Rescued by a Heavenly Herd

Rescued by a Heavenly Herd

I often admired the deer by my house. I never imagined they'd save my life.

a group of deer in a front yard

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.

About Patrice Vacca

This article is excerpted from A Procession of Angels .

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