[ Miracles ]
40,000 Feet Up and on Death's Bed
by Martin B. Parker
"1010 . . . there it is again," Martin thinks to himself. He sees the large red numbers displayed on a digital clock at the front of the charter bus taking him and the rest of his Boeing 777 flight crew to the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. He zooms in on the clock with his digital camera, snaps a picture, and continues his internal dialogue, "Wait 'til Greg gets a look at this. It's even showing up here on the other side of the planet!" His friend Greg also takes notice when 1010 shows up on a clock, a billboard, a television screen, a license plate, or even in a phone number. Because he and Martin both continuously encounter this peculiar combination of digits, they have had many discussions over the years about what it could possibly mean. They have become increasingly convinced that it's somehow a conveyance from the Creator, perhaps to indicate that He is near. In essence, they believe it's some kind of sign from God, but what the sign indicates still remains unanswered. Martin redirects his camera to the unfolding landscape along the roadway and takes several more pictures. He soon forgets about the sighting altogether.
Arriving at the airport, the crew begins to unload from the bus. Martin overhears one flight attendant question another if the company-issued 4th of July T-shirts that a few of the crewmembers are sporting will cause any problems at security. "What do you mean?" asks Martin to his two fellow crewmembers. One of them responds, "Security is extra tight everywhere for the 4th of July. What if they aren't convinced that those wearing the T-shirts are part of our crew, even if they do show their airline ID badges? Security might seriously scrutinize those who don't look like the rest of us who are in full uniform." "Oh, they'll be OK. We'll all be together and can vouch for those wearing the T-shirts," says Martin.
The crew files through the Frankfurt airport and also through the first security checkpoint with none of the anticipated scrutiny. Afterwards, the lure of the duty free shops for international travelers draws several of the Flight Attendants away from the group. They all have a few extra minutes to do some last minute shopping and will meet up on the airplane before boarding.
The spontaneous shopping sprees eventually wrap up. Making their way through a second security checkpoint near the international gates, one by one, the flight attendants begin to trickle onto the Boeing 777 to prepare for boarding. Beate (pronounced Bee-ah-teh), the Purser (lead flight attendant) of the crew, reaches the airplane and exclaims to the crewmembers within earshot, "You are not going to believe it! They stopped me! The security officers didn't believe I worked for the airline because of this T-shirt!" Separated while at the duty free shops, Beate had come through the second security checkpoint alone. She explained to those who had gathered to listen that the security personnel asked her where her Purser was. She said that she replied firmly, "I --AM-- the Purser!" Her native German accent only added to the hilariousness of her recount, and those listening roared with laughter.
The flight attendants assemble into their positions and get into high gear to complete all of their pre-boarding duties. "Nine hours folks," the captain tells the crew over the PA. "Should be a good ride once we get to cruise altitude. So far, no weather to deal with in Atlanta. We may get in a few minutes early." Boarding begins, all systems are go, and soon they're off without a hitch. As the flight attendants launch into the in-flight service, they're already wondering how long their rest breaks will be. The service flows swimmingly as the flight attendants shine in the aisles to make their people happy and comfortable. "We really have a good crew this trip," Beate thinks to herself as she buzzes about to get things done. All is going as it should.
Beate moves through the first class cabin, taking the meal preferences from the premium passengers. As she returns to the main galley, she carries a book in her hand that a passenger, who is also the author of the book, had given to her. Filled with inspirational short stories, he explained to her that she might appreciate one story in particular. He marked the page and kindly offered it to her to keep.
Ducking into a corner of the main galley for a moment, Beate reads the short, two-page story. So moved by it, she approaches Martin and two other flight attendants nearby and insists that they must hear this story, which she reads aloud.
The story told of a weary and disgruntled business traveler who’d dealt with flight delays of several hours due to a snowstorm in Minneapolis. When he finally boarded his flight to Boston, he was greatly relieved there was an empty seat next to him.
But right before boarding ended, an unkempt elderly woman claimed the seat. Not only had he lost his buffer from the world, it was clear his new seatmate was long overdue for a bath. To top things off, she needed help in fastening her seat belt. The man reluctantly did so, grumbling silently to himself.
