Note: This is the sixth and final installment in the Breath of Heaven series. If you’re new here, Welcome! If you’d like to start with the first installment please click here.
I stand immobile listening to the ruckus beyond the cubicle curtain dividing me from my family. I stare at the ceiling track suspending the drape. They told me not to expect he would wake up. They told me not to expect anything.
God and Greg proved them wrong.
Once Greg is restrained with the help of Travis and Evanne, nurse Chris asks, “Can you please leave? I need Greg to focus on my instructions.”
Travis and Evanne join me outside the room. We pause in the corridor hugging, laughing and sobbing.
Chris ducks from behind the curtain, “You know him really well don’t you, Mary?”
“I do!” is all I can say as she wraps me in a hug.
“Too much stimulation could be horrible for Greg right now.”
“Go and tell everyone that you’ve witnessed a miracle,” Chris whispers. “I’ll be there soon with an update. NO ONE is to come back here until I give the OK,” she warns without an ounce of apology.
We hold hands and head to the waiting area. Rounding the corner, our group turns to look at us. They’re oddly silent. We announce in unplanned unison, “He’s awake!”
A collective shout of joy startles visitors on the opposite side of the waiting area. Bombarded with questions we retell the comical images of Greg wrestling with Travis, Evanne, and I while lifting nurse Diane off the floor.
“Not surprising! Greg’s a strong guy,” Uncle Wendell exclaims from the back of the room.
“When can we see him?” Is asked repeatedly.
Travis explains, “We are all banned from seeing him until Chris gives us permission. Dad needs to calm down and they need to be sure nothing is going to go wrong.”
Hugs, tears, and praise of thanksgiving ripple through the room. Cindy grabs our hands and exclaims, “We need to say a prayer of thanksgiving!”
We assemble in a jumbled, clumsy circle joining hands. Looking expectantly at Cindy no one says a word. “Someone start,” she orders with a giggle. Silence.
“Alright, I’ll do it!”
We bow our heads. Cindy’s voice is thick with emotion as she prays between sobs. “Dear Jesus, thank you for the gift of Greg. Thank you for giving him back to us. Thank you for healing him and for answering the prayers of so many people. All glory is yours now and forever!”
After the prayer, I collapse into a chair. Little Remy climbs on my lap. I wrap him in a bear hug although he isn’t having it. He looks deep into my teary eyes trying to understand what’s happening. He says three times with concern in his toddler’s voice, “Mimi. Mimi? Mimi!”
I smile. We giggle together. I pull him to my chest one more time, he wiggles away. He crawls off my lap assured that his Mimi is okay even though she’s a little weird today.
Thirty minutes, then forty minutes pass. I need to get back to Greg. Honoring the wishes of the professionals is hard. Evanne, sensing my agitation, says with a grin, “It’s all good. Chris will come soon. Dad’s probably being a pain.”
Within minutes, Chris arrives with a huge smile, “Greg is incredibly strong but still anxious. We haven’t taken out the breathing tube yet, we’re waiting for him to stabilize. I told him that if he calms down, I would give him a pen and paper so he could ask me anything.
“I now understand your warnings of his sassy personality.” Silence hovers as she dramatically lingers.
“The first thing he wrote is… ‘Where the f**k am I?’” We collectively pause and exhale a burst of laughter.
Someone behind me declares, “He’s fine!”
Chris looks at Travis, Evanne and me with a smirk, “I’ll be back soon to get you.”
Waiting is excruciating. I pace the corridor trying to release pent up emotion. Turning toward the long hall, at last, I see Chris approaching. She motions to me to come. I give the thumbs up and run to gather Travis and Evanne.
We half jog toward Chris.
Before we reach her, she admonishes, “Calm down! Greg needs everyone to be calm, cool and quiet.”
“Ok, but I can’t promise anything,” I say suppressing a sob.
Pausing at the dreaded curtain, Chris pantomimes for us to take a deep breath then adds a silent finger to her lips.
I gingerly pull back the curtain. My eyes meet Greg’s. The look of immense fear in his eyes breaks my heart. I run to him with our kids right behind me. Although Greg’s hands are restrained, we collapse in a giant bear hug; sobbing uncontrollably. Bells and whistles on every monitor are erupting. But rather than ban us from the room Chris lets us stay. So much for calm and cool.
We pull back. I hold his face in my hands and he repeats over and over, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”
“Why are you sorry?” I say between sobs.
“I was trying to get back to you. To get back to all of you. To get back to Remy. I was screaming out your names, but no one could hear me!”
For all the terror we went through I didn’t think about Greg’s viewpoint. What is it like to wake up in a hospital having lost 48 hours?
Chris stepped up to the bed, “Greg you need to calm down! You’re going to be fine. Your family is here. You’re safe! Calm down, please!”
Taking a breath, we pass around the Kleenex box and chuckle at our uncharacteristic drama. Diane, infinitely the boss, adds, “Doctor H is on his way. You can stay for just a few more minutes.”
As she talks, Greg covertly motions for Travis to cut the restraints. He’s urgently miming scissors with his index and middle fingers. We laugh, irritating him. Travis explains, “Dad you need to keep them on for a little while.”
