I’ll remember this date forever. I remember I was fourteen. I remember that I had planned a wonderful Christmas party for myself and my friends on this particular date in history. We were going to play “Taboo” and “Pictionary”. I was going to make a Christmas Poke Cake for the occasion. Which, by the way, happens to be my favorite Christmas dessert! It’s a two layer, white cake. After you bake it, you poke both layers all over with a fork. Then, you prepare Jell-O water and pour it over the cake. You do one layer with green Jell-O and one layer with red. Next it goes into the fridge. The Jell-O hardens, and you can then frost it with Cool Whip. It is dee-lish! I’m sure I had other items on the menu, but I cannot recall them exactly. I know that I had invited my friends, who are still my friends to this day. Bethany, Audri, Audrey (yes we had two!), Becky, Karen, and Dixie…yes. Dixie.
It is with Dixie that my story begins.
I had spent the Friday evening of December 4, 1992, with Dixie. We have known each other since I was about four and she, five. We both attended Hot Springs Baptist Temple in Hot Springs, Arkansas. (Now known as Heritage Baptist Church in Hot Springs.) My family moved to the nearby town of Benton and we lost track of each other. When I was eleven, her family began attending my home church in Benton. Our hearts were knit! However, when I was twelve, Dixie’s Dad surrendered to work in evangelism. He assisted Dr. Jack Parchman in his tent meetings. That meant they would travel most of the year! I had already said goodbye to my sister when she left for college, and now, my best friend would be moving away, too! It was a dark day in my life. But the Lord used it for good. It was through Dixie that I met my husband, so I am thankful for the pain of separation. Romans 8:28 is true for even the smallest events in our lives.
Dixie was usually home for the winter. Her family lived in their camper trailer all year long to keep expenses down. They would hook up their camper to our church and attend our school. I’ve always loved the winter, and I think I finally see why! It meant that Dixie would be home! Dixie invited me to spend the night at her house and help me get ready for the party the next day. Because her camper wasn’t large enough for one more, we “camped out” in our church nursery.
I remember we stayed up very late that night…till about midnight! We then made pallets on the floor of the church nursery. We noticed a strange smell, but it was nothing I’d ever smelled before.
“I know what natural gas smells like.” I assured her. “And that isn’t it, so we don’t need to worry.”
My family had always warned me about the dangers of natural gas. “If you smell gas, leave the house immediately. Go across the street to the Corbin’s or the Logan’s house and call for help. Do not turn on lights. Do not make a phone call from home. Only one tiny spark could blow the whole house up.” This very thing had happened to lady and her three daughters in our town. They had all perished because the lady had turned on the light to investigate the gas leak.
No one had ever told me about carbon monoxide.
We snuggled up in our sleeping bags and went to sleep.
We slept for eight good hours.
At around eight o’clock the next morning, something awoke me with a start. I felt horrible. My head ached and I was extremely dizzy.
“Dixie. I don’t feel so good. I think it’s the heat.” I mumbled. I got no response.
I got up, and tried to turn the heat down, thinking that I had gotten too hot.
“Dixie. Are you awake?” I asked her again. She finally moaned and stirred a little.
“I’m sick, Dixie. I think I’m gonna havta cancel my party!” I wailed.
“I feel sick, too.” Dixie said. She was now propped up on one arm. “VALERIE!” She said suddenly. “It’s that gas! We feel funny from whatever that gas smell was!”
“I better call my parents and go home.” I said trying to head for our church office.
I got to the office, but could not remember my phone number! I sat by the phone just staring at the numbers. We were so hot. Finally, I gave up trying to think of my number and I lay down on the cool tile floor in our church lobby. Somehow, Dixie made it out to the camper. She was pale and became sick to her stomach. I felt like I was on a carousel that would never stop!
Dixie’s Mom came over and helped me out to their camper. She couldn’t reach my parents. I then remembered something about their saying they would be Christmas shopping in Little Rock for the morning and would see me around noon. This was the day before cell phones.
Dixie’s Mom didn’t know what to do. She took us to see Mrs. Parchman, who was a Registered Nurse. (Interesting fact: Mrs. Parchman helped deliver Chelsea Clinton.) I remember that we stumbled up to her front door. Mrs. Parchman, opened the door, took one look at us and said to Mrs. Ault, Dixie’s Mom, “Get them to the hospital now.”
Mrs. Ault took us to the Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. They rushed us past an overflowing waiting room. They finally got a hold of my family to get permission to treat me. I remember the nurse had to put Mom on a speaker phone to have witnesses that Mom said they could treat me. I remember hearing the nurse say, “Okay, Mrs. Courtney, I need to ask you that one more time over the speaker phone. Do we have permission to treat your daughter….(the rest was garbled in woozy brain). Mom calmly replied. “Yes.” I wanted to say, “Mom, I’m right here! Can you come up here NOW?” But, I didn’t. I didn’t need to. My Mom and Dad were soon by my side. What a comfort a loving Mom and Dad are!
They led us back to have blood drawn. A poor intern nurse tried seven times, unsuccessfully, to draw blood on my right arm. Another nurse finally came in and did it after only two times in my left. To this day I won’t let them draw blood on my right arm! I bore bruises from that first nurse’s attempts for a week.
Dixie and I stayed together through it all. We found out that it was, in fact, Carbon Monoxide poisoning. The exhaust from the heat in the nursery was not properly ventilated. Instead of escaping out doors, it came right in to our room. We were very thankful that it had happened to us, instead of a tiny infant or child! The carbon monoxide molecule replaces the oxygen molecule in your blood. This fools your body into thinking you are getting the oxygen you need, when you in fact, you are not. It is like suffocating the painless way. I had 15% of my blood replaced with the carbon monoxide. Dixie had 19%! That explained why I awoke first and easier than she. Of course, technically, neither of us should have woken on this side of Heaven. Once 25% of your blood is contaminated with carbon monoxide, you must be placed in an iron lung. Thank the Lord, neither of us were that bad. The doctors put us on oxygen, and there we remained for the entire day, into the evening. Once our blood oxygen levels were normal, they dismissed us, informing us of just how lucky we were.
But I know differently. I know it was not luck. I know exactly why I awoke that morning of December 5, 1992. I believe that it was because my guardian angel was there, shaking me until I did awaken. Dixie was my best friend on earth. It was my very best friend, however, who took care of us both that night. This event reveals the grace of God. You see, I wasn’t saved on this date. I was born-again on June 12, 1993, just six months after this frightening day. I am so grateful for the Lord’s mercy, for His protection and, most of all, for His salvation!