Making perfunctory small talk, the man asked the woman, “How are you today?” Her answer was anything but ritual.
It turned out that the woman was on her way to Boston to see her daughter, who was terminally ill with cancer. Sadly, while en route to Boston two days prior, her husband had suffered a sudden and fatal heart attack. She returned home for a 24-hour ordeal to make arrangements with the coroner and to have his body shipped back to their hometown. Ready to resume her journey to Boston, the woman found that all flights out had been grounded due to the snowstorm. By the time flights were cleared a few hours later, her daughter had passed away.
The businessman was overwhelmed with shame at his earlier impatience and selfishness. He felt the light of God fill his heart and he made it his mission to do all he could to help this woman.
The story finished, Beate looks up to find her fellow flight attendants’ eyes are welled up with tears. In awe of this moving tale, they are now intent on purchasing their own copies of this book so that they can share the story with others.
Newly inspired, they continue with business as usual. It's now getting close to the end of the elaborate first-class service. The treasured rest breaks will soon begin and will be over an hour each today. This makes for plenty of time to lapse into REM sleep.
However, it will soon turn out that one flight attendant will not be taking a break today. As the lead flight attendant on the crew, Beate has paperwork to complete as well as other behind-the-scene duties to tend to. As a result, it is planned that she will go on the 2nd break. She takes to her jump seat and unloads a huge black document kit to retrieve forms she will need.
Within a few minutes, a flight attendant named Ben comes up from the coach cabin with a question for Beate. "Do you know what's wrong with the lady in the first row of coach?" he asks.
"Well . . . no. What do you mean?" Beate responds.
Ben explains that the woman's husband has told another flight attendant that his wife is ill and may need oxygen and that she had been vomiting. Beate instinctively checks her passenger manifest, but can find no one listed having any special medical conditions – or any special needs, for that matter.
If a passenger had to have a medical emergency during flight, it couldn't happen with a better crew. As fate would have it, Beate happens to be a licensed MD and, until recently, had been working on her residency as a surgeon.
With the time off each month that a career as flight attendant can provide, many pursue higher education, second careers or simply take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to spend time with their children and families. Not only did Beate take advantage of this time off for higher education and a second career, she was also the mother of three boys. Unfortunately, only a year before, a severely injured wrist bone from an incident involving a beverage cart on the airplane had ended her residency. Now with an artificial replacement in a joint in her right hand, it’s unknown whether she’ll be able to continue her surgeon's residency anytime soon – or possibly ever.
Beate and Ben go quickly to the scene. They find Holly, a woman in her 40's, looking as if she had fainted cold in her seat. Though she has not, she is potentially on the verge of slipping into a coma – or worse, being on the brink of death. Beate's first reaction is to send Ben to retrieve the nearest oxygen canister, Stat!
Traveling with Holly, is her friend Patty, who sits next to Holly, rubbing her arm while looking unusually calm. Holly's husband, Blake, and their two teenaged daughters are standing in the aisle next to Holly, also looking calm. Beate is a bit confused by their serenity. She asks Blake if he knew what may have caused his wife to suddenly become so ill.
He explains that she is in stage four of terminal cancer. Beate, momentarily stunned, thinks to herself, "How could it be that the flight crew was never told of this?" The oxygen arrives, and Beate goes on autopilot as her medical and flight attendant training take over. She administers the oxygen, and soon Holly seems to respond ever so slightly.
In order to gain an understanding of Holly's full medical condition, Beate further questions Blake and Patty. In doing so, she learns that Holly has virtually no internal organs that are not being consumed by cancer. Her understanding is that what had begun as colon cancer had quickly spread throughout her body.
Beate also learns that Holly, her family members and several of their friends are now returning to the U.S. from a place called Medjugorje – a small mountainside town in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where it is said that miracles of healing are performed by the spirit of the Blessed Mother Mary. Beate recalls hearing at one time or another of the countless testimonies of healing received at Medjugorje.
