerves telling the heart how fast to beat had been damaged. It was a tricky surgery because the halo stabilization brace had to be removed to insert the pacemaker. Mary survived the surgery but was still needing a ventilator to help her breath.
We arrived and I was told immediately by nursing that “she is very anxious”. I looked down to speak to Mary to introduce our staff and try to reassure her. I was struck how beautiful she is. She looks like a model. Her son, Peter, stood up to shake my hand and I noticed he had a boyish face that resembled his mom’s. He said he had never flown on a small plane but wanted to accompany his mom with us.
His little sister, Heather, said hello also-she was flying back commercial.
As we loaded Mary up on or cot and monitor and began to walk out the door, I was surprised to see Peter put his suit coat on and check to be sure Heather was ok. It seemed Peter had been pressed long ago to be the family leader and grow up fast. I’ve never had a passenger wear a suit.
Mary had improved and was able to breath on her own with humidified oxygen but could not speak yet through her trache opening. We were pretty good at figuring out her requests by lip reading. Upon takeoff, though, we couldn’t understand what she was mouthing. Finally the nurse said-“try to make it one word.” And we finally figured out the word “scared!” then “help me!”
We were able to reassure her and give her some anxiety-pain medicine (which she then requested very frequently.) I can’t imagine going through so much loss of control-speech, moving a hand, life, love,heartbeats. Then I remembered that while we like to think we are in control-only God is really in control.
We arrived safely to Mayo clinic and gathered and prayed over Mary. I told her that God has promised we as believers will receive a new body someday and told her even through all that had happened, God is in control and has a plan for her.
As we were leaving , I asked Peter if he had been there when his mom’s heart stopped and he looked at me and said, “her heart stopped a total of 6 times, I was there 4 of them.”
I pray for Peter and Heather-they are losing their home and are trying to hold their lives together, plus they are seeing their mom suffer greatly. I pray they will come to know Jesus and how much their Father loves them. I pray that Mary will see through all this tragedy with “spiritual eyes” and that God chose to save her life for a reason.
Thanks to ground transport help by Rock Oneal in Tampa, thanks for flight following by Bob, and to my great crew of nurse JoLynne and respiratory therapist Chris, and pilots Hal and Mark.
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