I am thankful to be alive!
Last Thursday, November 16, I took some time off work and drove myself to a hospital for a stress test, on the recommendation of my nephew. Days earlier my doctor and I had ruled out heart problems because an EKG and blood tests showed no evidence of heart problems. My cholesterol levels were great. So, we began to look for other causes of my month-long chest pains. After this stress test, I thought they would give me an inhaler and send me on my way. Instead, because I still had chest pain, they put me in a wheelchair and rolled me over to the ER. After donating lots of blood into those little vials they attach to your arm, letting them x-ray my chest, and many more EKGs, the ER doc told me I had heart damage. They wanted to do an angiogram the next morning. I have not yet had the stress test.
I have not been afraid. This is important. Many people I count as friends do not believe in God. I do. My faith in Him is based on strict intellectual questioning and discovery. There is also a credible, emotional part and a precise act of my will integral to my faith. Faith in God is not stupid, where the intellect shuts down. Faith is an act of the whole person, not just a hidden little personal, unexplainable, foible unique to me. For years, God has been teaching me to listen, believe, trust and obey. Last Thursday the faith He gave me was tested.
My family, on the other hand, was in agony. I know this agony after watching my dad, mom and brother die. My having no fear did not help them. I will not minimize the fear and distress caused by watching someone they love hover over the possibility of dying suddenly, and of having no control.
Friday morning the 17th a cardiologist did an angiogram that revealed at least one aorta 100% blocked. He could not get the wire in it to look in it. Absolutely no blood was getting through. Had they been able, the doc would have inserted a couple of stents and I could have been on my way, after a few days in the hospital. Instead, they put in a heart balloon because my heart was not working as well as they wanted. I awoke enough for them to tell me I was being moved to Mercy General for “immediate heart surgery”, bypass surgery. Lots of other fun stuff happened that day, too. Disneyland was a better option for a family vacation, hands-down.
Saturday Morning the 18th was open-heart surgery. Apparently, I bumped someone in line. For those of you who know me, I don’t bump people in any line. What was happening was not by my design. At this time, I have zero control over anything happening to me. There is a difference between relinquishing control and keeping responsibility. Even laying on a gurney ready to go into surgery I am responsible for my attitude, how I treat others and for my family. Relinquishing control gives another the responsibility to care for me because I realize I cannot care for myself. They must do that which I cannot do. Having a relationship with God is like this. (Ask me and I will gladly explain more.)
Wearing a little, flimsy hospital gown is normal for hospital stays. My garments violated no hospital stereotype. When they took me into surgery, I was basically naked and shaved. What was the temperature in Surgery? 38F! Okay, another thrilling ride. The anesthesiologist (everybody working on me had already come by to meet the body they would be cutting up and putting back together) told me to take a deep breath. I woke up a moment later with two thoughts: “I’m alive.” Remember, I have had no fear so I will explain later what being alive meant to me (but not today). My second thought was “rub some dirt in it.” This is a new phrase to me, given by my son, who just completed a Spartan Race without doing any penalty burpees. I’m not getting out of the work of living so easily. I am still dependent on my family to care for me but those responsibilities that are mine are still mine.
Monday morning the doc released me from ICU so I walked from there up one floor to a regular room. The day of surgery I had already gotten out of bed several times, standing and sitting in the room. Sunday, I spent more time in a chair than in bed. Some of you will know the trauma that a body has before and during open heart surgery. Double bypass. Every appendage has something sticking out of it. And then there is my chest. I have a picture if you want to see it. If I was supposed to do something, I concentrated to make it happen.
Death is a game changer. Facing death demands facing life first. I have a belief that has everything to do with looking at facts. I believe the evidence that a man was raised from the dead. I believe Jesus Christ died at the hands of the Romans at the prompting of the religious leaders. I believe the trauma He suffered far exceeded the little bit of pain I have been in. People wanted to torture Him to death. Almost no one wanted to help Him. Everyone who saw Him die knew He was dead. Then they saw Him alive.
No one wanted me to die. People worked hard to keep me alive. But no one can will me to live. Had God wanted me to die, I would have died. God did not want me to die. (Did they have to use a catheter, though?) I am emotionally touched at the compassion and patience of just about everyone who did something for me over the seven days and six nights I was in the hospital. I pushed the help button (I know that’s why it is there) more than I think I should have. No one who responded frowned or made me feel that I should have been doing what I was asking them to do. I can never express enough admiration or appreciation for the Staff at both Kaiser in Roseville and Mercy General in Sacramento.
My family was there. My wife was my advocate. I cannot imagine the agony and stress she was under. My children talked and listened, slept and were there. It is hard watching someone you love suffer. My sister drove in from over the mountains. Friends came. Wow.
My immediate family exchanges gifts on Thanksgiving instead of Christmas. I came home the day before Thanksgiving. Thank you, Lord for my life. We enjoyed ourselves on Thanksgiving.