Walking Miracle~Part 6: Unlikely Angels Among Us!

This part of the story defies any explanation in the natural realm…                             ~When we were still in our unbelief, God showed His great love for us~ Rom 5:8

Three years ago my brother called me out of the blue. While I was thrilled because I hadn’t heard from him during the previous 4 years, I was also really surprised and curious…  He was really agitated and he urged me to get in touch with my original orthopedic surgeon to track down the name of one of his former nurses…

Filling me in on a part of the story of my accident I had never heard before, my brother told me about the woman he picked up in a bar that night.  She was a petite brunette that had clearly had a hard life (He used a specific euphemism here about a woman used by men), and when the two of them arrived at my mother’s house in the middle of the night, Mom had just received the phone call from the police advising her of my accident.  My brother and this woman raced to the accident scene, (I was still in the car as paramedics used the jaws of life to pry it open), and then they followed the ambulance to the hospital.  This woman, a former orthopedic nurse, talked her way into the emergency room trauma center, convinced the doctors considering amputation to hold off on the procedure, and then called Dr. Douglas Ridey, her former employer, asking him to take my case!  For 25 years I thought Dr. Ridey “happened” to be on call that night, when in actuality he was called by this unlikely “angel”!!  MIRACLE after MIRACLE, right?

I tried to find this woman, but with nothing but a vague, 25 year old physical description, and a phone number that simply reached a doctor’s exchange, I struck out. (If any of you “happens” to know Dr. Ridey, please let him know I’m still going strong 🙂 ).  When I called my brother back a few days later, he revealed why he had been so persistent before.  Now living in a small town in Kansas, he had experienced a very strange visitor.  One night, he came home late from work and, not wanting to disturb his sleeping girlfriend, he decided to crash on the couch.  Later, when he himself was in a deep sleep, a woman walked through the unlocked front door, made her way to the bedroom without waking him, and sat on the edge of the bed.  My brother’s girlfriend later described this woman to my brother as petite, brunette, and with the same euphemism for having lived a hard life.  The stranger asked my brother’s girlfriend about “Cara’s knee”, made a little more small talk to the bewildered girlfriend, and then quietly stood up and walked out the door!  My brother’s girlfriend, who had no idea he even had a sister, woke him immediately with the story, and wouldn’t you know, that would be enough for him to re-connect with me?  (In my family this in itself is a miracle— we have lots of estranged relatives, but even more so, now my brother was willing to talk about the possibility of God’s existence!! MIRACLE!!)  Is this woman an angel?  I don’t know.  But I am SO thankful God has brought her into my life TWICE in such powerful, life-affirming ways!!

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Walking Miracle~Part 5: The 20 Year Check

I had no idea back in 1983 how a devastating car accident would impact the rest of my life, nor how God would continue to show His goodness in a variety of miraculous ways through it– physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

My ministry partner Tracie and I co-founded Drawing Water and began performing together in 2002. (By this point in my life I had begun my walk with Jesus and I was immersed in Bible study– but these are stories for another time :-)) Then in  2003, I started experiencing some trouble…  I had been advised from the time of my knee rehab. to always wear my brace for physical activity that would involve joint stress– jumping, running, dancing–  and I was careful to follow instructions.  But the body gets older, and pushing 40, even when it was supported, I could feel my knee getting tired after long walks with the dog, or after performances.  My other ankle and calf would swell (presumably from over-compensation) and I also started experiencing pain in my upper thigh/”cheek” area.

Drawing Water performances are full of heart and poignant, very real moments, but they are also quite goofy and very physical– We were both highly influenced by “Lucy and Ethel”, and there’s a Carol Burnett Show like quality to our programs that use sketch comedy and musical numbers. So, naturally I wore my brace here too.  Until… a show came along in the spring of 2003 requiring no real choreography and a more sedate set of scenes. During this performance (where I decided not to bother with the brace)  I literally felt my knee stick in a position, and I realized things would have to change.  It was time for a check up.

I was referred to an orthopedic specialist, who, after reviewing my original diagnosis and discharge papers from 20 years before, warned me to expect the worst.  An x-ray was ordered while we discussed the possibilities of surgery, medications for the arthritis that most certainly must be riddling my joint, and a series of injections of a gooey substance designed to help provide a cushion in the knee. Imagine his surprise and my delight when the x-ray showed no extra damage beyond the original injury to my knee!  MIRACLE!  There was no build up of arthritis; my meniscus (cartilage) wasn’t worn out or in need of a helpful fluid cushion, and there was absolutely no cause for surgery! The doctor came to me half smiling and half shaking his head.  Apparently, the procedure used in my original surgeries following the accident “never worked”.  This procedure was considered experimental, and abandoned shortly after it was first tested.  Can you say MIRACLE? 🙂

As it turned out, all I really needed was a new brace fitted for better support, and some physical therapy for my I.T. band which had been stressed.  Before I knew it, I was good as new (well, relatively speaking) and cleared to get back on stage.

