At Heaven's Gateway
edited: Thursday, January 17, 2002
By J. Emily Foster
Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2002
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God's saved my life in 1979. This article describes my life changing experience and how I was able to go back to work by God's grace.
“At Heaven’s Gateway”
By Emily Foster
On an early spring day in April 1979, a life changing turn of
events was about to occur in my life. At thirty-nine, I had never had a sick
day in my life, but that was about to change.
My employer, Jo Stone, was the owner of Barjo Restaurant, a
popular eatery in Norway, Maine. She had been my mentor from the time I
was 14 years old and we worked together every day. At seventy-five, Jo
was about to have to face some major decisions and I had no idea that I
was about to meet JESUS face to face. My unwavering faith in God would
prove to be the stabilizing force that makes it possible for me to share my
encounter with Jesus at Heaven’s Gateway 22 years later.
Over the next several months, there were to be moments when
Jo thought that my life–threatening health problems would bring an end of
On April 4, 1979, I came down with what I thought was a severe case
of the flu. I had horrendous headaches and terrible bouts of vomiting. I
went to Stephens Memorial Hospital Emergency Room and tried my best to
hide from Jo how sick I really was. My trips to the hospital were too
numerous to be counted.
“After a while, I noticed that Emily wasn’t usual herself,” Jo said. “ I
didn’t know if she was dissatisfied with her job. I thought maybe I had done
something that she didn’t approve of for some unexplained reason.”
Every afternoon during April and early May, when I left the restaurant
for an hour’s rest, I went to the hospital emergency room instead of going
home. The emergency room physicians tried to help me, but to no avail.
None of the medicine the doctors gave me did any good. Eventually, I
became so sick that nothing, not even water, would stay down.
Finally, the emergency room doctors told me I needed a primary-care
physician to order additional tests. None of their examinations or tests had
revealed what was causing my problems. Over the weeks, the headaches
had intensified. It felt as if someone was holding a hot searing iron to the
top of my head every second.
When the headaches were really bad, I thought I would go out of my
mind. The only relief I could get was lying down on the cold tile floor of the
Trying to find a primary-care doctor to order additional tests was a
real challenge. The medical doctor that I had seen over the years had
retired and all the local physicians were either booking ahead or weren’t
taking on new patients.
Finally, on May 8, I was able to get an appointment with Dr. Richard
Bean. He gave me a complete physical and ordered a whole battery of
tests to be done at Stephens Memorial Hospital on May 15. The horrible
headaches continued with dreadful projectile vomiting. Nothing helped.
Still, I didn’t tell Jo how sick I really was and continued to do my
work to the very best of my ability. It was a real struggle. By this time, my
head had gotten so bad that it was impossible for me to lay it on a pillow at
night. I had to sit up because of the awful pressure and piercing pain. My
left eye began to give me trouble. Sometimes, it was impossible to open
my left eyelid because of the intense pain around my eye.
" I thought Emily was mad at me or wanted to quit her job." Jo said.
"I never gave it a thought that she was awfully sick. She never confided in
me or told me about her many hospital visits. She would be serving dinner
with me and the next minute she would be gone. When she came back,
she never told me she was fighting a losing battle for her life. But, I don’t
think she had any idea what was happening herself."
The test results did not provide Dr. Bean with any answers. He told
me that my eyes might be the problem. He made me an appointment with
Dr. Tchao in Lewiston. I canceled the appointment. I told Dr. Bean that I
would prefer to see an eye specialist in Portland.
“It had to have been GOD that interceded.” I told Jo later. “I don’t
know why I canceled that appointment, only that it seemed the right thing
The doctor never questioned my decision, but instead, he made a
second appointment with Dr. Richard Goduti at the Maine Eye Center for
On Thursday morning, May 24, 1979, I prepared the vegetables for
boiled dinner at the restaurant as usual and drove Jo home from Barjo's.
By then, my head was being pulled back at an awkward angle making
driving almost impossible. Donald and Mildred McAllister picked me up at
9:00 a.m. for the drive to Portland. I had no reason to think then that I
wouldn’t be returning with them in the afternoon.
Donald and Mildred took me to see Dr. Goduti at the Maine Eye
Clinic. I had lost thirty-five pounds in the preceding seven weeks and my
kidneys had stopped functioning. I didn’t tell Jo about any of these new
Dr. Goduti examined me and gave me a visual field test, then he
said, “You stay right here in my chair while I make a couple of phone
When he finished talking on the telephone, he turned to me and said,
” I want you to go directly to Dr. Leschey's office on Park Avenue. He is a
neurologist who will perform an EEG on your brain.”
Now, I was really scared. Dr. Goduti passed me a card with the
directions of how to get there. He told me that he had seen a problem
inside my head when he looked into my eyes.
