Moving from urban New Jersey to the Pennsylvania woods was a dream come true for me. The land around my house was a campground in the summer. My nearest neighbor was miles away, and there was no phone service to my house. Didn’t bother me a bit.
Back in New Jersey I’d worked as a rehab nurse. I saw people all the time. Some predicted I would soon tire of my new solitary life, but I hadn’t so far and didn’t expect I ever would. All my life I’ve felt connected to nature, and I could never feel lonely with animals nearby. The woods were full of them.
“I call that one Scarbelly,” I told a visiting friend when a deer tiptoed out of the woods one afternoon. She was a doe, easily recognizable by the old wound running from her shoulder to her hip. “She had a fawn last year. She brings her baby around too.”
“They sure seem to like you a lot!” she said as the doe inched nearer to me. We stayed very still so as not to startle her.
“I’d like to think so,” I said. “Deer aren’t easy to get close to.”
Each day I woke up in my house in the woods was a pleasure—until one April morning. I heard the birds singing as usual, saw the pale sun through the window, smelled the fresh air. But something was wrong. I tried to sit up. My legs felt like lead. They refused to cooperate with me. I had to struggle just to swing them over the side of the bed. I managed to stand. Get to the bathroom, I thought. Just turning in the right direction almost knocked me over I was so off-balance. I managed to shuffle toward the bathroom door.
My shoulder hit the doorjamb. How could I miss the door? I took a step back and tried another time. Once again my shoulder hit the door. I didn’t feel it at all. In fact, I couldn’t feel my shoulder, my arm, my fingers on the left side of my body. It was like a great emptiness hung where my arm should be. I tried to squeeze my fingers together. They wouldn’t budge.
Stroke! I thought, my nurse training kicking in. My mother and grandmother had both died from strokes. Could that be happening to me—at 46? I had to get to a hospital fast. But how? No neighbors, no phone…
“Well, God,” I mumbled, “we’ve got to do something here. I need help!”
I pulled on the easiest clothes I could find and slipped my feet into sandals. I moved carefully to the door.
The old doe was waiting on the deck. Her fawn stood at her side. Four more deer crowded behind them. They weren’t the rescue team I’d imagined, but they were all I had. “Look, I have to get to a doctor,” I said. “Now.”
The deer flicked their ears, watching.
If I could just get to the road at the top of the hill, I thought, I could flag someone down. Could I make it that far? I had to try. The longer I went untreated the worse the damage could be. I moved stiffly off the deck and onto the lawn, forcing my left side to move. The deer were close behind me.
The lawn stretched out before me like an ocean. I’ll never make it all that way!
I put my hand to my face, ready to cry. That won’t help! I told myself. I rubbed my eyes and looked down at the gravel road. I was standing at the edge of it. I looked over my shoulder at the expanse of lawn and my house in the distance. How in the world did I get here? I didn’t remember walking that significant distance—and it would have taken ages. But here I was, and so were the deer—right beside me. Scarbelly’s deep brown eyes looked into mine. “Did you carry me?” I said.
She blinked her long lashes. She was so close I could have touched her.
A cloud of dust in the distance! I waved frantically as the car got closer. The driver smiled and waved back at me, but he didn’t even slow down. He couldn’t even tell I need help!
Another car went by. The same thing happened. Again and again.
“I have to go out to the middle of the road,” I said. “They’ll either stop or run me over. If I don’t get help I might not make it anyway.”
I pulled myself into the road. The herd of deer walked forward, keeping pace with my own tortured steps. They huddled close around me, surrounding me with a protective circle in the middle of the road. The heat from their bodies warmed me. Their soft sides rose and fell in a calming rhythm. I felt their gentle breath on my skin.
A truck appeared in the distance, moving toward us. If this one doesn’t stop I don’t know what I’ll do.
I raised my hand and held it straight out in front of me. The deer stood still as stone, not budging even as the truck came at full speed. Thank goodness, it slowed and stopped. The driver stuck his head out of the window and stared at me, a woman surrounded by a herd of deer.
“Please,” I said, “I need to get to the hospital. I think I had a stroke.”
The driver’s eyes moved to the deer and back to me. He opened his mouth, but no words came out. He shook his head and climbed out of the truck, hurrying to open the passenger door.
The deer parted to let me get to the truck. The driver eyed them the whole time he helped me inside. The deer eyed him too, but they didn’t run away as they usually did when faced with people. People besides me, that is. The driver got me safe in the passenger seat and got behind the wheel. He shifted into gear and beeped the horn as gently as he could. Only then did the deer lower their heads and step gracefully off the road.
I lay my head against the car seat, exhausted. Thank you, God, I prayed, for your beautiful creatures who watched over me like you do.
Tests at the hospital proved I had had a stroke. “You should have a good recovery,” the doctor told me. “You’re lucky you were able to get here as quickly as you did. If you’d waited you might have had serious long-term damage.”
I might have been lucky, but the situation was nothing short of angelic.