Author Archives: Gerald F. Ward

About Gerald F. Ward

I am a husband and father, a Librarian, and a "want-to-be" theologian. I am also a photographer and writer. One of my jobs is helping people self-publish print books.

Angiogram

Thoughts in Retrospect

I went to the hospital on the afternoon of Thursday, November 16, for a stress test. On Friday morning my family arrived to be with me before I’m wheeled in for an angiogram.

Angiograms look into places in the body which cannot be seen any other way. A dye is injected into my blood so they can see what is happening in an x-ray. Then a small instrument, with a small camera, is inserted into an artery in my wrist and they thread it up toward my heart. They are looking for “hardening of the arteries.” Something caused heart damage and they have to find out to know what to do next. If an artery is partially blocked they would insert a stent and open it up. They would do no more than two stents.

There is something wrong with my heart. I am awake enough during this procedure to answer questions and take direction. “Are you feeling chest pain?” Yes. “Open your mouth. We are giving you nitroglycerin.” I open my mouth. Three times they give me nitroglycerin. Then I hear something about inserting a pump. I am not aware enough to think though the implications of a pump.

One of the large arteries leading out of my heart, delivering oxygenated blood to the rest of my body, was completely blocked. No blood was moving through this artery. The Doctor could not open the artery with a stint. He did not want to try to break through the clog, so they put in a pump to keep my heart beating, to help with delivering blood to the rest of my body.  The pump went in through my right leg near the groin. Another of my appendages now had something sticking out of it. That’s three: two arms and a leg.

Life and Death are not just physical but are also spiritual. Just as there is physical life so there is spiritual life. Physical life is sustained through physical means, so spiritual life is sustained through spiritual means. In the physical body, it is the heart that keeps the blood flowing. Yet, people are more than blood and bone. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV).  So, the heart reflects the innermost motivations of the person. People are said to have a clean heart or are black-hearted. Still, God tells us there is something wrong with people, with our hearts, because of sin.

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37 ESV)

My spiritual heart was wicked. There was a time when I did not seek God, when I hated Him and wanted nothing to do with Him. Then He changed me. He gave me a new heart. But, He will not do this for anyone who does not recognize their need for Him and that are fighting against Him. I saw my need. He did not give me a new physical heart but a new spiritual heart, so I might know Him. He performed radical surgery on my spiritual being to save my life, for I was surely headed toward spiritual death.

My physical heart is damaged, an artery coming out of my heart is clogged by stuff that keeps it from working as it was designed to work. Left alone, I would eventually, in a short time, die. A surgeon, skilled at patching up hearts, is going to mend my heart. Even if a surgeon could not repair the physical damage my spiritual heart is already new.

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Rest

Rest. If you want to rest, do not go to a hospital.

That Thursday evening I was put in a room by myself. There was a small curtain next to the front door.  I have wires taped to my chest, an IV in one arm, more needles in the other arm. Lights may be dimmed but never go out. There are noises I am not used to, beeps, blips and obnoxious sounds coming from my room and all the other rooms on the floor. Several times during the night I hear “code blue” or “stroke” and the call for staff to respond. Something happened to a monitor in the room next to mine and I watched staff run to the patient.

While I was in Emergency Room I heard the same beeps, blips and obnoxious sounds. But I also heard cries of pain and agony muffled by closed doors and walls. Children and adults screamed. I didn’t know for whom I was praying, but I prayed. I envisioned broken bones and deep wounds, burns and other injuries needing aggressive attention. I was not afraid for me, but for them. I have occasionally awakened the last few nights as I remember the sounds of suffering.

Still, I was able to rest. I was not afraid for me.

Rest is an attitude. It is not the attitude of “I don’t care” but the attitude of “there is One caring for me” whom I trust. Rest is possible even when surrounded by turmoil, people who are always active, felt desires or needs for security, overwhelming difficulties, because it is a discipline of the thinking of the heart. I trust God because He has told me I matter to Him. Those you love matter to you. We are to love God and people even when confronted by turmoil, activity, insecurity and any difficulty.

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40 ESV)

Loving people does not mean we ignore the wrong things people do. Wickedness also comes from the thinking of the heart. Loving people does mean viewing them as valuable. God does not stop the suffering. This does not mean He loves people less.

