He’s well aware of the power of prayer
It was like a scene from Grey’s Anatomy.
The 85-year-old patient lay gravely ill in the emergency room. On one side was the friar who found the man unresponsive and suffering seizures. On the other was a kind but candid doctor who did not mince words.
“We’re going to watch him,” he said. “If he makes it through the night – and he might not – we’ll see where to go from there.” There was no false hope, just confirmation of the gravity of the situation.
For friar Juniper Crouch, the patient in that bed, the outlook was grim. But just like on a medical TV series, there was a dramatic twist, an unexpected outcome. Some might call it a miracle.
In this holy season, Juniper is living proof of the goodness of God – and the healing power of prayer.
It all began last summer, when Robert Seay and Juniper closed their two-man friary in Houston and moved to their new home, St. Mary of the Angels Friary in New Orleans. There they would join the community of Dan Barrett, Andrew Stettler, Pastor Joe Hund and Guardian John Stein.
Juniper would have a new base for his work as Provincial Spiritual Assistant to the Secular Franciscan Order, a role requiring energy, organization, and a lot of driving. In New Orleans he planned to clean up the friary workshop, making room for carpentry and repair jobs. He brought his favorite frying pan for cooking, one of his many interests, and the bicycle he needed to explore the neighborhood.
At the end of June, after unloading the last of his belongings at the Miro Street friary in the Upper Ninth Ward, Juniper took out his planner and started making notes. Days later, he says, “I didn’t remember doing it.”
The next week, the normally efficient Juniper had not yet unpacked. “It’s like he was off-balance and couldn’t remember things,” says Paulette Duplessis, the Office Manager at St. Mary of the Angels Parish.
Juniper was worried. “I was having a hard time. I knew something was wrong. I tried to tie the cord around my habit, and I couldn’t remember how to do it. I thought I may have had a stroke.”
On July 9, “He appeared in my office complaining about some symptoms he was experiencing,” says Guardian John. “There was confusion and weakness. He said, ‘Maybe we should go to the doctor tomorrow.’ I had heard enough to know that he needed to see the doctor right now.” They rushed to the ER at Touro Infirmary, the first of four visits Juniper would make. Later, when he showed signs of improvement, they sent him home.
The next day the weakness returned, this time with seizures. The friars called 911. “I remember the ambulance taking me to the hospital,” says Juniper. “When I got there I don’t remember what they did.” He was again released, partly because of insurance issues. In the days that followed, “I had succeeding seizures, and two more trips to the ER. I was on a first-name basis with the ambulance driver.” By now his friar brothers were thinking, “Why don’t they just keep him and fix it?”
As John recalls, “It was a crazy time.”
Life and death
The following Friday, “I went to see how he was doing in his room at the house,” says John. “When I walked in, he was slipping out of his chair, holding his arms across his chest, in seizure mode. I picked up the phone and called 911.”
Juniper’s life hung in the balance. “I’ve sent help; tell me what’s going on,” said the 911 Operator. “You’re gonna have to work with him,” she told John. “Do what I tell you to do. Get him on his back on the floor. Do it now. Tilt his head back. Our job is to make sure he keeps breathing until help arrives. I’m gonna stay on the phone; you tell me if anything changes.” Trying to stay calm, John followed her instructions, drawing upon a scary experience he’d had years before when his father suffered a heart attack. “You do what you’ve gotta do,” he now says.
As he wondered, “Where in the hell is the ambulance?”, Joe Hund came to see what was causing the commotion. “He was looking for something to do,” John says. “I told him, ‘I want you to get holy oils and do the anointing of the sick.’ He did the religious part” while they waited for emergency responders. “They finally arrived and took over,” heading for the hospital while John followed in his car.
Later in the emergency room, “A real nice doctor came in to see me. ‘I’ll take you in and tell you what’s happening,’” he told John, then broke the news at Juniper’s bedside.
It was not a stroke. They had found a subdural hematoma between Juniper’s brain and the inner part of his skull, likely caused by head trauma. Veins were damaged, and blood had pooled outside the brain. “As it’s growing, the pressure of that [on the brain] is making all this stuff happen,” such as balance and memory issues, the doctor said. Untreated, it could compress the brain, leading to permanent damage, even death.
The next steps
What had caused the injury? “The doctor said it was not fresh blood,” Juniper now says. “There were several times I remember having fallen,” including an accident years ago when he had competed in roller-dance competitions (see sidebar). And more recently, “Just before we got transferred [from Houston], I was doing some work at a bicycle shop where I volunteered. I tried to step over a bicycle and fell and hit my head on the back of the concrete. That may have been what jarred everything loose.” As the doctor explained, there was no easy way to drain the “old” blood that had collected. “You can’t just drill a hole and let it leak out. You have to cut a section of the skull open to get to it.”
