Monday, August 26, 2013

Who turned out the lights?

The cardiologist was speaking softly from some far off distant land. Calmly he reassured me that all was in better than excellent working order. "You have an extremely strong heart. You could run the Kentucky Derby and win. In fact, I don't know why we are even bothering to do this procedure," he said. "You can look right there in that monitor and see for yourself! We are now done with the left side and we are entering your right ..."

That was the last thing I heard him say. My heart stopped completely when he entered the artery with the dye and probe. Heart attack, myocardial infarction, sudden cardiac death, flat-line, deader than a doornail! It doesn't really matter what you say or how you say it - when your heart stops beating YOU ARE DEAD.

Later they would ask me what I remembered. I would recall the intense crushing pain and burning in my chest. I choked to breathe. My first conscious thought was "Oh my God, have I been SHOT?"

It was a searing pain like nothing I have ever experienced before or since. They were rushing around me rubbing salve on my chest, torso, and back where my flesh had been scorched from the paddles. 

"We had to paddle you three times to get your heart started again," I heard someone say, "And there is some second degree burning here on your chest and your sides so we are applying some salve to help you with the pain." I looked up at the attending nurse and said, "I swear that I can smell burning bacon."

"Who threw me up against the wall?" I asked weakly. I heard them laugh halfheartedly. The bottom of my feet throbbed and my ankles ached. Someone explained that when they 'defib' you the electricity exits out the bottom of your feet. "They will probably hurt for a few days," they assured me. That was an understatement. It would be nearly six months before I could step down on my heels without feeling pain.

I could hear them talking to me but what they were saying seemed foggy and far away. I was remembering what had REALLY happened when I was 'out of the room' while they were busy trying to bring me back.

Since then a few people have jokingly asked me if I was really 'in the light' or if I saw Elvis or Lady Di. Later on when I asked my doctor why I didn't see angels he told me that it was because he didn't let me "get that dead".

The truth of it all is this - It was if I was given the gift of seeing everyone I have ever loved. One at a time I 'viewed' my relationships... With Bill (my significant other at the time), each of my children, my grandchildren, my siblings, my parents, my dearest and closest friends... The cast of characters appeared randomly - the living and those that have gone on ahead. It was a slide show filled with powerful points of light.

It was as if one at a time they stood there with me and we 'spoke' of our love for each other. I could actually feel the sorrow and pain that they were feeling at the loss of me leaving them. As each person appeared before me I thought of all of the hurts we had caused each other, the times we neglected each other, of the many, many things we had said that we shouldn't have and the many more things we should have expressed but had left unsaid. The silent sound of the 'I love yous' we left unspoken roared through my heart.

I thought about my deep and abiding love for each of them, my gratitude for the gift of their love and their lives in my life, the many times they lifted me up and the joys we shared. I could feel the depth of my deep, deep love for each of them. Sorrow flooded my soul with regret that I didn't tell each and every one of them how very much they mean to me when I had the chance. I wept at the sadness and sorrow we have shared and longed to be the wonderful blessing to them that they had been to me.

They say that your life passes before you when you die and now I absolutely believe that it is true. I believe that God brings all of the people that you have ever loved to be there with you. And He gives you that incredible slide show for you to view and re-view. It is my utmost certainty that God shows you the depth and breadth of your love - the love that you have been given and the love that you have given away.

My dear friend Grace Moore told me as she lay dying of cancer that Christ came to visit her in a dream. He told her that when we stand at the judgment bar on the last day we will be asked only one question... "HOW WELL DID YOU LOVE?"

And I can tell you that I now know personally that her vision is true. As I lay weeping on the table the doctor leaned over me and asked me what I was thinking. "I didn't get a chance to tell them how very much I love them," I whispered. "I didn't get a chance to say goodbye."

He looked me directly in the eyes and softly brushed the top of my forehead with a kiss and replied "well, now you can go home and say HELLO! You won't have to say goodbye for a very long time."

So what thought do I want to leave you with here? Don't let one more minute go by without telling those that you love how very much they mean to you. Hold on to each and every precious moment. Cherish your babies, your siblings, your parents, your friends... Be kind to those that despise you. Love them beyond measure. Love them long and hard and well. Don't let the sun set on one more day without telling everyone you love what he or she means to you. Say you are sorry if you need to, beg forgiveness if you must, climb over mountains and crawl across valleys to deliver the message to those that you cherish that your life would not be the same and you would not be who you are today without the gift of their presence in your life. Say it now and shout it loud while you can still say it and while they can still hear you!

How dying changed my life forever... Or Elvis, I don't think we are in Graceland anymore!

A funny thing happened on the way to the heart cath lab. The night before the procedure I slept in spurts. I would doze, sit straight up in bed wide awake, worry, snooze, and then wake continually throughout the night.

