Me: Are you ready for radio, Prodigal?
Me: You look as nervous as a little boy waitin’ by the woodshed.
Prodigal: I am a little.
Me: I will share a story to help.
This is from the book Beyond Ourselves by Catherine Marshall
Karen is the eldest daughter of Dr. Ralph Emmott, a specialist in urology in Oklahoma City.
Her physical problem began soon after her fifteenth birthday in the spring of 1960. It was nothing serious–just and abscess which required a minor operation, incision, and drainage. Twenty-four hours in the hospital (the one where her father practices) seemed to clear everything up.
Karen plunged into a busy summer. Before me as I write this is a small picture of her as she was then. Yes, she was a charmer: short curly hair, sparkling eyes, a piquant quality about her. She seemed to be following in the footsteps of their mother, who had been a campus beauty queen in Canada.
On July first, Karen noticed that another abscess was forming. Again her doctor recommended the minor operation and drainage. The operation was set for 1 pm on July fifth. It was such a routine matter that Karen’s father went on to his regular afternoon clinic in the urology department.
As Karen was placed on the operating-room cart, she gave her mother a puckish kiss. It was to be her last volitional act for many months.
The first indication that Karen’s father had that tragedy had struck came when the Operating Room Supervisor–a friend of the Emmott family–summoned him from the clinic. Hastening to the operating floor, he learned that toward the close of the ten-minute operation there had been sudden cardiac arrest. The chest had been incised. The heart had been massaged. Now it was beating again.
But during the emergency, no one in the operating room had paused to look at the clock. How long had it been from the cessation of heartbeat until circulation had been restored? Four minutes? Five? It was a question that was to haunt everyone concerned with Karen’s case. For with cardiac arrest, time is of the essence. The sensitive brain tissues are damaged almost immediately when the constant supply of oxygen is cut off.
Karen’s mother shut herself in her husband’s office and tried to pray. In the recovery room, two doors away, everything science knew was being done for Karen–a hypothemia blanket to keep body temperature at thirty-one degrees and prevent further swelling of the brain; a tracheotomy to help the paralyzed lungs to breathe.
Kneeling by a leather chair, Mrs. Emmott groped for a way to pray. “Oh God, let me have Karen back again. These fifteen years are so brief and unfinished…” Then her thoughts would wander off. Such a fine thread between this world and the life beyond. How can we be so indifferent to God when things are going well? “God, will You take care of our girl? Oh God….” This can’t be real….Karen will wake up soon and this scare will be in the past.
But by nine o’clock that night, it was apparent that Karen was not going to wake up.
Except for the beating of her heart, Karen was dead. On the morning of July sixth, those watching beside her bed saw one eyelid flicker. Weeks went by and there was no other sign of life. Then the convulsions began. Sudden seizures with bloody froth on her lips and soaring temperature alternated with deep coma.
By mid-August the convulsions were under control. But the consensus of all the specialists on the case was that the outlook was hopeless, the brain damage beyond repair.
Every body function had to be artificially maintained. The girl’s mother could scarcely bear the sight…a tube in Karen’s chest; cut downs in her leg veins for some limited nutrition; the tracheotomy tube; a catheter, even needle electrodes stuck in her scalp and legs to monitor her heartbeat.
At last doctors spoke the brutal truth. “Your daughter will always remain in a vegetative state, ” they told the Emmotts. “Alive, but unknowing. It is possible that we will be able to keep her alive for years. But we advise you to put her out of our minds and your lives. Forget she ever lived.”
Forget? A mother and father forget part of their own hearts? Their lovely intelligent Karen alive, and yet not alive; dead and yet not dead. For Isabel and Ralph Emmott, horror closed in. There is no blackness like the eterenal night of no hope. Isabel had long since stopped praying. Surely there could be no God of mercy, else He would not allow this to happen. Death could have no sting compared to this.
On August 16 to free a hospital bed for a patient whom the doctors could help, the girl was moved to a Children’s Convalescent Home. A month passed. There was no change in her vegetative existence except a steady loss of weight.