“ You realize that your eyes are a mirror to your brain. I found some
damage that Dr. Leschey will be able to document,” he said.
In the meantime, Don and Mildred were waiting for me outside in the
parking lot. I remember getting into the car and giving Donald the
directions to the neurologist’s office. I remember them driving me to his
office and going up the steps.
From that moment on, everything was a blur. Two hours later, I
remember being put in a wheelchair at Maine Medical Center's emergency
entrance. I remember nothing else that happened during the next week,
only the terrible Angiograms when I thought I was dying.
After extensive testing which included CAT-scans, too many spinal
taps to count and a series of angiograms, Dr. Carl Brinkman, a
neurosurgeon was called in on the case. I was admitted to Maine Medical
Center and was in a private room, 244B, on the floor devoted exclusively to
In the meantime, Jo was looking for me to return home. She was
beside herself worrying about what might have happened.
“Where were they? What was taking them so long?” she wondered
to herself. ”I thought for sure that they would be back by the middle of the
In the evening Donald and Mildred returned home, but without me.
Jo could hardly believe what had transpired when they told her about the
day’s events. Now, she could understand why I had acted so strangely and
why I had disappeared mysteriously at times.
“Still, I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t told me that she was
sick?” Jo said with a deep sadness in her voice. “I know that she didn’t
want to upset me. But after all if she was that sick, why did she even try to
continue working? I needed her help, but now I might lose her forever.”
Jo called my mother and told her that I was in Maine Medical Center.
She knew only too well that my mother probably wouldn’t tell her what was
going on at the hospital when she made that phone call. At this point in
time, any problems between my family and me should not have been used
as an excuse to keep Jo in the dark about my health problems. Sick as I
was, I knew exactly how my family would act. That really bugged me.
Often, the gene that causes aneurysms is hereditary. Three of my
uncles had die of this blood condition. In 1968, my father had passed away
very suddenly from an aneurysm on the aorta.
“I wonder if Emily has the same thing that caused her father’s
death,” Jo pondered. “ I am afraid that is what has happened to her.”
On July 3, my folks had come into Barjo’s kitchen around 5:00 p.m.
My father had been brook fishing with my youngest brother, Buddy. He told
me that he didn’t feel quite right and was going to the hospital to find out
why. At 7:00 p.m., I got a telephone call from Dr. Beryl Moore. She told me
if I wanted to see my father alive, I needed to come to the hospital right
then. He had an aneurysm on the aorta that had broken and he had less
than four hours to live. At 11:00 p.m., the hospital called Barjo’s. They told
me that my father had passed away. I needed to come to the hospital
immediately. My mother had left just minutes before and was on her way
home to Waterford so she couldn’t be reached.
Even though I was not able to have television or read because of the
damage to my head, there was a telephone and a radio in my hospital
room. Every night when I was able, I called Jo at 10:30 p.m. to tell her how
I had gotten through the day.
How I knew that it was 10:30 p.m. was by an ad of the radio station,
WPOR, for the “Cod-Fish Emporium. It was a funny way to tell time, but it
was the only way that I had. In the morning, I called Jo at Barjo’s as soon
as I saw the sunrise over Portland harbor.
These calls to Jo and my faith in Jesus helped me to keep my sanity.
From the first day that I enter the hospital, Barbara Thomas came to
see me. Over a two-year period, Barbara’s husband, Ralph, had been
operated on several times for a brain tumor. He was a patient on the same
floor and was recovering from his third brain surgery. She told me what to
expect day to day and about all the different things that I would experience.
Meanwhile at Barjo’s, Jo was working day and night. Her sister,
Margaret, stayed with her during the evening and then the Norway officers
took them home. Jo was trying to do her work and mine, too. At 4:00 a.m.,
Norway officer, Donald Guilford, picked Jo up and took her to Barjo’s to
finish her cooking and cleaning. After the first week, she hired a woman to
help with the cleaning and vacuuming. Several schoolgirls took turns
helping her serve dinner and supper.
“Over the years, we had been employer and employee, mother and
adopted daughter, business associates, co-workers, dear friends and just
plain family. A future without the comfort and companionship of that
relationship with Emily looked pretty bleak to me,” Jo said sadly.
Several days after I went into the hospital, as Jo was getting ready to
go to work at 4:00 a.m. she smelled smoke. The only phone numbers she
could remember were Margaret’s and the number at the restaurant.
Because she didn’t recall the fire department number, she called Margaret
and asked her to call. As Jo was coming downstairs, Donald Guilford came
to take her to work. She said to him, “I think something burning, but I don’t
“Aren’t you doing to stay until the fire department gets here?” he
“No,” she replied. “I’ve got to get dinner, but would you come back
and see what they find.”