I remembered reading that one out of 100 people are allergic to the contrast dye but that thought just evaporated when I told myself that the only thing that I am really allergic to is death. And worry wrapped itself around me like a shroud.

I don't remember when I finally drifted off but I woke up tired and weary to the marrow of my bones. I got up that morning, showered and got ready to head for the hospital. I had a strangely eerie feeling as I walked through the house. Somehow I had the feeling that I wouldn't return.

 As I was brushing my teeth I looked in the mirror and Spirit whispered to my heart,  "And so it is". 

I stood over the bed considering if I should expend the energy and make it. I thought that it was an unnecessary gesture since I most likely would never sleep in it again. I shrugged my shoulders, heard a large sigh escape from the bottom of my soul and went downstairs.

I spent a long time with my dog Cuddles, petting her, and reassuring her that things would be perfectly okay. I wasn't certain at the moment who was comforting who. It wasn't a melodrama. It was like moving in slow motion while watching yourself from a distance. I knew that I was leaving on a long journey and I wasn't certain if I would be able to find my way home again.

In the car on the way to the hospital I sat in the backseat alone and explained quietly to my son John where the life insurance policies were and instructed my daughter Jana how to divide my jewelry. I saw terror on their faces as they looked at me in the rear view mirrors and listened to me softly explain to them how I wanted them to take care of things when I was gone.

Jana asked if I would like her to pray with me. I answered simply, "Certainly, if it will make YOU feel better." And then I told them about 'the message' I had been given that morning as I brushed my teeth. It was bittersweet. I was terrified and anxious. I knew that whatever was going to happen that day was already written. I was filled with a quiet calm and an acceptance I had never experienced before. "And so it is," I whispered to myself silently.

The hospital staff was fast and efficient. They literally do hundreds of these procedures a day. They are well-trained and dedicated to providing excellent care. Like well rehearsed dancers performing together on stage they seemed to float around me as they prepped me. The anesthesiologist started the IV drip and reality began to slip away.

It was surreal in the room. I was freezing cold. I began to shiver and as I reflect back I am certain that I may have begun to go into shock. Tears ran down my face and into my ears and then I could feel them drip one at a time off my earlobes. I swear that I could hear them as they hit the floor one tiny drop at a time. 

I attempted to calm myself. I remembered the guided visualization techniques I had learned long ago. So I began a mental inventory of my body parts... Two feet (I wonder if they are stinky. Why didn't I polish my toenails?) ... Two ankles, two chubby calves (OH MAN! I should have shaved my legs) ... Onward and upward I continued until I came to my heart.

"Holy beans!" I thought. I only have ONE heart and at that very moment I wasn't certain just how well that one was working...

Know the Symptoms

The first step toward surviving a heart attack is learning to recognize the symptoms. The most common signs of heart attack in both women and men are:

Unusually heavy pressure on the chest, like there's a ton of weight on you:
Most heart attacks involve chest pain or discomfort in the center or left side of the chest. It usually lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain. It may even feel like heartburn or indigestion.

Sharp upper body pain in the neck, back, and jaw:
This symptom can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper part of stomach (not below the belly button). Pain in the back, neck, or jaw is a more common heart attack symptom for women than it is for men.

Severe shortness of breath:
This symptom can come on suddenly. It may occur while you are at rest or with minimal physical activity. You may struggle to breathe or try taking deep breaths. Shortness of breath may start before or at the same time as chest pain or discomfort, and can even be your only symptom.

Cold sweats, and you know it's not menopause:
Unexplained or excessive sweating, or breaking out into a "cold sweat," can be a sign of heart attack.

Unusual or unexplained fatigue (tiredness):
Sudden and unusual tiredness or lack of energy is one of the most common symptoms of heart attack in women, and one of the easiest to ignore. It can come on suddenly or be present for days. More than half of women having a heart attack experience muscle tiredness or weakness that is not related to exercise.

Unfamiliar dizziness or light-headedness:
Unlike in the movies, most heart attacks do not make you pass out right away. Instead, you may suddenly feel dizzy or light-headed.

Unexplained nausea (feeling sick to the stomach) or vomiting:
Women are twice as likely as men to experience nausea, vomiting, or indigestion during their heart attack. These feelings are often written off as having a less serious cause. Remember, nausea and vomiting may be signs that something is seriously wrong, especially if you have other symptoms.

If you have any one of these symptoms and it lasts for more than five minutes, chew aan aspirin and drink a glas of hot water. Immediately call 9-1-1 for emergency medical care. Even if your symptoms go away in less than five minutes, call your doctor right away — it could be a sign that a heart attack is coming soon. Don't waste time trying home remedies or waiting for the feelings to pass on their own. Remember, quick treatment can save your life