Friday, December 31, 2010

The Long and Winding Road

This is the last day of 2010, and to be honest with you, I won't be sorry to see it go. In so many ways this year has been the hardest and most difficult of my life, especially from a health standpoint. In case you are unaware let me recap...

I woke up the morning of August 1st with blood pressure that was dangerously high. Nothing, not my meds or my other methods or rest brought my blood pressure down from its dangerously high level. When the second day of dangerously high pressure came I chose the smart option of going to the doctor. He put me in the hospital for tests. After spending the night in the hospital I had a lower blood pressure but no firm answers. The tests on my heart and blood work showed no obvious problems.

Things would have probably ended there had it not been for the fact that my doctor was not willingly to let that be the end of it. Minor abnormalities on two tests convinced him that there indeed was a problem there. He ordered a nuclear stress test.

We had to wait approximately three weeks for the results of that test. My wife and I were having lunch after seeing the doctor that morning when her cell phone rang. It was the doctor with the results of the stress test. He used words like "blockages" and "heart damage" and told me that he had made an appointment for me that afternoon to see a local cardiologist. When I balked at going he told me that the results were so serious that he didn't feel that I had time to go anywhere else.

I went to see the cardiologist.

The cardiologist was not very encouraging either. He told me three things: 1) I needed a heart catheterization to determine the exact damage to my heart and 2) I had a 40 percent chance of having an "incident" before being able to obtain a second opinion, and 3) My heart was only functioning at about 40 percent of capacity (the exact phrase is "ejection fraction"). The procedure was scheduled for two days later.

There are four possible outcomes to a heart catheter procedure: 1) they find no damage, 2) they find damage that is treatable with medication alone, 3) they find damage that they can correct with stents, or 4) they find damage that can only be corrected with bypass surgery. If you know me at all you know that I have never been one to take the easy way....

The cardiologist told my wife that I had five blockages. Two of the blockages were on the back of the heart and would not be treated. The three on the front of the heart were very dangerous. The most open artery was the main artery that feeds the heart. That artery is called the "widow maker" because the vast majority of folks who have a heart attack based on a blockage of this artery don't survive. The other two blockages were 90 and 95 percent. I have since been told that if I had suffered a heart attack during this time that I would most likely not have survived.

Bypass surgery was scheduled.

The surgery went very well and I was home again in four days. I vigorously attacked the rehabilitation process with the intention of restoring what I had lost. I looked forward to the follow up with the cardiologist to see how well I was recuperating.

That visit did not go as expected.

The echocardiogram revealed that my heart function (ejection fraction) had not improved, but had actually gotten a little worse. I was further diagnosed with congestive heart failure and needed a defibrillator inserted into my chest as a preventive measure because of the weakness of my remaining heart muscle.

Then it was discovered that I was anemic, which is dangerous condition for anyone, but especially for someone with heart failure. Tests to determine the cause of the anemia have revealed that I have an ulcer and a number of spots that are on their way to becoming ulcers. These are bleeding, which causes the anemia.

I am not asking you for sympathy...but I share this to share with you the lessons I am learning through this long and winding road. Those lessons are....

God is not to blame, but rather to be praised. Did God cause my heart failure? Let me state unequivocally NO! My poor health choices are the reasons for my heart failure. God knew that this was going to happen and has given me the strength to endure so far. I can give Him praise for these moments and the opportunities they have given me with my family and with the different patients, doctors and nurses who lives have intersected with mine. Not to mention the wonderful graciousness of our church. I praise Him for the blessing of this illness.

God has a purpose in all things. I am used to toughing things out, to wrestling life into what I want it to be. God has used my illness to make me lean on him more than ever before. This has been a year harder on more levels than any other I have ever experienced. Yet God has a purpose in all this, and these events are all a part of that purpose. I don't have to understand the why behind all of this, but I do know that He has a purpose.

Life is life. Being a child of God is not an free pass in life. There will be pain and sorrow, hurt and disappointment. Those who teach the fallacy that Christians will never have pain or suffering are ignorant or uninformed. God does not deliver us from life, He gives us life. I can overcome all of this because I know that God fills it all with His purposes and that there is coming a day when I shall exchange this reality for the greatest reality of all...His presence. In that moment I will no longer worry about the why of all this.

Those are just a few of the things that God has been teaching, or in some cases reinforcing, me through this process. I don't know what 2011 holds, and that's okay, but I know that God's purposes will be worked out in my life.

For His glory.

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