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The Ultimate Story

By Xrayman ~

What follows is the ultimate story of failed prayer that unfolded at my workplace recently. It was a terrible tragedy that happened to the family of a wonderful friend and coworker...

I am an x-ray tech at a Level One Trauma center in Lansing Michigan which is the go to place for the victims of horrific car accidents and other mishaps causing life threatening bodily injury. When an ambulance or chopper arrives on site, our x-ray department responds to the ER with a portable x-ray machine to the trauma room. In my 17 years I’ve seen it all, and early on you learn to put up a huge emotional wall to protect your sanity, but from time to time that emotional wall can break down as it did in the story that follows.

As my shift was nearing its conclusion late last Friday evening around 11pm, the trauma pager sounded with the print out reading..”M.V.A.(motor vehicle accident) high speed 18 Y.O. male ejected from vehicle. Neck injuries vital signs stable.” Soon after this alert one of my coworkers Michelle is a dear friend, frantically called and informed us that her 18 year old nephew Robert had been involved in a serious car accident and was in route to our facility. When the kid arrived in the ER he was assessed, stabilized, and immediately sent to Cat Scan. The news was not good. This strapping, athletic young man had suffered a broken neck at two levels. ER doctors were unsure whether this injury would result in paralysis or permanent disability of any kind, but thankfully there appeared to be no life threatening injuries including any brain trauma.

My coworker Michelle, the aunt of the victim comes from a wonderful, extremely close Catholic family. She is one of five siblings who all live within a few miles of their parents, and are all the very best of friends. They live in a small farming community where the lives of its members often revolve around activities of the local Catholic Church. When the word spread of the terrible accident, calls to prayer were fast and furious in this tightly knit village of 800. The Facebook pages were alive with prayer for Robert as well. Michelle set up an update web page for her nephew reporting his condition and progress. 99% of the comments on this page included the mention of prayers for Robert’s recovery. There is no other group like the Catholics who can live their lives no differently than this atheist, yet can turn hyper religious in a heartbeat as seen in this situation as my coworker was posting scripture.

Robert was very stable Friday night, but was put on a ventilator to keep him well sedated. Saturday he was sent to surgery for a lengthy operation in which plates and screws where inserted to repair and stabilize his neck. After he came out of the O.R. the family had a meeting with the veteran neurosurgeon and asked the question on everyone’s mind: “Will Robert ever walk again?” The surgeon was frank, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” This type of injury has seen results varying from complete below the neck paralysis, to a complete full recovery. It was a very indecisive type of spinal cord injury that could also leave this youth somewhere in the middle with partial paralysis, but Robert had youth and great health on his side, which is huge as well as his dedicated family who never left his side for support.

Three days after the accident I punched into work on Monday and immediately found my dear friend Michelle. I asked her as to the progress of her nephew. Michelle said he was moving his hands and wrists which was a very good sign of ruling out below the neck paralysis, but he still was unable to wiggle his toes. Robert was giving thumbs up to his family and friends and he was almost ready to have his breathing tube removed.

Michelle said to me, “Bill I know you are an atheist and don’t believe in them, but I truly think God performs miracles and I am confident my nephew will walk again.” But even after her statement of faith in her “all mighty” God and healer, she knew her nephew may be spending his life in a wheelchair which was just breaking her heart.

Now for the grandest of ironies: this young man went into cardiac arrest exactly when the community was gathered in the church praying for him.Robert had made it past the point in his recovery where his life was out of danger so his parents finally went home for a while to get showered and tend to their other two children. They needed to start making arrangements for Robert’s transfer to a rehab hospital for he faced months of intense rehabilitation. The support this family received from the friends, family, and community was overwhelming; besides the multitude of prayers people were coming together offering real tangible assistance as well. A special mass was planned at the Catholic church Monday night so all those who could come, could gather together and pray for this star player of the High School’s baseball team. All the religion aside this was one of the greatest displays of human love, action and support I have ever seen.

On Monday night I was coming down the last hour of my shift at the hospital when the unthinkable happened. It was the most horrible thing as I heard the hospital wide overhead announcement: “Code Blue NCU-02..Code Blue NCU-02” I knew this was Robert’s room. For reasons completely unknown, with his life seemingly out of danger, Robert went into cardiac arrest and died. They worked on this kid for 45 minutes with everything they had to bring him back, but finally pronounced him dead at 7:45pm. As I drove home from work that night I was sick to my stomach and feeling so much sorrow for this family. It was just an awful helpless feeling. What makes this situation worse is the fact that a seat belt would have absolutely saved his life for he was ejected from the vehicle. Also it was discovered that alcohol was a factor so one of Robert’s best friends, the driver, will now face vehicular manslaughter charges.

Now for the grandest of ironies: this young man went into cardiac arrest exactly when the community was gathered in the church praying for him.

I’ve never seen a situation where prayer had proven itself to fail so miserably. I’ve never seen a situation in which I have been this close where so many people were joined in prayer and where those prayers were absolutely futile. Michelle was devastated obviously and I have only spoken to her for a brief moment since Robert’s death but one thing she did say to me..”I truly believe God took Robert like this because he knew this active athlete and outdoors-man could not go on living the rest of his life in a wheelchair.”

Michelle’s statement disturbed me at many levels, but exposed the instant game of mental gymnastics a Christian can play when the desired outcome of their intense prayers fail. I bit my tongue and instantly thought to myself, “Why the fuck did God have to take his life? Why instead didn’t God just allow Robert to make a full recovery and go on the live a full productive life instead of sending him into a fatal cardiac arrest?”

What else was really disconcerting as the atheist looking in on this terrible tragedy is the fact, despite this kid’s demise and horrifying end to this story, God still remains the hero worthy of worship. He gets no blame in this untimely death. Now his job is to comfort the family and help them carry on. “Pray for the family.” “God never gives us anything we can’t handle.” In addition if one or both of the parents go through a period of doubting or hating God, more than likely they will give their testimony that while they once were mad at God, they now realize that He is the one who carried them through.

In conclusion, working at a large busy hospital one message is abundantly clear: Life isn’t fair and never will be. Terrible things happen to wonderful undeserving people through causation, chance, and coincidence. To invoke a grand plan of a divine creator in a situation like this makes absolutely no sense and it makes absolutely no sense that people like this wonderful family can't see things as we do. The world operates exactly as a Godless world would operate.