While I may not be able to do a lot of the specialized dance moves I could do in my late teens as I dreamed of becoming a Broadway performer, now closer to 50 and donning my brace, I can still muster an awkward high kick– great for a good laugh 🙂

Walking Miracle~ Part 4: A Huge Scare and a Good Man

Moving forward in the series: I hope you too experience the sense of wonder and  encouragement I received by other related miracles that would be revealed in the years following my accident.

In the late 80’s we became aware of a modern day plague that had spread around the world.  We now understood how AIDS was contracted, and we discovered with horror its long incubation, & that we could have been infected a decade earlier without showing any symptoms.  At the time, receiving a positive HIV test was akin to a death sentence; we watched and waited fearfully as we heard about more cases.  I lost dear friends and beloved teachers to this hideous wasting disease, and I’ll never forget that hopeless grief I felt at bedside visits and funerals before I knew the peace of heaven.

In early 1989 this all became even more personal. News stories began to earnestly recommend that anyone and everyone who fell into a “high risk” group should get tested.  That was me!  I survived the car accident– in the San Francisco Bay Area, in July of 1983– after receiving 5 pints of blood in transfusion, from potentially 5 different donors.  Blood banks weren’t screened for AIDS until 1984.

Honest confession here: this was a really scary turn of events.  While I believed a supernatural “God-Force” had saved me for a reason, I had serious doubts about my future. I was newly engaged but I wondered… Would I be able to have children?  Would I lose my job if the results came out positive?  Would my fiance still want to marry me?  It also didn’t help when a wise-cracking fellow actress in a show we were doing quipped that “maybe God just saved you from the accident so you’d suffer later!”  (Really?!  Watch your words people!!)

I decided to have the test done at an anonymous HIV Testing Clinic where this was their primary purpose. Although somewhat concerned about my privacy, I really just wanted the best and most experienced counsel I could get, should the results go badly.  So I went in, had my blood drawn, and then began the hardest part– the waiting for the results.  In those days , AIDS tests took 10 days before the results were known. Tim and I spent the time thinking positively, but considering the worst.  And do you know this amazing man promised to love me and stand by me no matter what, and for however much time I would have left?  This is when “in sickness and in health” really hits home!!  (Miracle!  Some day I’m going to have to write about our story; it’s a good one too!  But I digress… 🙂 )

Tim went with me when I returned to the clinic for my results.  Imagine our shock when the counselor wouldn’t let him in the room with me!  “But this is my fiance!” “Sorry, rules are rules.” Freaked out by this time, you can imagine my relief when as the door barely closed shut, the counselor smiled and told me my results were negative. MIRACLE!!

I can get just as complacent as the next guy about some things, but it is my fervent hope that I never take this precious life for granted. Life is to be celebrated!  We DANCED at our wedding! 🙂

Walking Miracle~ Part 3: Crutches and College Life

In 1983 I nearly lost my leg in a car accident.  My hope is that this series of articles will encourage you with God’s amazing goodness, as it chronicles actual miracles I’ve experienced over the last three decades

When I returned to Northwestern as a sophomore in the fall of 1983, I was a woman with a mission- to learn to walk again.  What I didn’t fully realize were all of the things that would require adjustment and change.

The practical things came first… Originally set for a room on the 3rd floor of my co-ed fraternity (translation old house, no elevator), I now needed something on ground level.  My work study job in the cafeteria had to be switched from “server” to “checker”  (sitting at a desk verifying student meal accounts), and I had to learn how to navigate on the Chicago El on crutches.  I am still thankful for so many helpful people who were willing to make accommodations for me. 🙂  One answered request that I still consider a MIRACLE had to do with arrangements for my rehab.

I was referred to Northwestern’s Sports Medicine/Orthopedic Surgeon and though I didn’t play for any team, I was allowed to use the Sports Rehab Facility in Dyche Stadium at peak hours and at no cost!!  The referring specialist said my injuries were so bad,the physical therapists on staff could learn something from working with me! It’s kind of a blur now, but three days a week I faithfully took the El to the stadium where I was monitored by dedicated P.T. folks as I rode the stationary bike, and commisserated with injured athletes in the whirpool.

Emotionally the year was hard on a different level.  I was surprised by how many people were so callous as to write me off for my misfortune, or perhaps my stupidity.  I also quickly learned the difference between those who offered me pity, and those who offered me sympathy.  Listen up peeps: if you’re ever faced with a friend in a similar circumstance, always offer the HOPE of recovery!!

I questioned what I was supposed to do, and who I was going to be… especially now that the likelihood of going into professional theatre might not be an option.  Scrambling for a “backup plan”, there was an opportunity to add Speech Education and a teaching certificate to my program, and I took it.  That’s when I discovered the joy of teaching!  Another MIRACLE–See, I honestly may have never realized my abilities and passion in this area had it not been for my summer injury.  God knew my heart, and while theatre continues to be a part of my life today, so does teaching, in a multitude of ways!!

