The Turkish Doctor

Only one person has seen both the joyful tears of my happiest hour, and the terrified tears of my worst hour. That person is Dr. Ebru, the Turkish doctor who ushered my sweet daughter into this world. Before launching into the dramatic story, let me introduce you to the person I thank God for every time I hold my sweet daughter’s hand and embrace my lovely wife.

Dr. Ebru is quite small. I’m not sure how tall she is. Maybe 5’1”? All I know is that she won’t be playing for the Turkish Olympic basketball team any time soon. Other than her height, she’s a giant in my eyes, the perfect mix of technical competency and relational warmth. She’s confident, energetic, and absolutely adores little babies.

She took time to get to know us, setting aside stretches of time to hear our story, a story that she would soon become a part of. While most of our conversation was lighthearted, it would occasionally drift into theology. It became clear that we believed very different things about God. However, she would eventually, by God’s surprising grace, become a living analogy of the glory of the cross, even though she doesn’t believe in the cross. This all began, one day, when she gave us her personal cell phone number, and told us to call if we were ever in need.

Dr. Ebru’s office was located downtown, in one of the liveliest districts in the whole city. Jenny and I loved going to her office, because we would eat lunch at one of the delicious restaurants near her office, and then we would get a new ultrasound of our baby. The only negative aspect of visiting Dr. Ebru was the brutally steep hill in front of her office. Despite the fact that we were panting and straining to get up the hill, Jenny and I would dream together about what it would be like be a mommy and daddy.

With each new inch that Jenny’s belly grew, our excitement grew a mile. We weren’t nervous at all. We had complete trust in Dr. Ebru, Jenny was healthy, and we had about 87 Turkish friends who offered to help us after our daughter was born.

On March 11th, Jenny was nearing the end of her pregnancy. Our excitement was beginning to annoy our friends. We needed to do something to distract ourselves, so we went to see the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

During the movie, I could tell that Jenny was a bit uncomfortable. I leaned over and asked if she was okay. She told me that she thought she might be going into labor. Four hours after the movie ended, we were walking through the hospital doors. Two hours after that, we were holding the most precious little girl we had ever laid eyes upon. We named her Elliana Ebru Stella Mullins. One of the reasons we gave her the Turkish middle name of “Ebru” is because we were so grateful for Dr. Ebru and the way she took care of us.

The pregnancy was easier than we had expected.  We were only in the hospital for two hours before holding our baby.  There were no complications, and no serious health issues with Elliana. She was a healthy baby, with a powerful set of lungs.

Elliana Ebru was even cuter than we had expected. Holding that little girl infused me with courage and dreams about the future. Jenny was frequently brought to tears of gratitude as she watched Elliana sleep. Jenny and I were experiencing new heights of love, not just for Elliana, but for each other as well. Things seemed perfect. We were living our dream. For the first six weeks of Elliana’s life, we didn’t have a worry in the world. And then, the unexpected, most terrifying moment of my life invaded our peaceful little world….

The Terrifying Return

It was approaching midnight, and the bleeding was getting worse. The night began as a quiet and pleasant time with our new little family. Just a few hours earlier, Jenny and I sat at the dinner table, dreaming about our future, recalling the past, and marveling at the beauty of our little girl. But that seemed like a distant memory as I was frantically trying to use my choppy Turkish to call an ambulance.

As I was preparing for our trek to the hospital, I found myself stunned by the sudden change of events. In a matter of hours we went from making plans for the future to wondering if we would have a future, from dreaming about our life together, to clutching our potential last moments together.

I paused from my packing and praying to check on Jenny. She looked bad, but not horrible. She mustered up a courageous, but entirely fake, smile and said something like…“Don’t worry honey, I’m fine. I should be able to walk to the Taxi on my own. I probably don’t even need to go to the hospital.”

Calling her bluff, I went back to taking care of Elliana, packing, and “Googling” Jenny’s symptoms. I must have glanced out the window every 10 seconds to see if our friends were on their way to our apartment. They were coming over to watch the baby. They would take my daughter, and I would take Jenny to the hospital.

In reality, they arrived just minutes after I called them, but it seemed like an eternity. Outwardly, I was faking a calm demeanor so as to not startle Jenny, but internally I was begging God for mercy, wishing this was just a bad dream. There was so much blood, and even more confusion.