Incredibly, Holly has received healing there in the past. Beate is told that Holly had suffered with muscular dystrophy for much of her life, and was faced with a life bound to a wheelchair. Several years ago, she and her family traveled to Medjugorje where she received a miraculous healing. From that point forward, the effects of muscular dystrophy seem to have vanished from her body.
"This story," Beate thinks to herself, "is amazing." Her impression upon learning all of this is that Holly and her family had once more traveled halfway around the world in hope of another miracle. Yet, sadly, during the journey, Holly's condition had worsened.
Having awakened from the first crew rest break, Martin makes his way up the aisle and approaches the scene. At the first row of coach he finds Beate down on one knee, quietly speaking to Holly and Patty. Standing over them are Holly's husband Blake and another flight attendant, Toni. "Did she faint?" Martin asks Toni.
"No," says Toni.
"What's wrong with her?" Martin asks.
"She is quite ill," Toni replies. She steps Martin back a couple of rows and quietly explains that the woman is dying of cancer. He stands in silence and simply observes the scene. He realizes that everything seems to be under control for now and there is nothing he can do to help at the moment.
Martin eventually moves on to the first class galley and sits on his jump seat to consider what he has just learned of this seriously ill woman. The one thing he knows he can do to help is to pray for her. So he does, quietly and to himself. Raised as a Southern Baptist, the traditional type of Christian prayer is what he offers. However, he suddenly remembers a reportedly true story in a book he had recently begun reading told by a Jewish heart surgeon who was attempting to save a patient with a blocked artery. The surgeon kept losing the patient during transport to the operating room. Finally, it seemed the patient was gone for good. The surgeon prayed for the patient and meditated on a series of Hebrew letters which are said to bring forth healing. A miracle ensued, as the patient was miraculously revived and soon, through a sonogram, his artery was found to have cleared completely – and without surgery. In stark contrast to Martin's Christian beliefs, the book in which the story had appeared was about the Kabbalah – an ancient study and science of the Torah rooted in Judaism.
Martin debates internally why he shouldn't offer the same meditative prayer for Holly. He had never heard of such a meditative practice prior to reading about the Kabbalah. He hesitates for a moment, but then grabs the Kabbalah book from his carry-on bag and opens it to the page containing the series of Hebrew letters for healing. With no real understanding of what he is doing, he simply scans the letters. Slowly, a prayer begins to evolve in his mind. It is simple and different from what he might have normally prayed according to Christian teachings. In his mind he finds himself telling Holly to “breathe and be comfortable.” These words flow continuously through his mind as he continued to scan the Hebrew letters.
Afterward, he questions himself, "Would this bring forth some miraculous healing for her? Would this actually comfort her?" Then he scolds himself for having such doubts. He argues that it doesn't matter whether he prays according to a Kabbalistic teaching or a Christian belief, the fact of the matter is that he spent a moment talking to the Creator in an effort to bring forth some healing light into Holly's sad and critical situation. Doubtful thoughts have no place in prayer, he admonishes himself. That would be faithless. Rather, "certainty" is needed, which means there is no room for doubt. This spiritual principle was something he had read in his book on Kabbalah; however, it was something engrained in him through Christianity as well.
In this instant, Martin reflects back on seeing the numbers 1010 on the bus earlier that day. "Could seeing these numbers today have been some kind of 'heads-up' for the situation we're in now with Holly?" he wonders. The mystery of these numbers deepens for Martin, though he surmises that perhaps indeed a sign such as 1010 is but one of many inexplicable ways God might choose to remind us that He always there when we need Him.
Martin soon stands to collect his thoughts. Suddenly, Beate rushes by. "Is there anything I can do to help you Beate?" Martin asks. She says, "I wish you could! You see, I can give Holly an injection of Phenergan for nausea, but I'm not sure how her body will metabolize it. Only about 30% of her liver is functional. I'm going to the cockpit to call air medical assistance to see if I can consult with another medical doctor." She proceeds to the cockpit to make the call and is advised that due to the patient's condition, it would be best to give the injection intramuscularly as opposed to intravenously. Good advice indeed, as the phenergan seems to further stabilize Holly and alleviate her nausea.