Greg agrees reluctantly.
Dr. H conducts a brief examination. “This is amazing!” he says with a grin. It’s hard to see such a serious doctor grinning. I get the feeling he’s not typically a grinning type of guy.
“Your family members may see Greg for very short visits. Two people at a time for two to three minutes. He needs to rest between visits. This is a miracle!” he exclaims as demonstrative as a genius brain surgeon can be.
Remy wants to see Greg. He repeats Gee, Gee, Gee until Meka and Travis decide they’ll take him to Greg. Greg bursts into sobs when he sees Remy. The little guy doesn’t understand what is happening and loses his nerve to go to his Gee. He peers over his daddy’s shoulder at his grandpa in the hospital bed.
As the throng of family takes turns visiting Greg, I give them space. When I check on him, he looks overwhelmed but he’s a champ and jokes along with his adoring fans.
Later, I meet with Dr. H. “Greg’s body has a lot of work to do to process those powerful drugs out of his system. He needs to rest as much as possible. He needs to sleep tonight and as much as he can tomorrow. No more visitors. We are doing nothing major until Tuesday when Dr. S. the cardiologist will see him.”
Danger averted, family and friends, leave with tears of joy and promises of prayers while pleading to be updated.
Monday is a gloriously quiet day. Greg sleeps. I sleep. Evanne sleeps. Resting is sweet. We spend a lot of time just being with each other. We don’t venture too far down the trauma road. I give Greg bits and pieces of what happened but only when he asks. He’s still groggy from the sedatives.
The revolving door of random hospital staff who stop by to look at and chat with Greg is fascinating. Doctors come to ‘examine’ him asking casual questions. Others stop by to chat. Greg is a Rockstar cardiac arrest patient.
An orthopedic surgeon shows up, introduces himself as Dr. W and jumps right into asking Greg several strange questions. “Do your limbs hurt?”
“How about your head?”
“Maybe a little from all the drugs.”
“Back? Neck? Hips?”
“My ankle was sore when I was mowing the lawn, but that’s gone now,” Greg says with a smirk.
I can’t take the interrogation any longer. “Doctor, is there a danger of limb soreness with cardiac arrest?”
“Oh, not at all. Just checking. We’re simply amazed by Greg. This,” he places a hand on Greg’s shoulder, “rarely happens.”
I finally understand the medical miracle point-of-view. Their astonished faces show me how incredible this situation really is. I now grasp the point of their warnings, cautionary statements, and sympathetic looks. I never believed them, though, because I believe God is in charge.
Greg recovers at an amazing pace. On Tuesday, he is moved to a step-down intensive care unit.
Dr. K, the pulmonologist, stops by before Greg is wheeled out of intensive care. “I have a few last questions. Have you ever smoked?”
“Do you exercise?”
“I swim a few times a week. Lift weights and use an elliptical occasionally. We ride bikes a couple of times a week when the weather is good. I used to participate in triathlons until I blew my knee out.”
“How do you feel now?”
“Tired. Freaked out a little.”
“From my standpoint, you are as healthy as a 35-year-old. There isn’t anything more I can do for you.”
“That’s amazing,” Greg says with a shake of his head, exhaling to cover his sob.
“You’ve been given an amazing gift. I don’t often get to tell people that I can’t do anything for them. Thank God and go enjoy your life. I’m done here because I’m not gonna make any money from you,” he jokes walking out of the room.
Greg is scheduled for an angiogram. Maybe that will give us some answers. The unknown creeps up to steal my peace once again. I dampen the urge to go down another doomsday road and continue to thank God for the miracle of Greg waking up.
To the physicians waking up is yesterday’s news. Now they must determine the cause of the cardiac arrest and a course of action.
Greg is prepped for the procedure. Evanne, Kim, Kristin, Patricia and I waited with Greg for the physician performing the procedure to grace us with his presence.
“Maybe he’s having lunch,” Kimberly quips.
“Or he had to go out for a smoke,” I say laughing at my own joke.
“He’s running a few minutes behind; there are some unexpected difficulties with the patient ahead of Greg. It should be less than 30 minutes,” a cheerful nurse in a mask tells us as she hurries past Greg’s gurney.
Exactly 30 minutes later, Dr. V rushes in, greeting us and shaking hands all around. He jumps right in with a confident, compassionate tone.
“So, you’re the miracle man!”
Greg smiles, “I guess I am.”
Dr. V rests his left hand on the mattress behind Greg’s head, pausing mid-handshake his right still grasping Greg’s.
“You are here for a reason. Now we must find out what caused you to go down on Friday. Do you know how blessed you are that your son and family acted so quickly?”
“I do,” Greg manages.
The medical team wheels Greg out of sight after we kiss him goodbye. I reignite my ability to plead with God, ‘Please, please, please be with him for this angiogram.’
Evanne and I head toward the exit to get some fresh air and breakfast. As we turn to leave, Dr. V calls to me. “Mrs. Deatherage, may I have a moment?”
“Definitely!” I respond, fear welling.