After feeding my daughter, I checked on Jenny again. She looked a lot worse – pale and leaning over the bathroom hamper. It was evident that she needed help. I asked her if she was okay and she responded by telling me she was fine. Her self-diagnosis was just as fake as my outwardly calm demeanor.

I knew that she was not fine. She was in trouble and we needed to get to the hospital immediately. Seeing Jenny’s phone on the edge of the bathroom sink, I grabbed it called Dr. Ebru, the one person whom I trusted in a situation like this. She was groggy when I called, but quickly perked up when she realized it was me, the clueless American guy. She patiently explained that we should not waste another moment, and immediately rush to the hospital.

Five minutes later, the doorbell rang. Our friends had arrived. During the time that it had taken for me to answer the door, Jenny had completely fallen to the floor. Alarmed, I rubbed her back and asked mumbled words trite words of reassurance.

Things were getting very bad. I repeatedly called the ambulance company, begging them to hurry. Then I turned to Jenny and tried to comfort her. She needed to get ready, so I helped her stand up and walk to the front door. She had a little bit of strength and seemed like she might actually be able to walk without my assistance. I began to wonder if I was overreacting. Maybe she was okay.

I reached for her coat, but before I could even extend my arm, she began to drop to the floor. Her limp body was spared from the fall as I caught her in my arms, but a fall to the floor was the least of our worries.

My temporary relief vanished the moment I saw her face--pale and lifeless, with eyes rolled back. My wife was unconscious in my arms. The very face that’s the last thing I see each night, and first thing I see each morning, was cold and expressionless. The terror of a future without her rushed over me. Adrenaline rushed through my body.

My friend and I simultaneously decided that the ambulance wasn’t coming fast enough. We needed to get to the hospital RIGHT NOW! We burst through the door and headed down the stairs with Jenny in our arms.

Our apartment was on the fourth floor – no elevator, narrow stairs, and somewhat poor lighting. My friend, Mark, had Jenny by the legs while I carried her by her arms. We were flying down the stairs, probably faster than any person had ever moved down those stairs. If it wasn’t such an urgent situation, I might have been impressed. We were possessed by a strength and agility that neither of us had seen since our High School Football days. However, it was an emergency and my only emotion was fear, my only thought was Jenny.

After being unconscious for several minutes, Jenny briefly woke up at the bottom of the stairs, looked up at me and said something like…“Don’t worry honey, I’m fine. I should be able to walk to the Taxi on my own. I probably don’t even need to go to the hospital.”

At this point, I was ignoring Jenny’s self-diagnosis. She was not fine. Rather, she needed serious medical attention. She was unaware of how weak she truly was. She desperately needed help and she didn’t even realize it.

My friend tracked down a taxi, we put Jenny in, and zoomed off to the hospital. Taxi drivers in Turkey can be wild drivers at times, which, good thing in situations like this, is a very good thing. Looking through the rearview mirror, the driver saw how dire Jenny’s situation was and raced off to the hospital. He was maneuvering the car with the skill of a NASCAR driver and the gentleness of an ambulance driver. He got us from our apartment to hospital within five minutes.

I was 27 years old at that time. Although young, I had experienced a fair amount tenuous experiences. I’ve been peppered by a shotgun, almost rode a donkey off the edge of the Grand Canyon, been in car accidents, moved my family to another continent, and had lunch with insurgents. I’ve faced many potentially fear-evoking experiences, but none compares to the night I held my bleeding wife in that busted up Taxi.

As we pulled into the hospital’s driveway, my terrified heart felt a sudden shot of relief as I saw Dr. Ebru waiting for us. Few things could have comforted me in that moment, but seeing Dr. Ebru calmed my soul. Her commitment to excellence, devotion to her patients, and proven kindness toward my family, were the ingredients that made up the enormous amount of trust I have for her. If anyone could help my lovely wife, it would be the doctor who ushered my lovely daughter into this world.

The taxi slammed over the final speed-bump and coasted up to the Emergency Room. Despite the chaos of getting Jenny out of the Taxi and onto the gurney, I noticed that Dr. Ebru’s hair was messy and she had crusty eyes. I realized that my phone call had woken her up.

