Last week I witnessed a true modern miracle.
Googling "medical miracle" this morning yields over 12 million hits. The concept is biblical in its scope and history. I have witnessed many amazing things in my capacity as a doctor but none so fitting of the term "miracle" as what happened last Friday.
About 4 months ago, I was summoned to our local emergency room by the ER staff to attend to one of my teenage patients. The 16 year-old girl (let’s call her Jane) apparently had been out with friends, eating Chinese food, went to her dance class, and started to feel "bad." Turns out she has a life-long history of peanut allergy, and was unfortunately not carrying her Epi-Pen (an auto-injectable form of epinephrine, which can be a life-saver for those with severe allergic reactions). Her father, who happened to be at the family-run dance studio, noticed she was having trouble breathing and scooped her up, put her in the car and raced to the ER. She lost consciousness at some point during the ride, and arrived at the hospital, ten minutes later, not breathing. By the time I got there shortly thereafter, the ER staff had succeeded in resuscitating Jane. While she had a pulse and heartbeat, she was in rough shape – her blood tests revealed severe metabolic derangements and she required assistance on a ventilator to breathe. How long had her brain been without oxygen? Five minutes? Ten? No one knew, but her prognosis was extremely guarded. Jane was stabilized and transferred to a tertiary care hospital pediatric intensive care unit.
After a couple of weeks there, it was clear that she was not making tremendous progress. Hospital staff reported to us that they were not hopeful that Jane would regain significant neurological function. She required the assistance of a ventilator to breathe and did not respond very much to typical stimuli. We were devastated – was this a preventable horrific event? Jane was transferred to a long-term rehabilitation hospital, and as often happens, weeks go by, and many of us gave up hope that she would ever recover any meaningful function. But her family did not.
Jane’s mom told me last week that they talked to her, held her, prayed for her, never gave up. It was not an option for them. And, lo and behold, little by little, with lots of therapy and hard work, Jane began to recover. I’m not suggesting that prayer healed her, though who knows? Modern medicine can work miracles, but this one went way beyond a conventional therapeutic response. Maybe it was just meant to be this way. But no matter what the reason, last Friday, in my office, talking with us and smiling, was Jane.
She beamed at us. Yes, she was in a wheelchair, after a physical therapy session re-learning how to walk. Yes, her speech was somewhat impaired – but she was talking, and understanding, and, amazingly, smiling. I’m sure the road ahead is not an easy one, and who knows what ultimately will be Jane’s quality of life. But here she was, breathing, smiling, able to feed herself and carry on a typical conversation. Talking about starting school this fall. I just stood there, at a loss for words, marveling at this girl’s courage and resolve.
I had witnessed, for lack of any other appropriate term, a miracle.