Personal Stories: Christy Dole, told by husband Brian Doles

Time For A Heart To Heart Talk

By

Christy Doyle

 

Time is such a funny little fellow. He moves about

in our lives with such persistence. Premature,

punctual, or tardy, he is extremely moody, and

yet so permanent. He’s so annoying with his

constant “Tick, Tock.” He follows us. He

becomes part of us, like the constant beating

of our hearts.

Living in the tropical climate of Baton Rouge, we’re accustomed to losing our power during a storm. Then the digital clocks start flashing. They seem to scream, “Fix me!” My internal clock had one of those moments.

September 25, 2003 was a heart-wrenching day….literally. It was a warm Louisiana afternoon. Two weeks previously I had celebrated my forty eighth birthday. Smiling at my pastor with my husband sitting at my side, I had just finished relating my dream of starting a Christian theater company.

Suddenly, I had a crushing pain in the center of my chest. “Is this an anxiety attack?” I thought. Having never experienced one, I wondered if this was my first. But why would I be nervous at the end of a successful meeting?

I gasped out loud at the extent of the pain. My arms and legs did something really odd. They became paralyzed. Did I really just fall off the couch? It’s strange what excruciating pain can do. Time can become distorted. Would I later be embarrassed that 911 was called? When the EMS techs arrived, I knew this was no anxiety attack.

A prayer chain was activated almost immediately, but it was still surprising to find friends already waiting at the hospital when the ambulance delivered me there. The trip had been leisurely because the paramedics had assured my husband that it was not a heart attack, and was probably something “muscle-related.”

Groaning and moaning often fills emergency rooms. It renders them surreal. There was one especially loud woman. I wanted her to stop immediately. She would be mortified if she heard herself. But then I realized the woman was me. The pain surged through my chest, legs, and arms.

My memories are almost dreamlike. I have absolutely no recollection of a Catscan. As I lay there whimpering, I kept asking, “Can’t you just give me something for the pain? Why do my legs hurt so much and I can’t move them?!”

Then came the one moment I shall never forget. It came after doctors called both my husband and son for a conference following the scan. Returning, my husband took my hand and said, “Baby, they said there’s nothing they can do except make you comfortable. It’s time to say ‘goodbye’”

Did time stop?

I just stared at him.

“You mean I’m going to die?”

No answer. He was weeping.

My fifteen year old son was on my other side.

“Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll take care of Dad. I’ll see you in Heaven.” He never looked so mature.

Strange. I felt somehow peaceful. My first thought was that I hadn’t told enough people about Jesus. It was my deathbed confession. The diagnosis was a triple dissection of the aorta. My heart was broken, in more ways than one.

Church friends were allowed into the small room. They surrounded the cot. Holding hands, they began to pray. Each person took a turn. When it was my turn, I said,

“Lord, if you have an extra miracle, I’ll take it.”

Why was everyone acting as if I had already died? Then came the realization that I was watching my own eulogy. Amazing. How many individuals have that privilege? Even hospital personnel were crying. I had a deep desire to talk about the Lord. I wanted to see Jesus in Heaven and say, “Hey, I was just talking about you!”

There were moments of practicality. I talked about safe deposit box keys, checkbooks, etc. I needed to call my family in Chicago to say goodbyes. How do you fit a lifetime of thank-yous into a single phone call? Cell phone reception was a problem and there was difficulty getting the landline phone to me, but I have a sketchy memory of talking to my mom and brothers.

Was this to be the ending of my earthly life? As a Christian, I knew that I would be carried directly into the arms of the Lord. Was it really my time to go?

The vascular surgeon on call arrived and, and much to his surprise, found me still breathing, if not exactly kicking. He decided to attempt the impossible. At a post-op appointment he said, “The only reason you’re alive is because of the Lord.”

I was not new to medical emergencies. I had Lupus for years and a multitude of related problems, including a broken back which happened during a pregnancy where my baby was stillborn (I had refused to abort the pregnancy when the doctors told me I had only a small chance of surviving). At that time, I was told I might have only months to live. Now, I was told I had only hours. Perhaps just moments.

Making matters worse, I was on Coumadin, a blood thinner. The surgeon showed my husband my chest x-ray and said that it was as if all my organs were “weeping blood.” My actual hospital records state, “The patient bled profusely from almost every needle hole, and the site, as well as the profuse bleeding from her bone marrow.” The records mention the latter fact more than once. I was infused with over twenty units of blood. I really was “saved by the Blood.”

The post operative diagnosis was, “Dissection of the ascending aorta extending into the iliac arteries.” My cardiologist would say it a little more simply.

“Your dissection was just so darn extensive!”

I searched my file and found the explanation of the procedure of my open heart surgery: “Repair of dissecting ascending aorta, utilizing a 23 St. Jude Dacron conduit with reimplantation of the coronary ostitum.” Many of the medical terms in my file were confusing and unknown to me, but several statements stood out:

“The left renal artery was sheared off.”

“The femoral artery was dissected out. It was quite large.”

Grafting, bioglue, pacing wires were all terms used to detail my heart surgery. The thought that someone actually touched and held my beating heart….I can barely comprehend such a breathtaking moment.

The surgical file concluded that, “Only time will tell whether the patient needs to be returned to surgery. She remains in very critical condition.”

The surgery was stopped because my body temperature dropped too low. There was a second surgery to clean out all the blood clots (mediastnal hematoma evacuation). For over a week I was in a drug-induced coma. Pneumonia made matters worse. Possible brain damage and hospice care were discussed with my husband. But never underestimate the power of prayer.

I woke up on the eighth day. Ironically, in the Bible, the number “8” represents resurrection, or new life! One doctor’s report states, “She was expertly managed by Dr Sheely, thus salvaging her life.”

How can I not share this miracle? All the cliches about time being so important. Well, they’re all true. These moments we hold, each hour of everyday, are such treasures.

On occasion, my aortic valve replacement almost speaks to me. The loud thumping, like an grandfather clock, reminds me to “Be still” and enjoy the precious gift I’ve been given.

 

“He hath made everything beautiful in His time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

And, believe me, He has! The clock is still ticking.

 


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