Straight from the heart . . .

Straight from the heart . . .

Embracing Life with Gratitude and Joy!

They say that when one faces death, your life often flashes before your eyes.  I've always thought that to mean that all of one's mistakes, sins or regrets are what you see ... the things you could have done ... the things you should have done.  In my own personal experience, it was quite different. 


I have, in my lifetime, had brushes with Death.  When I was born the doctors told my grandmother that the umbilical chord was wrapped around my neck and, since I was breach, they did not expect me to live. I was to be born dead.  Another time in my early twenties, when I became deathly ill from contracting Hepatitis A from eating a contaminated hot dog, the doctors said I was a day away from a body bag when a friend got me to the emergency room.  I know what it is to be so sick that Death would have seemed a relief.  But, God had other plans for me.


I've always wondered,  would I know if Death was near for me?  


Prior to last Wednesday, I had spent about four days in bed with an horrific virus.  I was weak, dehydrated and just not bouncing back very quickly.  On Tuesday, I felt much improved and was able to keep food down and had some strength back, but was experiencing constant pain between my shoulder blades; the result, I thought, from four days of an extreme illness.


Wednesday morning, I got up and resumed my regular routine (except for exercising because my energy was still lacking) but I managed to work on a few projects.  The pain wouldn't let up so I did some light yoga stretching, thinking it might be the arthritis kicking up.  The pain traveled to my chest and left arm and grew sharper; I broke out in an extreme cold sweat (despite the fact I had the air conditioning running and a fan pointed toward me); I grew short of breath and I knew this gripping pain was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Having had natural childbirth twice, I know how to focus and breath through severe pain ... but there was no relief in sight.


On my father's side of the family, heart disease is a given.  My grandfather, father and most of my uncles have all had heart issues in their early to mid-forties.  My father received a heart transplant 20 years ago when he was about my age.  We are genetically predisposed to high cholesterol and fighting it is a concerted effort. For five years, I struggled with Mitral Valve Prolapse -  which had been under control for the last several years - and knew that my profile and family history meant I was a good candidate to follow in their footsteps. Between being very aware of the family medical history and having had Red Cross training, I knew what was happening.  


So, what do you do when you are all alone and you realize you are having a heart attack?


I thought of all the things we would tell someone in a CPR class.  Stay calm.  Chew an aspirin.  (Pray.)   By the time the pain felt like someone was reaching into my chest cavity to rip it out, I could no longer walk, but instead crawled into my home office, yanked my cell phone from my desk and sent a text to my husband:  "911 help please call."   Breathing had become difficult ... talking was almost impossible.


While lying flat of my back, legs raised on a table, I practiced the circular breathing I learned to help control stress when I was struggling with the MVP.   I remembered an article I read years ago about making yourself cough during a heart attack.  (While this  isn't endorsed by the American Heart Association or American Red Cross, I was trying anything that came to mind.)


As I waited for the EMTs and my husband to arrive, remarkably, I wasn't focused on the past, on my mistakes or regrets.  Before me I saw the faces of my family, the people who are my life; my incredible husband, Bill, my two children and son-in-law, my parents, my brother and his family, and on the little angels who have brought more laughter and joy into my life than I have ever known, my granddaughters.  I thought not of the things I should have done but of the things I wanted to do before my time on this earth is up.


Was Death near?   I believe without a doubt, it was.   At one point, right before the EMTs entered the house and I could hear my husband's voice, I felt that Death was nearby, waiting.   This is now three times in my life that Death has been in the shadows, and now three times that God has decided it isn't time for me yet.  


A dear friend asked me if everything had really changed for me after this experience.  I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude to the Good Lord for allowing me more time to fulfill whatever destiny I was intended for and to be with the family and friends who mean so much to me.  It wasn't until after I came home from the hospital that the true answer came.  


If I had to pinpoint one thing it would be that I take nothing for granted and it has been the simple things that has meant so much to me.  Seeing the sky.  Watching the birds outside my window. Cuddling with my grand-angels and hearing their laughter.    The touch of my husband's hand on mine.  Appreciating the love of friends and the kindness of strangers.  I find myself smiling ... a lot.


Back in the 1970s, there was a catch phrase used a lot.  "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."  I can tell you that this is how I feel about May 30, 2012.    I started the day remembering my childhood hero, Joan of Arc, as I do each May 30 (it  was the day of her martyrdom) and I ended the day feeling like I had risen out of ashes.


To Megan and Sammie, the two EMTs who saved my life, to Brent and Dr. Mori at Piedmont Medical Center who was waiting on me at the cath lab and within 90 minutes had cleared the artery that was 100% blocked, put in a stent and had me in the hallway seeing my family's faces, to the ICU nurses who took care of me, prayed with me (Jenna)  and (Mario) kept a severe hematoma from making a bad situation worse ...  you all have my undying gratitude.


I am sharing this in hopes that it will encourage people to know their medical history, learn what to do if they find themselves alone in this situation, and to also embrace life with gratitude and joy!   


John Denver sang it well here ... so I will close with this.  




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