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Far Away from Home

In this excerpt from Best Angel Stories 2016, a gravely ill teenager is visited by an angel.

hospital hallway in a blue, dreamlike blur
Credit: Getty Images/Creatas RF
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Any minute now, I was going to die. I gripped my blanket and peered out the hospital window, the cold December wind howling in the darkness. My heart thumped in my chest, fast and erratic. Not the strong, steady heartbeat of a normal 18-year-old. But I wasn’t normal.

Three weeks earlier, I’d had a kidney transplant at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where I was still recovering. I had hydronephrosis, a disease that damages the kidneys. When I had one of them removed at the age of four, my doctor warned my parents I’d eventually need a transplant.

We weren’t prepared when the other kidney gave out during my senior year in high school. I had no choice but to defer admission at my first-choice college, the University of Southern California, and have the operation. I would remain on dialysis until my new kidney started working on its own.

I heard a knock at the door and a nurse stepped in to administer my nightly medication. I’d grown close to the nursing staff over the past few weeks. I tended to be more blunt with them about my fears, rather than worry my parents. I was absolutely certain I was going to die. Soon. It didn’t matter what the doctors said.

“You’re making great progress,” the nurse told me. “You’ll be home in no time.” I washed the pills down with the icy water, wishing I could believe her.

I tried to imagine my new kidney working to cleanse my blood. Healing me. But all at once, I felt dizzy. The room spun around and my heart rate surged, pounding faster than it ever had before. I looked up at the nurse in panic. She ran out to call for help. What now? A reaction to the medicine? A heart attack? This is it. I’m dying.

The doctor and nurse rushed into my room and prepared a syringe. They managed to bring my heart rate down but warned that I’d need further treatment. “For now, you need a good night’s rest, young man,” the doctor said, closing the door behind him.

Sleep? That was the last thing I wanted. If I fell asleep now, I was sure I’d never wake up. I pictured my friends off at their first semester of college, starting their lives. My heart raced faster and faster.

There was still so much I wanted to do. Go to college. Meet the love of my life. Find my dream job. My eyes welled up. I missed Mom and Dad. Everything was slipping away. I was used to health problems, but this? I needed more than a good night’s rest. I needed a miracle.

There was a knock from outside, and the door to my room creaked open. A new nurse poked her head inside.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” she said with an accent I couldn’t quite place. “Are you still awake?”

“Yes,” I whispered. My voice cracked. The nurse was middle-aged, with lovely brown hair. In all my time at the hospital, I’d never come across her.

“How are you doing, my dear?” she asked sweetly.

I was too scared to lie. “Not good!” I blurted out, tears running down my cheeks. “I’m afraid I’m going to die. I’ll never go home again!” She reached for my hand and patted it gently. “I’m far away from home too,” she said, looking into my eyes. “My native country is Ethiopia.” There was something comforting about her eyes, and I relaxed. My tears stopped.

“You’re strong,” she said.

“Don’t worry, okay? Let me read you something.” She held up a book, opened it and leafed through the pages until she seemed to find her spot. “It’s from the Bible,” she said. I listened to her delicate accent, not necessarily focusing on her words, but on the soothing sound of her voice.

READ MORE: THE ANGEL IN THE HOSPITAL

I found myself lulled into an incredible sense of peace and warmth, almost as though I had floated out of the room. Everything was bright, and I felt the presence of something greater than myself. I thought of family and friends I had loved in my life. I thought of my parents resting at home until they returned to my side in the morning.

For once, I felt calm. Serene. As my heart rate steadied and I drifted off to sleep, I caught one last glimpse of the nurse’s wavy brown hair.

“Good night, Doug,” she said.

Then I fell asleep.

My heartbeat was stabilized in treatment the next day. My new kidney started working only a few days later. I was taken off dialysis and released from the hospital. The doctors and my regular nurses had been right.

But I knew that my going home only partially explained the peace I had finally found. So a week later I returned to the hospital and headed straight for the nurses’ station. There was someone I wanted to see again—and thank.

“I want to at least write her a note,” I said. “She really helped me when I felt so desperately alone.”

The nurse listened to my description of a middle-aged woman from Ethiopia and shook her head. “We don’t have anybody like that here,” she said. “Never have.”

“But she visited me…” I stammered. “What about one of the other floors?”

“No,” she said. “I’m the head nurse here. I would know.”

I couldn’t stick around too long to investigate. I had family to spend time with, friends home for winter break, and a meeting with my advisor at the University of Southern California to plan my school year.

I went on to finish college, marry the love of my life and find my dream job as a pastor. But I’ve never forgotten that night I thought my life was over—or the one woman who assured me it was just beginning.

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