Category Archives: Coronary Heart Disease

Six Months

It has been six months since I went in for a stress test which led to coronary by-pass surgery. During the first month and a half of recuperation I spend time writing about the traumatic experience of being cut open and getting used to a scar on my chest. It was hard to write because my ability to concentrate and write was compromised by the drugs I was taking. One of the drugs was a Beta Blocker, which suppresses adrenaline. People need adrenaline to help them react to daily events. While the drug helped keep my blood pressure low so my heart could heal, some of the side effects were confusion, lack of focus and depression. I’m a Librarian and have to be able to focus. I have to be able to think and concentrate. I stopped taking the drug after about 7 weeks, with my doctors understanding.  My concentration and memory are still affected by the trauma of the surgery.

After a month and a half, I started exercising more, building up to walking several miles a day and riding my bicycle. They were easy rides. The biggest concern was falling off a bicycle, which could do some major damage to my chest which was already healing from surgery. I did not feel dizzy, another possible side effect of the drugs. Every drug they prescribed was designed to either lower my blood-pressure or my cholesterol. I discovered the best way to lower blood pressure was through exercise, combined with a different, less fatty and sugary diet. Where my blood pressure was 140+ over 90+ it is now averaging 110 over 65. In the evening, after a full day at work or riding, my blood pressure is averaging about 95 over 75.

January 2018 began the second half of my convalescence, a three-month period before returning to work. During that time, I worked on regaining my focus and concentration and started writing on the Psalms. Writing was hard but I built a consistent time every morning and was able to record my meditations on Psalms 1 through 3. These are the Meditation on the Psalmsstudies I’ve been posting for the last few months. I had spent a year trying to memorize the Psalms before the surgery and was fairly successful. After the surgery, my memory of the Psalms all but evaporated. It was a struggle to recall what I had committed to memory. It is still a struggle and a frustration.

My intent with the meditation posts was to help me understand Jesus Christ and to point those who read them to Him. One of the conclusions I’ve drawn from the study is that the Psalms, at least the ones I have studied and thought about, point to Christ and express His innermost self. We do not get much of His emotion and thinking about His mission in the Gospels. Nor does He reveal many of His reactions and understandings about why He came as a Man to redeem those who are His. Since all Scripture is written by Him, about Him and His relationship with those created in His image, the Psalms naturally express His heart.

It is not my intent to make these writings about me. Even though the blog is given my name, at least in theory, it is not about me. These writings are the discoveries I am finding and thinking through about my relationship with the One who redeemed me.

A couple of questions arise which I have been trying to ignore for a long time. Why should anyone read what I have written if they do not know me? Should not my thoughts and writing stand-alone without the extra arrogant baggage of my selfishness and self-centeredness? If I am expressing truth about God and His Word, led by the Holy Spirit, then it should not be about me but about Him. If the integrity of my life is not known, how should the integrity of my words and thinking stand? My thinking has been philosophically altruistic. I want people to read what I write because I believe God has given me something to say about Him and His Son. I also want readers to challenge my thinking. But thinking is only part of the whole person. Another part is the emotional side of humanity. People need to know what I am feeling and how I am acting, not just what I think.

I am changing the structure and delivery of this blog starting with this post. At least I am going to try. Hopefully, I will post three times a week. I will continue to post my meditations on the Psalms, but not every post. I am also going to start a study on 1 Peter. I have an M. A. in Theology. I wrote two major papers in graduate school on 1 Peter. The first was a long paper on the terms alienand strangerfound in Peter’s letter. The second was a thesis entitled Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake: A Formal Theological Concept in the First Epistle on Peter. I am not going to bore you with academic writing. First Peter left a deep impression on my heart and my thinking and I need to express those thoughts and feelings. Finally, I am going to write brief posts about me and my life growing up, my current occupation and some of the events which God used to shape me for Him. I am a Librarian and I hope to shatter any stereotypes held by whomever wants to read. The struggle is going to be keeping the attention off of me and on Christ while talking about me. Every experience I have had and will have, whether I was aware or not, has drawn me closer to God.

Thanks for listening and reading my ramble.

