Carolyn knew the drill, she had been down this road before. The room number was different, but when she closed her eyes it was the same: the sounds, the smells—hospital smells—and the feel of sterile sheets enfolding her like a cocoon . . . and those machines with their annoying bleeps. But the staff at St Vincent’s would arrive soon to wheel her down to surgery.
It felt familiar in her hand, though most times she wore it securely around her neck. She didn’t need it but she liked it. She squeezed the cross between her fingers. Carolyn knew she couldn’t take it with her, but it would be here when she woke up, Mitzi would make sure of that.
“How are you doing Momma?” Mitzi wiped her Mom’s forehead with the cloth.
“Oh sweetheart I’m fine.” Carolyn squeezed her daughter’s hand. “It’s not like I haven’t done this before.”
The only thing that wasn’t fine was the silly gown they made her wear. Carolyn wasn’t sure why she felt so at peace—but she was. It had been two years since her first encounter with the “C” word. Most would consider that a death sentence, after all, six of her siblings had already succumbed to one form of cancer or another. Not Carolyn, she had too much to do . . . death was not an option. Besides, that little chunk of lung tissue . . . she hadn’t missed it.
“Hello Carolyn.” His voice was just above a whisper.
Carolyn opened her eyes. “Doctor?”
“Yes, it’s me and it’s almost time. I have a few things to go over with you before surgery; I’ll give you a minute to clear your head.”
“Thank you, I must have fallen asleep . . . Where is Mitzi?”
“Yes—what time is it?”
“She went to get a cup of coffee and we have about fifteen minutes and . . . “Dr. Broad looked at his watch, “it is 10:45 a. m.”
“Where is Dr. Johnson?”
“Preparing for surgery.” Dr. Broad pulled a chair alongside the bed and sat down. “So, you are a Christian?”
“Yes,” Carolyn raised a curious eyebrow. “How did you know?”
He smiled. “The cross, in your hand, it was a guess. Would you like me to put it in the drawer for when you wake up?”
“Yes, thank you.”
With the utmost of care Dr. Broad placed it in the drawer, then turned to Carolyn. “I hope you won’t mind me asking, but,” he cleared his throat, “would you like to pray the Lord’s Prayer with me before listening to all my boring instructions?”
Stage I breast cancer was serious business and on the morning of August 10th when Dr. Johnson sat down with Carolyn to share the unwanted news, Carolyn remembered her silent prayer to God for His will to be done.
Carolyn sat up tall with a smile that reached across her face. “Yes, please, I would like that very much.”
He returned the smile then gently cradled her hand in his. “Our Father, who art in Heaven; hollowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done . . .”
The words spiraled upward, filling the room with the glory of God—they found themselves lost in His presence.
The wheels of the stainless steel gurney shimmied down the corridor as the men in white guided it through the two sets of double doors into the operating room. Carolyn’s eyes darted around the room. It felt like a repair shop for broken humans, needing to be fixed and it was her turn. She grabbed for a breath and fidgeted on the two inch thick mattress.
“Ready . . . one, two three—”
The transfer was smooth from the gurney to the table. She could feel the cold steel under her. Carolyn grabbed a panicked breath . . . then another. Machines whirred and bleeped; the room began a slow spin; tubes dangled from bags filled with liquid; voices mingled . . . she couldn’t breathe—
“Hello Carolyn.” The surgical mask couldn’t hide Dr. Johnson’s reassuring smile. “I would like to pray with you before we start, would that be alright?”
Carolyn caught a breath. “Oh yes, please.”
“Remember Carolyn, God is the surgeon; I am just his willing hands.”
Her prayer was like the reassuring fragrance from the breath of God.
Carolyn had chosen him, he was the best. She watched Dr. Broad checking the charts, adjusting the knobs, checking the tanks, and that mask . . . .
“How’s the fit? . . . okay? . . . good—now count backwards from twenty . . . when you wake up you’ll be in your room.
“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me . . .”
A soft voice carried the words of Carolyn’s favorite song; she smiled; then there were two . . . Carolyn joined in as number three . . .
“I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see . . .”
then four, five, then six . . . until the whole surgical team was singing in a circle around her . . .
“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear . . .”
Voices faded as piercing white light filled the space. All fear was gone; Carolyn was at peace . . .
Her eyes blinked against the light and her head swam in a fog of half consciousness. “Mitzi?”
“It’s me. You are in recovery Momma; everything went great. I love you . . . Ron is here.”
Carolyn felt the gentle squeeze of his hand. “Hi, remember me? You can’t get rid of me that easy.” He said.
Her brain was telling her she was in the hospital and the guy holding her hand was her husband. Aside from that, the calming presence of Jesus was all the information she was getting. Maybe that’s all she needed.
“Hello Carolyn.” Dr. Johnson’s face came into focus. She was so young to be so gifted. Carolyn had chosen well; this was the second time she had saved her life. “We got it all; you’re going to be fine.”
Carolyn took a breath and felt the pain in her chest. It would all heal; she knew that—God still had work for her to do. She moved her right hand carefully along the edge of the bandage nestled under the protective layer of her hospital gown, her index finger hooking on the fragile chain with the cross, draped around her neck. Her eyes welled up. “Mitzi . . . who—”
“Dr. Broad brought it from your room; he thought you’d want to have it now.”
Dr. Johnson sniffed back tears. “I’ll give you some time, but when you’re ready, you have a lot of friends waiting to see how God answered their prayers.” She was halfway to the door before turning to say, “I’ll check on you in a bit.”
SIX WEEKS LATER
Dr. Johnson’s office looked the same, but today’s visit would be different from the last one. Carolyn was dressed for fall as she thumbed through the latest copy of Home and Garden. She took a deeper breath and flinched a little; almost back to normal, she thought. God’s pallet of autumn colors was on full display through the window behind the desk. It was a good day.
“Hello Carolyn, what brings you here today?” Her smile was warm and genuine.
“Dr. Johnson, I know our appointment isn’t ‘til next week, but I have a favor to ask.”
“Please, call me Nathalie.” She sat on the edge of her desk. “So, what is this favor you want to ask me?”
“Nathalie,” Carolyn hesitated. “Amazing Grace . . . before my surgery . . . I didn’t get to sing the second verse. I’m here to finish it.”
Nathalie couldn’t hide the giggle as she moved to look out the window.
“What’s so funny?”
Still smiling, with arms lightly crossed at her waist, she looked at Carolyn and said, “You were out like a light . . . so we finished the second and third verse without you.”
“Well, how about the last verse . . . can we sing the last one?”
Nathalie sat back down on the edge of the desk. “Whatever my favorite patient wants; we can sing them all if you like.”
“One would be fine. The last one is my favorite.”
The words floated up as a duet to God; first in a circle around the room, then out the window joining the brightly colored leaves in a tribute to the Creator of the universe.
“When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun; we’ve no less days to sing His praise, than when we’d first begun.”