In August when I was discharged from the hospital I was told I may never walk again.  By Thanksgiving I was off the crutches, and by April, I was breathlessly 1/2 running & 1/2 climbing down off a scaffolding as “Juliet” in an acting class exercise. The incomparable acting teacher David Downs kindly took me aside afterwards and confirmed what I already knew.  This joyful skipping, running, “Juliet” wasn’t just remarkable; it was a MIRACLE through and through. 🙂

Walking Miracle~ Part 2: Two Weeks in the Hospital

In 1983 I nearly lost my leg in a car accident.  My hope is that this series of articles will encourage you with God’s amazing goodness, as it chronicles actual miracles I’ve experienced over the last three decades

In the first post of the “Walking Miracle” series, I shared about how, at 19, I thought I was all that and a bag of chips.  In an instant (and in the weeks that followed), I humbly found out that “chips” can be smashed into smithereens.  When I entered the hospital– swollen and bloody, with three facial cuts requiring stitches and two missing front teeth, the nurses initially thought that I had broken every bone in my face.  Add to that the gore from a limb hanging on by a thread (or in actuality, the main nerve and the main artery- MIRACLE!!), I was a real mess.

God and Dr.Douglas Ridey, who up until 3 years ago I believed happened to be on call that night, spent several painstaking hours, and two surgeries putting my leg back together. (Dr. Ridey’s involvement is another MIRACLE and a great story for another day) Here’s the medical diagnoses for you science types.  All others can skip to the next paragraph. 🙂  1) total right knee disruption including rupture of the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments and fibular collateral ligaments and the infrapatellar tendon of the right knee. 2) comminuted fracture of the patella. 3) rupture of the posterior capsule of the right knee.

Essentially, Dr Ridey told me, it was the worst thing he had ever seen that didn’t have to be amputated. Looking back, I can see God’s loving care all over this near tragedy. During my two week stay in the hospital I watched my divorced parents finally become civil to one another, enjoyed the visits of other family members and faithful friends, and began a long recovery process that would eventually strengthen me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

It was NO COINCIDENCE that my surgeon had heard of a new medical break-through, and so I became one of the first real life test subjects of the Continuous Passive Motion Machine.  Teams of doctors streamed into my room every day to watch it work.  (Today, these are sent home with patients as a matter of course for a few weeks following any knee surgery but at the time, no one had heard of them!!  MIRACLE).

Talk about a lesson in humility! (Do you remember 19?) I’m sure you can imagine the shift from my recent arrogant perspective once I started greeting strangers and friends with oily hair, missing teeth, and the uncomfortable awareness that I was naked under my hospital gown. Yet, somehow I grew stronger that summer, certain that I was meant to live.  Medical professionals warned me that I may never walk again.  Today, with my brace, I still dance.  I was also told I wouldn’t make it back to school on time to start the new quarter. I did. This “God Force” had plans for me, and without hesitating I began to rethink my life course. Sure, I would be on crutches for awhile, but I BELIEVED in the core of my being that I’d be walking again.

Walking Miracle~ Part 1: The Night That Changed Everything

In 1983 I nearly lost my leg in a car accident.  My hope is that this series of articles will encourage you with God’s amazing goodness, as it chronicles actual miracles I’ve experienced over the last three decades

When I returned home from college after my first year away, I was full of myself.  I had survived a grueling weed-out year,common to theatre majors in Northwestern University’s highly touted program.  Though I certainly wasn’t an “it girl” on a campus filled with highly gifted, successful young adults, in the spring of my freshman year I had been awarded a wonderful role in a 3-women show, and I had the confidence to believe I was going places…  (Ah foolish pride… can’t you just see the fall coming?)

Now back home for the summer, it was a difficult adjustment. My friends had moved on too, and though many of them were still living locally, it was challenging to find time to get together.  A cast party for some friends in a summer production of “Pippin” seemed the perfect opportunity.  So, after a 40 hour work week followed by a brutal commute home, I decided to get back in the car and drive the 45 minutes to a neighboring town for a cast party which began at 11 pm.  I also offered to pick up my friend, Mark along the way, and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been so grateful that he chose not to get a ride home from me that night!

As I write this I have to tell you I’m embarrassed by my arrogance back then… Thankfully I also recognize it’s only through owning our stuff and asking for forgiveness that we can ever truly be free of it.  The truth is, I was drinking that night.  When I left for college I was both the leading lady on stage, and the naive “good girl” of my theatre crowd friends.  A year later, I felt more like an irrelevant bystander, and I became a mini-rebel, preferring to hang with other “outsiders” at parties. In an odd way I also foolishly believed I was “cool” for the first time in my life; that error in judgment would lead to the biggest mistake I would ever make.

To this day, I genuinely don’t believe I was drunk when I left the party that night. Nevertheless, I know the tequila slammers certainly didn’t do me any favors at 2:30 in the morning on the long drive home.  I fell asleep on a large, multi-laned boulevard and plowed head-on into a telephone pole. That I didn’t run into other cars or hurt anyone else is the first miracle!!  That I survived the impact without internal injuries or bleeding out is the second. (You’ll want to keep reading the series– they keep getting bigger and more amazing as the story continues :-))

While I didn’t yet know God or have a relationship with Him, from the moment I began to comprehend all that had happened to me, my faith began to grow.  I knew with an absolute certainty, that a Force greater than any human being had supernaturally reached out and saved my life!