Intent on getting some liquid into Holly, Beate presents a Sprite to her. She holds the glass close to Holly's mouth asking her to take a sip. Holly's eyes inexplicably fill with fear and then anger. "No! It's poison! You all want to kill me! I know I'm dying, but you're not going to kill me!"
Beate replies, "Holly, I'm not going to kill you and I'm not going to do anything to hurt you either. Look, if this is poison then it will make me sick too. See, I'm taking a sip of it now. Watch me." She takes three sips from the glass to demonstrate. Holly is convinced. With Beate's help, she takes the glass to her mouth and drinks from it precisely where Beate had drank, just to be sure in her own mind that it wasn't a trick.
Beate is then easily able to convince two first-class passengers to give up their seats so that Holly can have a seat which fully reclined in order to make her more comfortable. Her friend Patty or her husband can occupy the seat next to her. With this accomplished, the only miracle they all seemed to need was for Holly to be able to hold on until they reached Atlanta.
It is soon realized that with nothing more miraculous than that, sadly, Holly actually stood the chance of dying in a hospital in Atlanta as opposed to making it all the way home to Austin. The airlines generally will not allow someone in such a critical state to continue to fly. They will normally make an emergency landing and get the patient to the nearest hospital. All attempts will be made by the company to insure an ill passenger has access to full medical attention as soon as possible. Knowing this, Beate bolts back to the cockpit.
As soon as she enters, the captain advises her that paramedics would meet the flight in Atlanta. Beate shares with the pilots her concern. She wants to know if Holly can be allowed to board her connecting flight in Atlanta to continue on to Austin, instead of being taken to a hospital in Atlanta. The pilots are still in direct communication with the company dispatchers and ask them this very question.
The dispatchers reply that the company is electing to have Holly transported to the nearest hospital. Beate's eyes become as big as saucers. Not even knowing where the words came from, Beate abruptly says, "I'll go with her."
"What?" asks the captain, surprised.
"I'll go with her," she repeats. "I know how to tend to her. I can make her comfortable. I can act as her nurse. I have to do this. I cannot allow her to be taken to a hospital if she is still alive when we land."
The pilots are stunned, but Beate has convinced even them. They can't do anything but let her try. They ask, will she be willing to explain this to the dispatchers?
"Of course," she says. "How do I talk to them?" The pilots pull out a headset, place it on Beate and instruct her on how to key the mike.
Almost immediately she is speaking live to a company dispatcher in Atlanta from high above the Atlantic Ocean. She explains that she would like to insure that Holly is able to connect in Atlanta to continue on to Austin. She is once again told that the company has elected to have Holly transported to a local hospital. In reply to this, Beate profoundly explains, "Guys, this woman is dying. There is nothing the hospital can do for her that we're not trying to do now. The most important thing we can do is to get her home to Austin. We have to get her home to Austin. If we send her to a hospital in Atlanta and she dies there, then we've created a whole new set of problems for her family. I will go with her to Austin. I can help her. I know what to do if she starts to get worse. We have to get her home." Beate lets her finger off of the mike key and asks the pilots "Did I do it right? Did they hear me?" There is dead silence as they stare at her in awe. Stunned, she realizes that they both seem to be on the verge of tears. Beate puts her hand on the captain's arm. "Are you OK?" she asks.
He replies "Beate, do you know how many other aircraft heard what you just said? There are at least eight other airliners over this ocean, including ours, listening in on this frequency. They all heard your plea. Look at the two of us! Can you imagine how the other pilots listening in on this frequency are reacting?" He continues, "Beate there is no way the company will say no to you. There is no way."
"Oh my God" she says. "I didn't know I was going to make you cry, or anybody cry!"
"You were very compelling," the captain tells her.
Within a moment or two the company dispatchers are back with a response. The captain was right. They tell the crew that they are now electing to allow Holly to connect in Atlanta and express their admiration and appreciation for Beate's willingness to continue with her.
