Over the weekend I began to experience what I had good reason to believe was an inflamed esophagus. I’d dealt with acid reflux before, and I assumed that was what was happening this time.
Sunday night after church as I was performing the last sacred duty of the day—taking out the trash at home—I noticed that breathing in the cold air made my chest ache worse. So, I began to wonder if I had an inflamed airway…?
By Tuesday afternoon I was some better and assumed I was getting over it, whatever it was. I worked in my study at church until about 5:00 pm, then went home for a bite to eat and to rest a bit before the Deacons Meeting scheduled for 6:30 pm.
After I ate, the aching in my chest got worse. I had eaten a fairly bland meal, so I didn’t understand why my esophagus should hurt more.
At 6:00 pm I left my wife teaching music lessons at home and went to church to get ready for the Deacons Meeting. I turned on the lights and checked the thermostat in the room we meet in. Then I noticed I had a splitting headache. I wondered if I’d be able to concentrate at all during the meeting, with both the headache and the aching in my chest. I decided to see if I could “walk it off” and started pacing up and down the long hallway in our education wing.
That’s when I realized that I was aching in both of my upper arms. And I thought: “Uh-oh!”
Thinking it was still probably an inflamed esophagus—acid reflux can mimic all the symptoms of a heart attack—I called my wife and told her what I was experiencing. I asked her, “Do you think I should have somebody take me to the emergency room?” And she said, “YES!”
So I immediately called our Chairman of Deacons, Wally Liechty. I knew he’d be there soon anyway to finish his own preparations for our meeting. He told me he’d be right there. I didn’t know it at the time, but he and his wife Connie had just got back from Terre Haute from a doctor’s appointment of their own.
At that point I was beginning to be alarmed. I was in quite a bit of pain, and it seemed like it was a long time before Wally arrived—though it had to have been less than five minutes. I saw Wally’s car pull into our church parking lot and walked out to meet him, leaving the lights on but the church locked. Wally took me right to the hospital.
My friend Mark Moody told me once that you get a lot of attention if you’re a middle-aged man and you walk into an emergency room and tell them you’re having chest pain. You get even more attention if you’re a 65-year-old man and you tell them that. I still had to sign my name once and my initials twice before they took me back, though.
Back in the emergency room I was immediately set upon by three male nurses. One of them said, “If you were hoping for a pretty nurse, you’re out of luck tonight.” They told me to change out of what I had on into this perfectly inadequate robe they gave me. And they proceeded to poke, prod and hook me up to all kinds of machines. I was EKGd, X-rayed, had my temperature taken, and I had enough blood drawn that I was sure I ended up a quart low.
I thought for sure they’d tell me my heart looked fine and send me home after a bit with some medication for acid reflux. My first surprise was when they told me, “We’re going to keep you overnight so we can monitor your heart.” I thought I was going to a deacons meeting and then going home to watch Everybody Loves Raymond with my wife. Instead ,I got to spend the night in a corner room on the third floor of Greene County General Hospital. (Let me say here what wonderful care I got at our hospital, and how grateful I am that it was only half a mile away. Every doctor, nurse, technician and orderly took such good care of me and made me feel so relieved and calm.)
The second surprise I got was when Dr. Pete Powers came in about 11 the next morning and told me I’d had a mild heart attack. Now, I have watched a lot of medical dramas on television. So, of course I argued with him. I tried to say, “Surely this is just acid reflux! You mean it looks like I might have had a mild heart attack, right?” And he patiently explained to me that the blood tests and EKGs they had taken repeatedly over the last twelve hours left no doubt: I’d had a mild heart attack. Once I got my mind wrapped around the idea, I thought, “That explains a lot, actually.”
So I thought they’d give me some different medication and send me home. That’s when I got my third surprise. Dr. Powers told me the next thing they wanted was for me to have a heart catheterization, so they could see if I had any blockages, etc. Then he said, “We don’t do heart caths here. So, we’re transferring you to Union Hospital in Terre Haute.”
So, of course, I argued with him again. Politely, and respectfully. But I was really resistant to the idea of being transferred to a different hospital. I was concerned that I might get outside of my own doctor’s care. So, I told Dr. Powers, “All due respect, doctor, but I’d really like to know what Dr. Purohit has to say about all this.” He said, “Okay, I understand,” and left the room.
About fifteen minutes later, an orderly came into my room and said, “I need to move this table over to your bed so you can reach the phone. You’re going to get a call from Dr. Purohit.” No sooner had he said this than the phone rang, and Dr. Purohit was on the line.
