Life is full of important episodes that are significant enough to be marked as anniversaries. Today marks one of those special days that bears remembering. I want to share it and hope you will be blessed by reading it.
Saturday evening, June 28, 2014, I headed off to bed before my husband. This was not an unusual occurrence, especially on a Saturday because I tend to be awake quite early –usually by 5:00 a.m. Ford works a full day at the car dealership on weekends and needs time to wind down before going to sleep. When he eventually made his way into bed, my arm was laying across his side of the bed. He came down right on it. Trying to figure out what he had just sat upon, he proceeded to move it out of the way. At that point, I awoke with a startle. It was so significant that I could not talk. My daughter, in the other room, heard the gasp, and asked if everything was okay. I couldn’t respond; for one of the few times in my life I was literally speechless.
I went back to sleep, but kept waking up because of the unpleasant noises from the CPAP machine my husband uses. The hose had detached and it sounded like a wind tunnel. I was able to get him to turn it off, but the sound of snoring took its place. Needless to say it was not a night of sound and/or restful sleep for me. When 5:00 a.m. rolled around, I got out of bed, tired and irritated, feeling more than a bit self-righteous in my indignation of the injustice of it all. I decided I would head to the athletic club and have a swim. As I drove, Psalm 127 kept running through my head: “He gives His beloved sleep.” In my snarkiness, I commented to myself, “Well, I guess I am not His beloved and Ford is! After all, he is still asleep!”
I am grateful that a wave of repentance flowed over me as I realized how inappropriate the thought was. What’s more, the sun was hitting the mountains that can be seen from my neighborhood, and projected an early morning magnificence over the landscape . Immediately, I was recounting my blessings: living in a beautiful area, having a car (with gas in the tank), and heading toward an activity that I loved—swimming.
I left the car, grabbed my gear somewhat content that I had improved my attitude, only to discover that the doors were locked. I had failed to remember that on weekends the club opened later than on weekdays. So, back to my car I went, considering the irony of it all. After about fifteen minutes, I saw another early bird enter through a side gate, and I followed suit. Before long, I was swimming my customary 1500 yards, adorned with fins, goggles, and snorkel.
One of the things I appreciate about swimming is that, not only do I get exercise, but I have time to think things through and work off stress. Early morning swims are the best, because the way the sun hits the water and the near silence (no music or conversation), makes the experience somewhat surreal. Throughout that hour, I worked out how I would relate to my husband and daughter, minus a complaining spirit, what had taken place and why I was out of the house so early. I then showered and drove home.
The first thing I heard upon walking into the house, was our new, little rescue terrier whining and whimpering, something she did not customarily do. I sat down (now about 8:45 a.m.) and began to tell my daughter the occurrences of the night before. My intent to be complain-free didn’t materialize. I heard myself play the victim and I became angry again. I also noticed that there was a chest tightness that felt like a steady squeeze that had been present since I left the athletic club. Little Ripley (the dog) began running up and down the room playing with the ball she had previously ignored. Something was different; it was as though she was on a mission to make me smile.
The pain in my chest was not going away, in spite of the antics of the “circus dog.” I thought maybe I just had to relieve myself and headed to do so. That didn’t help. Then I considered that I might be hungry. At this point, my husband emerged and cheerfully asked me how I’d enjoyed my swim. My response bordered on rudeness and I proceeded to tell him how he had interrupted my sleep. I also informed him I was having chest pains and I was going to go back to bed.
Not wasting any time, he suggested I call the advice nurse. My attitude (which I now can plainly see was bad) allowed me to dismiss his advice. “I’m just hungry and need to get some sleep.” He backed off, which I now know was because he didn’t want to make matters worse. By this time my daughter, Dorothy, was also sizing up the situation. And, the dog wouldn’t leave me alone. I took my blood pressure and pulse and noted that both were significantly lower than usual. And, the chest pain wasn’t going away. So, I called the advice nurse and, after a short discussion, and performing a few motions she instructed me to do, she advised me to get to the ER or call 911 for an ambulance. With two drivers in the house, it was a race to see who would be ready first. Dorothy was, and I left with her.
She was quite calm as she drove, and kept checking to see that I was okay. The nurse had said that if I were to get worse, Dorothy should pull over and call 911. That proved to be unnecessary. Our discussion was of the sort only women can fully appreciate. I told her, “I sure am glad that I had the opportunity to shower and shave my legs before going to the ER!” She totally understood. There are priorities after all!
She dropped me off at the ER and parked the car. I went in and told them what was happening. I was immediately seen by the triage nurse, had my vitals taken, and was given an EKG. The nurse responded, “Well, your EKG looks good.” That was a relief. I still had the sense that I was over-exaggerating this and that I should have just done what I had planned and gone to bed.
Before long Dorothy and Ford were at my side. I no longer felt angry or irritated. I was more just concerned that we’d made a mountain out of a molehill. The next hour or so was spent being monitored, answering questions over and over about what brought me there, and noticing that my husband was not looking relaxed or very cheery. I felt that I was in good hands, and was comfortable chatting with the nurses and doctors — finding humor in what was going on.
