He was out at the conservation club’s rifle range, miles out in the country. He had gone to practice a bit. There was a regional match on Saturday and he wanted to be ready for the competition. All was going well til he was ready to leave. Suddenly he felt nauseous and weak, breaking out in a cold clammy sweat. He struggled himself into the car and began the drive back home. Arriving, he nearly fell from the car as he got out to open the garage door. A neighbor saw what had happened and ran over to see what was wrong. When she saw him, she knew. She had just lost her husband about six months earlier to a massive heart attack and saw the nightmarish symptoms again. She half-dragged him to the passenger side of the car and pushed him in. “Who is your doctor and where is his office?, she demanded, “We’re either going there or the hospital whichever is closer”.
The doctor looked at the young man on the examining table and as he disconnected EKG leads said sharply to a nurse, “Get an ambulance here stat. He needs to be in the hospital…, cardiac wing, NOW ! The man couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Sure, he didn’t feel too good, and his neighbor had insisted on getting him to the doctor’s office, but…, what’s going on? What’s wrong with me? “Doc, why do I need to go to the hospital? I can’t. I ‘m scheduled for a 2 o’clock shift this afternoon”. The doctor just shook his head and replied, “You’re not going anywhere but the hospital, mister”. The nurse was busy finding a vein for an IV and the doctor gave him some meds to take. Shortly after that the young man calmed and dozed.
Being jostled and moved from a gurney to a hospital bed woke him and once again confusion was rampant in his mind again. Where am I now? What’s going on? Why am I here? Two nurses, Joyce and Patti, took command of the scene. The bed was soon surrounded with monitors, IV trees, and a blue cabinet. “Sir, I know everything is happening too, too fast around you and you must be totally confused. I’m Patti, your CCU nurse and I’ll be right here with you, taking care of you. You are in the Cardiac Care Unit at Memorial Hospital. Your doctor sent you here because your EKG and blood enzymes indicated that you have had a very small heart attack. We’ll be doing some more tests and checking your condition more thoroughly now. Joyce will be taking some more blood and get another EKG in a few minutes. It’s very important that you just rest and stay as calm as you can – ok? He nodded, still overwhelmed by the flurry of activity around him and all of the equipment, lights, beeps, and tubes. The doctor (cardiologist) on call that afternoon checked him and gave the nurses orders to add some other med to the IV and left to continue his rounds. Shortly after the new med was added to the IV the man drifted off into a restful sleep and all seemed well. Well, that is, until about 2:a.m. The heart monitor went from a steady rythm to rapid, to ragged, to flatline.
“CODE BLUE…, CODE BLUE…, CODE BLUE !!! Doctors and nurses scrambled into the room and in an almost practiced cadence started the process of trying to resuscitate the young man. He watched them. What are they doing? I’m right over here. Who’s that on the bed? Lydocaine ! Epinephrine ! Now! Now! Now! CPR being performed all the while.
“Goddammit! Wake up, dammit! You’re not gonna die on my watch. Paddles ! Clear !” He pressed the switch releasing the electrical shock and the body jumped. There was a moments pause…, “Again! Clear!” and again the body jumped with the shock. They continued for more than five minutes, the doctor refusing to give up. Finally, after monumental effort, they drew the life giving spirit back into the inert body. The monitor showed a slightly ragged rythm but the heart was beating. The doctor prescribed a series of meds to be administered through the IV and stood there watching the monitors for pulse, blood pressure, oxygen. When all came down to acceptable levels he sighed, turning to Patti he murmered “OK, he’s yours now. I’m tired. Call me with any changes…, Any Changes !
At the onset, as all this was unfolding, the young man watched from the foot of the bed, mysteriously detached from it, like an observer, then, at some point, he was whisked into darkness…, warm, comfortable darkness. As he drifted, he saw a bright pinpoint that continued to grow larger and he found himself in a place, not dark, not light, a place of visions. There were visions of what seemed familiar faces, bathed in bright blue light, drifting softly through this dim haze. There were no voices, no sound, just blurred images. It was peaceful there and he wanted to stay…, but, in the distance, he heard voices, calling him back, back to that body lying on the bed in the hospital. He wanted to stay, but the voices were insistant.
His next recollection was Patti sitting next to his bed, staring intently at him. He thought he was seeing an angel. “You’re awake! …don’t you ever do that to us again”. She stood and checked his IV and brought a glass of water to drink. He tried to sit up. “…no, no, no…, just lay back and I’ll raise the bed enough for you to drink”.
“What’s happening to me? I’m scared…, really scared. Am I ok? Am I going to live?”
She stood at the edge of the bed and took his hand in hers. “I’m going to tell you exactly what happened. At about 2 a.m. you flatlined…, you had a massive heart attack and we almost lost you. You were lucky. Dr. N was on call tonight. He fought for you far longer than any of the others would have…, but then, he hates to lose. He takes it personal”. She smiled, “you’re going to be ok. Yeah, you’ll probably live longer than me. Just rest now. I’ll be right here with you all night…, or the rest of the morning. Rest now and sleep”. She squeezed his hand. His eyes closed and he drifted off to an exhausted sleep.