Dr. Divyesh Purohit is a very kind doctor from India who has helped me so much. When I answered the phone I said, “Dr. Purohit?” And with no preamble I heard his voice telling me, “You need to do this! This is exactly what needs to happen! They will tell me everything they do, but you definitely need to have a heart cath!” So I said, “Okay. I just wanted to know what you thought.” And I agreed to be transferred to Union Hospital.
Then I was told I was eighteenth on a waiting list of eighteen, waiting for a bed to open up at Union. And later that afternoon I got my fourth surprise. A nurse told me, “We’ve also got you on the list at St. Vincent’s Heart Center in Indianapolis.” I thought, “Indianapolis!” All I could think was that it was two hours away and Rae Anne would have to drive all that way to come get me when this was all over.
And that evening about 10:00 pm they told me, “Good news! The paramedics are here with an ambulance to take you to St. Vincent’s!” So, we loaded up my stuff and I moved to…Carmel.
The paramedic guys were very nice, and they took good care of me, too. But to say that the ambulance rode like a log wagon would be an insult to log wagons. By this time, thanks to all the wonderful care I’d received, my chest pain was gone. But the longer I lay strapped to that gurney, feeling every bump in the road in the back of that ambulance, the more uncomfortable I got. My neck was killing me, and by the time we got to St. Vincent’s, I had the mother of all stiff necks.
I have to say that I think it was the fastest trip I’ve ever taken from Linton to St. Vincent’s Heart Center in Carmel. We arrived just before midnight, and I was admitted and settled in yet another room full of glowing monitors and beeping machines.
About 7:00 am a nurse came in and said, “They’re coming for you!” (It wasn’t as ominous as it sounds.) She told me, “You’re first on the list! You’re scheduled for 7:30.” (I was glad. I always think it’s good for the doctor to be fresh for these things.) They told me they weren’t going to put me out, just give me something to put me in “la-la land.” They always tell me that. And I always go completely out.
I don’t remember anything except being wheeled into the room for the procedure, then waking up in yet another room. I noticed my phone lying on the table beside my bed. I thought, “Well, isn’t that considerate! They got my phone for me so I can let my wife know I’m okay.” Then I picked up my phone and saw that I had already texted my wife to let her know I was okay. I said, “I already texted my wife!” And the nurse told me, “Yeah, the first thing you asked for when you woke up was your phone.” I don’t remember any of that. I don’t know what they gave me, but it was good stuff.
The doctor told me later that day that they’d found a 95% blockage in one of the arteries of my heart. (It wasn’t “the widow-maker.” I asked.) She told me they had opened it up and then put in a titanium stent. I asked her, “Doctor, will I feel better after all this?” And she enthusiastically said, “Well, ya ought to!”
People ask me if they put me on a restricted diet. My first meal in the hospital after I woke up was a big ham-and-cheese omelet, a big helping of breakfast potatoes, and a cup of real coffee. Oh, and a small bowl of pears, you know, to be healthy. And it tasted so good.
Rae Anne drove up that evening to get me. They dismissed me into her loving care about 8:00 pm, and then she drove me home. I was still coming off of whatever they gave me and wasn’t supposed to drive for 24 hours. That day happened to be my wife’s birthday. She drove a total of about four hours that day in I-465 traffic, just to get me and bring me home. She said it was a pretty good birthday present. (Boy, did I ever marry the right woman! She also said she gets to pick what we do next year on her birthday.) We got home about 10:00 pm that night. Home never felt so good.
The whole experience was rather surreal. It all took place in a little over 48 hours, from 6:00 pm Tuesday evening to 10:00 pm Thursday night. Why am I telling you all this, possibly boring you with details you really would rather not know? First, because I want you all to know exactly what happened to me. There aren’t any secrets, and we aren’t keeping anything back from you. To my utter astonishment, I had a mild heart attack, underwent a heart catheterization and had a 95% blockage opened up in my heart. In the grace and providence of God, He gave me something I didn’t know I needed. And now I’m in better shape than I was before. I felt a little tired at first, but as I write this, I feel pretty much back to my old self.
And that’s the second reason I’m sharing all this with you: to convey the deep and profound gratitude to God that I feel for all the ways He blessed me that week. I’m so thankful for my wife, and her care and concern for me. I’m so thankful for good friends like Wally who came when I called. I’m thankful for every nurse and doctor, technician, orderly and paramedic who took care of me. I’m so thankful that God preserved my life, and used those doctors and hospitals to heal me and take away my pain. And I’m so thankful to be home again, and back in church with you all again. I’m thankful that I get to be with my family again, and that God in His grace has yet given me life. “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV) And I have so much to be thankful for. I just wanted you to know.
Soli Deo Gloria!