Chapter II

Christmas Morning

Twenty Four Years Later

It was Christmas morning and the hospital was alive with visitors and agog with excitement. Some were going home; others were joyfully greeting loved ones who had come long distances to spend the holidays with the sufferers. Propped up on my pillows, I was begging the doctor to let me go home for the Christmas holidays. “I really do not want you to go home for a few days, for you are still very weak,” the doctor said. “You have had a very hard time. You must take care of yourself for the sake of this little life that is dependent on you now.”

“But this is Christmas day, and it won’t seem like Christmas in a hospital; I’ll be very careful, I promise, if you’ll let me go this morning.” And so after much pleading, the doctor, against his better judgment, gave orders to get me ready.

My heart was simply thrilled at the thought of home, husband, Christmas. I had gone down into the valley of the shadow where so many mothers have been, and snatching up this little life, I had come back with heart simply overflowing with joy that God had given me a son; that dear little warm bundle resting close beside me there was my very own and I could take it home with me. Home would be different from now on; it was such a wonderful place anyhow, for my husband and I were very happy, but it would be like a real family with a baby there. And the neighbors had prepared Christmas dinner for us; they would have it ready, they said, by the time I arrived. Oh, it was all too good to be true, and it was such a beautiful Christmas. It seemed as they carried me out of the hospital door to place me in the car (for I was still too weak to walk) that I had never seen a prettier Christmas. There was a deep mantle of snow on the ground and I exclaimed at the beauty of the trees, as their snow-laden branches reached out, glistening white, in the sunshine. The outdoor air was so fresh and cool that it made me feel stronger. I looked about on the world with new hope and joy. It was wonderful just to be alive, but to have the added joy of my new treasure was almost more than my cup of happiness could contain. And Christmas day! I had always loved Christmas better than any other day. And home! We were almost there now—just in sight of the house—how good it looked!

But—how strangely God Works! “His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.” “God works in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps on the sea, And rides upon the storm.” “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so are His ways above our ways, and His thoughts above our thoughts.”

How swiftly, unexpectedly, tragedy can come stalking across Life’s path; one moment the sun is shining brightly—the next, the sun hides his face behind a storm-cloud and the whole world suddenly turns gloomy and dark. Across the wonderful joy in my heart, and the beauty of that sparkling Christmas suddenly fell a shadow so deep and long that it overcast and blighted the years to come.

For just in sight of the little house—almost there—there was an accident. I was thrown, and my back, hitting the curbstone, was broken in two different places; stunned for a moment, and frightened, they carried me in and laid me on the bed. There was much agitation on the part of friends who hurried in, the deep concern of a loving husband, hushed voices; and then, after hours, the doctor’s verdict—it came in a quiet professional tone, but with a note of sadness that struck a chill to the depth of my heart and seemed to freeze every word into my memory with icy precision:

“She is paralyzed from the waist down; I can find no reflexes here at all. From this superficial examination I would say the back is broken, but only the X-ray can truthfully tell just what the injury is. I sympathize with you deeply and will do all in my power to help, but I feel there is very little that can be done. There is only one chance in a thousand, and that chance is an extremely dangerous one, but I can tell you more about it after the X-ray. Good afternoon.” The door closed. I was left alone in the little room—alone with a broken body; broken hopes; and a broken heart. I could hear faint whispering of friends who were anxiously talking it over in the dining room; a white-faced, heavy-hearted husband had gone for some supplies. A kindly nurse bent over me. “The baby is crying: shall I bring him?” I only nodded, for I felt if I even opened my lips to speak one word, the torrent of my sorrow would tear my aching body to pieces. She brought him in and laid him beside me—the same warm cuddly little bundle; but the joy was now gone from my heart.

Still and white, and cold as the snow that greeted me that wonderful Christmas morning, I lay staring at the ceiling; numbed, dazed, still hearing the doctor’s verdict. The bundle stirred, then a faint cry that echoed in my heart, and there came the blessed relief of tears—a stream of tears that flowed over a span of five years—five years that followed, of awful agony, suffering, and heartbreak—years of intolerable pain, isolation, and loneliness—years that seemed endless with hopelessness and despair.

READER: Please do not fail to read the following note. It is vitally important to the reader of this story.

