A Change of Plans

Mysterious Ways|June/July 2020

A Change of Plans
I lay awake in bed, bleary-eyed from a night of drinking, exhausted yet unable to sleep. I hated living like this but felt powerless to stop.
Dr. Mark D. McDonough

Three-thirty in the morning.

I was a 27-year-old physical therapist who worked with burn victims at a hospital in central Florida. From the outside, I seemed on my way to success. I owned a boat and rented a three-bedroom cottage by the dock. But I was drinking myself to sleep every night. I’d begun showing up for work with traces of the previous night’s party on my breath. I’d recently crashed my friend’s car. If I kept going like this, I would soon be drinking around the clock. I could lose everything.

I’d grown up watching my dad’s drinking become a problem after my mom and youngest brother, Toby, had died in a horrific house fire 11 years earlier. I vowed I’d never end up like him. But had I, despite myself?

I held my head in my hands, feeling helpless and ashamed. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Everything was supposed to be part of God’s loving plan. God had told me so once.

THE NIGHT OF THE FIRE, Dad was away on a business trip. My mom, my four younger brothers and I were asleep upstairs. Suddenly I awoke, smelling smoke. I bolted out of my room and screamed at the top of my lungs to wake everyone up.

My brothers Tim, Danny and Patrick managed to get out. My mom and six-year-old brother Toby were trapped. The last thing I remember is trying to reach them, but the flames and smoke were too thick. Firefighters found me lying unconscious, suffering severe smoke inhalation, more than half of my body covered in burns. Mom and Toby didn’t make it.

Doctors stabilized me, and I went into surgery for my scorched skin. Something went wrong. I was paralyzed but conscious. I could feel everything—every scrape and cut— but couldn’t move or say a word. I screamed inwardly, wishing for something, anything, to make it go away.

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June/July 2020