A new heart

This is a letter I sent to dear friends who prayed for me while I was in the hospital.

Dear Pam and Vinny,

We got home yesterday about 2pm. Issuing the discharge orders took awhile, in particular putting together the long list of new drugs and arranging follow up appointments. The drugs I have to take to reduce stress on my heart while it heals and keep the stent from clotting, costs over $600 a month. Ouch! And I’m experiencing the side effect of the main one ($400/mo.) which will make me look for an alternative or just quit it altogether – breathing difficulties. It feels like I can’t take in enough breath nor expel everything that’s in my lungs – that “can’t catch my breath” type of feeling.

ekgIt’s difficult to figure how this happened; my cholesterol numbers are good although my good cholesterol is a little low which is typical for someone who is obese and doesn’t do aerobic exercise. But that’s never been a problem for me and the last time the doctor tried to put me on cholesterol meds to elevate my good cholesterol – I refused it and started walking most days. You asked about dehydration – I might lose 2-3 lbs while working in the yard but drink water and sometimes Gatorade. Karen comes out every 30-60 minutes with a drink to make sure of that; she’s always done that even when I’m just mowing the lawn.

I talked with our family friend, Jesse, yesterday about helping me out more and he’s willing. Also asked about friends and he may be able to get some of them to help. His friend Drew, who has helped us before and is quite a worker, can help on weekends. The neighbor down the hill has offered his loader to help with moving wood chips; we just have to wait for firm ground. Enough of the garden has been put in already (900sf) to plant my starts (tomatoes, brassicas, strawberries, rhubarb, and a couple herbs). They can wait a few weeks in the greenhouse.

While I don’t understand why this has happened, we are seeing some wonderful little miracles and encouragements along the way that I may blog about. Sunday I loaded the truck with all the old landscape fabric and burlap that covered the root-balls of the hedge, intending to take it to the dump Monday morning before Jesse came at 11am and we resumed working on the landscaping. I was tired Sunday and a little sore from loading the truck. Sod had stuck to the landscape fabric and it was heavy but I was not sore out of the ordinary. A couple Aleve, a soak in the hot tub, and some time with the massager and I was asleep quickly.

I woke at 2am with very uncomfortable chest pain – much more intense than I’d experienced in the 2 weeks leading up to it – but similar. If what I experienced before were warnings, I just chalked them off to my bum shoulder which needs a total replacement and tends to get sore, and also some muscle cramps and tightness from all the shoveling and raking I’ve been doing for the garden and landscaping. Then there’s also the shoulder cramps us guitar players get from playing – they’re not exactly ergonomic those guitars. Every time I had a similar (but lesser) pain, simple stretching and deep breathing worked it out so I thought it was just muscle and joint pain. The pain that woke me up at 2am I couldn’t work out – in fact, it got worse. We took my BP which was very high – about 180/110 and my pulse was in the mid 70’s. Normally I’m near 120/80 and 60bpm. My jaw was stiffening up too which I’ve read is a sign of heart attack. Karen got me aspirin and I pleaded with the Father for help and to tell me what to do. He said “listen to your body” so I asked Karen to take me to the hospital.

I’d left all my clothes on the love chest at the foot of our bed so I could roll out Monday morning and pull them on to go to the dump. Otherwise, dirty clothes go in the hamper like any well trained husband does. So I was dressed and ready to go to the hospital in just a couple minutes – and wound up waiting on Karen which is a rarity. ;^) Usually I’m the last ready to go somewhere and in trouble for it.

We were to the hospital by 2:30am – there’s zero traffic around here at that time of day and they had me in the ER, on the table and strapped up in under 10 minutes. After drawing blood and asking lots of questions about what it felt like – how it came on – what I’ve been doing – they gave me nitro glycerin and the intense pain backed off quickly. (I have to carry nitro pills now). Nitro expands blood vessels around the heart almost instantly.

By 3am, it was all starting to sink in and I became pretty emotional with Karen in the room; thinking that while I love the Lord and want to go home, I do NOT want to leave Karen who most reminds me of Jesus in this world. And, of course, I was thinking of everything I want to do – all the projects I have in work and especially the Back to Eden (B2E) garden which has been God’s leading and my focus for several months now. Why would He lead me to start such a big project only to be hobbled by a heart attack?

