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Another Life Saved

by Debbie Roome  
11/17/2007 / Short Stories

It's 2:10 pm, Christmas Eve when he arrives. A damaged scrap of humanity. A fragile nymph, stretched naked on sterile white. His parents are stricken, faces frozen into masks of fear. Guilt and a hundred questions brim in their eyes. Questions which have no answers. The father is still dripping; shivering, cold and shocked. Another one, I think as my mind drifts back thirty years.

The months before Sam's accident were idyllic. A kaleidoscope of lazy days. Days filled with friends and family and the feeling of being loved. Mom was the most important figure in my life. I remember her as tall and graceful with delicate hands that soothed away pains and troubles. She wore her hair swept up on her head. Soft blonde ribbons streaked with fudge and caramel. I loved to pull out the pins and watch her hair fall into soft curls. Sometimes she would hand me a brush. "Brush it for me Kelly. You're my special hairdresser. The best one I've ever had." And so I would brush it and twist it into clumsy pony tails and lumpy buns.

Sam turned two that summer. My baby brother with marshmallow cheeks and tiny freckles. With reddish-gold hair that curled and eyes that mirrored cerulean waves, prancing on remote seashores. I loved him dearly but he wasn't much use as a playmate. I would giggle as he swept pots and pans from the cupboard, as the crashes would bring Mom running. I sniggered as he unravelled toilet rolls, trailing them like streamers into the garden. It wasn't so funny when he got into my toys. He was a biter and all my dolls had chewed hands and feet.

The accident happened on Christmas Day. A day that changed my life forever. After hours of fun and family, I was sitting in the kitchen playing with toys as Mom cleaned up. Sam was under the table, chewing gift wrap. I was absorbed in my world of make-believe when Mom suddenly put down her cloth. "Where's Sam?" Her voice sharpened a tone. "Kelly, did you see where Sam went?" Maternal instinct carried her outside, shouting his name, running to the paddling pool he'd received that day as a gift. Her scream still lingers in my mind. A gut-wrenching, primeval scream torn from the depths of her being. She pulled his lifeless body from the water, limp like a dead possum plucked from the road. "Run for help!" She screeched at me. "Run to Dad! Tell him we need an ambulance!"

Aunt Leonie, Dad's sister, stayed with me that night and I don't know who cried more, her or me. My tears were more of a selfish nature. I was worried about myself as well as Sam. Where were my parents? When were they coming home to me? Would they bring Sam with them? Leonie cried for Sam who she loved as her own child.

When Mom and Dad did come back, their faces were pinched and white, drained of the happiness that normally shone in their eyes. Mom sobbed as Dad sat me on his knee and tried to explain the inexplicable. "We've had to leave Sam at the hospital, Kelly. He was underwater too long and it's damaged his brain. The doctors are trying to make him better but it might take a long time."

It was winter before Sam came home. Nearly four months had passed but instead of growing, he seemed to have shrunk. I was shocked to see his frail, little body as he lay helpless in his cot, moaning and shrieking as his limbs twitched and convulsed. Mom spent hours with him, feeding him through a tube, massaging his palsied legs and crying helplessly as she held him.

Aunt Leonie became my friend that year. At least once a week I would spend the night at her house, helping her cook strips of steak with fried tomatoes and sizzling onions. Helping her decorate the spare room which became my room. A creation of yellow gingham and bows and sashes. I dropped the "Aunt" and Leonie became my confidante. I told her many things my parents couldn't or wouldn't understand. I shared my terrible guilt at asking to use the pool. "No, Kelly." Her forehead puckered as she drew me close. "You must never blame yourself. It was an accident. Just an accident. It wasn't your fault."

That was also the year I asked Jesus into my heart. Leonie had shared much about Him. This one who was her friend, her Saviour, the one who cared about me more than I could ever know. I learned to trust Him, to lean on Him when times were hard, when Mom and Dad would fight until the early hours of the morning.

The first anniversary of his accident was a disaster. A miserable day with nothing Christmassy about it. Sam had progressed to the stage where he could manage soft foods, though his hands remained weak and useless. Mom would spend an eternity feeding him, coaxing him to swallow custard and jelly or pureed pumpkin. I didn't like the new Sam very much and I longed to be able to fix him. This thin, bony stranger with vacant eyes was not my adorable baby brother. I wanted my Sam back. The one who sat and banged pot lids and chewed my dolls. The one who trailed toilet paper through the house.

I decided that Christmas that I wanted to be a doctor. Leonie was encouraging, positive. "If that's what's in your heart, Kelly, you'll do it." She prayed with me often. "Lord bless Kelly as she makes plans for her life. Give her the ability to heal people's pain with your love."

"Doctor." The voice pulls me back to A&E. "Are you going to speak to the parents?" I look across at them, huddled on a hard hospital bench. The father is dressed in scrubs, his wet clothes tied in a packet on the floor. The mother is almost lying in his lap, her face washed of all colour. I look back at their son. A frail figure attached to a dozen beeping monitors and machines. Bags of life-restoring liquids seep slowly into his veins. The readings tell me this child is one of the lucky ones. Soon he will open his eyes and after a few days, he will walk out with his parents. I move towards them and their eyes widen; fearful, apprehensive. I'm glad I have good news for them for it's not always this way.

They thank me as I share the prognosis. As I read the depth of emotions in their eyes. They are overwhelmed. Grateful, consumed with guilt, angry. It will take time to sort out their feelings and so I ask if I can pray with them. They agree and we link hands and together turn to God. To the Creator of life and all things good and thank Him for His grace and mercy in healing this young child.

My mind drifts away again as they huddle round their son's bedside. As I remember my brother who lasted three Christmases before succumbing to pneumonia. Shortly after that, my parents separated for a couple of years. Leonie and I prayed fervently and eventually they came to know the healing grace of God. Came to know His love as their relationship was restored. Meanwhile, I had gone to live with Leonie and she loved and nurtured me and put me through medical school, fully confident of the calling God had placed on my life.

I'll call her tonight. Tell her another life has been saved.

Debbie Roome is passionate about writing stories that touch people's lives and point them to God.

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