Prodigal: I love this tree!
Me: God made wonderful trees for us!
It was in my fortieth year that I began to die. Not rapidly or all at once, but bit by bit. Slowly, across the next 17 years, my body stopped living–each section dying with agonizing pain.
I first noticed it one afternoon at the Boysen Paint Company in Emeryville, across the bay from San Francisco.
I had worked at Boysen as a printer and typesetter for many years. This particular afternoon I picked up my tweezers and reached into the tray for some extra-fine type. But something was wrong. It was almost imperceptible, yet my eyes were blurred and my hand was shaking. At the same time, I noticed a strange numbness in my hands and legs. Little did I know that at that moment death had tapped me on the shoulder.
A year passed. Then two. I had been to half a dozen doctors in the Bay area. One said I had hepatitis. Another said I suffered from spasms of the esophagus. A third doctor recommended gall-bladder surgery, which I had.
My husband Angelo, I call him “Ang” was a supervisor at the Alameda Naval Air Base. Every few weeks he would come home and say, “I heard about a new doctor. Let’s try him.”
One doctor prescribed glasses for my double vision. Another said the numbness in my hands was caused by poor circulation. My condition grew worse. One day I fainted at work. That night I told Ang I was going to leave my job. Actually I had been looking for an excuse to quit anyway. Rosemary, our daughter, was married and our twin sons, Arthur and Don, were both working. Besides, Ang and I had long wanted another child. We agreed this would be a good time for me to quit work and adopt a baby boy. If, as one of the doctors had suggested, all I had was frayed nerves, then the change of pace might be just what I needed.
It turned out I needed for more. Several weeks after little Eugene arrived, Ang went with me to the grocery store. Waiting in the check-out line, I suddenly grew dizzy, slumping against Ang for support. As the line inched forward, I found I could not pick up my feet. I had to force them to slide across the floor. I was scared!
A top neurologist in San Francisco recommended hospitalization and I spent a month in Presbyterian Hospital. Part of the time I was under the care of a psychiatrist. Still no diagnosis. I finally called Ang to come and take me home.
Three weeks later I noticed the middle finger on my right hand infected. Ang took me to a new doctor on MacArthur Boulevard. He lanced the finger and then, after finishing with the bandage, turned to me. “Is there something else wrong, Mrs. Burgio?” he asked.
I was hostile. “No, why?”
“Well, if I had treated a normal patient the way I treated you, she would have been screaming in pain. You didn’t seem to feel the pain at all.” He hesitated, “Could I give you a physical?” I sighed. “Okay. I guess one more examination won’t hurt.”
The finger healed slowly and I had to return twice before my scheduled appointment. Each time the doctor asked questions, and I knew he suspected more than he was saying. Then the day before I was scheduled for the physical, the bottom fell out of my life.
Ang went to work early as usual. Little Eugene, who was about two years old, came running into the bedroom and began pulling on the covers. I yawned, put my feet over the side of the bed and tried to stand up. Instead my legs gave away under me and I fell heavily to the floor. The carpet cushioned my fall, but when I tried to stand up, nothing worked. My legs were useless–paralyzed. My arms were almost as bad. I was helpless.
I finally managed to turn over on my stomach and wriggle out into the middle of the bedroom. Eugene was standing beside the dresser, staring. “Mommy’s just playing a game,” I whispered, not wanting to alarm him. Then I began the slow, laborious crawl down the hall and into the family room. My hands would not work, so I had to move painfully along using my elbows and hips.
It took ten minutes to make the trip to the family room. By then I was totally exhausted. I tried once again to get to my feet, but my muscles were useless. I couldn’t even reach up for the phone.
Then, to my horror, I saw Eugene open the sliding glass doors and toddle out onto the patio. He was heading toward the wrought-iron gate that led to the busy street. I cried out, but my voice broke and faded. I started to crawl after him.
The wrought-iron gate was open. By the time I reached the patio, Eugene had disappeared. I kept crawling, pushing myself across the rough concrete on my elbows and hips. Panic swept over me as I heard the cars on the busy boulevard.
“Dear God, please help me. Help me!”
But the words were lost in my sobs. I could go no farther. I collapsed. The clock inside was striking 11 when I looked up and saw Eugene coming back through the gate. “Up, Mama, up,” he said.
I tried to move, but it was impossible. I tried to talk, but only hoarse tremors came out. Then I felt it. The muscles in my upper back trembled as they began to pull may shoulders blades together. “Dear God, what is this?” I cried. Then in my sudden flash of pain, I felt my neck snap back. I began to gag as my head was forced backward.
Finally the spasms ceased. Mercifully, Eugene had disappeared into the house. For five hours I lay on the patio, helpless in the blazing sun. “Please God,” I begged through my desperate tears, “let somebody come to help me.”
It was around four o’clock when, as though in answer to my prayer, my friend, Anne Kennedy, appeared at the gate. “Marion, what are you doing there on the ground?” she cried. As she took a closer look and say my distorted face, she gasped and ran into the house to call Ang.
