Weekly Reflection, Sunday, April 19, 2020
By: Ross Mackenzie
Note: With his wife Ginni, Ross Mackenzie is a five-decade member of St. Mary’s and a former vestryman. He was confirmed an Episcopalian by Holt Souder. Their sons Alec and Ross were baptized by Holt and raised in St. Mary’s, and their oldest grandchild Cole (Alec’s son, see below) was baptized by John Miller. A longtime nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, Ross edited the editorial pages of first The Richmond News Leader and then the Richmond Times-Dispatch for 38 years. He wrote the following self-interview in appreciation for the miraculous support given the Mackenzies by the St. Mary’s family….
So how’s it going?
For a guy who broke his neck six months ago, miraculously well.
You broke your neck?
I did — crossing the river at our Upper Michigan log cabin. Bought the place 57 years ago, right out of college. It’s in a state forest 1,100 miles and 22 hours by car from Goochland — 10 miles from the nearest neighbor or faucet or lightbulb; for the final leg of a trip to it one must cross a 50-yard-wide river. Ginni and I have done that crossing thousands of times. This time I fell and broke C-1 and C-2, one’s top two vetebrae.
Amazing. What happened?
Usually we cross in a canoe. This year, a friend had built a raft to help us make the crossings, and a matching set of steps to help us up the bank on the cabin side. In attempting to square-up the new raft to the bottom of the new steps and secure it, things happened and I fell and hit my head on a submerged boulder. I heard a crack and thought I had fractured my skull.
…And there were many miracles.
I’m all ears.
OK. Ginni was not with us; she was in bed with a nasty bug when we were about to leave Richmond and urged us to make the trip to the cabin without her; she would fly out to join us in a week.
Who are “us”?
The first miracle, and the agent of many others — 19-year-old grandson Cole, now a freshman in the Corps of Cadets at Tech. (Oh, and Mac our Lab.) When the accident occurred (in twilight, about 9:15 p.m.), Cole also went into the river, unhurt. When I stood up in chest-high water and said I needed some help, he said, “You’re going to the hospital” — and took charge.
He told me repeatedly not to move my neck, put me back on the raft to the other side of the river, got me up the bank, and transferred me to the car. Then he crossed to the cabin for dry clothes and Mac, and brought them back across to the car. He crossed again to the accident site to search for our two cell phones and my wallet and the car-key remote — all of which had gone into the river with us. Other miracles: In the mud and in the dark (it now was about 10 p.m.), Cole found everything on the bottom of the river, and the remote and one of the cellphones still worked; had they not worked, I would not be keyboarding these words.
Unbelievable! So —
So there ensued a halting saga: the ambulance finding us in that forbiddingly remote area; the ambulance first taking us to a hospital unequipped to handle serious neck/spine injuries, and then rolling on for several more hours to a Green Bay hospital with a trauma center (probably built on the necks of Packer linemen), where a CT scan confirmed the C-1 and C-2 fractures; and finally a Lear Jet medivacing me to MCV, where by dinner time the next day I met Ginni in the ICU.
I had called ahead to a friend and mythically famous MCV neurosurgeon. With glassy eyes, he revealed yet another miracle: an MCV MRI showed no spinal impingement.
No kidding….I was in a neck brace 24/7 for three months, with fusion of C-1 and C-2 by an MCV team of miracle-performing surgeons; for most of that three-month period I was in health care at Westminster Canterbury, where stupendous nurses and CNAs and OTs and PTs worked their share of miracles as well.
Today I have somewhat limited neck rotation, but hey — given the death or paralysis suffered by the vast majority of those with my injuries, I’ll take it! I have been blessed with a truly miraculous recovery. And that is perhaps the greatest miracle of all.
You keep talking about miracles. Have the miracles relating to your accident changed you?
We deploy words like God, faith, and miracles to explain the unexplainable. Such as: the decisive leadership of 19-year-old Cole; his finding the phones and key remote, and one phone and the remote working; no spinal damage; angelically guided hands in the MCV fusion surgery. Such miracles reinforce our faith, solidify our belief.
…Somewhere in the beauty of the lilies, miracles besides the birth of Jesus happen to the everyday rest of us. Testimonies to miracles are legion. Jesus performed many, and of course we have his miraculous resurrection. Ecclesiastical philosophy, highlighted by Augustine and Aquinas, brims with the decisive role of miracles in Christian faith. Bring out the Bibles: I am here to swear that miracles are real. Without them my belief would be inconstant and iffy. And without their pulling me back into the boat time after time, I long ago would have been planted in the St. Mary’s cemetery.
“Time after time”? This is but a single incident.
I have medically challenged the good Lord — and angelic Ginni — more than once. This accident was the third big one, after two cancers. And son Alec had a near-death experience during a SEAL training exercise with a submarine off Puerto Rico in 1995. St. Mary’s has done yeoman work praying for me during my medical ordeals, and Ginni’s — and for Alec and for his Navy pilot brother, Ross. And the church continues to pray for Alec while he is forward on active duty.
As John Paul II said, “We are the Easter people and Hallelujah is our song.” Prayer works. Miracles happen. And so often, our stories and the happy endings come down to family and family prayers and family lovingkindness. So from Ginni and me, all thanks to the grace of the St. Mary’s family for the touch of your prayerful hands on the miracles that have given several Mackenzies the rest of our lives.