Friday, February 1, 2008
Today is national "Red Dress Day", reminding us to wear red for Women's Heart Health. I decided that today is the right time for me to write about my heart "episode" which is what all my friends call my brush with death. Even in naming it "my episode" we decided to make light of it, but it was a very serious time in my life.
I was in my early 50's, working at a job I loved, but in the middle of writing a grant to help fund a building a our new library. My brother, who I loved with all my heart, had committed suicide three weeks earlier. I remember in those three weeks following his death being able to concentrate on my work, but in any moment when my mind wasn't fully engaged, I found myself thinking about my brother. And I was exhausted. I chalked my tiredness up to depression. I certainly knew I had reasons to be depressed. In the last two years I had lost my father, my mother, my husband's dear grandmother and now my brother. I guess, looking back, it was probably the most stressful time in my life.
My friend and co-worker thought I needed a distraction and so she persuaded me to take a day trip provided by our credit union to a Christmas show and luncheon. It was a relaxing and fun day. The food was heavier than I would normally have eaten for lunch and so I really didn't think much of it when while talking on the phone to my daughter that evening, I felt a fulness in my chest. The chest tightness turned into a pain in my neck and chin, followed by clamminess.
I knew something was really wrong, but talked myself into thinking it was indigestion. I did decide to call a friend whose father I thought had a heart attack and ask her his symptoms. Turns out, he never had a heart attack and she urged me to call the hospital which I did. They told me to get there immediately.
At that time, appearances were more important to me than they are now and I didn't want to look silly so I just went upstairs and laid down. It was no time at all before my friend was knocking at my door checking on me. I assured her I was okay and sent her on her way, but I wasn't okay. Finally, I did what I should have done in the first place. I prayed. I knew that people had pain in their left arm when they had a heart attack. I asked God if I should go to the hospital that my arm would ache. IMMEDIATELY my right arm began to ache. It felt as if it was encased in cement.
We were out the door in a matter of seconds. I knew I was in real trouble on the way to the hospital. Within fifteen minutes of being in the hospital, my heart went into ventricular fibrillation. Had I delayed at home, had I called the ambulance which didn't at that time have a defibrillator, I would have been gone.
The next days were full of tests, procedures, medicines and finally the installation of a internal defibrillator. I won't write about all of that. In the end, it was determined that I do not have heart disease - that's the good news. I guess the bad news is that they really don't know what caused the "episode". My cardiologist finally did admit that in the face of no medical answer, he thinks it could have been the stress.
Needless to say, I am delighted to be here writing this post. Of course, as I told my dear pastor the day after, "It really didn't make a lot of difference. If I had not been here, I would have been in heaven with Jesus". It really was a win/win situation. Many things have happened to me in the years since this incident. Many days, I have been discouraged and downhearted, but when I stop and think, I know that I have so much to celebrate. I have been given an gift of time and I need to praise God for every moment of it.
And so here we are, enjoying our retirement, travelling while we can still carry our own suitcases, remembering to be say "I love you" many times a day, and hopefully, guarding our hearts.