Later, in the examining room, I could hear the doctor’s voice, “I suspected it. Now I’m sure. Multiple Sclerosis.”
The nurse gave me a shot for pain and treated the raw, skinned places on my body. Later, at home, Ang took down the dictionary and read to the me the definition of multiple sclerosis. “A diseased condition marked by patched of hardened tissue in the brain or the spinal cord and associated especially with partial or complete paralysis, jerking muscle tremors and sometimes intense pain.”
As the months slipped into years, I lost track of the number of trips to the hospital. Over the years I was to learn that multiple sclerosis is a strange disease. It will take you right to the brink of death, back off and allow you its victim, a partial remission, and then, without warning, send your body into horrible spasms.
Ang employed a full-time housekeeper and eventually a daytime nurse. We moved from our home in San Leandro to nearby Walnut Creek so I could be near our daughter Rosemary.
In the months that followed, I slipped deeper and deeper into the dark pit of despair. I knew the disease was incurable. Ang was having to spend every cent he made just to keep me alive. My old friends who used to visit me slowly drifted away. Who could possibly enjoy visiting someone so twisted and distorted, now unable to see or talk clearly, who at best could only drag herself around on crutches and utter slurred words?
One day in the doctor’s office, I broke down. I was losing my hearing. I couldn’t even comb my hair or feed myself. I was totally dependent upon others.
The doctor said, “Mrs. Burgio, there is nothing more that I can do for you. You are beyond medical help.”
“I wish I were dead,” I wept.
In June our family received an invitation to attend the golden wedding anniversary celebration of Fred and Helen Smith, former neighbors in Oakland whom we had not seen in 11 years. My enthusiasm for going anywhere was at an all-time low, but Rosemary convinced me I should go. “We’ll make it a family affair,” she said, ” and it will please Daddy.”
Helen, a striking woman with friendly blue eye, was at the door with a warm welcome for all of us as Ang rolled me up the sidewalk in my wheel chair.
“Oh, Marion,” she said as she bent over to kiss me. “I’m so happy you came: I just know you are going to be healed.”
Puzzled, I looked up at Ang. Neither of us understood what she could possible be talking about. However, during the evening Helen told us all about the miracle services held by Kathryn Kuhlman and introduced us to several priests and nuns from Holy Names College who told us about the prayer meetings they were having at the college, which was in Oakland.
Helen was very enthusiastic about this new dimension she had found in her religious life, but Ang and I just couldn’t take it all in -prayer meetings, healing services, and what she called “the power of the Holy Spirit.” Who was the Kathryn Kuhlman they were talking about? “What is a miracle service?” we asked ourselves.
A few weeks after the party, my disease exploded with all the fury of a hurricane and it was back to the hospital for me. But now my will to go on was all but gone. My vision was badly impaired, my hearing almost gone, and the muscles in my throat had deteriorated to the point where I could not swallow food. The sad look on my husband’s face was becoming too much to bear.
It was during this time of deep depression that Helen Smith and another friend came to visit me at the hospital. While there, Helen asked, “Do you mind if I say a prayer over you?” I looked at Ang in puzzlement. He just shrugged as Helen placed her hands on my stomach and began to pray softly. Her eyes were closed, her face tilted up, her lips moving, quietly expressing words I was unable to understand.
As she was praying from far off I heard the sound of music. Everything had been distorted for so long, yet this music was beautifully clear. It was the sound of a choir accompanied by stringed instruments.
I exclaimed, “Oh Ang, I hear music! I don’t know the song, but it’s beautiful.”
Ang thought I was having hallucinations. But Helen’s face was radiant as she said, “Oh, honey, you are going to be healed. I just know you are.”
I was released from the hospital two weeks later. The doctor told Ang there was nothing more that could be done and it would be better for me to spend my last days at home. Three days after I got home, I received a card from Helen. Ang read it to me.
Glad you are home again. Hope you are feeling better. You are going to be well again. Praise the Lord. Both of you will enjoy the tape I am sending you today. You will find great help and inspiration from it. Hold on to your faith and believe. In case yo go to Kathryn Kuhlman’s meeting at the coliseum, I’ll be there in the choir praying for you. Accept your healing when the times comes. God bless you, dear. Remember, you are being healed. Get there early, about 3:30 p.m. Wheelchairs go in first.
“Do you understand her?” I said to Ang when he finished reading. “Not really,” Ang replied. He examined the small cassette tape that had arrived in the same mail. “It’s by Kathryn Kuhlman,” he said. My hearing ability was so distorted at this stage that I could not get very interested in listening to a tape by Kathryn Kuhlman. “I don’t want to hear it,” I said. “I don’t know what’s the matter with Helen. I just don’t understand all this stuff.”
