I’ve had so many miracles in my life that I’ve almost come to believe in miracles.
I said those words out loud one afternoon, in the St. John’s church’s office, asking for a Mass to be said for a little girl, whom I didn’t know but was told about at a Christmas party. Apparently she was very ill, and even a highly acclaimed medical center was unable to do anything to help her.
It’s very strange that I said those words since I believe the exact opposite; I believe in miracles. And I’ve had a lot of them. Starting when I was 10 years old in fifth grade, living on a farm in Live Oak, Florida. One night I swelled up like—as they say here in the South—like a toad frog. My neck looked like a football player’s, the glands in my armpits and my spleen enlarged and made me very uncomfortable, and the glands in my groin looked like little blue bird’s eggs.
At the doctor’s office, a Dr. Adams, (who had an interesting history of his own), examined me and said, The last little girl I saw like this was dead in two weeks. He went on to explain that there were several groups of unexplained cases of childhood leukemia in north Florida. Needless to say, my parents were shook up. They took me to Lake City to another doctor, and I was put in the hospital, where sternum, pelvic, and spinal taps were ordered, and a gland was taken out of my neck. The verdict came back: I did have leukemia.
Since I was so anemic, between taps, my father gave me two blood transfusions. It was over fifty years ago, and back then transfusions were done person to person. The tube ran from my father’s ankle into my arm, a slow procedure, taking over an hour. Strapped to a stiff board, my arm ached. To entertain me, my father told stories about how strong his blood was, AB positive, second to the rarest, just like mine. He said that he always came out on top. In the Air Force, he’d won a foot race in England, beating out everyone in his outfit. And in the summers, when he worked in the fields, the bear never got him. (The bear is a southern euphemism for heat exhaustion.) He also told me how his blood, when it went into my veins, changed into Red Knights on Red Roan Chargers, and they skewered the white leukemia cells with their red lances. I was ten, he was my father, I believed him—and still do.
When he ran out of stories, he sang. &Come Holy Ghost, rouse your power and come,& very loud. I liked that name, &Holy Ghost, saintly, yet funny, too. I was sure the nurses and orderlies out in the hall could hear, but no one ever came in to hush him up. When he was quiet, he was praying. I could tell: he crossed himself and his lips were moving.
Of course, What’s the treatment? was the big question. There wasn’t much. One doctor said that my parents, if they wanted, could take me to Jacksonville where they were trying full-body x-rays. My father asked whether that trip could be delayed, since he needed to get in the tobacco crop, so there would be some money. No rush, the doctor said, they’re not saving anyone.
I came home. In two weeks or so, the tobacco crop was gathered. The glands in my neck and sides subsided, but we still drove over to Jacksonville. More blood work, another painful spinal tap. No leukemia. No need to do the full-body x-rays that later would cause more cancers. My mother, pale and thin from worry, believed I was cured. My father found it hard to believe.
So our family moved to Houston, Texas, so I could be examined at the big Jeff Davis hospital. My father brought all my medical folders and all the glass slides to the appointment.
&She had it; the doctor said, &but she doesn’t have it anymore. It’s called a ‘spontaneous remission.’ That happens every now and then.& He didn’t seem surprised.
Later, it was thought that radon, released from the limestone under north Florida, caused those clusters of childhood leukemia. And much, much later, when I was a Teacher’s Assistant at Florida State University, a janitor came into my basement cubicle, climbed up on a ladder, and pulled down a device. &What’s that? I asked the man. Just keeping track on the radon, he said.
Believe me, I believe in miracles.