I rest because I am at peace with God. My peace does not come from anything I have done but from what He has done for me. I will not ignore Him with my life because He has not ignored me. Though this world is engulfed by unrestrained turmoil, pain and suffering, He stands as Creator. Surrounded by selfish and self-centered activity, He sustains His creation. Assaulted by a felt desire or need for security against that which cannot be controlled, He governs. Overwhelmed by problems, He gives purpose. There is no area of my life He does not touch. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)

 

Spending the Night in ICU

I am in the Emergency Department for a complete workup. Where, in the normal doctor’s office, results from medical tests can take days, in the Emergency Department results from tests can take minutes, maybe a couple of hours at the outside. Before I see a Doctor, several RN’s start placing needles in my arms so they can administer medications and draw blood. Before I see a Doctor, they hear the words “chest pain” and work toward that diagnosis. Then the Doctor came in.

He listened to my story. Exercise. Eating. Fires in Yosemite and Northern California. Asthma. Bicycle riding. Chest pain that goes away. He looked at my record. Listened to everything. Ordered blood work and chest x-ray. Then calmly explained why He did not think I had GERD and why I did not have exercise induced asthma. Looking at my previous tests, EKGs, blood work, he calmly told me the problem is my heart. RN’s come in to take blood and he said he would be back in about 90 minutes with the results. I wish I knew what he was seeing that the other Doctors had not seen. Thousands of hours in an Emergency Department gave him insight. He looked at the evidence, ordered more conclusive evidence be gathered, and waited until he had enough information to draw a more accurate conclusion.

I am not trying to hide my intent of using my experiences to understand my relationship with Christ. When Jesus came it was with the express purpose of keeping people from being separated from God. Everything He did was with the objective of showing who He was.  He was raised from the dead which validates everything He did and every word He spoke.

Jesus healed people. However, He did not heal everyone He encountered. We have accounts of Jesus healing lepers of their leprosy, the blind and lame and deaf and mute of their congenital physical disorders, the mentally deranged and demon-possessed of their mental/emotional instability. He raised dead people, giving them life where their bodies were completely dead. He did all of these things in front of crowds. The religious leaders watched Him, could easily verify His actions, and knew for a fact He was doing these things. Many of them did not care where the evidence of His life pointed. They wanted Him to go away so they could continue on as they were without change. They wanted Him dead so that His miracles would stop drawing people away from them and their age-old rituals.

There is too much evidence pointing to who Jesus is. Even when God speaks people hear and describe their experiences.

“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:28-32 ESV)

Every Doctor and Nurse I met worked with the focused intent of keeping me alive. I expected nothing less from any of them. I cannot express enough gratitude and admiration for their work.

A couple of hours later the ED Doctor returned with test results. “You have heart damage.” There is an enzyme in your heart that is at 3.5. Heart damage happens at .5. We’re going to check you into the hospital (to get you out of the Emergency Department and free up a bed for someone else) and tomorrow morning we will do an angiogram, which will tell us exactly what is wrong. The Doctor never said the phrase “heart attack” though it is implied. While the Doctor was talking to me an RN placed another IV in another appendage with a blood thinner drip.

Okay. I’m spending the night in the hospital.

Identity

I’ve been to Emergency Rooms in the past. They are busy places. Initial triage orders patients according to severity of their medical problems. When I took my son to the ER because of a bicycle crash and he needed stitches, we waited hours to see a doctor. However, when it is a couple of RNs pushing a patient in a wheelchair from a different department and they say “chest pain” everything is expedited.

The first thing they did as they wheeled me into the Emergency Department was identify who I was. They put a band on my wrist with my name, birthdate and medical record number, which I had to repeat for them from memory. I suppose if I were to become unconscious the wrist band would tell them who they were caring for. Plus, they don’t want to give me medications that I should not have. I don’t want them to give me medications not for me. I was asked about a hundred times over the next few days my first and last name and my birthdate. I have a penicillin allergy. Guess what else was on the wrist band? I didn’t want them to lose me, either. They needed to know where I was all the time. Hospitals are labyrinths.

I am unique. Everyone is unique. No two people are exactly alike. From the DNA embedded in my cells, to my family history, to my future, no one shares my unique self. This is true for everyone. For as long as there have been people, for as long as there will be people, every person who has ever lived has been different from every other person who has ever lived. We share physical characteristics that make us human from the time the egg is fertilized by the sperm until the body dies. Even in death the body is identified as human. Every human is different.

