God’s Glory On The Day I Watched My Husband Save Our Son’s Life
“Mommy, come here!” She screams even though I’m in the next room, and I come rushing to see what’s wrong. Her brother is choking. This is not an unusual occurrence. His thick tongue and low muscle tone—common characteristics of those with Down syndrome—have often triggered choking incidents since he was little. We pureed his food until well after his second birthday, and I’m all-too familiar with the hook and sweep technique they taught us to dislodge food from his throat.
But today, it doesn’t work. Frantic, I send my daughter to get her daddy. It’s the beginning weeks of the 2020 pandemic, and like almost everyone else in our nation, he’s working from home today. He pounds down the steps and rushes into the dining room to assess the situation. “Call 911,” he says. A simple instruction but I know he’s scared. My husband is not a worrier and children’s injuries do not rattle him. I’m the worrier, the worst-case-scenario imaginer. I’m the one who is told to Calm Down when the kids are sick, fall off the swing set, or break bones and bleed. It is not an exaggeration when I say we’ve had our fair share of emergency situations.
Yet I’ve never been the one to call the paramedics or rush the kids to the ER when a leg is hanging limp and teeth are perpendicular to the face.
“I don’t know how to,” I say. My hands are shaking, I can’t think straight, and I suddenly cannot perform a simple task like calling the people who have the ability to help my son. My husband barks instructions while frantically trying to sweep out the sandwich that is stuck in our son’s throat. We were just eating lunch. This is a normal Friday afternoon. How do these kinds of things happen? We eat Nutella sandwiches every Friday. I know I should be trying to figure out how to use my cell phone but I cannot stop questioning the situation and wondering at how life can go terribly wrong in the blink of an eye.
Eventually I make the call and step outside on the front porch. What do I say? How do I make them hurry up? What words do they need to hear in order to realize our son is struggling and we need intervention, now?
“911, what’s your emergency?” I tell her our son is choking and we cannot help him. He has Down syndrome. Please, hurry. I give her our address, and tell her we live just down the street from the fire department. On the corner. The green house. He has Down syndrome, he doesn’t know what’s happening, and he can’t communicate to us what he’s thinking or feeling. Somehow I think to myself that if she knows he’s disabled, they’ll move more quickly. It seems silly now, but at the time, I wanted to convince her our situation was far more critical than any other person who might be calling at the same time. If there is a queue at the fire department, I hope they call my number first.
By this time I know my husband is deeply concerned. He has switched from hook and sweep to the heimlich, and is now shaking our son upside down and pounding on his back. I can see the terror on my husband’s face as I watch our son’s face turn blue. He carries him outside and readies him for the paramedics. He is swift, decisive, never pausing to take his eyes away from our son.
I begin to jump up and down on the porch and I scream to the woman on the phone, “Where are they? My son is dying! How much longer until they get here?” I cannot stop trembling. I want to watch but I also do not want to watch. How does one bear witness to their child dying on the front porch?
I look up and our neighbor is walking across the street. My oldest daughters have gone over to care for their baby, so she can come to help. “I heard screams. What’s going on?” I fill her in while I listen to the 911 respondent at the same time. I watch as she kneels down next to my son, ready to do whatever she can to help.
“Tell your husband to try CPR,” the lady on the phone says. I give the order to my husband. He begins the rhythmic pressure on our son’s lifeless chest. And then he places his mouth right over top of our son’s. Never mind the vomit on our boy’s face, the bits of sandwich getting into his own mouth. He will do what it takes to save our boy. Any loving father would. Our neighbor is kneeling on the porch next to my husband, helping him administer CPR. Carefully listening and watching for any signs of breathing.
How does he know how to do this? How can he even think straight in this moment? I cannot fathom what is happening in front of me and I am angry that it takes emergency personnel an eternity to respond to an emergency. Doesn’t emergent mean immediately? What are they doing? We literally live four blocks away from the fire department. Isn’t that less than a mile?
I notice out of the corner of my eye that my son’s face is now purple and I am sure he’s gone. I’ve lived through tragedy, and I’ve spent years imagining what it might have looked like in certain scenarios, but I’ve never witnessed trauma like this. I do not know if it’s normal to begin planning a funeral, or at least how one will feel at a funeral. But this is what I begin to do. I start listing off the ways I will have to relay to people for the rest of my life how we lost our precious boy.
He died from a sandwich. He’s lived eight years of life without medical complications associated with his disability. He survived pneumonia and hospitalizations multiple times. Every year his blood tests come back normal, even though children like him are susceptible to leukemia and other forms of cancer. We did everything we could but we couldn’t save him.
I’m back in the moment and think to myself this cannot be happening. Please, Lord, no.
I feel helpless. Scared. Angry. Confused. As I pace across the porch and peer around the corner again for the anticipated help, like a gentle but firm whisper in my heart I hear: The Lord is my Shepherd…I shall not want…he makes me lie down in green pastures…he leads me beside still waters…even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…I will fear no evil. For you are with me.
Will my front porch become the shadow of death today? I pray not. I do not want to think about what we will do when he’s gone, how we will tell the kids, and the ways we will care for them through this ordeal. But at the same time I have a deep confidence that the Shepherd is here. He is with me. He does not choose to drop in or show up when we need him or when life feels like it cannot go on or when we are about to experience the worst thing imaginable. His presence is always there. Perhaps he will take us through a valley. Maybe today will be that day.
