As we rolled five-year-old Mary into the MRI room, I tried to imagine what she must be feeling. She had suffered a stroke that left half of her body paralyzed, had been hospitalized for treatment of a brain tumor, and had recently lost her father, her mother, and her home. We all wondered how Mary would react. She went into the MRI machine without the slightest protest, and we began the exam. At the time, each imagining sequence required the patient to remain perfectly still for about five minutes. This would have been difficult for anyone – and certainly for a five-year-old who had suffered so much. We were taking an image of her head, so any movement of her face, including talking, would result in image distortion.
About two minutes into the first sequence, we noticed on the video monitor that Mary’s mouth was moving. We heard a muted voice over the intercom. We halted the exam and gently reminded Mary not to talk. She was smiling and promised not to talk.
We reset the machine and started over. Once again we saw her facial movement and heard her voice faintly. What she was saying wasn’t clear. Everyone was becoming a little impatient, with a busy schedule that had been put on hold to perform an emergency MRI on Mary.
We went back in and slid Mary out of the machine. Once again, she looked at us with her crooked smile and wasn’t upset in the least. The technologist, perhaps a bit gruffly, said, “Mary, you were talking again, and that causes blurry pictures.”
Mary’s smile remained as she replied, “I wasn’t talking. I was singing. You said no talking.” We looked at each other, feeling a little silly. “What were you singing?” someone asked. “Jesus Loves Me,” came the barely perceptible reply.
“I always sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ when I’m happy.” Everyone in the room was speechless. ‘Happy? How could this little girl be happy?’ The technologist and I had to leave the room for a moment to regain our composure as tears began to fall.
Many times since that day, when feeling stressed, unhappy or dissatisfied with some part of my life, I have thought of Mary and felt both humbled and inspired. Her example made me see that happiness is a marvelous gift – free to anyone willing to accept it.
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