On Thursday, September 28, Isabel Emmott was invited by a friend to hear a talk at a local church. She went only because the speaker was to be Dr. William Reed, Consulting Surgeon at Samaritan Hospital, Bay City, Michigan. Mrs. Emmott was mildly curious as to why a physician would be speaking in a church.
Dr. Reed was a tall, earnest young man in his late thirties. He told about the sequence of events by which he had learned that medicine plus prayer can bring about cures otherwise impossible.
“Science, mathematics, and physics, as a result of Einsteinian thought, have left the realm of the material and have in certain ways become mystical sciences. There is a sense in which medicine too must go beyond the material. The whole man must be treated. I am now convinced that neither medicine nor surgery can achieve maximum effectiveness–especially for the case which is beyond the scope of the physician to cure–so long as the body is treated to the exclusion of the spirit.”
It was not the usual religious talk. Isabel Emmott was fascinated. In all her years of church going she never heard anyone mention healing through prayer. Nor had she heard of a doctor who prayed in the presence of the operating room personnel before he began each operation. Mrs. Emmott smiled to herself as she thought of how he had put it. “I used to bow my head and pray silently. But then I thought the nurses might just think I had a headache. Now if I hesitate about the prayer, they remind me.” And this was a doctor, not a minister!
At the conclusion of the talk, her friend told her, “I’ve done something without asking you. Hope you won’t mind. I’ve already told Dr. Reed about Karen. If you’d like it, he has agreed to ride out with us to the Convalescent Home this afternoon.” Her eyes searched Isabel’s face.
Light sprang into the black eyes. “Like it? Of course!”
That afternoon at the door of the Convalescent Home Karen Emmott’s father was waiting. Dr. Reed judged him to be about his own age. As the piercing brown eyes of the girl’s father looked him over, the thought crossed his mind that probably Dr. Emmott had already looked him up in the American Medical Association’s directory.
In dispassionate medical terms, Karen’s father told Dr. Reed the history of her case. As the words of hopelessness poured out on him, Bill Reed was thinking, “Lord, you’ve handed me a tough one this time.” He had never tried praying for such a difficult case. Yet he could not dislodge from his mind the words, “With God all things are possible…all things….” Obviously his first task was to give hope back to Karen’s parents. This would not be easy when one of them was a knowledgeable doctor.
Dr. Emmott’s face was a study in skepticism. “I’d advise you not to form any opinion until after you’ve seen Karen,” he said. “Come on in, my wife is waiting for us in the room.”
The first glance was shocking. A once-beautiful girl, now emaciated, spastic, her black eyes–so like her mother’s wildly staring, without recognition. Constantly there were aimless thrashing movements. The sides of her bed were high to keep her from falling out. Dr. Emmott was watching his face.
Cautiously Dr. Reed told how it had been shown by some men working in the field of hypnotism that the subconscious mind of a patient under anesthesia is aware of what goes on in the operating room. “And I believe that it may also be true in coma,” he added.
Dr. Emmott seemed mildly interested in the thesis. As for Isabel Emmott, a faint light of hope flickered in her tired eyes.
“Now what I suggest, ” Dr. Reed said, “Is that we being to treat Karen as if she were spiritually awake and spiritually perceptive. Do you think you could do it?” Both parents nodded. They had nothing to lose. “Then shall we begin right now?”
So Bill Reed placed his hands on Karen’s head and prayed, not about her, but with her, taking her situation to God, thanking Him for His loving care. Nothing happened. The violent jerking and twisting did not even momentarily subside.
“I haven’t the least idea how God will answer this prayer.” he admitted. “But we’ve got to keep reminding ourselves that in His eyes, there are no hopeless cases. Now let me explain what I think your role will be in getting Karen well again—”
Getting Karen well again? Mrs. Emmott could scarcely believe what she was hearing. In all the months since the tragedy, no one–on one at all–had even mentioned the possibility of Karen getting well. And here was this stranger….
