Emily Sue Harvey: The Arms of Angels

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We never expect it. When it happened to me, I was blindsided. It was New Year’s Eve and I’d just dressed to go out to a late lunch with my husband, makeup and hair in place. One moment, I stepped from the upstairs landing, turning to close the door, the next my foot missed the top step and I was free-falling backward down thirteen stairs I’d spanned hundreds of times.

The horrific fall seemed slow motion and at the same time, my life zipped past me because I knew I faced death. How many times had I made my way down those same stairs, reciting safety rules, knowing their potential threat. My body was no longer mine as I heard myself calling out “Help me, God!” again and again. At times I ricocheted from step to wall, helplessly twisting and turning until finally I heard the impact that halted the spinning ascent. Crash. Simultaneously, I saw a flash of light like an atomic blast. And then it all settled into a surreal silence as pain exploded in my right leg and my neck still remained twisted tightly and I listened for the sound of breaking bones. I prayed again, “Help me, Jesus. Please help me.”

My husband appeared and in the same moment my daughter, Angel, appeared from upstairs, where she’d heard the noise and my cries and knew what had happened. “Don’t move her, Dad!” she shouted as Lee helped gently free my head from the sheetrock wall. Within minutes, the ambulance was there and had my head and neck braced and soon I was in the ER, and though shivering from shock, I was lucid the entire time. Hours later, X-rays, MRIs and CAT scans showed I had three breaks in my right leg, requiring surgery for the ankle. Miraculously, the fracture in my neck would require only a brace for three months. The neurologist in the ER told my family, “God had her head in His hands.”

The worst thing during those long torturous hours in ER was the thirst. I was not permitted to ingest anything until after all the tests, in case I had to be rushed to surgery. I was perishing the entire 9 1/2 hours before the “go” signal at 11:30 that night. I could have water and a bite of nourishment before twelve because I was scheduled first for the operating room in the early a.m. Water never tasted so good, nor the few bites of applesauce, the only thing the nurse could find. A funny sidelight was when I kept getting compliments for two days about how “pretty” I looked because my original, pre-accident make-up was not washed off in the busy-ness of the ER and surgery procedures. Needless to say, those comments made my day.

I knew I was a miracle. And yet, in those first days, I did not want to talk about the accident itself, did not want to re-visit that time. I avoided thinking too deeply about it. The surreality of it all made me dizzy. I had my work cut out just getting through each hour of alternating cheer, apathy, dizziness, depression, feelings of helplessness, pain, and myriad other sensations of survival. I reached out for something to latch on to and that something seemed elusive, even God on the level I’d always felt His presence. There seemed to be a deadness inside me and I knew the trauma was to blame but it was not pleasant. Outwardly, I looked okay, I talked rationally and was a hit with the entire hospital staff, who loved to come by my room to chat and get me to sign my books for them. I got off pain meds within the first week, which eradicated much of the loopiness in my head. I learned to sleep with the bulky leg cast that sheathed my leg from toes to knee plus the heavy metal brace that overlapped it from ankle to upper thigh. Try sleeping in that. I had a nightmare one night and I awoke wrestling that brace, leg in air, grappling to pull it off. I had a stern self-talk accompanied by prayer because a spiritual connection was there on some subterranean level. I made friends with the brace from then on, determined not to let it outdo me. Everyone declared me an official “trooper” in my stubborn determination.  The neck brace was something else. For someone like me, within whom even a fashionable turtleneck sweater could stir claustrophobic reactions, the neck brace proved most difficult.

The depression weighed heavily upon me toward the end of my hospital stay and one rainy day, restless with cabin fever, I wheeled down the hall and from a lovely waiting area, watched through glass doors as Lee unloaded some more of my books to share with the staff. I wheeled over to the coffee table and picked up the Bible. Up until now, reading had made me jittery. But I automatically flipped over to Psalm 91 and felt compelled to read. As I read, something stirred inside me, something profound. I’d not felt this kind of emotion since the accident. The words immediately came alive…“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty…He is my refuge and my fortress:my God; in Him will I trust.”

I read on past all God’s promises of protection to those who TRUST in Him and inside me the quickening grew. And then the words in verses 10-12 drew me in. “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. (11) For He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. (12)They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.” That text leapt from the page and I felt the message of them pierce me, straight to my heart and mind and I began to weep uncontrollably. And I knew, beyond any doubt, that the angels had held me on that horrific downward spiral. I had landed in the only spot that spared my life and limb. Three inches over, my head would have hit a solid beam, causing at best, paralysis, at worst, death.

At the same time this revelation seized into me, a woman with a leashed beautiful yellow lab, mixed with golden retriever, paused at the reception desk, just feet away and I reached out to her pet. “Is he a work dog?” I asked. She looked at me and compassion spilled from her as she brought him over. “Yes, his name is Lionel and you can pet him.” I leaned down to hug him. He nuzzled me and began to lick the tears from my cheeks and I felt an amazing connection of Holy Spirit love from God’s creature. The comfort was yet another of God’s mysterious ways.

My recovery here at home has been uphill and phenomenal.  Two weeks ago, the cast and heavy brace came off and I have felt the most wonderful sensation of freedom since. I’m still in the wheelchair but can get around as well as anybody. I cannot bear weight on my right leg for another week but I’m poised and ready to go when that happens, thanks to physical therapy and an upbeat attitude. I’ve made friends with the neck brace, sleeping in it like a baby throughout the nights. I will be weaned from it late in March. Woo hoo!

My favorite pastime during healing has been reading a hodgepodge collection of old books in my library. I ran across a May, 2010 issue of Readers Digest in which Pulitzer Prize-winning Southern writer, Rick Bragg wrote about how reading Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird had literally changed his life. I will read anything by Rick Bragg and again, his inimitable turn of phrases dazzled me. But most of all, I got past the style cleverness and really got his message. Reading that book changed Rick’s perception of life and love and fairness in a time of racial turmoil. And since my accident, I realize that this is my calling. To write with a passion and truth that changes lives. I can’t wait to get busy!


Emily Sue Harvey is the author of the recent national bestseller Unto These Hills, as well as five other Story Plant books. You can read more about her here.

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On February 20, 2013
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