But Beate needs more than this. After expressing her gratitude for their cooperation, she keys the mike again and continues with, "Guys, I have another request. I would like to have the customs and immigrations personnel meet our flight and clear Holly on the aircraft as well as all the others traveling in her party." She explains, "It will be too much for her to go through the normal process of waiting in the lines with all the other passengers. Also, we will need a quiet place for Holly to rest in between her flights. I want to keep her away from the crowds."
The dispatchers assure her they'll do all they can to help. Beate thanks the captain and first officer for all they've done. "Sorry I made you guys cry. That was the last thing I expected," she tells them.
What she is about to be told by each of them will bring her to tears as well. The captain explains that he knows exactly what Holly's husband is dealing with. "I lost my wife to colon cancer, Beate. Not quite two years ago," he says.
Astonished, Beate clutches her heart with one hand. "I am so sorry" she says. "I didn't know."
There is a pause. Then the first officer says "I lost my mother five years ago to colon cancer, too. We can both definitely relate."
At first speechless, Beate then says, "I can't believe this. I just can't believe it. I am so sorry."
Beate remains in the cockpit long enough to regain herself. She witnesses the captain call air traffic control to request a new cruise level. He wants to get down out of the jet stream they're flying against in order to pick up some speed. He asks for a lower altitude. The first officer says, "My Lord, do you know how much fuel we're gonna be burning?"
"I don't care," says the captain. "We have more than enough. We're puttin' the pedal to the metal."
Beate smiles at this exchange and then returns to the cabin. She finds Martin working away in the first class galley. "You've long since missed your break," he says to her. "Why don't you sit down and rest for a few minutes?"
She answers, "It's OK. I don't need a break." Pausing, she looks around at the service carts he's preparing and says, "Looks like you're about ready for the last service. I'll help you with this."
"Everything is done" says Martin.
"Oh my God! My paperwork!" she exclaims.
"Done," says Martin.
"Well, I have to go and do the liquor and wine inventory and lock the kits away for landing. And I have to close out the Duty Free cart."
"Did you do all of it?" she asks in amazement.
Playful, Martin answers, "Yep, all of it. I'm doing EVERYTHING. You don't have to worry about a THING. But right now . . . I'm trying to fly the airplane and I can't talk." He rushes around the galley flipping on and off light switches and frantically presses buttons on the ovens as if they were flight controls.
Beate laughs. Just what she needed, and perfect timing, too.
Martin then explains that no, he didn't do everything, but that everyone did everything. "They all just did it, without even being prompted. We need to write this crew a good letter of recommendation," he says. "Beate, this is the true definition of a CREW: when everyone pulls together, knows what to do and just does it," he tells her.
Relieved and grateful, Beate hugs Martin and says, "Thank you so much for what you've done."
"Well, thanks for saying that, but I'm telling you it was pure unadulterated teamwork! So be sure to thank everyone on the crew." He pauses, then says,
"You know Beate, I want to tell you something that might sound kind of crazy," says Martin.
"What is it?" asks Beate.
"Well, it's kind of an 'Unsolved Mysteries' sort of thing, but I think there could be some weird kind of connection . . . Well . . . Like I said, it may sound crazy!" Martin explains his intrigue with the numbers 10 10. He then shows her the digital picture he took of the clock on the bus that morning and describes the thoughts he had at the time. He is relieved when Beate responds, "I kind of cue into the mystical side of life sometimes too. You know, this is just one of those things that makes you go 'Hmmm?'"
Then, as if rehearsed, they both scratch their chins and in unison repeat "Hmmm?" They both have a good laugh at themselves.
The final cabin service soon commences, during which the flight attendants are asked about the "ill lady" by a few of the first class passengers. The crew answers carefully, advising them she'll be OK, although those within view of Holly could well see that she might not make it.
The remaining passengers becomes aware of the seriousness of her condition only when it is time to land. Beate wants to ensure that the paramedics had immediate and unfettered access to Holly when they met the aircraft. Eloquently she makes a touching announcement over the PA in English, and then in German, imploring everyone's assistance. No one will be allowed out of their seats until the paramedics can get to Holly.