Five days later on July 28, we received another card from Helen urging me to go to the meeting. Shaking my head, I put it on the table. “I’m not going,” I said to Ang. The next evening the phone rang. I heard Ang say, “Yes, Helen, I’m taking the day off and I’m going to take Marion to the meeting.”
When he hung up, I began to cry. “Please, Ang, I don’t feel like going. We’ve never been in a Protestant service before. I don’t want to go.”
The next day was the worst day of my life. I was twisted far more severely than ever before. My hands looked like claws and I was shaking like a vibrator. Even before I got out of bed, I took three pain killers, but they had no effect.
“I’m not going!” I cried.
Ang was firm. “We have nothing to lose, honey; let’s go see what it’s all about.”
The trip to the coliseum was horrible. I cried all the way, begging Ang to take me back home. When we arrived at the coliseum, one of the ushers tried to help Ang with my wheelchair and I went all to pieces. “Oh, don’t touch me….please don’t touch me! I just want my husband to take care of me.”
She moved back and stood by helplessly while Ang tried to calm me down.
Finally, we were settled in the huge coliseum, which was filling rapidly as the choir was rehearsing on the platform. Soon, every available seat was taken.
All around us were people in wheelchairs and on stretchers, I could not comprehend the amount of human suffering that had come together in that one place. Yet there was something else present—something intangible–hope. Everyone, or at least nearly everyone, seemed to have it on his or her face. It was as though each person was straining for some unseen hand to reach down and touch him or her. My heart ached for everyone and I began to pray, asking the Lord to help them.
Suddenly the choir began to sing again. This time the great crowd joined them. That song! “Ang!” I cried out. “It’s the same song and the same choir I’ve been hearing ever since Helen’s prayer.”
To appease me, Ang turned and asked the woman next to him, “What’s the name of that song?”
“How Great Thou Art,” she answered.
All the people around me seemed to have their arms raised as they sang. I asked myself, “What kind of meeting is this anyway?” I looked over at Ang and even with my double vision, I could see he had his arms up also.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
Ang smiled. “Well, everybody else has their hands up, so I put mine up, too. It feels good to sing this way. I like it.”
I wanted to scream. Everyone seemed so happy–even those in wheelchairs–yet I remained miserable and confused.
I felt Ang’s hand on my arm. “Here she comes. This must be Kathryn Kuhlman.”
I strained to see, but my eyes simply would not focus on the platform, which was at least some 70 yards away. All I could see was a bright glow–like an aura. I knew it must be Kathryn Kuhlman.
“What’s she doing?” I kept asking Ang.
He tried to describe what was happening. She introduced certain guests. She told a few stories. There was more singing and then she began to speak. To me the sounds were all jumbled. The only word I heard plainly was “Bible.”
“Ang,” I whispered. “I think we better get out of here…..I feel funny.”
He ignored me. His eyes were riveted on the platform. Just then a woman dressed in red moved slowly down the aisle beside us. Her daughter was in front of her and her husband was walking beside her. As she got opposite our row, she fell to the floor.
“Oh, dear God,” I moaned, “help her.” Her family was bending over her, crying and trying to help her to her feet. I began crying also as I realized what my own family must have been going through as they had tried to help me.
When I looked up , I noticed another girl, a young woman, lying on a wheelchair stretcher farther down the aisle. She was dressed in a plaid suit, but it was obvious her body, like mine, was the twisted victim of multiple sclerosis.
“Dear Lord, help her, too,” I prayed.
Later the woman in red passed by my wheelchair. She was transformed.
“Ang!” I cried out. “She’s been healed!”
I could not tell all that was happening or even understand what was being said, but I knew it was the same woman. No longer was she hobbling and falling–she was almost running. Her face was radiant!
It was then that the struggle within my own body began. Suddenly my knees began to shake. I tried to hold them with my hands but things were happening to quickly. My feet were being pulled out of the foot rests of the wheelchair and pressed against the floor. It seemed as though two great forces were at work within my body–one pushing me down and another pulling me up. I felt myself being lifted up, but the downward force was too great and I fell back into the chair.
Ang was alarmed at my movements and said, “Marion, what’s wrong? What is happening to you?”
I couldn’t answer, for I was literally being pushed right up and out of my wheelchair. It was as though the chains that had bound me had suddenly broken. I was on my feet! Standing! And as I stood up, my twisted hand just stretched right out. I couldn’t believe my eyes–my hand was straight and normal!
Just as quickly as I had stood up, I began to walk, I didn’t know where I was going or why–but I was on my way. Past Ang. Past the place where Eugene was sitting. Down the aisle and toward the platform. Ang, in a stat of shock, was close behind me.
The next thing I remember was Kathryn Kuhlman’s voice. “You’re healed, honey! Just walk across the stage.”
And then it dawned on me that I was walking, sometimes half-running in front of thousands of people. I felt bathed in God’s love! He was real! He had come to me! He loved me enough to minister to me personally and, glory of all glories, to fill me with His beautiful Holy Spirit!
And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?
Jennifer Van Allen