At 3:00 am my phone vibrated with a new email – the only devotional email I subscribe to; ‘Open Windows’ by T. Austin-Sparks. The scripture that day (4/3) was ( http://www.austin-sparks.net/english/openwindows/003114.html ):

I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. (Leviticus 26:4)

With the Back to Eden garden 1/3 in and most of the orchard planted, I took it as a sign of encouragement.

The blood test results came back showing elevated proteins which meant I’d had a heart attack and when the doctor retested, it was higher. So the ER at Olympic Medical in Port Angeles ordered up a transport to take me to the hospital in Bremerton an hour away, for an angiogram and angioplasty if necessary. The doctor explained the procedure as routine, safe, and common with great results. When Karen and I were alone again, the Lord impressed me to read a scripture. One that has historical meaning for Karen and I. When we met on AOL in 1996, I went by the screen name “Eze3626” – for Ezekiel 36:26. I’d been divorced for a few years and the Lord had been leading me through the wilderness, healing me, and that scripture helped me understand the process the Lord was leading me through. So I had Karen read it to me, lay hands on me, and pray it over me.

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26 ESV)

On the day of the procedure, 4/4, I was among the first in the operating room. Wheeled down to surgery at 7am I was on the table by 8am. They quickly prepped me and put the access port for the surgery in my right wrist – basically a large tube directly into a major artery in my right arm. No sooner had I been prepped, they said “sorry Jack, we have to bump you back out to waiting for an emergency. We’ll have you back in here soon.”

I was back out in waiting by 8:15 or so. And remained there all morning and well into the afternoon because 1 or 2 additional emergencies came in. I was frustrated by it all – the waiting – with no one keeping us informed. That I recall, 3 times someone said they’d be out for me in 15 minutes and then didn’t come back for over an hour. Eight hours on that gurney began to hurt a lot. As 4pm approached, they started sending everyone in waiting back to their rooms, rescheduling their surgeries for another day. And then we caught whispers of the staff arguing over me … “we can’t send Jack back to his room – he’s already been prepped and the access port is in his artery – we can’t remove it – we HAVE to do him today”. And so about 4pm, they did my surgery – which took all of 15 minutes. I was awake for it and even felt the wire going through my chest.

At the point that the surgeon inflated the balloon at the blockage, it felt every bit as painful as the original heart attack. I groaned with the pain and then spontaneously began praising God in tongues with thanksgiving and praise. When the nurse brought me back to Karen, she gave witness to it and said she was touched and proud of me.

On the 5th, when I was discharged, the T. Austin-Sparks devotional was for the scripture:

Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)

Like the one on April 3rd, this one I knew was a word for me – perhaps even a word of correction. For until this point, I’ve been putting in the Back to Eden garden by my own power and might – or should I say ‘labor’. In reflecting on it, the Spirit reminded me of an old worship and praise song we used to do back in the 90’s – “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is love …”. As I meditated on that, I seemed to understand that where the spirit of the Lord is, there is relationship, community, cooperation, which you echoed in the last line or 2 in your email, Pam. To that end, the Father has assured Karen that He is going to bring us all the help we need to finish the Back to Eden garden and landscaping. Where I had intended to put it in by myself and then with the excess food it will produce, to help feed people, apparently the Father intends for me NOT to do it all by myself but in community – in love. Which now that I think about the apostle Paul’s words to the Thessalonians “if you don’t work, you don’t eat”, I was mistaken to try to put it in by myself and not as more of a community, relational undertaking.

And just this morning, the Father brought to mind another scripture:

People can plan what they want to do, but it is the Lord who guides their steps. Proverbs 16:9 (ERV)

Apparently, sometimes that first step the Lord leads a man to take, is to fall flat on his face, or to show him that the might and power of his flesh, upon which he has always relied, is in fact, no strength at all, but weak. And so I am humbled and forced to wait on the Lord for His Spirit – for His help – for His community.

All things – ALL THINGS – work together for good. Even heart attacks. Tho’ let me tell you, they hurt like the dickens.

Thanks for your prayers, Pam and Vinny. They were surely felt! I was mostly at peace through the whole ordeal, though did have some conversations with Karen that were raw and real – of the sort about what do do “if” … which upset her.

I’m greatly blessed to be home now.

Love, Jack and Karen