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Mary's Blessings

alec vanderboom

I almost didn’t live to see my 27th birthday.

On December 26, 2001 (five days before turning 27), I woke up with my husband in my childhood bed. We had spent the weekend celebrating Christmas with my family. Now, at 4 AM we had to rush back to my law office before it opened. I was the lowest lawyer on the seniority totem pole. That meant my request for extra vacation time was denied. “Boxing Day,” would find me and my boss manning the office phones alone while everyone else enjoyed a few extra days with friends and family.

After work, I came home at five o’clock and crawled into bed. At around 6:30, my husband gently shook me awake. “If you keep sleeping now, you won’t be able sleep tonight,” he said.

I remember that my husband sat down next to me on the bed. Every time I slipped back into sleep, my husband gently tugged on my right shoulder. “I know that you’re tired, but you’ll really regret it if you go back to sleep. You’ve got to trust me on this one!”

Jon was watching a History Channel documentary on the “Gold Rush” on our bedroom TV. I laid in bed for about ten minutes listening to random facts about California in 1848. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate, the words and images slipped right off my mind. I found myself slipping back into sleep again and again. It was physically difficult to keep my eyes open. “I must be coming down with the flu,” I said in a daze.

My husband agreed and thought that we must have caught some sort of flu bug during our recent visit with my family. Then my husband, Jon, started rubbing his temples. “I have a terrible headache. I can barely see. It must be some type of migraine from lack of sleep or something.”

At this point, my inner radar went off. My husband never, ever gets headaches. Something was seriously wrong. “Let me go get you some Tylenol,” I said. I made the heroic effort to get out of bed.

This is where things start to get weird. I walked into a wall! I got out of bed, turned the three steps towards the hallway door and then walked straight into a wall. I collapsed in a heap of pain and bruises. I’d missed the door by at least two feet. I ened up with serious bruises on my head, my arm, and my toe. When I hit the wall, I just crumbled onto the floor.

Jon rushed to my side and started checking me out in his med-tech way. I tried to wave him away. I was so embarrassed. What a silly mistake to make! “Just let me go get us both some Tylenol,” I said. When I tried to stand up, I couldn’t even figure out which was up. Everything was disoriented and confusing.

Jon got me back into bed. He started running through my physical symptoms, trying to find out a medical answer. I wasn’t worried about myself, I had decided it was the flu. “The flu would never make you crumble to the floor like that,” Jon said. “I’ve never seen anything so weird in my life.”

I lay on the bed, confused and scared. Jon was pacing back and forth in our bedroom saying things like “food poisoning? Salmonella?” My brain couldn’t follow the thread of his conversation enough to help him.

I decided to pray a Hail Mary. I was only halfway through RICA at that point and couldn’t remember the words well on a normal day. I remember I said “Hail Mary, Full . . . ,” and then my brain went all fuzzy. I “saw” a blue ball, like a balloon, float above my head and rise to the ceiling. “That’s my prayer on the way to heaven, “ I thought. I remember thinking that it completely logical that my few words had created a blue balloon. “Blue is Mary’s color. She’ll get the message,” I thought. Comforted, I put my head down on my pillow and went back to sleep.

At that moment this image “popped” into my mind. I had this clear picture of my old roommates Carbon Dioxide Monitor. I had not thought of this roommate in five years. I don’t think I ever even knew what her monitor was called at the time. Yet there was a clear image of this bulky white monitor plugged into the blue wall next to my old kitchen sink with the words “CO2 Levels.”

“Jon, do you think it could be something about that weird gas called CO2?” I mumbled.

What happened next was a second grace of our marriage. If my husband had said “phish pash” or any other negative comment, I would have dismissed the thought from my mind. After all, as a former army medic, he was the medical expert. I wasn’t even sure why I had this crazy mental picture in the first place.

Yet my husband, the kind, only married six months newlywed that he was, took my crazy thought extremely seriously. “Carbon Monoxide poisoning. That might explain our symptoms.” He opened up our bedroom window and leaned outside.

Those few gulps of fresh air, cleared his head enough to save us. He called his Dad, a retired State Trooper. On my father-in-law’s advice, my husband opened all the doors and windows and called the Fire Department.

This whole time, I lay semi-unconscious on the bed and refused to get up. “I’m sure it’s nothing,” I kept saying. “Why are you bothering all these people? Why make such a big deal out of the flu?” It wasn’t until I watched my dog’s reaction to the newly opened front door, that I changed my mind. Our dog, Sara, is a serious run-away who bolts at the slightest opportunity. I watched Sara raise her head, notice the open door, and then lay her tired head back down on her feet. “Even the dog is sick. Something is seriously wrong!” I finally consented to being helped into the car to wait for the arrival of the Fire Truck.

Long story short, the Fire Department found incredibly high readings of Carbon Monoxide in our house. When we called back my father-in-law from our new hotel room, he flipped out! He had been very calm during the initial call. When he heard how high the actual readings were, he became so agitated. “You guys were seven to ten minutes from completely passing out all together,” he shouted. “That means you would have died.” My father-in-law told us grim stories about finding CO2 victims in his work as a New York State Trooper.

Our rescue made it on the front page of the Portsmouth Newspaper. I have the clipping of Jon and I holding our two dogs and smiling next to our Christmas tree. It turns out that the poisoning came from a faulty furnace pipe. Our landlord never checked out the furnace during his 15 years of renting the property and overtime soot had backed up the pipes. When we left to visit my parents, we turned down the heat. On his return on December 26, Jon turned up the heat to warm a cold house. That action caused the blocked pipe to break completely, sending the odor-less, poison gas throughout our home.

The incident freaked me out for a number of reasons. During this time period, I basically lived alone while my husband attended graduate school in another state. If the pipe had broken during any other weekend, I would never have noticed. I would have come home after work, gone to bed early and never woke up.

Our experience also gave tangible proof to the grace of “togetherness” in marriage. Our individual experiences with CO2 didn’t alert us to its dangers. I simply thought that I was coming down with the flu and “stupid” for running into a wall. My husband dismissed his migraine as a symptom of lack of sleep. It was our concern for the other spouse that made us realize the dangers of the situation. I knew that Jon never got headaches. He could see that my crash into a wall was no mere accident. Together we pieced together the danger and executed an escape plan.

It took two of us to escape from danger. Suddenly living separate lives in separate states didn’t seem so hip and modern anymore. It seemed downright dangerous.

In a few weeks, I’ll celebrate seven years of marriage with my husband and seven years of saying the rosary. I’m blessed to have Our Mother’s Maternal Protection in all matters great and small.