Have you ever watched the show I Shouldn’t Be Alive on the Discovery Channel? It features stories of people who’ve had near-death experiences. Shark attacks, snake bites, shipwrecks, plane crashes, accidents, and so on. I had a similar experience when I was a child.
The incident took place in my birthplace, India, when I was almost three years old. I have no recollection of the miracle that gave me new life. Over the years, I’ve had to rely on my parents’ recounting of the accident.
It was a hot day in April. A loud, piercing cry jolted my mother out of her thoughts, as she splashed cold water on her face to wash away the summer sweat. She had just returned home with my sister and me after spending the afternoon at her sister’s school, helping children practice for a cultural program. After setting us down in the bedroom to play, Mom had rushed to the wash basin near the dining table to freshen herself, her mind abuzz with dinner plans.
A mother can recognize not just her child’s unique voice, but also her wordless cries. When the shriek cut through the quiet afternoon, my mother knew it belonged to me and that something bad had happened.
Without stopping to dry her face, she rushed to my side, at the foot of the dining table, where I was stomping my feet and howling. Shocked and confused, Mom knelt down beside me, her eyes rapidly scanned my body. “What happened, my baby? Where did you get hurt?”
Tears mingled with the water on her face as my mother searched the area around me for clues. To her horror, she discovered an opened jar of colorless liquid on the dining table. No, it wasn’t water. She put the pieces together. I had accidentally ingested caustic soda.
Despite never having tasted the effects herself, she could feel—as only mothers can—every part of the pain that I was feeling. Scooping me up in her arms, Mom tried her best to soothe me. Fears and worries flooded her mind. But she had no time to dwell on them. She knew she had to act fast.
My birth in 1979 brought my parents great joy. I was a chubby and happy baby with thick, black hair and big, brown eyes. Friends and family thought I looked like a doll. “Toy” became my nickname. Only a year later, my sister was born. We called her Joy. Our middle-class family of four lived in a one-bedroom house in Hyderabad, India. Dad worked at a bank while Mom stayed at home to take care of her energetic toddlers.
In many Indian homes, sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda, was used to remove tough stains from toilets and other areas of the house. Earlier that morning, our maid had diluted the alkaline chemical in water and used it to make our toilets shine. She had, inadvertently, left the chemical on the dining table.
It was a strange coincidence that my dad just happened to be home unusually early from work that day. Upon hearing my wailing, he rushed inside the house, only to encounter Mom already on her way out with me kicking and crying in her arms. Her hands shaking, her face red, and her eyes wide-eyed and wet, she stammered, “Toy drank caustic soda. Hurry, drop Joy at the neighbor’s and meet me at the doctor’s clinic.”
My screams were so loud that they forced neighbors out of their homes. Dad handed my sister over to one of them. He followed my mother who was running barefoot toward the doctor’s clinic which was a stone’s throw away from our house. The doctor quickly realized that the problem was too big for his small practice to handle. He told my parents to take me to a nearby hospital as soon as possible.
All the while, the caustic soda ate away at the skin in my mouth and throat. My crying would not abate.
Mom held me close to her chest as she straddled my dad’s Vespa. Although my father was terrified, he held himself together, determined to do everything in his power to rid his baby of pain. He rode as fast as he could to our neighborhood hospital.
Dad had barely hit the brakes when Mom hurried into the hospital yelling, “Help! My daughter has ingested caustic soda.” The hospital staff sprang into action. While they took me inside to be examined, my parents gathered their thoughts. Will their firstborn survive? How could they have avoided this accident? They blamed themselves. Hadn’t they told the maid to be careful, to keep the caustic soda out of reach of their children? Why was this happening? God, please help us!
They contacted their siblings and friends, while the doctors attended to me. Within the hour, aunts and uncles and friends filled up the hospital waiting room.
Corrosive ingestion is not an uncommon problem in a developing country like India which lacks strict regulatory measures. The doctors probably had treated patients like me before. However, they didn’t know how much chemical I had ingested and the extent of damage to my esophagus, respiratory tract, and internal organs. The physicians gave me a sedative and conducted a thorough investigation.
The good news was that my internal organs did not appear to have suffered any harm. The bad news was that the chemical had adversely affected my respiratory tract. Though unconscious, my breathing became more and more labored.
The medical team delivered their verdict to my parents. They had done all they could to save my life. “It’s in God’s hands now,” they told my parents. There was little chance I would survive more than a few hours. By 2 a.m., I would most likely be dead.
My mother sank into my father’s arms, as she struggled to remain standing. Tears rolled down Dad’s cheeks, as he felt hope slowly slip away.
Mom’s sisters gathered around her in shock. Only a few hours ago, they had watched me play, walk, talk… a picture of life and promise. They wondered if the Toy lying on the hospital bed, barely alive, was really their niece. What could they do or say to console their sister? As women who had faith in God, they spoke words of comfort to my mom and encouraged her to pray. Prayer was integral to their life. Kneeling by my hospital bed, they pounded on Heaven’s doors for hours, pleading for a miracle.
2 a.m. came around. I was still breathing.
“Could this be true? How could this child still be alive?” The nurses and the doctors who came to check on me were perplexed. They checked my vitals to confirm that their little patient had made it. My breathing had improved.
Dad, Mom, friends, and relatives embraced one another as they saw hope return. God had heard them and answered their prayers.
Recovery from my injuries took a while. For the next several months, I ate only soft foods. It took a few more years before I could eat like a normal child.
Even now, I cannot swallow large pills and use a pill crusher to powder my medicine. I also chew my food carefully and sometimes, surreptitiously nudge my throat with my hand to get stubborn food moving.
While the memory of the accident has escaped my mind, the knowledge of the fact that God preserved my life has always stayed with me. In tough times, I’m encouraged to look back at God’s faithfulness and rely on Him to help me press on. Not a birthday goes by when I’m not reminded of the fact that I’m alive for a reason and I’m encouraged to live a purposeful life that glorifies God and blesses others.
“…everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43:7 NIV