Time For A Heart To Heart Talk
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,
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
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
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
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
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
And, believe me, He has! The clock is still ticking.
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