“This procedure typically will take a couple of hours. Twenty minutes to get him set up, about 20 to do the scope. Then if I put stents in that’s what takes longer. I won’t know what I need to do until I get in there.”
“Alright, thank you for the timeline.”
He places his hand on my shoulder and looks directly into my eyes. I try to be brave, to look nonchalant, but I’m screaming inside, ‘What now?’
“If my nurse comes to get you within 20 or 30 minutes, well, we’ll need to talk about alternative treatments and what choices you’ll need to make at that point,” he cautions.
“Okay. I understand.”
He expects major damage or blockage. I do, too. Then I silently curse Greg for all those McDonald’s meals and his love of chicken strips.
Having lost my appetite, Evanne and I venture outside for a change of scenery. The heat and humidity make it difficult to breathe. Or is that just my fear?
This roller coaster of emotion is wreaking havoc on my stomach and my mind. But as stressful as this is there is also a surprising opportunity to trust God again. To keep my sanity, I force myself to step away from the frantic façade of control. There is no control there is only trust in God. Trust that God will do what is best for us even if it means terrible disappointment or unbearable fear – there’s always a lesson to be learned. Take each moment as it comes, I tell myself.
Evanne and I head back to the cafeteria to get out of the heat. Just as we’re sitting down with our food, I see Kimberly rushing toward us. My stomach flops before she says a word. I’m standing as she’s talking.
“The nurse called and wants you back up to the surgery area. We tried to get information from her, but she will only talk to you.”
“Well, that’s the rule,” I tell her as I hurry past her toward the bank of elevators.
When we reach the surgery bay, Greg is there with his mom and sister-in-law, Kristin. He looks fine. But what does that mean? Trying to shore up for the news to come, I arrange my face to hide the turmoil.
Dr. V hurries toward us, his germ mask hanging around his throat. He’s carrying a sheet of paper in his left hand, a red pen in his right. He has an unsettling grin on his face.
Cocking his hip, he sits directly on the bed with Greg. Breaking into a radiant smile says, “You, my man, are in fantastic health. Well, your arteries, anyway!”
Without hesitation, he waves the sheet of paper at us. Excitedly he continues, “Here,” as he draws a thin line with his red pen, “is the minuscule plaque in one of your arteries.”
The six of us are in shock waiting for him to explain.
Dr. V looks at us. “He’s fine!”
Realization and relief ripple through this little group.
“What does that mean?” I ask, still fearful of the answer.
“There are NO blockages. There is no heart damage, which we pretty much knew since there wasn’t an indication of a heart attack,” Dr. V enthusiastically clarifies.
“What happens now?” I ask, not knowing if I need to be happy or scared.
“It’s great news, Mom!” Evanne reminds me.
“It is great news,” Dr. V agrees. “Our job now is to find out why the cardiac arrest happened. Let’s take one victory at a time. I’ll let Dr. S know my findings and we’ll move on from there.”
“You just ruined every speech I had prepared for Greg about eating junk food,” I say laughing along with the others, tears leaking from my eyes.
Dr. V shakes Greg’s hand as he’s hurrying to get to his next patient. “I’m happy for you. Best of luck to you and thank God for one more miracle.”
“I’m amazed,” Greg replies, tears welling once again.
The next two days of tests reveal no clear reason or cause for Greg’s cardiac arrest. Dr. S and his medical team decide the best course of treatment is to implant a pacemaker/defibrillator as a preventative measure.
“We can’t pinpoint a cause. You are amazingly healthy. We simply don’t know what happened or why,” Dr. S explains.
“What do we do, now?” I ask.
“Go and live your lives. Thank God for every new day he gives you. Do what you’ve always done, enjoy each other and your family; your friends. Exercise and stay healthy.”
Fifteen months after the cardiac arrest, Greg is very healthy. We have spent months recovering from the mental trauma of it rather than the physical.
We researched the statistics around cardiac arrest – no, it wasn’t a heart attack – we are infinitely aware of how blessed we were during this perfect storm. Without divine intervention, Greg, like so many others who experience cardiac arrest would not have survived. The survival rate for someone experiencing cardiac arrest outside a hospital is a mere 3%. In a hospital setting, about 6%. After survival, the impairment level can be so extreme patients typically live less than a year and are confined to a nursing home, in-home care or at least a wheelchair. Greg was back to a normal, healthy lifestyle and work in an incredible seven weeks! His biggest health concern was that he had to heal from the defibrillator implant surgery.
The gift that God gave us through this experience is that we very quickly learned to rely solely on Him. The grace He bestowed on each person Greg encountered that sunny Friday afternoon is incredible; starting with our quick-acting, love-of-our-life son, Travis, his wonderful wife, Tameka, sweet little Jace Neal, our beloved neighbor, Don Koch, our beautiful daughter, Evanne, the unwavering support of our family members, our friends, each of the paramedics who creatively and quickly extracted Greg out of our 125-year-old home, physicians, nurses, flight paramedics, CNAs, priests, chaplains, prayers of people we know and those we don’t, all who supported us and visited us while Greg was in the hospital, each moment, each encounter completely orchestrated by God.
We thank Him for the lessons learned, the gift of life and His continued blessings.