There are things we can control. But there is more we cannot control. You’ve heard the discussion. You cannot control your nationality, your family, gender, height, eye color. Those physical characteristics that make you you and not someone else, cannot be controlled or manipulated. You can change your appearance through surgery but embedded in your DNA are all the systems and processes which determine that you are human and a unique individual.

People are valuable. We are valuable, not because we say we are, but because God, who stands apart from people, says we are. When God first created people, He set them apart from the rest of creation to have a special, intimate relationship with Him. People are different than the rest of the animal world. We think and reason, feel and have a moral understanding of right and wrong, and we act upon that which we think and feel. We make short and long-term decisions based upon conscious behaviors. We have a conscience and are able to communicate with others.

God knows me, right down to having written the DNA in my cells. He intimately knows my past, present and future, having numbered the hairs on my head and the days of my life. He knows where I will live for eternity. He has identified me as His. Nothing can make me not His. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). He will never forget or lose me because my name is identified with the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Wheelchair to ER

Do not ignore evidence just because you do not like where it is pointing. You’ve heard the saying “don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up.” In a post-modern world, where thinking is not critical and where such “evidence” might actually contradict generally accepted practices, it becomes more politically important to ignore obvious evidence if it contradicts a politically motivated stated belief than to admit the evidence is valid and means something substantial.

I had chest pain for weeks. I certainly was not ignoring it. I was trying to figure out what might be causing my chest pain. I went to a doctor and went through my family history with her. I told about my exercise regime. This is when the pain happens. This is what I do to alleviate the pain and then I can go on my merry way. One of the things that brings on chest pain is food and exercise. If I do not eat and exercise, I’m fine.  If I eat and then exercise, I’m not fine. Beginning with my throat, the pain increases across the top part of my chest. Tests showed no heart problems. But something is causing chest pain. If it is not the heart, then it is either the stomach (GERD) or the lungs (asthma).

One of my nephews is an RN in Nevada. For a while he was the RN on an emergency rescue helicopter covering Northern California and Nevada.  He was also an RN in a cath lab in Reno. I’ve heard some his stories. When he was a teenager he went with a medical team to Brazil. He loves his job.  We talked with him and he suggested I have a stress test done.

I have a strong suspicion you cannot work in a medical testing facility and have a post-modern outlook on life. Everything you do has ramifications. What you reap, you will sow. If you take care of your body, it will help when you face a genetic crisis. On the other hand, if you abuse your body, then when you need it most, it will abandon you. You may actually believe everything is good when it really isn’t good.  In hospitals, ignoring the truth could get you killed. You cannot ignore death. It is absolute.

One week after seeing a doctor and having tests done which showed I was okay, I drove myself to the stress test. I wanted people trained to see to watch as I exercised. I needed to find out what was causing the chest pain so that I could continue to exercise without pain. My hope, based on previous testing, was that they would give me an inhaler which would open my bronchial tubes and alleviate the pain. They hooked up the EKG and started monitoring my heart. There was slight discomfort in my chest from the walk over from my car. Not bad. I was able to control the pain.

But after five minutes of collecting the evidence they needed the Doctor told me I had just “won” a night in the hospital. It was a couple of hundred yards to the ER. I was pushed there in a wheelchair. This was not part of my plan. But, I have learned that God doesn’t give a rip about anyone’s plans, especially when they do not include Him. I had walked into this appointment with the same attitude I have had with most everything else. I am in His hands and He may do what He wills. So, I called my wife and told her I was on the way to the ER.

Stress Test

I have always known this but facing heart surgery brings out my inner theologian and philosopher.  The body is an intricately designed machine. All parts must work together for the body to function. From limbs and organs to the smallest part of the cell, every cell, when a piece of the body does not function properly then the whole body is compromised. I am not doctor. I am a Librarian. I will not give medical advice. I will describe what I have learned and be corrected by those who know better.

You’ve heard the mantra: diet and exercise and you will stay healthy. There are foods you should eat and stuff you should never put in your body. For me, it was not the diet, I still eat healthily, but the exercise. If I had not exercised my present condition would be substantially worse. Genetics played more of a part of my heart shutting down than anything else.

