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Dead for 9 Minutes: Bethany’s Story

Octavia Cormier

October 20th, 2021. Exactly one month after our first anniversary. My husband Thomas hadn’t been feeling well all day. Body aches. Chills. Fever. Nothing super alarming, but something prompted me to check his temperature regularly, every 30 minutes. At 10:22 pm, I got out of bed to get Thomas a damp rag, and when I came back, I could see he wasn’t breathing. He was completely still. I shook him as I called out his name. No response. I checked his pulse; there was no heartbeat. There I was – our cat sitting beside me – both of us staring at Thomas’ lifeless body. I called 9-1-1 and began CPR.

The 9-1-1 operator instructed me to drag his body off the bed and onto the floor. Something in me changed at this moment – the situation was critical, and yet a peace ignited in me. I was confident God was going to do something, and this peace left no room for doubt or hesitation. I knew it was the Holy Spirit who had led me to check his temperature exactly every 30 minutes, and it was the Holy Spirit who helped me act quickly and with clarity. 

It took the ambulance nine minutes to arrive – nine minutes of CPR, and still no heartbeat. “Please, Jesus,” I desperately cried out again and again. 

The paramedics quickly took over once they arrived. I was pulled back into our living room as they began to work on his body. I could hear them using the defibrillator trying to revive him. Once…twice…five times…. “Please Jesus, please Jesus.…” I continued to pray aloud. I was scared; in an instant, logic overwhelmed my peace and faith. The sound of the defibrillator being used over and over stirred doubts. “Please, Jesus; please, Jesus.” Six times – and a heartbeat! Thomas was brought back to life! They rushed him to the ambulance, while I was left behind due to COVID-19 protocols. A police officer told me I was too traumatized to drive. I had been so focused on Thomas’ survival, this was the first time I realized I did feel traumatized. And it hit me how real this situation was. 

There I stood in the wreckage of our bedroom. Our mattress had been thrown aside. Syringes littered the floor. A police officer stayed with me. Both sides of our family lived out of state. I couldn’t find my phone, so used Thomas’s to call a friend from church for a ride to the hospital. I could not have faced that night alone. When we arrived, we couldn’t find Thomas. We didn’t know if he was in heaven or the hospital. We grabbed each other and started praying resurrection prayers over him (Romans 8:10-11). I didn’t know if I had just become a widow at 21. All I knew in that moment was that God is a resurrecting God – He has resurrected people before, and He could do it again. 

That first night in the ER, it was difficult to pray. I was like, “God, You just handed me this situation?” as I stared up at Him in shock. I remember walking into Thomas’s room the next day in the ICU, and realizing that I was the only person in that room who would be praying and worshiping on his behalf – and it was so hard when I had no clue what the end result would be. Thomas was septic, and was placed in a medically-induced coma for 5 days. Then 13 days in the ICU. And so many moments where the staff would say things like, “If he wakes up…” or “If he has full brain activity….” All I knew to do was pray. 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, I was the only one who could visit Thomas in the ICU, and my time with him was limited. My mom stayed with me in our apartment, but I was the only one in the room with Thomas as reports of setbacks and new infections came. I was the only one there when Thomas would hallucinate. I felt like I was the only person in the world God was doing this to. It wasn’t fair to go to sleep at night without my husband beside me. It wasn’t fair that our first wedding anniversary would come and go like this. 

I felt so weary, and yet the Holy Spirit continued to carry me. I knew our church was gathering daily in prayer for us. There were times when the doctors would give me a bad report, and I would tell them that I wasn’t going to accept the odds or possibilities they presented and that I would be there praying about it. I kept worship music playing in Thomas’s room. I wouldn’t allow negative reports or comments in that space. I’m a very shy person, but a boldness came over me. I felt God’s Presence. When they said if, I said when – when he comes out of a coma, when he has brain activity, when he comes home. I didn’t know what Thomas’ miracle would be, I just knew there would be one, and I needed to stay in that place of faith. 

There was a lot of paperwork that I’d never seen or thought about before – would we resuscitate him if he was a vegetable for years? What was the plan if he didn’t come out of his coma? It never occurred to me that I would ever be given this kind of paperwork about the person that I loved. I set it aside–my husband will recover! As an act of faith, I told the social workers that I wouldn’t have to sign the paperwork. 