NOTE: I desire to testify to the following facts regarding Mrs. Berg’s condition and operation:

The X-ray photographs had revealed that the back was broken in two different places, and the broken misplaced vertebrae were pressing on the spinal cord. I was in the operating room when the physicians operated on the broken back; there were nine physicians and surgeons in the room at the time. The operating physician was Dr. Oliver Fay, noted and skilled specialist; others were assisting, and some looking on, for it was a very unusual operation. They cut the back open for 12 inches, and with surgeon’s maul and chisel, hacked away the bone covering the spinal cord for nearly eight inches, thus removing the upper processes and exposing the spinal cord within that space. Through the following months she was compelled to lie perfectly still until cartilage grew over the spinal cord. (Today Mrs. Berg has no bone over that portion of that cord—8 inches—it is simply covered by cartilage.)

The wonderful skill of the surgeons and splendid medical care brought as a result of the operations partial restoration to life of the lower part of Mrs. Berg’s body, which had been paralyzed, but so great was the shock of the operation, because of her already weakened condition, that she suffered a complete collapse and did not recover from the effects of the operation for months. The following five years of invalidism, during which I nursed her, with the help of others. She developed acute angina of the heart, which is pronounced incurable by the medical profession, and causes extreme suffering on the part of the patient. She already had aortic and mitral stenosis (a valvular trouble of the heart). Many times I have sat beside her, holding my fingers on her pulse, when there would only be two or three heartbeats out of every five, and more times than I can remember when she grew so weak, toward the last, that I could not feel the pulse at all over a period of many seconds. Her stomach became completely salivated; the bowels partly paralyzed.

Over quite a period of time, we gave her nourishment through a tube, as she was unable to swallow; a severe lung trouble had developed and the right lobe of the lung was almost completely gone. There was a large lump on the back of the head at the base of the cerebellum—a lesion, which would interfere in some way when she turned her head, and caused her to sink into unconsciousness. The trouble grew worse as she grew weaker; at last she was unable to turn her head at all. Acute pyorrhea set in in her gums, which were inflamed and swollen, and nearly every tooth was loose. She was, with rarest exceptions, unable to take any solid food at all, and was fed only diluted liquids through a tube.

During the last year of her invalidism she was seriously paralyzed on the left side and lay absolutely helpless on rubber cushions, while she was fast going blind and was kept alive only by stimulants; for over five years she was a helpless, hopeless invalid, lying on rubber cushions, weighing only 78 pounds, her body emaciated and her face gaunt; unconscious most of the time towards the last—an intense sufferer—a hopeless case, absolutely given up by the physicians. She could not even be turned in a sheet, to rest her back, for if she was turned on her side for even a moment or two, her heart would begin to lose beats—slow down—and once it actually stopped beating, when we took too great a risk.

I carried her on a stretcher to the Battle Creek Sanitarium; in the same manner to St. Louis, Missouri, to a heart specialist then clear to Corpus Christi, Texas, still on a stretcher; and on to San Francisco, California, where we decided to take her to some quiet place to spend her dying days, as she steadily grew worse, and the medical profession were perfectly agreed that no matter where we went, there was not the least hope, nor the least thing which they could do.

It was in the parsonage of the First Christian Church at Ukiah, California, of which I was pastor, that we waited for the end. When we first arrived at Ukiah, Mrs. Berg’s condition was so improved that we entertained hopes for her regaining health, but there came a sudden relapse and her condition was worse than ever after that. Doctors claimed that it would not be long, and agreed that it was little short of a miracle that her life had been so far prolonged. She had the very best medical attention through the years and they did not hesitate to tell me that Mrs. Berg’s case was completely beyond medical aid; no human skill could help her. We thank those good men; they were very helpful, and did all they could, but when they gave up and told us there was no human help, we took the case to a higher power and found that there is “nothing impossible with God,” and “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.”

I desire to testify to these facts, having been an eye-witness to the operation and a constant attendant upon the case throughout the years of invalidism, and can truthfully say without the shadow of a doubt, that what happened to Mrs. Berg (which she tells in her story) was truly a miracle.

May God richly bless you as you read; strengthen your faith and deepen your love for Him. “From death bed to pulpit, overnight” was a small thing for His power. He can do still greater things for you, and says in Jeremiah 33:3, “Call upon me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” According to your faith, be it unto you.

H.E. Berg (husband of Virginia Brandt Berg)