Yes, he survived the heart attack and continued a somewhat normal life. The attack had been massive and destroyed nearly thirty percent of his left ventricle, leaving him with low blood pressure and a weakened heart. Heart was supported by a daily regimen of prescription drugs to control arrythmia, increase blood pressure, and reduce arterial plaque. The heart is a miraculous thing. As time passed his heart actually grew stronger and compensated for the loss of muscle tissue caused in the attack. All seemed well…, for a long time until…
One fine morning when he was nearly 48 years old, without warning, he collapsed. Trained people gave him CPR until paramedics came and continued, they managed to get a weak pulse back and took him to Emergency at the hospital who immediately called in an air ambulance to take him to a cardiac trauma center miles away. He was comatose, and had been since he first collapsed. He was whisked into an operating room that had been prepared while he was enroute and surgeons immediately started their work. 6 hours and 3 coronary bypasses later he emerged from surgery with an implanted defibrillator that would prevent his heart from suddenly stopping again. He had experienced what they called “Sudden Death”, a condition in which the heart starts beating so rapidly that no blood is circulated through the body and, in effect, the person suddenly dies. In recovery he had no memory…, of anything…, or anyone…, complete amnesia. This lasted for almost 10 days, after which bits and pieces of the past slowly filtered back into his consciousness. It was almost a month before he had real recall of his past.
During this comatose amnesia he was in that same comfortable place, seeing those same visions, with only one exception. This time there was a soft voice. “It’s not your time. You must go back. You haven’t finished…”
After recovery, life seemed better, except for the occasional times that the defibrillator would sense irregular heartbeat and send a shock to regulate the heart rythm. It was like someone hit him in the chest with a fist – not the most pleasant experience, but permitted life to go on. Some 10 years later the defibrillator started firing more and more often, and it was determined that he was approaching end stage heart failure. His cardiologist, after exhausting every trick in his medical book, finally suggested he consider the idea of a heart transplant. It was the only treatment left. He delayed a decision, fearful of the process, the outcome, the risks, and just everything in general. In this time he survived an event called “Cardiac Storm” that can be best described as a series of high level, continuous arrythmia that signaled deadly problems. The decision had been made for him. He was 64 years old, and he wanted to live.
After almost a year of tests and waiting he received a call from the transplant team handling his case and they told him to get to the hospital. There was a heart available. The problem was that, a. there was another person who was also waiting for a heart and had first claim for this one…, b. It was a Class II heart. It came from someone who either had or was exposed to HIV, drugs, cancer, or some other malady. While he lay waiting in the OR, once again, the decision was made for him. The other person took the heart. He went home depressed and dejected. Could he last long enough for another heart? Three months later the phone call came again. Get here as soon as possible. It’s a clean heart…, and it’s yours.
He remembered being prepped for surgery and quietly going to sleep to soft music. He woke the next day at around 10 a.m. with technicians removing tubes from his nose and throat, connecting new IV’s, and then sitting him up in bed, asking what he would like for breakfast. The surgery had taken 11 hours and a team of 10 doctors, nurses, and technicians. He was advised that his transplant surgeon was not only one of the best in the country, but in the world, something for which he was truly thankful. Now the watch began for any signs of rejection of the new heart. None came, not for a day, for a week, nor for the next 5 years.
During this surgery, once again, he drifted in a somewhat dreamy state, but this time felt like he was walking up a stairway to a light above and ahead. Again, there was a voice, and a figure in the light. “Go back now. I will come for you when it is time”. The voice was familiar…, he knew that voice. It gave him peace and he drifted back into the normalcy of the present and felt as though he was waking from a long sleep. I’
Some of you already know part of this epic. It’s not fiction. It really happened. I know. I am that man…, that thrice blessed, fortunate man who has been given the opportunity to continue on in this life. I only pray I’m worthy of the gift.
I am writing this to give any who face deep and desparate problems, be they health, or myriad other difficulties, a sense of hope. Hope helps you persevere in the face of any and all difficulties. It is the rock, the mainstay, on which to anchor yourself, your life, your dreams, so that you don’t lose sight of your goals.
From the age of 36 til now, I have walked with the angel of death as a constant companion. I don’t fear this companion, as, I was told earlier, it’s not my time yet. I have a life to live and things to finish before I will be ready to go with this angel.
I see this life as but a stopping place along a very long journey…, a journey back to the oneness from which we all spring.
There is a trinity that I will leave you with:
Anchor yourself to HOPE
Have FAITH and believe in the good
With these you will find LOVE
Good Night Everyone !
May you have peace for your dreams…, and love for your hearts !