“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me…8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from ‘me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’”
The shallow end. That’s where I swim. Every male in my family tree on both sides going back at least three generations had a coronary episode of some kind by the time they got to their early 40’s. I had my first heart attack at 25 just after finishing graduate school. I was at a low weight and skipped rope like a fiend. My resting heart rate was the low 50’s. Then one night I had the worst case of heart burn…EVER!
Many years later we realized that it was a heart attack. I was getting a catheterization done to see how the ol’ ticker was after getting some palpitations and dizzy spells. The cardiologist said he saw some really old heart damage, but everything else looked good, so…
Hold on a sec there, hoss! Run that first part by me again!
So from there it was more exercise, more drugs, more trying to do everything right. My cardiologist once told me he admired my dedication, but reminded me I was just trying to outrun my genes. I told him I was only trying to push the finish line out a bit further. I opted against discussing his bedside manner.
Fast-forward to 2003. I get my annual stress test Monday morning, then bingo from Toledo to Ft. Wayne. IN to run a week-long class for my corporation. Through a series of remarkable coincidences – spelled G-O-D – I found myself facing a double-bypass in Ft. Wayne before I dropped dead. There was no time to go home. It had to happen NOW!
So I went from going like mad between work, travel, home, and being the liturgist at church every Sunday to…
Right at the beginning, all I had was the pain. The incision felt like a hot poker laying on my chest. I faded in and out in the ICU for 12+ hours. The following morning those sadistic B@$+@%&$ made me walk to my step down room. WALK! I had 3 chest tubes to drain the puss, a number of intravenous somethings, a portable monitor and leads…and I hadn’t even found the urine catheter yet.
I looked like a decrepit Borg being led to the junk yard.
From there, I really had nothing much to do. And no energy to do it with. They said the only way to get my ticket punched to leave was walk as much as I could and inhale through the breathy thingy until I could draw the float high enough.
The poor nurse who had to explain to me the importance of walking must have had her head bitten off on a regular basis. She timidly encouraged me walk around the unit once, maybe twice a day, if I think I could handle it.
Once or twice? Every day? I had been doing 2 hours of cardio every day plus weights until a couple days before surgery. I smiled at her.
“Screw that! What’s the record?”
Little did I know. The young lady from rehab came to take me on my first walk. After loading all of my equipment, tubes, receptacles, etc. in a wheelchair for me to push, we set out. Beauty and the Borg. We finished one lap , and she asked how I was doing.
You’re kidding me, right? Let me know when YOU get tired. Off we went on lap two. We made it back to my room, and she faced me expectantly. I stared down into those deep, blue eyes, and…
“You know what, sweetheart? You’re looking a bit bushed. I think I’ll cut you loose.”
She helped me into bed. I slept the rest of the day.
That, sport fans, was the story of my life for months. I went to church to hear my daughter play flute for the service. I was sitting in the pew before church started…and started sliding over onto my side. Julie had to catch me before I was lying on the seat. Too weak.
Same thing in the backyard. I sat down on the grass and just slowly was picking out the weeds I could reach and…*plop*
My main activity other than going to rehab was sitting in the Lay-Z-Boy and watching TV when I wasn’t sleeping.
Breath in. Breathe out. Repeat as needed.
That was all I did. Breathe and heal.
I haven’t forgotten how bad it was for a while. Pain. Fear (after listening to a nurse in ICU arguing about my care with someone…in my doorway). Weakness. More pain from the chest tubes. Remember I was doing weights. My lats were BIG, and they’d spasm in certain positions (I screamed like a little girl…sorry little girls).
But I also remember how liberating it was. I look back on that year with a certain fondness. The afterburners had been shut off, and I…lived! I lived the cat purring on my lap. I lived the great sandwiches Julie made for me. I lived church, once I could sit up on my own. I lived Julie, Hillary, and Olivia; my wife and daughters.
Mostly, I lived God. Every night I said a prayer of thanks for Julie, my daughters, and my health. Yes, I said thanks for my health. I still had some. I had that improbable series of events that got me to the hospital just in time. Just before going into surgery, Julie and I had prayed. We realized I would wake up after surgery; either to her or God. Neither would be a bad outcome. God gave us back to each other.
Since then, I’ve never quite gotten back to my pre-bypass fitness. I almost died twice in 2012 just six months apart. All three episodes were completely different maladies. All three had me skidding toward the grave. God gave Julie and me back to each other three times.
How does a person keep going after that?
The biggest thing is not worrying about me. I pray every day for God to use me however He wants. Whether I end up liking it or not. Keeping my focus out instead of crawling into my own naval is the biggest thing.
I’ve met some pretty spectacular people that way; on business trips, blogging, whatever comes up. I try to keep giving, but I get so much more back that I keep running a surplus. Oh, I have bills, stuff to pay off, but this isn’t about cash. It’s about a feeling of…fullness of heart. And soul.
Life is still rough. I won’t lie to you. But it’s easier when you’re looking out, not in, when you’re looking for God to use you well.
And to think that I might never have discovered this unless I had been swimming. In the shallow end of the gene pool.