Thomas was still septic when he came out of the coma. The feeding tube had to stay much longer than he wanted. There were days the hallucinations were so bad, that I literally helped the nurses wrestle him back into bed. I would tell him he was safe, he was okay as the breathing tube he ripped out was reinserted. I had to combat the feeling that I couldn’t keep going.

I didn’t recognize my husband. And I didn’t recognize myself. When we exchanged vows just one year before, I didn’t think “for better or for worse” meant this reality, all so soon. It was strange to watch him learn how to walk, eat, and write again, and to help him do both in our early 20s. It was all very confusing for Thomas, and he doesn’t remember much from his time in the hospital. 

Once he was released, he used a walker to move around. I eyed the walker in the back seat of the car, excited to go home but also terrified. The sustained strength I had felt through those eighteen days seemed to blow out the window as I drove us home, and severe anxiety settled into its place. 

The trauma of it all had caught up to me. I averaged five panic attacks a day. I was afraid of the dark. I scheduled appointments to have my heart checked, because I needed to be healthy to take care of my husband. This went on for a month and a half. I lost ten pounds. I couldn’t eat. 

I so badly wanted to simply enjoy having my husband home, watching TV together, and sleeping next to each other in bed. I wanted to enjoy the miracle right in front of me  – my husband’s healing. But instead, I spent a lot of time crying on the floor of our bedroom. Sounds triggered panic attacks, especially those I remembered hearing when Thomas wasn’t breathing. Just being in our apartment was traumatizing.

Thomas helped me through a lot of it. We prayed together a lot. At first, I was scared to bring the realness of it all to him. I didn’t think he deserved to hear what I was going through, especially so soon after all he had been through. But God prompted me to start laying it down, and that involved letting Thomas be involved. We had raw, honest conversations about what had happened. For 18 days I had fought for Thomas’ life, and now it felt like he was fighting for mine. 

We spent Thanksgiving with family in Iowa. On our way there, I kept thinking, I’m gonna keep my phone open, just in case. Or, We need to stop in this populated place, just in case. But once there, I remember sitting on my childhood bed and finally thinking, Yes, this happened, but it’s in the past. It felt like someone had finally freed me, and I realized, We’re going to be okay. Somehow we are going to be okay. 

Coming back home was still hard. I spent hours crying in my bedroom, asking God to take away the doubts, fear, and anxiety. God had brought my husband back to life! I knew God would heal me too, but my miracle wasn’t sudden – it was a process. I had work to do. I filled up journals with everything I was thinking, and everything I was hoping for. God’s persistent peace pushed me to face the things that scared me, and constantly reminded me that I was safe and I would be okay. 

One night I went to Thomas’ side of the bed, where it all had happened, and I cried and worshiped. This was the worst I had felt in my life. The doubts and anxiety tried to drown me. In the hospital, there were punctuation marks behind my faith declarations, and now there were question marks. Did I deserve healing? I had received such a miracle from God, and here I was, throwing it back in His face in the name of trauma. But even then, as I wrestled and struggled within, God was there. I knew God saw me, He understood what I was up against, and He was with me. 

I started therapy. I knew it was only God and me who knew what had happened, but talking it out with another human allowed me to lift so many things off my shoulders. By keeping my story inside, I was isolating myself in trauma; God was helping me to bring others into this space to free me of both the isolation and the trauma. 

Finally, I reached a point in a therapy session where I was able to share my story with ease. I remember thinking, This is how I want to feel and live – I want to freely speak about what my Good Father did! Once I was in my car, I rolled down the windows, and said, “This is out the window now!” I let it go. The same attitude I had in the hospital came over me, the same boldness that would declare, “No! That’s negative and not what I believe. I’m not going to have it!” 

I used to think that healing and miracles were real, but that I would never need them. To be honest, I needed to address some of the “question marks” of my faith before I could get to the end of this part of our story. It took boldness to even believe that there would be a continuation to our story. 

Thomas and I are becoming new people. Our faith is growing and maturing. We know how to fight for each other, and we know how to fight for ourselves. We know how to let God fight for “us.” I see so clearly now that we are all in need of healing and miracles. I think God wrote it into our nature to be healed. Healing is not a privilege just for those in a hospital bed, or for those with unwavering faith. It’s for you and me, too. I have such confidence now that I can boldly bring everything to Him. He sees me. He hears my every, “Please, Jesus.” He understands. And His persistent peace will guard me, and draw out boldness from within me!

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