Dr. Reed outlined several steps: 1. Prayer continuous and confident; 2. Daily conversations with Karen, always assuring her of complete recovery; no negative words or even thoughts in her presence; 3. as soon as possible discontinuance of all artificial aids–sedation, catheter, breathing-tube, intravenous feeding..etc
The following morning Mrs. Emmott drove to the Nursing Home and sat down beside her daughter. Karen was showing the same thrashing movements as before. Gently she placed her hand on Karen’s forehead. “Karen, ” she said softly, “you are going to get well. Your friends have been asking about you. They’re missing you at school and at majorette practice.”
Did she imagine it? Were the movements a little less violent? Day after day Mrs. Emmott talked to Karen–about family activities, about Karen’s friends, about what was happening at school. Always she would come back to the same persistent theme: “You are going to get well, Karen. God loves you, Karen. We love you. Won’t it be wonderful to be well again?
After the first day there was a definite change; Karen’s spastic contortions were less violent. Two days later her mother and the nurses were able to put her in a wheelchair and take her into the sunshine for the first time in three months. But still she showed no sign of awareness.
The next step–taken in faith–was the removal of the catheter. With that, the severe urinary infection began to subside.
Then came the matter of food. Isabel Emmott decided to try letting Karen eat in the normal way. Three friends took turns helping her. At first, chewing was impossible for Karen; even swallowing was hard. But gradually she learned to eat baby foods and mashed potatoes.
Slowly the miracle unfolded. One evening in mid-November Karen’s father put a ball-point pen in her hand. She punched the release button and began to scribble on the blanket cover.
Almost frantic with joy, her parents began handing her other familiar objects–a stick of gum, a Chapstick, sunglasses. She put the sunglasses on upside down, then righted them.
That night they went home jubilant. Now they set themselves a new goal, to have Karen home for part of Christmas Day. And it happened as they pictured it: on Christmas afternoon the whole family was together. Around the table at Christmas dinner every one of her brothers and sisters thanked God that Karen could be with them for a few hours.
Back at the Convalescent Home, Karen began rebelling. She hated the tube feedings that still had to be used to supplement the baby foods. Unless her hands were tied, she would pull the tube out. Then she began refusing the baby foods too.
Her mother had an inspiration. She would prepare a tuna fish sandwich. In the old days that had been one of Karen’s favorites. She asked a group of friends to meet and pray for the little venture.
Karen gobbled the sandwich down with better coordination in chewing and swallowing than anyone had thought possible. In the next few days ice cream, french fries, and hamburgers met equal enthusiasm. Soon there were no more tube feedings, and Karen’s weight was at last started up.
Isabel and Ralph Emmott were learning. They would take a step at a time, each launched by hope, taken in faith. After this, they recognized rebellion in Karen as her readiness for another step.
December was drawing to a close. Still Karen had not spoken. Getting rid of the tracheotomy tube was next. During a ten day period, successively smaller tubes were placed in the wound. On the tenth day, the tube was withdrawn entirely. The girl breathed normally but still seemed incapable of speech.
But with the tube out, now Karen could be brought home to stay. January fourth was a gala day for the Emmott family. Isabel could scarcely hold back tears of gladness over Karen’s homecoming.
And then a few days later the girl began to whisper. Her first sentences in a low voice and with precise enunciation were a series of revelations. Her mother wrote them down, “I want to live my life in the old natural normal way.”…”If heaven and hell are worlds, then I want to go to the heaven world.”….I want to meet and greet the man Jesus.”….”Please assure me that my life has been a successful things. I need the reassurance if it has been.”
Each evening as she tucked Karen in, Isabel would repeat the Lord’s prayer and the 23rd Psalm. On Easter Sunday, 1961, Karen repeated the Lord’s prayer by herself–with a few flourished of her own: “Who are in heaven–way in that world we call heaven…”
Progress is slow, but progress there is. Karen now feeds herself, reads, walks unassisted. Last June she developed a new rebellion. Unless she is watched, she will slip out of the house and try to drive the family car.
Whenever Isabel Emmott needs more prayer-stamia and physical stamina for the long road ahead she gets down on her knees and thanks God for the long way Karen had already come from her vegetative state. Hopeless! No! The Emmotts know now that Bill Reed was right: in God’s view there is no such term as hopeless.
And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.
Jennifer Van Allen