Prepared for the worst, John lingered until doctors and nurses told him, “You might as well go home.”
When their patient survived the night, they were cautiously optimistic. Surgeons began to plan their next move. Besides being an insulin-dependent diabetic, Juniper was in otherwise good health. “I remember the doctor coming in and saying they were going to have to operate,” he says. “I think I said OK, that I understood what was coming.” Even if the surgery went well, “There was the possibility of memory loss.” The friars had other fears. What if Juniper could no longer walk or talk?
Andrew Stettler got on the phone, starting a nationwide chain of prayers that grew and grew. “I had the whole Secular Franciscan Order praying for me,” Juniper says. But he knew he was powerless. “I had given it up to God.” He remembers thinking, “It’s completely in Your hands, Lord. I’ll tag along as best I can.” Going into surgery a few days later, “He had a good, positive attitude about it,” John says.
Precision was crucial in the delicate procedure. “They didn’t go into the brain,” according to John. “They had to take a little square of his skull off above his right ear, toward the back side of his head, to get to the subdural hematoma.” When it was removed, “They put the piece back, cementing it like a puzzle, and stitched him up.”
Then, they waited.
As Juniper awoke in the ICU, nurses warned, “It’s going to be slow getting on your feet again.” Obviously, they did not know this feisty friar. When he tried to move, “I didn’t have any problems.” His mind and his memory were intact. Speech was slow, but completely intelligible. “There was no pain at all. I didn’t even feel weak” – not then, not ever. “I wasn’t supposed to get out of bed without someone there. I started testing myself on my own to see what I could do. When they took me for therapy, they were surprised what I could already do. I was surprising all the doctors and nurses how quickly I was mending.”
How was this possible? “God is good,” Juniper says. “Prayer works.”
He soon graduated to a regular room at the hospital. Two weeks later, he was in a short-term rehab facility, Our Lady of Wisdom Health Care Center. “He recovered really quickly and really well – beyond anyone’s expectations,” John says. A month later, Juniper was home.
Beyond his regular checkups, “I’m just about finished with the follow-ups required” with the surgeon and neurologist. Juniper is not only driving, he’s riding his bicycle – and anxious to see the sights. “I tell people that my introduction to New Orleans was a trip to the hospital. I don’t know my way around the area yet. I think I’ll get to enjoy it as it gets warmer, hopefully to visit some museums and the Cathedral. I’ve got to start getting back to my Spiritual Assistant duties, to start visiting fraternities across the country.”
His friar brothers still marvel at the outcome.
“Who could have known he would come back here 100 percent?,” John says. “Nobody expected that to happen.” Since the surgery and therapy, “He’s like back to normal,” says Office Manager Paulette, who calls his recovery “amazing”.
Only once as he speaks does Juniper pause, overcome with emotion. “It’s hard to put into words the goodness God showed through so many people: the ambulance crew; the nurses; the concern of my brothers trying to take care of me. How I must have scared these guys. Yet they all rallied around me and have shown concern for me. I know I have a good group of brothers here and in the rest of the province, even though I don’t know them all.”
He sees this as “an event in my life that, hopefully, I will with God’s help turn it to my good and the good of others. It was good for my faith and hopefully it’s good for everybody else’s to see the generosity of God that I recovered so quickly.” The lasting lesson is that “we are loved and protected by God himself.”
This year, Easter will have more significance than usual for Juniper. “It’s going to be special, no doubt, looking at it from the perspective of having been so close to death. I have to try to add to my thanksgiving a little bit more this Lent. There is one of the Ways of the Cross I’ve seen that is something to the effect of: ‘Be willing to accept the manner of death that God has in store for you, whatever that may be.’ I’m thinking I can accept with joy whatever’s coming from His hand.”
Asked to sum up his experience, Juniper says, “‘Miraculous’ is a pretty good word. This was God’s doing. Look at me; I’m well. If you prayed for me, you’re looking at an answered prayer.”
Dancing on wheels
Friar Juniper Crouch was 58 years old when he entered his first major skate-dancing competition. After winning a gold medal, he was hooked. The story of Juniper’s success in a sport that combines precision roller skating with intricate dance routines is told in a full-page feature in the Feb. 29 issue of the Clarion Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Read about his days in the rink at: Clarion Herald.