The full Boeing 777 lands and parks at the gate in record time. All the passengers do exactly as they are instructed. No one flinches. The paramedics immediately get to Holly and begin taking her vital signs. They know that neither her family nor Beate wants her transported to a hospital. For the moment, Holly rests, comfortable in the fully reclined first class seat. Mixed in with the paramedics are customs and immigrations personnel.
Beate is mightily relieved that everyone is able to come through for Holly and her group.
With things going as planned, it now becomes apparent that there is no immediate need to get Holly off of the airplane. "Now we can let the other passengers leave," Beate says to another flight attendant. Out of respect for Holly, she adds, "but we'll need to have them deplane from one aisle only."
It will be the aisle opposite Holly's. An announcement is made explaining this and soon the airplane is emptied accordingly. The customs and immigrations personnel complete processing the paperwork for Holly's and her group, and leave. Only Holly, her group, the flight crew and the paramedics remain. A sense of relief seem to prevail.
Slowly, the flight crew begins to disassemble. Though, in an effort to assist Beate, her fellow flight attendant Martin remains with her and Holly's group for a while. A gate agent on the scene, Michael, advises Beate and Holly's husband Blake that a private room in the Elite Flyers Club has been reserved for them. Beate, Martin, and Michael, along with Holly's family and the rest of their group, proceed to this special room. It's quiet adn well-furnished, with a television. They settle in for an hour-or-more-long wait for the connecting flight to Austin.
Holly is placed in an overstuffed chair and her feet are propped up on an ottoman. She appears to become more alive in this room, and now seems to be more aware of where she is and of those around her – perhaps the result of no longer being in the pressurized environment of the airplane.
Encouraged when he notices Holly's slight revival, Martin sits in a chair next to her. He extends his hand and introduces himself.
From behind an oxygen mask, she replies, weakly, "I'm Holly."
"How are you?" Martin asks.
"Oh . . . OK," she answers. Not knowing exactly what else to say, Martin sits silent for a moment and observes the conversations of those in Holly's party who are nearby. He touches Holly's arm and says, "We're going to take good care of you. If I can get you anything, just let me know." Holly smiles and through her oxygen mask utters, "Thank you."
Assured when he learns that the gate agent Michael will be assisting in Beate's efforts to get Holly home, Martin eventually leaves the scene. Michael has already made arrangements for Holly and her group to be transported to the gate for their connecting flight to Austin. The flight will be on the airline's connection carrier using a small 50-seat regional jet. As the time to make the connection draws near, everyone in the group prepares to move on to the next flight.
Beate has been anxiety ridden over making this connecting flight. She knows that this lull could be the calm before a storm of procedural logjams or, worse yet, a rapid turn for the worse for Holly. There are many hurdles yet to clear.
"What if the captain of this flight won't let Holly aboard in such critical condition?" she agonizes. "We're so close to getting her home," she thinks to herself. In her mind, she checks in with the higher power. "God please let me get this woman home alive," she implores.
As they reach the gate where their small jet awaits, Beate sees that standing nearby is the captain who will be flying it. Knowing that by now this man would have been made fully aware of the dying passenger trying to board his flight, Beate wastes no time getting to him to explain the situation.
She smiles and takes his right hand into both of hers. At about 80 miles per hour and all in one breath she explains, "Hi. My name is Beate. I have just come from Frankfurt, Germany, and I am going to be traveling with my friend Holly here as her medical aide. I am a trained and licensed MD as well as a flight attendant and I can tend to all of her needs and handle any emergency with her if necessary. I want to thank you now, because I know you're going to help us get Holly home as safely and quickly as possible. So thank you very much."
He is taken aback. He has no idea how to respond at first. Shaking her two hands interlocked with his right hand he says "Oh . . . well . . . you're welcome." Gazing over at Holly who sits limp in her wheelchair, he thinks, "My God, this woman IS dying!" He looks back at Beate, moved by her determination and commitment.
