When I was five years old I was suddenly tired all the time, then I got a bad cold. After a week in bed, I was taken to the doctors and ended up in the Children’s ICU at a hospital in Rochester, NY. I had contracted mononucleosis complicated with double pneumonia. I stayed there for a month, and I left with not only my health, but also a strange experience and an early lesson I have kept with me.
In my family, you pretty much had to have a limb dangling in order to be taken to the doctor’s. My mother was not big on doctors. When I was thirteen I broke my back playing football. I lived on the couch for weeks before I could walk; Mom never took me to get it checked so I only learned years later that I had broken a piece of my lower vertebra off and that my body had eventually dissolved it.
I had two younger sisters and two very loud older brothers then, so I was very happy for the quiet, and more than a little happy with all the attention. There was only one other boy in the ward; his name was Robbie. Robbie had a tracheotomy, and once he could talk we had many pleasant conversations between nurse and doctor visits and being hauled out for x-rays and tests. I was always better one on one. My bed was right by the door and there was a picture window on the wall alongside it, allowing me to watch the comings and goings in the hall when they didn’t have the curtain drawn.
Robbie left after one week, but I had to stay, having only gotten worse. (I still wonder what became of Robbie; he was a fine fellow.) I was alone the rest of my time there. Funny how you don’t retain the parts that hurt when you are that young. Between painful shots of vitamin C in my butt each day (I remember that part), and a nose so continually stuffed that my upper lip was bloody and blistered from blowing, I had a delightful time of it. I had plenty of attention and felt kind of special; I didn’t get that at home.
The long hours and days were filled with the singular bliss of reading my Little Golden Books! You may remember Little Golden Books, they were a popular children’s book series with cardboard covers and a distinctive gold-leaf spine. Every time my parents visited, they asked me if there was anything I needed, the only reply I remember was, “More Golden Books!” The long days were filled with pouring over them again and again. I amassed quite a stack of them. They lived by my side in my bed at all times. I would wake up a lot during the night, and they were my constant companions.
As weeks went on, my condition worsened. My nose and sinus had gone completely solid. I thought I must have been getting better because I didn’t have to brave the blisters and blow my nose anymore. One day the doctor came in with a bunch of nurses and my mother. He was carrying a length of wire that was glowing red-hot. He explained what he needed to do and promised me he would not touch the wire to my skin, and then proceeded to put the wire up one nostril then the other, straight up into my sinus. It smoked, and it sizzled inside my head. It was not at all comfortable, but true to his word, he never burned me.
Some time after that, the doctor called my parents, who were both visiting together, out into the hallway. I watched them through the window talking, but could not hear what they were saying. I remember noticing that my parents looked very serious, and when they came back in to say goodnight seemed unusually nice, said a lot of nice things to me that I don’t remember, and didn’t seem to want to leave. They promised that they would be back first thing in the morning, and kept asking if I’d be alright. “Why wouldn’t I,” I thought, “I’ve got my books, I’m fine”
Years later, my mother told me that the doctor had told them that I probably would not make it. It must have been a hard night for them, but my night was quite different.
The late nurses were gone, the dim lights were on, and I was completely alone and awake in the middle of the night, my trusty Golden Books by my side, just looking around the room when I heard a voice. It is difficult to describe the sound of it. It was at once the most powerful and the gentlest voice you could imagine; I thought of it as a male voice, but it was neither male nor female, it was every voice; it was a great voice. It was not a voice in my head; it was outside of me and filled the room. It seemed to come from behind and above me, I remember looking to see what was there, but there was only the wall.
It called me by name, and I asked it if it was God. I don’t remember the answer, but my little catholic brain concluded that it must be God. It explained to me that I was very very sick and that I was not getting better. The doctors were doing everything they could, but they could not do it without my help. It said that it understood how comfortable I was here, but that I was not doing my part. The only specific words I retained was this sentence, “It is not enough that you are comfortable, you must try little one, you must try to get better.” It made me promise that from here I would pay attention to this and that I would remember that I must try to get better.
I got better.
I was elated and didn’t sleep the rest of the night. I couldn’t wait to tell my mother, that God talked to me last night and told me that I had to get better and that I was going to get better. My mother was a devout Catholic, and I can’t imagine what she must have thought of this; I never got to ask her.
Years later I asked a well-known trance psychic about this during a reading and he said “Yes, call it the Angel Gabriel if you like, there are those who look after us and he is the one who sends us messages when we most need them, this is why he is depicted with a horn.” I am not a devout Catholic, but I practice openness devoutly enough to be certain that there are greater voices to be heard and heeded. Certainly this was. And, to be honest, I kind of like the idea that the Angel Gabriel came down to blow his horn for me.
There have often been times in my life when things worked well enough, and I settled into a kind of complacency that kept me in one place, not happy, only merely content. It is always then that things fall apart, forcing me to remember my promise.
Life will never happen to you without the power of your own intention. Had I not heard that greater voice, I would not be here to tell you this: “It is not enough that you are comfortable, you must try little one, you must try to get better.”
I will try.
I am trying.
I have done.