The psalmist doesn’t say if I walk through a valley, he says even though I walk through the valley of death. As horrible as it is, death is unavoidable and inevitable. If not today, it will be another day, a different situation. Not just for my son, but for me too. Now or tomorrow or thirty years from now, the Lord is my Shepherd. He is with me. Every step of the way.
I begin to take deep breaths and try to still my rapidly beating heart. I look over at my son and watch my husband working with all his might on my son’s lifeless body.
And there it is. A small gasp. A bit of movement in his chest. He coughs, sputters, and his eyes flutter open. Almost in the same instant, the ambulance arrives. The paramedics come up onto the porch and begin to work on our son. We answer questions. We touch our boy. I still cannot stop trembling, only now I’m sobbing from the weight of it all. The intensity of this moment when I thought my son would die before my eyes and yet he’s alive. I do not know why, and I will wonder at this gift for a long time, but God graciously preserved his life.
My husband goes upstairs to change his clothes—his shirt is covered in vomit and blood. They place our boy on the stretcher, hook him up to an oxygen tank, and wheel him to the ambulance. I squeeze his hands, kiss his face, and wipe my tears. My husband and I embrace before he steps into the ambulance.
“I thought we lost him,” I whisper. “Me too,” he says. We feel grateful, overwhelmed, terrified, and exhausted. And in this moment, I love my husband more than ever.
He saved my son’s life.
Never once did he give up. Even though there were many moments when he thought our son had already died, he kept trying. With every ounce of his strength, every trick he could imagine, every moment intent to do as much as possible, he did whatever was necessary to spare our son.
I cannot help but connect this with my Savior, Jesus. He was not kept from death. No one came to his rescue or offered a helping hand or did whatever necessary to spare him. Beaten, bruised, and banished to Golgotha, Jesus suffered incredible pain. Nails were driven into his hands and feet. A crown of thorns was placed on his head, piercing him and causing blood to spill down his face. Affixed to the cross, he would lift his body, rubbing it against the shards of wood just to get a breath. Historians say suffocation played a major role in death by crucifixion; just like my son, Jesus struggled to breathe. And his life was not preserved. With one final breath he said, “It is finished,” and then he died.
And yet what do I know to be true? God the Father could have saved him! The all-powerful, sovereign, just, and merciful God of the Universe could have reached down and preserved his Son. By sending angels to surround Jesus and protect him from this suffering, or by lifting him down from the cross, God the Father could have delivered Jesus, his one and only Son. If he spoke light and life into existence with a single word, surely with a single word he could have stopped the entire mess. He had all the means necessary to spare his Son.
But he didn’t. God allowed Jesus’ death. The Father sent Jesus for this very purpose. God ordained Jesus’ death. As the songwriter says, the Father turned his face away.
Why? Why would the Father willingly sacrifice his Son on the cross for you, and for me?
Because he loves us.
God could have found another way, there could have been a different means of grace and deliverance and salvation for sin. But when God promises life through death he will follow through. When God said a deliverer would come who would suffer and die for the forgiveness of sin—my sin and yours—he meant it. All along he knew it would be through the death of his Son.
God did not spare his own Son, he gave him up. He did whatever it took to save his people. Even though it meant forsaking his own Son.
God may have turned his face away from his Son in order to save us, but he didn’t turn his face away from his people. From the beginning of time he set his love upon his people. He is intent to save us and he did it through the costly gift of his Son’s life.
And as I reflect upon this kind of love, it’s in this moment that I love my Savior more than ever.
It would be more than two years before I would buy Nutella again—the thought of a repeat accident was too much to bear. I’ve often wondered why God spared our son; I know many parents whose children were not spared, including my own. There may never be an explanation this side of heaven, and when I begin to wander down the path of what-ifs and why’s—a traumatic incident like the one my son endured can seem pointless and unfair—I have to remind myself to be thankful. God is doing something. Can I trust him?
After his accident, I suffered from panic attacks and other physical manifestations of crippling fear. It’s difficult to erase a scene like this from your mind. But throughout this season of fear, God remained faithful. He continuously reminded me of Psalm 23 and as I repeated the phrase, the Lord is my Shepherd, he carried me through the dark valley of fear and what-ifs and vivid images I couldn’t forget.
But the thing I learned the most, and the repeating theme in my heart has been the gift of my own salvation. Because when you bear witness to a miraculous deliverance from physical death, you can’t help but remember the miraculous deliverance from spiritual death made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God continues to answer my oft-repeated prayer, “God show me your glory through our son’s disability.” This time he chose to answer my prayer on the front porch as I watched my husband save our son’s life. Yes, because God miraculously preserved our boy, but also because it gave me a clearer picture of my own salvation.
Even as the Father turned his face away from his one and only Son, he set his eyes and his love on us. On me. On his people whom he promised to redeem. Behold what love the Father has given to us, indeed.
Photo by Jochen van Wylick on Unsplash
Thank you for this vivid retelling of a wrenching experience. It could not have been easy. But thank you even more for redeeming that experience to the glory of God and the sharing of His Gospel!