When they heard my history of being on no medications and swimming three to four times per week, the nurses and doctor commented on how healthy I was. They assumed that my low blood pressure and pulse were due to my regular exercise. Because I had been in the habit of taking my blood pressure regularly, I knew that these numbers were very low for me. My case was a bafflement to the doctors. They were trying to sort out how being startled in the early morning hours (which I thought was significant), to having vital sign numbers that didn’t look out of normal range, had anything to do with chest pain. The decision was made, even though it was a Sunday, to have me do a treadmill stress test.
Ford and Dorothy stayed in the ER while I went for the test by wheelchair. I was wired all over. The plan was for me to walk until my heart reached a certain rate and then I would be injected with an isotope that would map areas of the heart that might be affected. With a cardiologist and two techs standing by, I felt things were under control. They wanted my pulse to rise to 140, maybe 135 if the former proved too difficult. When my pulse reached 120, both it and my blood pressure began to plummet. I came close to passing out. They immediately stopped the test and laid me on the bed. The test was never completed; the dye never injected. I joked with the radiologist who had come in to administer the test that I hoped they would still pay him. He said, “They sure will. Time and a half since I was ‘on call’!”
I tried my best to remain calm as I was still feeling very strange and weak. The cardiologist looked at the print out from the unfinished test and said, “You appear to have some sort of heart block. Something is interrupting the electrical signals in your heart.” I asked him what that meant, and he replied, “Might mean that you need a pacemaker.” This was where things started to feel like I was in the Twilight Zone. A pacemaker? Andrea doesn’t get pacemakers. I asked the first thing that came to mind, “Can you swim if you have a pacemaker?” The doctor said maybe not, at which point I said, “Then I can’t get a pacemaker.” He realized that the cart was being placed before the horse, and told me that it would all be sorted out the next day when I would have an echocardiogram, followed by a passive stress test. I took this to mean that I would go home and return Monday. When he said, “We will be admitting you to the hospital,” I was shocked, as I still didn’t comprehend the seriousness of what had occurred. When I said, “You must be kidding,” he responded that he most certainly was not.
Upon returning to the ER, I told my husband that I was going to have a “hotel stay” at the hospital. He looked relieved, but there was more to his relief. Blood tests confirmed that I had suffered a heart attack. For the next couple of hours, while completing the admission paperwork, Ford and Dorothy were by my side. At times my pulse went down to the high twenties/low thirties. My daughter did her best to keep me alert.
When I learned that I was going to spend the night in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), I had another, “What are you talking about?” moment. Only really sick people go to the ICU. If there was one thing God was making abundantly clear at this point, it was that I was not writing the script.
Next I was informed that the following morning I would go by ambulance to another hospital for a cardiac catheterization. I had plenty of brochures to read, consent forms to sign, and lab tests to have administered. I was grateful to be able to google anything I didn’t understand in order to obtain a greater understanding of what lied before me. In all of this, I felt a calm — a peace that defied understanding — that never left. Psalm 118 came to mind — a passage I had read to my husband twenty-nine years earlier prior to his back surgery. Verse 17 stood out: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” I held on to this during the long hours prior to the procedure.
The ambulance ride was fun. I had three personnel monitoring me as we traveled a familiar freeway to our destination. They accommodated my request for the siren to be turned on (although it was not medically necessary), as I wanted the full experience! I had the chance to share with them that I was not scared, and was confident that if I did not make it through the procedure, I would be in the presence of my Savior. (It’s funny how when things get serious, it’s much easier to be direct and to the point.)
I cannot recount all the details of the procedure because I was under a local anesthesia that allowed the catheter entry through my radial artery (wrist) into my heart. What seemed like a couple of minutes was actually three quarters of an hour or so. The procedure resulted in the removal of a clot that had blocked my right coronary artery by 99 percent. I was shown the clot, and learned that two stents had been inserted to keep the artery open.
I thanked the surgeon and the team. I told them that left to my own devices, I would have just gone to bed instead of consulting a doctor, but that my husband insisted I go to the ER. The surgeon responded, “Your husband was right. Not sure you would have woken up.” To which I jokingly responded, “That’s the first time he’s been right in almost thirty-nine years of marriage!” When the doctor found my husband to report the success of the procedure, he congratulated him for being right for the first time in almost four decades!
I have had a year of learning what led to the heart attack and adjusting to lifestyle and health changes that may help prevent another. I have found good and reliable counselors to guide me in this pursuit. Now, fifty pounds lighter, four dress sizes smaller, effective stress management, and a new backyard vegetable garden bursting with produce, I can say with all honesty that it has been one of the best years of my life.
Not a day goes by that I am not reminded that the Lord preserved my life and that I have a responsibility to live up to my end of the bargain—to declare the works of the Lord! I only thought I was Kingdom-driven before. Thanks to this ongoing experience, I feel as though God has supercharged my resolve and given me the grace and faith to move mountains.
Before the throne of grace we meet
And our petitions bear.
To Him we cry, and Him intreat,
O Lord, hear Thou our prayer.
We lose the day and gain the year;
Eternity is ours, and grace,
In patience, confidence, without a fear
We watch and wait a little space.
Our times are in His hand, we know,
His love for us forever sealed,
His love will never let us go,
His love in Christ has been revealed.*