Gerry

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Healing

Sunday, November 19th, is a blur. I mostly slept, which is understandable after such radical surgery. My family came and sat with me most of the day. Friends came and visited. I didn’t make a guest book so I do not remember everyone who dropped in. Most of the day I spent sitting up in a chair. Sleeping.

Monday was a little more eventful. They started removing some of the tubes hanging out of various appendages which gave me a little more freedom. They also decided to move me from the ICU to a regular room. Before I could be moved though, I had to show a Physical Therapist I could get out of and back into bed without using my arms. Roll over. Sit up. Stand up without falling over. Then reverse. Sit down. Lay down on side. Roll over onto back. Without using my arms. I cannot lift over ten pounds or raise my arms over shoulder height. Once I demonstrated I could correctly get out of bed, they (there were two people) walked me to an elevator, up a floor (I think) and then down a couple of long hallways to another room. Once all the tubes were out and I was in a regular hospital room I was officially, in my mind, on the road to recovery. This road is not a short.

I do not have to relearn anything. I simply have to heal and strengthen. Healing means letting the body do that for which it was created. I am not trained in anatomy and physiology and cannot speak to the intricacies of how and why the human body does what it does, but personal experience and the expertise of those who worked on me, tells me that the body heals itself, as a general law of nature, which means my body will heal according to that law. Only in death does the body cease to heal.

This does not mean the body heals completely, as good as new. I am still 63, not 36. My heart is patched, not new. Only God can make a new heart and then He only does this with the spiritual heart. I will still physically die. It is the unique spiritual person who will exist for eternity.

Jesus walked around healing people. Fevers, leprosy, blindness and deafness. He even raised people from the dead.  He did none of these things in private but in front of crowds of people. These people would tell other people what Jesus had done which brought more sick people to Him for Him to heal. All of the people Jesus healed eventually died.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. (Matthew 4:23-25 ESV)

 

Pain

It’s still Saturday, November 18th. A few hours after surgery I’m walking and sitting up. Then, the anesthesia started to wear off and my head started to clear and my chest started to hurt. I had to learn to cough to clear my lungs, which had been deflated. Part of my recovery was to work to re-inflate my lungs without catching pneumonia. There was fluid in my lungs I needed to cough out. But my sternum was broken which meant no deep coughing but a gentle action to slowly move the fluid out of my lungs.

There was a foot-long incision with staples down the center of my chest. My sternum was cut open and needed to heal. I had nerve damage. Lungs were deflated and needed to expand but had fluid in them. And I was starting to wake up completely which means I was starting to completely feel the consequences of the surgery.

Pain may be necessary but it is never liked. God gave pain to warn and inform us that something is wrong that needs making right. In the spiritual sense, physical pain is designed to drive a person to God. God’s intent is for every person to intimately know and love Him. He will not force anyone to have a relationship with Him but everyone will eventually stand before Him.

“We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; and anyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, chapter 6, Human Pain.)  

We even accuse God of forgetting us or ignoring us in our pain. Why did He not stop the pain or the circumstance? Why did He allow my suffering? He allowed His Son to suffer pain beyond our puny understanding at the hands of the Roman while on the cross. He took upon Himself the agony we all deserve. This does not mean we will not feel pain. It means our identity with Christ includes pain and suffering as a way of preparing us for eternity with God. There will be no pain in eternity in God’s presence. There is always pain in this world.

People will do whatever is possible to avoid pain. We have good drugs. I was asked the level of pain I was in by a nurse and I said 7 out of 10. She gave me a drug that made me feel good. It took away the pain. It also convinced my wife and family there was no need to stick around because I was so loopy. No sense being with someone who is just going to sleep.

 

After Surgery

Rub some dirt on it.

That was my immediate second thought. From where did that thought come?

I am not an athlete. This term has been used by athletes for a long time, but no one knows who first said it. It may be a medical term used to encourage those with injuries to not allow the injury to stop them. I had never heard the saying until my son used it after watching one of the recent Navy SEAL movies. Sustaining non-life-threatening injuries in battle, the soldiers still had to finish their mission. Minor injuries did not matter. Rub some dirt on it to stop the bleeding and let’s go.