For over six weeks I felt minor chest pain. Not debilitating chest pain but a pressure in my throat and what I identified as bronchial tubes. We had been in Yosemite in August during some serious fires. Plus, because of the fires in Northern California I thought my throat was burned. I could ride a bicycle for a mile and then have to stop and relax, then ride farther and stop. Once everything was warmed up I could finish my ride without a problem. My thinking was I had either GERD without the reflux and exercise induced asthma. I know about my family history but had ruled out coronary problems.

Then I had an episode November 7th that suggested either really bad acid reflux, heart burn, or heart attack. On the way to the ER everything settled down and we didn’t finish the trip. The next day I made an urgent doctor’s appointment, blood work, chest x-ray and an EKG. The chest x-ray showed nothing. There were no elevated enzyme markers in my blood that accompany heart attack. My cholesterol was low and the EKG showed no problems. All of the indications suggest there was no heart damage. I was experiencing something other than coronary issues.

Every blood cell, and every cell in the body, is an intricately designed machine. Within blood cells are enzymes, which are proteins, that promote specific functions like helping the heart muscles contract and expand and help manage energy. Cardiac enzymes are found mostly in the heart. A blood test will find low levels if these enzymes when the heart is working correctly. High levels of the enzymes and the heart has had to work harder than in should for some reason. These enzymes generally show up in the blood hours after a heart attack, unless you take blood directly from the heart.

All of the evidence I have seen draws me to the conclusion I am a created being, not an evolved organism. As I ride the American River Park Way I see and photograph an array of wildlife, flora and fauna. Everything I see has the mark of an Intelligent Designer, from the natural to the man-made. I ride upon a ribbon of asphalt. It did not evolve. I see the gold tailings that did not just happen but are the evidence of the direct environmental manipulation of people. I also see the intricacy of the creatures. While I understand, kind of, how some may see only natural selection and evolution, I do not.

I should be dead. I am not dead. My being alive has nothing to do with luck or karma. I am alive because of the direction intervention of the God who created me.

Exercise

I am not a hard-core bicycle rider. When I ride I am not all hunched over, with the racing outfit, moving as fast as I can along the trail. My intent is not to conquer distance with speed. I started riding a bicycle several years ago because my Doctor told me I needed some sort of exercise to lower my weight and get my body in better shape. When I first started with the Library 28 years ago, I had a gym membership, going several times a week using the elliptical trainer and other stuff. For over twenty years I did this, but the gym and my motivation was doing nothing to help. A gym membership is too expensive so I finally quit. I did nothing for a long time. I was over-weight and out of shape. In 2011, I started riding a bicycle.

We live about a quarter mile from the American River Parkway and Bicycle Trail. I remember my first ride. I went about a mile. That is not far. It took over a year for me to go 2-3 miles. On one of those first rides I remember seeing some of the wildlife. Blue Heron. Kestrel. Red-shouldered Hawk. Lots of deer. A Coyote. I would see something, whip out my cell-phone and take a picture, a teeny-tiny speck of pixels lost in a slightly larger blurred image on a flip-phone screen. I knew what it was. Nobody else seemed impressed. “Oh, yeah. A Bird.” So, I started carrying a bigger camera with me. I would begin looking forward to riding. I would spend more time out on the trail, not necessarily riding, but finding and discovering. By two months ago I would ride anywhere from 6-7 miles to 15-20 miles. I have ridden every mile from the J Street-Fair Oaks Blvd bridge near Sac State to Beals Point at Folsom Lake.

I have also lost weight and kept it off. I am not thin, like most hard-core riders. I have never had a six-pack. I have a single pack surrounded by a life-preserver. I do not look like someone who rides a bicycle, let alone a great distance rider. But I do ride.

My father died from complications from triple-bypass surgery.  His heart surgery was not an emergency but came after 20+ years of heart problems.  He was told he had a 98% chance for a full recovery after this surgery but he didn’t make it out of Recovery.  He had 11 heart-attacks in nine days. They opened him three times. By the end of the ninth day I had watched his body take a battering I doubted anyone could survive. My mother died from complications of chemo treatment for leukemia. My brother died from a massive heart attack. All of the family evidence points to me having heart problems. Only a reckless person would suggest I was not a candidate for the same kind of coronary problems. I wanted the problems to happen much later, closer to the end of a long, full life. I’m 63 which, in my mind, is too young.

I will be out riding as soon as I can.