by Dave Franco | October 30, 2019

Eighteen-year-old Elaina Triesch’s jaw and pallet operation had gone horribly wrong when, the maxillofacial surgeon accidentally cracked the bone along her sinus cavity. The result was an extreme swelling that nearly closed off her nasal passage way.

It meant that she had to lay silent and still until the swelling went down, with her teeth wired shut and her tongue splinted against the roof of her mouth, and breathe no more than a coffee stirring straw’s worth of air seeping through. It was an exhausting, unfathomable nightmare. Elaina spent every moment trying to coach her body not to respond to the panic that was building in her mind. To explode would be to cry, and to cry would mean more swelling. She couldn’t have that. She couldn’t live through that.

One month later, her nasal cavity was still swollen nearly shut. She hadn’t been able to draw a normal breath in over 30 days. She had held it together as best as she could for all that time, but one day, she knew the panic that she had pushed down wasn’t going to wait anymore. Time was up.

She suddenly grabbed her hair and began to pull. She kicked at anything that was near and writhed on the ground. Her face turned red under the already bruised purple and yellow. She made it to the kitchen where her mother was and wrote frantically on her white board what she wanted her mom to do.

“I can’t cut them off, Elaina, the doctor says your jaw will fall off!”

“Now!” wrote Elaina. “Or I swear I’ll do it myself!”

“I can’t cut them off, Elaina, the doctor says your jaw will fall off!”

Her dad walked in and saw that his daughter was acting like a caged animal, but quickly took her side. He had had enough of his daughter suffocated. Mom and dad screamed at each other as Elaina waved her hands in support for her dad’s argument. 

Her mom and dad took the conversation into the bedroom as Elaina stumbled into the garage to look for her salvation. She opened 20 drawers before she found it. 

Arriving at her parent’s bedroom, she burst open the door and started slamming the walls with the wire cutters she had just found. “All right, Elaina!” her mom screamed. “I’ll call the doctor, and I’ll take you in!”

Her mom called the doctor and the appointment was set for later that afternoon. Elaina was still seething like a caged tiger when her mom asked her to lay down on the couch to relax in the meantime. She reached onto a shelf for something to read to her, anything. She grabbed a hold of an old, dusty book, opened it up and began to read, hoping it might distract and calm her. 

Immediately Elaina felt something come over her. 

She felt peaceful. Her nostrils opened. And her lungs slowly but surely filled with intoxicating oxygen. Big, giant gulps flooded her lungs that made her half-closed eyelids flutter and the corners of her mouth curl upward. Her chest rose up and down, higher and higher, and slower and slower. She began to fall asleep.

Quietly and slowly, mom put the dusty Bible—the very one the family hadn’t seen or used in 20 years—back on the shelf and stood in amazed silence as she tried to figure out what had just happened.  She can breathe, she thought. Why can she breathe? She made a long, slow lean toward her daughter, risked a soft kiss on her forehead, then positioned herself in the room to simply watch and listen to the beautiful rhythm of Elaina’s lungs.

When Elaina and her mom arrived at the doctor’s office, he was dead set against cutting off the wires. But even he was no match for Elaina’s determination. “I’ll cut them off myself in the middle of the night and you’ll have to rush into the emergency ward. You ready for that?!” she wrote.

He cut the wires and removed the tongue splint. Elaina’s jaw didn’t fall off. Her mouth opened slightly, just enough to let some air rush in. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. Elaina cried from the pain and the delicious taste of life.

As the days went by, Elaina could not seem to gain deep breathing. All breaths were short and deeply unsatisfying. Doctors whom she visited told her she had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and that she would struggle with it for the rest of her life. Medication, they said, lots of medication.

She wasn’t going to need it.

In the weeks to come, Elaina’s mom had been invited to church by a friend and felt obligated to attend, but didn’t want to be alone among all the strange, hand-raising Christians. She asked Elaina to go with her. Elaina begrudgingly said yes.

Entering the church together, Elaina thought it was all a bit weird. Then a man with board shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and a Bible took the stage, and suddenly nothing was the same. The pastor spoke about Jesus and Elaina became transfixed. Peace like a steady, cool mist descended upon her. She could breathe again—deep inhales and effortless exhales. It felt so good, everything felt good. For Elaina, it wasn’t that she was hearing the Word; she was inhaling it. The longer he spoke about the loving Savior, the deeper the calm, the longer the breaths. 

Peace like a steady, cool mist descended upon her.

Whether she was hearing her mom read from the Bible or the pastor speak about Jesus, the Holy Spirit had an enchanting effect on Elaina. She returned to the church every chance she got—Sundays and weekdays. Again and again, the Holy Spirit was there to course through her body and restore her breathing and along the way, begin to restore her soul. She wanted this God and for the mere asking, she received Him. 

She went back home to the shelf and found that dusty old Bible. And with a large, holy puff of air, she blew away the dust. Was it worth all the pain? The answer is yes.

She lay down on her bed, raised her hands and thanked her Savior. And breathed deep again.

POSTSCRIPT:   Elaina’s diagnosis of life-long Post Traumatic Stress Disorder never materialized. She spent two years as the children’s ministry coordinator at Rock Church.


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