Next, Beate is greeted by the one and only flight attendant, Tracy, who will be working in the cabin of their small jet. They introduce themselves, and away from Holly and the group, Beate explains the situation to Tracy in an effort to reassure her. Again, she is so compelling that Tracy shows no signs of reluctance, and she and Beate bond almost instantly. "One more fiery hoop jumped through," Beate thinks to herself with relief.
Holly is lifted out of the wheelchair by Blake and Beate and carried up three steps at the door of the airplane. They gently place Holly into her seat at the very front of the small cabin. Blake will sit next to her and Beate will sit in the row behind them. The rest of their group will sit in each of the rows behind them all. After what seems like an eternity to get settled in, they are eventually airborne.
During the two-hour flight, Holly fades in and out of a sleep-like state. Blake asks Beate, "Do you have any kids?"
"Yes," answers Beate. "Three beautiful boys."
"What does your husband do?" he asks.
"Well, unfortunately he would be my ex-husband. He's a Major in the Army, stationed in Washington, DC."
"I'm sorry," says Blake.
"It's okay. We were married for eleven years. It just didn't work out. But if it weren't for him, I wouldn't have the real love of my life, my three boys."
Blake smiles. Beate proudly pulls out a small album containing about ten photos of her children. She glows as she displays the photos, explaining who is who and how old each of them is.
Holly abruptly awakes. She pushes the oxygen mask off of her face begins to vomit. Tracy, directly in front of her, grabs a trash bag and holds it under Holly's mouth. Beate then takes hold of the bag.
At first nothing seems to be coming up. Beate is not surprised, because by now Holly should be almost completely dehydrated. An I.V. is definitely in order, but of course not available at 30,000 feet. Holly leans more directly over the trash bag and this time something does come up.
"Oh no," Beate mutters, under her breath. Holly has begun to regurgitate blood. Beate and Tracy do all they can to help Holly until the episode passes. Exhausted, Holly crumples against the back of the seat – barely even able to hold up her head.
Beate takes Holly's pulse and watches her breathing. Her pulse is almost nonexistent and she is breathing at a rate of only four breaths per minute. Beate knows that this could be the end for Holly. Over the PA, the captain advises that they will be on final approach into Austin momentarily. "You can do it!" Beate implores in her mind to Holly.
The small jet touches down in Austin. Astonishingly, Holly's breathing has improved and is now up to about 12 breaths per minute. To everyone's relief and amazement, she seems to be stable. "Thank God!" Beate tells herself as they taxi in.
The passengers aboard are allowed to deplane before the attempt to move Holly. Again, Blake and Beate handle this. As they place Holly into a wheelchair on the tarmac, her eyes are open and she is now able to more fully hold up her head.
Beate pushes the wheelchair towards the terminal building to an elevator that will take them to the baggage claim level. At baggage claim, just outside of the security checkpoint, a large group of Holly's close friends and some other family members greet them. Elated and relieved, Beate exclaims in her mind "We did it! THANK YOU, GOD!"
It will only be a few more minutes and Beate will have to say goodbye. The aircraft they've just come in on will soon be returning to Atlanta, and Beate will be on it. She begins to say her farewells to the group. Blake and his family exchange e-mail addresses with Beate, and they promise to keep in touch.
Beate says goodbye to Holly's children and then leans down to say goodbye to Holly. She half hugs Holly who doesn't have the strength to hug back. This moment nearly brings Beate to tears, but she remains silent and composed.
With her return flight to Atlanta only moments from departing, Beate leaves the group rather quickly. She heads to the security checkpoint in order to gain access to the main terminal. As she reaches for her airline ID to present it to the security personnel, to her horror, she realizes that she's left it on the airplane out on the tarmac!
The company issued 4th of July t-shirt she's been wearing the whole time only adds to the crisis she's suddenly found herself in. She has no proof that she is a flight crewmember and she's wearing a t-shirt! Turning as white as a sheet, she hits herself in the head with the ball of her hand.
Before she can begin to explain to security the whereabouts of her ID, the captain who brought her to Austin miraculously appears and yells "Beate! I've got your ID here!" He heroically tosses it to her and yells, "She's with us!" to the security personnel, then adds, "and we're running late!" He waits for Beate to clear the security checkpoint and then they both make a mad dash to the airplane.