After working a long shift earlier that day, maybe even 12-13 hours, she could have just chosen to let the hospital deal with the situation while she rested at home and got some well-deserved sleep. But, as was characteristic of Dr. Ebru, she took my midnight phone call, immediately got out of bed, and headed straight to the hospital. She moved so quickly that she actually arrived at the hospital before we did.

My temporary relief returned to horror when the hospital staff ushered Jenny into the operating room, and ushered me into the waiting room. As I paced around the small Turkish hospital room, I was struck by the irony of being in the same place as my daughter’s birth just six weeks earlier. I saw the same staff, walked the same hallways, used the same elevators, but had completely different emotions.  

A nurse came into the room and told me that Jenny would be out of surgery in about thirty minutes. I breathed a cautious sigh of relief, and then held my breath for the next thirty minutes. Although it seemed to take forever, thirty minutes eventually came, but I didn’t hear anything about Jenny’s condition.

Then 30 more minutes passed. 

And then another 30 minutes passed.

And then another 30 minutes passed.

And then another 30 minutes passed.

It had been hours since Jenny entered the operating room and there was still no word about her condition. I went into the hallway and started asking every nurse I could find for help. Eventually an official-looking staff member came and told me that they were still in surgery, they had no information, and that I would just have to wait.

The long hand of the clock continued to torment me as time ticked away. I had a strange thought about the brevity of time, and the brevity of life. I realized that it would never be 1:36am on April 25th, 2009 ever again. That minute of time was gone forever. I remember thinking that 1:36am was similar to the life of a human being. Each of us only exists for a brief moment in history.

Sitting in a dark hospital room, I began to ponder the thought I had been avoiding the whole night. What if Jenny’s time was up? What if Jenny’s time on earth had passed just like 1:36am had passed? I would never again experience that one, seemingly insignificant, minute ever again. Would I ever experience my immeasurably significant wife again?

With shoulders slumped forward, bloodshot eyes, and trembling hands, I picked up my cellphone. I called the couple who was watching my daughter and asked them to bring Elliana to the hospital. After they arrived later, they placed my sweet little daughter in my arms. She was sleeping, so we turned down the lights and the four of us waited in silence, in the dark.

God used that little girl to comfort me. Between stretches of sleep, she would occasionally glance up at me and smile. I began to ask questions. How tragic would it be if this sweet little girl grew up without any memory of her mother? Also, how tragic would it be if I was the one to get her dressed each morning? She would never learn how to match her clothes or learn how to cook anything except for Ramen noodles.

My attention was drawn towards footsteps in the hallway. I wasn’t hopeful that it would be Jenny, because about 50 people had already walked through that hallway and made the same sound. However, this time the steps got louder, and louder. Suddenly, the latch on the door began to turn and I saw the smiling face of Dr. Ebru, and Jenny was wheeled in behind her. Jenny looked exhausted and pale, but her chest was moving up and down. She was breathing! She was alive!

After planting dozens of kisses on Jenny’s cheek, I was asked to step outside and talk with Dr. Ebru. With much joy and relief on her face, Dr. Ebru informed me that she had never seen someone bleed that much before, and if we had waited another 15 minutes, Jenny could have had brain damage or could have died. However, after 2 hours and 45 minutes, they were able to solve the problem and save Jenny’s life.

After thanking Dr. Ebru, I walked into the room and began to weep into Jenny’s hands. They were tears of gratitude for God’s mercy, and for Dr. Ebru’s self-giving attitude. If she had not gotten out of bed that night, I would have lost my wife, my best friend.

That night, as news pundits, bloggers, and radio-show hosts across America were propagating fear of Muslims, there was a Muslim woman sacrificing her sleep for the sake of my wife, a Christian woman, and her terrified husband. While rival groups in Nigeria, Israel, and Washington were fighting each other with bullets, or words that are just as piercing, a Muslim woman was fighting to save Jenny Mullins’ life.

On that day, God, in his strange providence, extended his hand of protection to our little family, reaching out to us through the small, skilled, hands of a Turkish doctor.

Jim Mullins is on staff with Surge Network and is a husband, dad, pastor, gardener, and resident of Tempe.