Four weeks ago I had another heart attack, which was quite an experience. People have been asking me how I feel, which I really appreciate. I’m still trying to figure things out, and maybe writing about it will help, so here goes.
This one (I’ll explain later) happened on a pretty cold 6AM Wednesday as I was walking out to my car to drive to, ironically, cardiac rehab. When it hit it felt like someone was running a buzz saw on my chest bone. I’d never felt that before. I knew it would be easier to get in the car than to go back upstairs to my apartment, so that’s what I did. While I was opening the tube to get a nitro pill I’m sitting there thinking “So this is how it ends”. An incredible and wonderfully indescribable sense of peace and calm happened, along with a feeling of oneness and good, even joy of some sort, which are also indescribable. There was absolutely no fear, just “yes, OK”. To sum it up, “WOW!”. Really, there are no words. I don’t know how long this lasted until I popped the nitro. It had never occurred to me to not take the nitro. Of course, in a matter of seconds the chest discomfort went away. I felt pretty good, so I drove to cardiac rehab, about 5.5 miles way.
When I got there I told the nurse what happened. She, with some of the other nurses, got in her “mother mode” and very politely and caringly “tore me a new one” because I had driven after taking a nitro. Never saw that look on her before, and don’t want to see it again. Didn’t know I shouldn’t drive after nitro. Over objections I left and drove back to where I live, grabbed my go bag, and asked a friend to drive me to the Cleveland Clinic Avon ER. Things happened fast after that. I am familiar with that ER because I have been called there for emergency Sacraments of the Sick. I’ve always felt privileged to be called to help there because they are wonderful folks who do tremendous good, which is not always appreciated. In their usual lighthearted and caring way they took good care of me and did what they had to do. The air conditioning system works very well. Everything about that experience was first class. I was able to spend time in prayer, and with an intensity I have not known before, it was clear to me that God was being God in all that was going on. The peace and calmness of the experience sitting in my car was still there, in the background, so to speak, holding everything together and giving it all context.
I was transferred by ambulance to Cleveland Cliic Fairview Hospital Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. Things were happening fast there, too. Again, wonderful people. Thursday was a day of tests, meeting with doctors, and the realization that there was nothing good on TV. I was with really great people who cared. We did a lot of laughing. While I was wondering about things, I never felt any fear, only a sense of confidence, trust, and God being God. The nurses, patient care helpers, food service, maintenance, took good care of me. It was a very good experience.
Friday morning there was a cardiac catheterization. As I was wheeled into the Cath Lab I had a wonderful and humorous experience with the team, even before the conscious sedation cocktail. We laughed a lot. When the procedure began laughing went away and everything was serious. It was clear that the team enjoyed working together. Again for me, God being God. There was some concern after the procedure, which was done through the wrist. The doctor told me there would be another catheterization that afternoon.
The afternoon procedure was in a different lab, and it was done through the femoral artery. Again, I felt a good and humorous interaction with the team, even before the sedation cocktail, which stopped when the procedure began. My outstanding memory of the procedure was the doctor constantly saying, “please”, “thank you”, “may I have please”. There was no doubt who was in charge, but he was kind, caring, considerate of the people he was working with, the kind of leader I would want to follow. The doctor placed another stent and eliminated several serious blockages using a serious procedure. I wish there were some way I could thank him. An amazing experience. It was clear the team enjoyed working together. I spent the rest of Friday laying flat, which occasioned at times a lot of laughing and humor. Again, a good experience.
Saturday was a lighthearted day. I did some walking around, no simple thing since I was wired and connected to a bunch of I don’t know whats, but somebody had to walk with me and carry the cables. Again, a good bit of laughing. I had an enjoyable visit with a brother priest that evening, which I really appreciate.The whole experience in the Fairview CICU was thoroughly enjoyable and for me joy filled. I don’t know what it was for the teams there. To me they were wonderful, and I can’t say that enough.
Sunday I was released from the hospital and a good friend picked me up and drove me back to my place for a wee dram of the good stuff, though not as good as the sedation cocktail.
I alluded above to another heart attack. Last May I was in Florida visiting a friend when on a Monday I had chest discomfort severe enough to go to the Tavares Advent Hospital ER where I was admitted and swiftly moved to ICU. I had several tests, met with cardiologists, and was told I had serious issues. On Thursday I had a catheterization, where the doctor put in a stent. It took him quite a while, and I remember he was pleasantly excited when he got the stent where it need to be. He told me afterwards that I had a lot going on and I needed to start taking things seriously. The medical care I got there was the best, and the people were wonderful. Maybe a reflection of southern hospitality. Also, many people I didn’t know were being really good to me. A restaurant owner whom I’d never met and who is known for her pies, sent me some in the hospital. Things like that.
During the time from in September I began Cardiac Rehab at UH in Westlake, where I met wonderful caring nurses who laughed and joked a lot, but never missed a thing. The men in my group described rehab as a safe place because of these amazing women. My case worker nurse, who monitored me as I was going rehab, identified ST Depression which indicated part of the heart is not getting enough oxygen. Outside of rehab I noticed I was often running out of energy fast, and had occasional chest discomfort. I would sit down and rest until it went away. I also noticed the episodes seemed to be happening with increasing frequency, and the distances I could walk without resting were getting shorter. Then, last month’s event happened.
I am most grateful for this whole experience. I know now what it is like to be on the receiving end of other people’s kindness, and it is humbling. I hope to be able to reciprocate. The peace that happened in my car that morning is still with me, though not at the same level of intensity. It is evermore clear to me that God is a verb, that God is Godding often through people, that there are no words to describe how awesome all this is.
I read somewhere that God is real, but everything we believe about God is made up. I agree, fully aware that this will annoy folks, but it is my experience. To me God is real, a matter of experience that can’t be described, not just an idea. There’s no way to talk about God that comes even close to God, and it seems the closest we can come is the basic dogmas, which in a way kinda describe what we experience, as did others in history before us. We let go of them and go where they point us.
What I don’t understand is why, since the experience in my car, I have been thinking a lot in Vietnam terms. Maybe because I was again facing possible end of life issues. Only this time it is not a matter of fighting back or defending myself. It does, though, offer a matrix for looking at all that is and has been going on.
Also, I don’t understand why I feel drawn to write so much personal stuff, even though I’m a pretty private person. It’s like I can’t not write it. Maybe this helps some folks. I don’t know. Guess I’ll keep doing it till it doesn’t feel like the right thing.
I am aware that I have changed, and am changing. It has been a while since I have felt this good physically, and I enjoy it. My thinking has changed about a lot of things, and I am aware that I may be headed for hot water with some of what I think and write. But, I’ve spent a good part of my life serving to defend the First Amendment. I’ve already experienced some of that stuff. I would say, not my problem. I notice a new awareness of people, many of whom I have known for a long time, some of whom I am just meeting. If I were to look at what I write as an outsider, I would say it is bizarre, weird, strange. But, it’s like I can’t not write. I feel a sense of urgency, but I don’t know to what or why. To me, it’s all God being God, calling me forward I don’t know to what, God walking point. Just sayin . . .