I sat there holding my daughter, my arms wrapped tight around her as she slept, her body hot with a fever from an infection. My wife slept unsoundly on the pullout sofa across the room. The only sound was machines pumping my little girl full of fluids and vaccines. As I prayed for her over and over, I found myself wanting to escape to somewhere. Anywhere.
You might remember I shared a powerful moment with my best friend, Carver, after my daughter was in the hospital last year. Well, I haven’t yet shared what that time in the hospital was actually about.
For one, it requires sharing more about my daughter, which I typically don’t do to protect her. But it also requires me to open up about my obsession with Supernatural fanfiction.
In other words, during one of my hardest experiences as a parent, I had to use fantasy as an escape to cope with reality.
One afternoon last December, my daughter suffered a terrible accident that gave her second-degree burns over 20% of her body. My wife had been out running errands; my daughter was in my care when the accident happened.
Recounting the story of what happened to doctors, nurses, pastors, and concerned friends, I had to tell over and over again of my failure to protect my daughter. I never cried while telling it. I didn’t let myself really connect with what was I saying.
Each time, I recited facts with little emotion because I knew I wouldn’t be able to control myself if I allowed any emotion to come through.
My family spent two weeks in the hospital an hour from our home. We were in the same small room 24/7. Breaks came when we needed something from the local Ronald McDonald House or the few times I made the run an hour back home for something.
Because of my daughter’s severe burns, she couldn’t sleep in the bed alone. Basically covered head-to-foot in gauze. She also contracted a UTI while in the hospital.
One night, a few days into this ordeal, completely wiped in every way possible from the experience, I found myself praying to no avail. I felt no comfort. I felt no peace. My reality was so stark that I could find no joy around me.
However, I couldn’t let myself be weak. I had a wife struggling with our circumstances, and she needed me. I had a daughter fighting unimaginable pain who needed me. Someone had to be able to collect all of the information from the doctors, make the decisions that came our way, and relay information to our prayer-partners.
In those early hours of the morning, I found myself needing some sort of break. Sleep was useless. Conversations weren’t helpful. And even faith seemed to fall short.
Somehow, I had to escape my world.
So, I opened up my phone and went to a collection of Supernatural fanfiction that I’d heard about. I opened up a story that promised mindless entertainment. Around midnight, I began reading this short novel of 70,000 words, thinking I would read a chapter or two and take a break.
I read the whole thing in two hours.
Afterward, I found a strange feeling. My reality had not changed. I was still holding my daughter tight to my chest as she slept through the power of morphine.
However, I felt a spark of joy. Something I had not encountered in days.
I clicked to the next story — this one, another short-ish novel of 100,000 words. Another two hours, and I was through with it. Afterwards, I felt that spark again, only stronger.
At this point, my shift was over and my wife took our daughter in her arms. I crashed on the pullout sofa where my wife had been and immediately passed out.
I actually slept better than I’d done up to that point.
The fanfiction was light, sappy, and unrealistic, with a happy ending for all. The stories took me to a world where everything always worked out the way it was supposed to. People who did bad things were punished, good people were rewarded, and accidents never destroyed the hero’s life.
This is why it helped me. My daughter had been injured by an accident — something that had no one to blame or fault. And in that time, I needed to know that it was all going to be all right. I needed to know that it would work out.
I needed hope. And I needed to restore my faith in that hope.
The “Hallmark Special” nature of the stories I read strengthened my faith. Seeing random stories end with hope being fulfilled was a reminder that hope in God does not disappoint.
Every night from then on, taking my daughter in my arms, I’d pull up a new story to read. These stories didn’t change my reality. They simply reminded me that hope in God is not foolish.
After two weeks, my family returned home. My daughter recovered rapidly — the doctors were surprised at how quickly her skin healed. After a few months of followups, we bid farewell to the doctor’s office for the final time.
Honestly, it was a little bit like one of my fanfiction stories. The accident didn’t destroy my daughter, my wife, or myself. And after all was said and done, God used it to draw us closer to Him.
Fanfiction is not for everyone. But for me in that hospital room — it actually rescued me. And I praise God for using it to build my faith and strengthen my hope in Him.
Have you used any form of fantasy, healthy or otherwise, to escape a hard reality? How did you rediscover grounding in reality?