(’76 Contributor) The Grim Reaper once chased me across Arkansas in a dark rainstorm into the arms of an angel.I was driving alone to Atlanta to deliver my old car to a daughter in college. (Why does she always go to schools so far away?) I felt a familiar pain between my ribs.
I have a hypercoagulability condition, meaning my blood tends to clot when it’s still in my veins. Then the clots travel to my lungs, my heart or my eyes (so far). I report this condition by way of background and not for sympathy, of which I need, want and deserve none. (After all, the clots have not yet landed in any truly important organs.)
The sharp pain between my ribs told me I had another set of blood clots in my lungs. So in the middle of the night in a horrific lightning storm, I set out for a reputable hospital in Little Rock about 110 miles away.
Dawn broke as I pulled into the hospital. The low-fuel light had been on for 62 miles. Each breath felt like knives twisting between my ribs.
I told the ER crew my diagnosis. They and the MRI agreed with me.
The treatment for blood clots in the lungs is straightforward: Administer blood thinners before the patient suffocates. They did, and I didn’t. Treated with anticoagulants and doped with opiates, I was feeling better by dinner time.
Now I had to bust out. After all, I had a car to deliver to a daughter. The docs saw it differently, and imprisoned me in a hospital room on the flimsy charge that my clots were bad ones.
Two days later, I was still incarcerated. I bargained with the goons in gowns, who finally promised to let me go if the next test was good. It was.
“OK,” said a nurse, “You can go as soon as the doctor writes you a prescription for those additional anticoagulant pills. That will take just a minute. Without those,” she condescended, “you’ll be dead in a few days, Mr. Beefen.”
“Beaton. The name’s Beaton.”
Hours later, I had no doctor, no prescription and no release. I’d been told that the doc was just around the corner or only a few doors down the hallway and so on, but it was all lies.
As regular readers know, I can be a jerk. But dammit, I had a car to deliver to a daughter, I told myself. I marched again to the nurses’ station and warned them, “I’m leaving in 10 minutes, prescription or not.”
“Without that prescription, those blood clots will come back and you’ll die, Mr. Beefen.”
“Oh yeah? Well, my clotted blood will be on your hands!” I liked both my drama and my wit, but was dimly aware that I was painting myself into a corner.
The 10 minutes came and went without a doctor or prescription. I stormed to the nurses’ station yet again.
“You know you might die.”
“It’ll be your fault,” I informed them smugly. They watched me stomp off to the elevator. I pushed the down button, and waited, hoping it might take a while to arrive at my floor. “Geez,” I thought as they all stared at me. “Now what do I do?”
Sooner than I wished, the elevator came to take me away. The door opened, and it beckoned me in.
Just then, a nurse walked down the corridor. She was one I’d not seen before. She looked at me, puzzled.
“Are you OK?”
She and I were of different cultures, races, backgrounds, ages and parts of the country. She surely witnessed death every day, but seemed genuinely interested in an angry guy getting on the elevator.
“No, I’m not OK,” I replied.
She reached out and held my arm before I could get in the elevator. “What’s wrong?”
I told her my story as the elevator descended without me.
“You wait right here,” she instructed. “I’m in charge of this floor. Wait five minutes, OK?”
I pretended reluctance. “Well, OK, five minutes.”
She bustled away on her mission. After three minutes, she returned to report her progress. After four-and-a-half, she returned again and handed me my prescription.
Impulsively, I hugged her. As we embraced, I saw into her deep dark eyes, and suddenly understood. I blurted out our secret, though only in a whisper:
“You’re an angel.”
It was intended not as a compliment, but an observation. Like William Blake, in an instant I had seen the world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower.
“Thank you,” I said.
Her eyes were still locked with mine as she pointed straight up and made her own wonder-filled observation:
“The thanks be to God.”
Glenn Beaton writes regularly for the Aspen Times, where this first appeared.