Soon Beate is back on the little jet and headed for home. Since the same flight crew that brought the jet to Austin is also taking it back to Atlanta, she is rejoined with the flight attendant Tracy. Beate discusses the long ordeal with her, which is now coming to a close. They talk about the miracle she believes Holly and her family were hopeful enough for to fly half way around the globe.
From a medical perspective, Beate begins wondering if in any way it was foolish to think that the Blessed Mother Mary would appear on a mountainside and instantly cure Holly. She considers the question of whether or not the miraculous results she feels the family may have been hoping for should have been sought on an operating table or through continued chemo or radiation therapy.
Still emotionally wired from what she'd endured over the past 18 hours, Beate tries to rest on the flight home. The sun has set and the lights of the little towns below dot the landscape. She shares with Tracy the book containing the story of the impatient businessman delayed by the snowstorm. Before Tracy can finish reading the story, the captain calls back to her on the interphone and instructs her to tell Beate to look out the right side of the aircraft.
Beate moves over to the window to bear witness to an incredible fireworks display over the city of Atlanta. It's the 4th of July and the sky is alight with a rainbow of flashing colors. They match the rainbow of emotions Beate is feeling inside.
Suddenly, as if the words had walked up her backbone, she thinks, "Anyone with hope is no fool." That's the one thing Holly and her family held onto. But the question still lingered in her mind: Could a miracle have actually taken place the way they'd wanted?
The next evening at home, Beate checks her e-mail. Her heart races when she sees that she is already hearing from Holly's husband Blake. "She's dead," Beate thinks with great certainty.
Blake starts out his e-mail by offering profound gratitude for the extraordinary efforts by Beate to see that Holly got home. He shares that once there, Holly's head had begun to clear. Holly had said to him, "So I must have made it all up. It must have been my imagination."
"What do you mean?" Blake asked.
"The hospital in the sky. I thought there was a German woman who was a stewardess and a doctor."
He explained to her that she had been on an airplane returning from Europe. "The airplane environment probably reminded you of the ICU after you had one of your surgeries. But yes, there was a German woman who was a stewardess and a doctor."
Holly responded, "She was very nice."
Blake then asked her, "What was it you liked about her?"
"She said she wouldn't hurt me and she didn't."
"Her name was Beate Maria," Blake told her. It was something he'd learned only when Beate wrote out her full name during their exchange of e-mail addresses.
He continued, "It's German – and in English, it translates to 'Blessed Mary'. Blessed Mary took care of you without hurting you and made sure you returned safely to Austin. She traveled with you all the way to make sure everything would be okay. She did a very good job didn't she?"
Holly smiled and said, "Yes, she did."
This exchange had taken place at about 3:30 A.M. on Saturday morning, July 5th. Within minutes of their conversation, Holly had slipped into a coma.
After reading this, Beate is floored with a myriad of emotions. Trembling, she stares at the wall in deep introspection. She hadn't even considered the implications of the translation of her name into English.
Suddenly it all makes sense to her that perhaps a miracle did take place for Holly and her family. Interwoven in the tapestry of events that occurred on Holly's flights home, perhaps there were indeed a number of miracles.
She considers that it was no coincidence that a book containing a story teaching selflessness was shared with her at the beginning of her flight from Frankfurt – though she knows she would have done everything exactly the same, even without reading the story.
Reflecting on the feelings she had when she saw the fireworks over Atlanta from the airplane, a rush came over her. "Miracles are real," she thinks, " but they're concealed in the everyday world around us. We're all responsible for bringing these miracles into the world through our own selflessness."
Everyone involved indeed had brought forth some kind of light to this situation. Considering how many people were, in retrospect, positively affected during Holly's return from Medjugorje that day, it dawned on Beate once more, "Anyone with hope is no fool."
Epilogue: Holly survived for almost a month after returning home to Austin that July 4. She died peacefully at home the following August 6th.
The Journey of Miracles
© 2004 Martin B. Parker. All rights reserved.