I leaned over the hospital bed in which my 18-year-old son, Art, lay in a comatose state that seemed like death. Tubes fed him through the nose; a machine breathed for him, breaking the harsh stillness of the room with its mechanical gasps.
I moved my lips close to Art's ear and whispered, "Honey, I had a dream last night, so beautiful that it seemed real. Two magnificent angels stood by your bed. It means you will be healed, I know it."
Did he hear me? Can the soul hear when the body is asleep? Art didn't move, and didn't acknowledge my words. If only he would open his eyes! Just that, Lord.
Before the accident two nights earlier, this limp form under the stiff hospital bedsheets had been a strapping high school senior, star captain of his football team and the finest son a mother could ever want. Proud of the body God had given him, Art didn't drink or smoke. He held strong values and went to church regularly. His dream was to play professional football and set a good example for other young people.
But now doctors held out little hope that he would walk or talk or do anything productive again. It was as if Art had gone on and left his broken body behind. Could that be true?
On the evening of January 1, 1989, Art had attended a dance with some friends. When his father and I went to bed that night, a cold rain beat at the windows. I am usually a sound sleeper, but at about 1:00 A.M. I awoke with a start and shook my husband. "Arthur," I said, my heart racing, "I'm afraid something terrible has happened to our boy." Before I could get back to sleep, a call came from St. Vincent's Hospital. Art had been driving his friends home when a pickup truck turned into the side of his car, slamming it into a tree. One of Art's passengers died. The others weren't badly hurt. But Art lay close to death in the emergency room.
I will never forget the panic of that night, the dread and the sense of helplessness as my boy fought for life. After Arthur and I threw on some clothes we raced in our car to St. Vincent's. Along with some friends and family members we had alerted, we huddled together and prayed unceasingly while doctors worked on Art. The news from the operating room was grim. Art's windpipe and chest were nearly crushed from the impact with the steering wheel. Most worrisome was the injury to his brain.
"All that's saved him so far," one doctor told us, "is his strong athlete's body. But the area around his brain stem is so severely damaged he might never regain consciousness."
At about 5:00 A.M. Dr. Frank A. Redmond finally came to us and said Art's condition was stabilized and he would be moved into the intensive care unit. He revealed that on at least one occasion that night Art had been clinically dead but they were able to revive him. "I did a lot of praying," Dr. Redmond admitted. "Something kept your boy alive."
Eventually they let us see Art in ICU. I tiptoed to his bedside. To see him so still, to see the breathing tube in his trachea, his closed and swollen eyes—my own flesh and blood—it was just devastating. I collapsed into my husband's arms and sobbed. "We can't give up," he whispered, holding me tight. "We have to keep praying for a miracle."
The doctors didn't think so. "Even if your son wakes up, he probably won't be able to walk," one said. "He won't have a memory. He won't know who you are."
I refused to believe my own son wouldn't know me. God is merciful.
Asleep in a nearby room the hospital let me use that night, I was given a different prognosis. In a dream as vivid as life, I saw two colossal angels floating over Art's bed, one above his head and the other at his side. They were glowing, shimmering, their streaming robes lighter than air. Their faces were indistinct, but they had a golden brilliance that emanated love, compassion and healing. Then I saw Art sitting up in bed, talking with his friends. My heart beat with joy. My son would be healed! What else could this vision mean?
I awakened with the images still flowing through my mind and rushed into Art's room, half expecting to see him sitting up in bed laughing. But he was still in a coma, still near death. That is when I pressed my lips close and whispered my dream to him.
From then on I carried the picture of those two great heavenly beauties in my mind's eye, and every day I reminded Art about them. I knew his spirit heard me. That's why we talked to him—his father and I, our relatives and ministers, his friends from school, and the football team and his coaches. We spoke to Art constantly, telling him how much we loved him, keeping a vigil.
Thirty days passed. I was at my son's side continually, talking, praying, playing tapes from his friends. I refused to believe he wouldn't ever get up out of that bed, that he wouldn't know his own mother. The doctors tried to temper my optimism, while we continued to pray.
What in life is more realistic than faith, more practical, really, than hope? Isn't that all I had? I knew my son would get well. I kept visualizing it and thanking the Lord, over and over again. But it was hard to keep believing as the weeks wore on. To see my boy fed by tubes when he used to feast on my cooking, homemade lasagna and fried chicken.
Finally Art was transferred to St. Francis Hospital in Green Springs. Every time I came to visit him all of the nurses would shake their heads, knowing the question that was on my lips: Has there been a change? Anything?
Three months passed. Then I saw the angels again.
It was during Holy Week and Art's older sister, Rachael, and I had been talking about how much Art loved Easter. Again I dreamed I was at Art's bedside. Those same golden angels, both powerful and compassionate, looked over my son, who was awake, his eyes alert and bright. This time, however, the angels were both on Art's right. I took this as a reaffirmation of God's message.
Art's eyes opened on Good Friday. I had had a special feeling when I came to see him that afternoon. When I walked into his room those big, brown eyes were looking right at me. Could it really be? I slowly walked around the bed. Art's eyes followed. He was awake! He was tracking me! I fell to my knees at his bedside and gave thanks.
A month went by and nothing much changed. Art still hadn't uttered a word since coming out of his coma. One day Art's grandmother accompanied me to the hospital. When we left Art's room she lamented, "Delores, I don't think he's ever going to talk again!"
I was about to disagree when a familiar voice jolted us: "Ma!"
We froze. It rang out again, loud and clear. "Ma!"
Art was talking. His first word now was the first word he had ever said as a baby: Ma. I knew the Lord would not let my son forget his mother.
Though his words were few and hesitant, the hospital immediately began speech therapy, followed by physical therapy. His progress was slow—until a therapist used a little psychology and a mirror. The athlete in Art was proud of the body he had taken care of and trained so well. When the therapist showed Art how his physique had atrophied during the coma, Art's face tightened with determination. From that moment on he strove to regain his old physical form.
Finally Art was able to tell us what he recalled about the night of the accident.
"I remember being on the operating table," he said. "I saw the doctors working on me. Three times I tried to leave my body, and three times the Holy Spirit made me go back because my family was praying and God would heal me."
Art has had a long road back, and I remind him about the angels I saw in my dream whenever his struggle is wearing him down. His speech was slow for a long time, but now he speaks almost as well as he did before the accident. He walks with a cane, but leans on it less and less. This June he will graduate from the University of Toledo with a degree in marketing. Art still wants to play football again, which some people might think is too optimistic. But Art believes that with the power of many prayers behind him, anything is possible.
I know it's a miracle when my son sneaks up behind me in the kitchen, slips his arms around my waist, kisses me and says, "Ma, I sure do love ya." It's the miracle we prayed for and the one the angels in my dream promised. It's the miracle of my Art, alive today.
'Easter Awakening' by Delores Bates reprinted with permission from Angels on Earth Magazine. Copyright © 2007 by Guideposts, Carmel, New York 10512. All rights reserved.
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