The kitchen light had burned out, burning the ceiling in the center of
the room. The fire had gone across the ceiling and down the wall to the
light switch. Jo’s bedroom was directly above the kitchen, but the damage
hadn’t reached the second floor. Her guardian angel had certainly been
Ever since her childhood, Jo had hated at stay alone at night. Now,
she had no electricity on the first floor of our home. It would be three
weeks before she was able get the electrical work done and have the
ceiling replaced. Meanwhile, every night she had to go into a dark house
and stay alone.
This darkness and loneliness in our home corresponded to her
worry and dread over what was happening to me. Jo had sworn everybody
to secrecy about the fire and electrical problem so as not to upset me.
Meanwhile, I was fighting what seemed a losing battle for my life and
for my sanity.
Within a week after entering Maine Medial Center, on Friday, May 31,
I had my first brain operation. Dr. Carl Brinkman of Southern Maine
Neurosurgical was my neurosurgeon. My problems were being caused by
Sub-Dural Hematomas (blood clots in the brain) including cerebral
hemorrhaging. A ruptured brain aneurysm was the root cause. Dr.
Brinkman did a Burr-hole operation.1
The problem, bleeding in the brain from a ruptured aneurysm, is
known as an SAH. The survival rate from this kind of aneurysm problem is
less than 2%. If the patient survives, few live for more than five years.
On Sunday when the nurse took my temperature at 10 p.m., it was
hovering around 101 degrees. Within a half-hour, I began to have chills
and my temperature rose to a dangerously high 107 degrees. The head
nurse called Dr. Brinkman’s assistant, Dr. Wilson from the Southern Maine
When Dr. Wilson came into my room, he had one of those long
needles in his hand similar to the ones used for spinal taps. Because time
was crucial, he didn’t dare wait for any kind of anesthesia to take effect.
Instead, he inserted that needle directly into my brain to stop the infection
that was causing the sudden rise in my temperature. The nurse stood by
my bed and held me while he did it. My hands grasped the bed-rails as I
tried to deal with the pain. (I am sure that my fingerprints must still be
imprinted on the hospital bed rails.)
Dr. Brinkman told me if my temperature went back to normal and
stayed there, I could go home by the end of the week. By Wednesday, I
started to have a prickly feeling in my right leg. At first, I thought the
surgical stockings were too tight. But that wasn’t the problem. I was
experiencing the beginning of paralysis.
When I asked for some water late Wednesday night, the nurse told
me I couldn’t have any. She told me I was going to have another series of
angiograms on Thursday morning. I dreaded the prospect. I thought then
and still think that angiograms are the worst tests on the planet. These
tests made me think that I was burning up inside and had chain lightening
exploding in my head.
“ Emily called at 3:00 a.m. Thursday morning,” Jo said. “I knew that
she was awfully upset by the tone of her voice. She had told she would be
home sometime during the week. Now, she feared that she might never see
me again. It was one of the worst moments of her life and mine, too.”
Knowing my leg felt like it was asleep and I had to go through those
awful tests again, I had thought to myself, “Well, I’ll make this one last call
to Jo. I know she is usually sleeping now, but if God takes me home at
least I’ve had a chance to talk to her one last time to say good-bye.”
The tests showed the hemorrhaging had come back with a
vengeance. I was operated on the second time on Saturday, June 9, but
still the bleeding in my head persisted. This second operation involved
sawing out a piece of skull bone in order to repair the blood vessel system
and took over five hours to complete. Dr. Brinkman told my family he had
removed blood clots as large as silver dollars that were pressing on my
When I got back in my room at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night, I was
able to call Jo to tell her that I was indeed alive.
But all was not well. That was the beginning of a horrible night. The
nurse tried to feed me some tomato soup with a straw. I nearly choked to
death because I couldn’t swallow and the soup went down my windpipe.
When the nurse lifted my right arm and leg off the bed, they were
both white as snow and limp like a rag doll. I couldn’t believe that they
were my limbs or even belonged to me. I couldn’t even tell the nurse what
was happening or how I felt because I couldn’t speak.
My throat was gradually becoming paralyzed but no one had realized
that I was encountering any problem. By 10:00 p.m., I had become
completely paralyzed on my right side and had lost my speech.
“Emily had made hundreds of friends at Barjo’s. She was a special
person –so warm and friendly. She always had a kind word for our
customers,” Jo said. “When they heard she was so ill, they put her on
prayer chains in their churches and many organized groups to say specials
prayers for her recovery.”