We have First World problems in this country. Problems like matching our clothes or having to drive a long way to shop because we do not like the stores near us. Problems like what movie do I want to see or what should I eat tonight?  Where should we go for vacation? How long should I microwave this? You get the idea.

It is Christmastime. Stop thinking about the shopping you “have” to do. Think about Jesus. Born in a stable. His parents were the poorest of the poor. Yet babies and infants do not know they are poor. Babies know their mothers and fathers. Their needs are few. Love. Feed. Changed. Held. Sleep. Again.

Nowhere in Scripture do we see Joseph and Mary complaining about their circumstances. They lived for their son. Why do we teach our children to complain because they did not get what they wanted on Christmas?  Isn’t a gift free and given out of love?   From the moment Jesus was conceived, He freely gave Himself.

I have been hurt by a surgery and given a life because of it by God. Let me think on Jesus and not on myself.

Alive

I am alive.

This was the first thought I had on opening my eyes after surgery. I am alive. Considering the trauma done to my body, the possibility of death was ever present. Does it matter that the surgeon has done thousands of these procedures? Does it matter that the technology has advanced exponentially?  Yes. These factors matter. But, what matters more is God’s involvement in life.

We soon celebrate Christmas.  The birth of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man. God decided to come in the likeness of man and experience the entire depth and breadth of being human, from conception to death. He did not do this because He did not know. He knows everything right down to the smallest detail. He came because doing so was how He decided to make Himself known to a world and people who had rejected Him. He came for the express intent of living a full life, then dying and being raised from the dead.

A living baby. No doctors. No technology. A young woman riding over 70 miles on a donkey with her new husband. No place to stay except with animals. No royal announcement except angels singing to shepherds. A baby, fully God and fully human the way God intended before sin entered. God’s gift to us.

I am alive and I will celebrate Christmas.

Attitude

It’s Friday morning and we have the results from the angiogram. I’m back in the patient staging area with Darlene and the doctor who did the test. He leans against my bed railing telling us the results. Nearby are three RNs standing around waiting for me to crash. Apparently, I am in critical condition. One of the arteries coming out of my heart is completely blocked. The doctor put in a pump to keep my heart beating.

I’m being moved from one hospital to another. I’m going from Kaiser Roseville to Mercy General, in Sacramento. Mercy General is the place to go for coronary bypass surgery, which is the only thing that will patch up my heart so it can work on its own again. They will be moving me by ambulance as soon as they can get me ready to go. Meanwhile, the three RNs are on alert in case they have to save my life.

I came in for a stress test the day before. Every previous test gave no suggestion of heart problems. But, today is different. If the bypass operation isn’t done soon, the doctors think I will not live. Within two hours I’m in an ambulance being delivered to Mercy General Hospital. Coronary bypass surgery is scheduled for the next morning. I had bumped another patient who apparently wasn’t as critical as I. They were afraid I might have to be bumped up even earlier. If I crashed, they would immediately take me into surgery.

I have never been in an ambulance before. The interior is stark, with cabinets and drawers containing stuff they might need. On one side is a low bench where the EMT and RN sit with me. I’m on a gurney.  There are windows and even lying down I can see where we are. I’ve driven the route enough to know the layout of the land.

There is an attitude that I must have to survive this ordeal. I must relinquish control of my body to the doctors and RNs who are taking care of me. If I fight them I would only make things worse. They will have to do everything for me. Up until surgery there are certain things I can still do for myself, like eat a little. But, at this point I don’t even roll over without help. I have to trust them.

Relinquishing control to someone you trust is not the same as abdicating responsibility and action. I must still decide my attitude remain positive no matter what happens. This does not just happen by an act of the will. A confident and clear attitude is a lifestyle choice and not something which can be switched on and off at will. It is either on or it is not.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 ESV)

I do not belong to me. I belong to God. He created me for relationship with Him. This means my motivation and attitude have been directed by Him since I relinquished control to Him while continuing to shoulder responsibility for myself. Jesus Christ bought me when He died for me, giving me spiritual life. Not belonging to self is not a popular worldview. I am not interested in popular viewpoints right now. If I cannot be in control of my life, then there must be someone I can trust to be in control. I do trust the doctors. I trust God more.

 

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.