On Sunday morning June 10, Dr. Brinkman called my family into the
hospital and told them if he operated for a third time, the odds of survival
were 1 chance in 300,000. He had never operated on a patient three times in
such a short period of time and had no idea what the results might be. If I
did survive, I would be a vegetable because so much damage had already
been done to my brain. A complete blood exchange would have to be
done because my own blood would not heal. This time my mother did call
“ I couldn’t tell you what I served that Sunday or how many
customers came into Barjo’s,” Jo said. “My heart and soul were on only
one thing, to pray to God to save Emily’s life. No one knew how much that
kid meant to me. What a tragedy it would be if she had lost her life at forty
years old. Although a lot of difficult things that had happened in my life,
this was the very worst moment. I was 75 years old. How could I possibly
At 1:00 p.m., Sunday June 10, I was taken into the operating room for
the third operation that lasted over 7 hours. During the operation, I had an
I felt as though I was floating in the air above my body. I could hear
Dr. Brinkman’s voice saying, “We’ve gone this far, we can’t lose her now.”
I looked up with awe and saw a magnificent tunnel filled with a
brilliant, angelic-like white light. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever
seen. At the end of the tunnel, there stood JESUS in a shining, impeccable
white robe. His hair looked like spun gold.
He said to me, “Go back. Your work isn’t finished. You will be
The vision faded as He moved away.
The next thing I remember was being in the ICU unit Monday
morning. As Dr. Brinkman came into the room, he looked at me and said,
“If you can speak, tell me what I have on my head.”
“Hat,” I whispered.
The surgeon could hardly believe his ears. He hadn’t expected me to
live and he certainly hadn’t expected me to be able to speak. But I knew
the answer. JESUS had kept his word. Now it was up to me to do my part
and follow His instructions for the rest of my life.
It was three more weeks, before I was able to go home. At first, I had
four drains in my head and my arms were strapped to the bed rails so I
couldn’t move. The left temporal part of the brain is where the motion
controls of the body are located. This was where all the damage had been
done to my head.
Before Dr. Brinkman would let me go home, I had to relearn all the
normal body functions just like a baby. The left side of my head has a
section that is about 3 inches wide by 8 inches long, which has
indentations that are anywhere from ½ inch to a 1 inch deep. The pressure
of the blood clots in my brain caused these depressions. The left temporal
area of my brain had been almost completely destroyed.
Because my kidneys had stopped functioning and I had been
paralyzed, I had to learn to concentrate on how to do every little thing that
was normally an automatic function to my body. It was a real challenge to
learn how to walk, to talk and how to make my body respond to simple
The doctor told me that if I had lost my will to live or my strong faith
in GOD, I couldn’t have survived for even a second. I probably would never
have made it through the third operation. I knew why I had survived, but I
never told him. The only thing that kept bothering me was that Jo was
doing her work and mine, too.
Repeatedly, I asked the nurses questions like,
”What if I forget how to cook a hamburger? What if I forget how to
help Jo prepare dinner? When can I go back to work? Will I be able to still
work at the restaurant?”
By the GRACE OF GOD, Donald and Mildred were able to bring me
home in the middle of the afternoon on June 24, a full month to the day
after I had left for what I thought would be morning tests. Jo was home
having a nap, so she didn’t hear me come into the house.
“When I got up, I looked in Emily’s room,” Jo explained. “I knew
Don was going after her, but even though I saw her I wondered to myself
who is that in there? That doesn’t look like my girl.”
My head had been shaved. On the left side it looked as if someone
had embroidered a huge letter M where the two sections of skull bone had
been removed. The hospital gave me this stupid-looking little skullcap
made out of jersey-like material to wear. After I got home, I seldom wore it.
After her initial shock, Jo embraced me with open arms. We had a
good laugh about how funny she thought I looked.
For several months, my speech was limited, but I tried harder than
ever to overcome my difficulties. After having physical therapy on my right
arm and leg, I was able to go back to work at Barjo’s.
I knew what I wanted to say, but the words just wouldn’t come out.
To this day, sometimes it is hard to remember different events or names.
Jo will ask me about something that we said or did but it might be hours or
days before I can remember.
At first, I was only able to help Jo prepare for four hours during the
night. The doctors felt that I wasn't strong enough to help with the short
order cooking when the restaurant was open or to have the pressure of
working during rush hours.
Finally, Jo was able to breathe a sigh of relief. My life had been
saved by to Grace of God and I was able to help her at Barjo’s.
After three years, I was able to stop taking Dilatin. For ten years, I
took no medicine at all. The paralysis had destroyed my right kneecap, but
it wasn’t until February 1993 that I started wearing a brace on my right leg.
Jo has always treated me as a daughter instead an employee. Over
the years, she has entrusted me with a lot of responsibility. Jo and I have
had many hills and valleys to overcome, but what transpired that June day
was an act only God could perform.
We have been together for 46 years. She has been my mentor and my
inspiration. Her faith is unshakeable. I can never be grateful enough for the
day I met her. Now, twenty-two years later, it doesn’t seem like that
nightmare ever happened.
The Trinity, God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit
who lives within, has guided me though many twists and turns of life. The
Great Physician from above touched me and is still guided to attain dreams
I never thought possible. Jesus kept his Word with me and now I must do
my part to help others.