This has been an amazing two weeks. I didn’t get to post anything last Friday. Here’s why:
It all started Thursday, February 28, when my husband, Pete, went to the YMCA to work out on the elliptical. He does this almost every day, works hard, and is in good shape. However, this time, he had just gotten going when he collapsed and his heart went into ventricular fibrillation.
This is a very dangerous thing to have happen. Atrial fibrillation, or a-fib, is a reasonably common issue, where the upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of pumping blood. If it doesn’t resolve on its own, you go to the ER, they apply an electric shock, and hopefully that restores a normal heart rhythm.
Ventricular fibrillation (v-fib) is usually fatal. In this case, the lower heart chambers, or ventricles, quiver. Since the ventricles are responsible for actually pumping blood to your lungs and throughout your body, v-fib means that no blood is flowing. Your brain isn’t getting oxygen. Death occurs within minutes.
In my husband’s case, he survived, and I am ever so grateful. Our Y is equipped with an AED, a machine that can detect a heart arrhythmia and treat it, along with a well-trained staff. While one person called 911 and another performed CPR, a third person ran for the machine and placed it on my husband’s chest. It immediately diagnosed the problem and delivered one shock, then another. My husband’s heart started pumping again.
He was eventually transported to the ER, only two blocks away, treated, then quickly chilled to 88° F. This induced hypothermia is a standard protocol to prevent brain damage. With his deep sedation, he looked like a wax figurine, but as I watched the machines providing life support, I could see that he was just very cold and deeply asleep.
Still, it was a joy when he woke up Saturday, slowly became alert, and we all realized that Pete was still Pete.
Now we had to find out why this happened. Pete exercises regularly. He’s not significantly overweight. His blood pressure is low-normal. He has never smoked. He eats as healthy a diet as anyone we know. He’s only 61. How could he have a heart issue?
The following week was filled with tests and more tests, and finally an angiogram, where iodine is injected into the bloodstream so the movement of blood through the cardiac arteries can be viewed on an x-ray video. Astonishing! His cardiac arteries were so blocked, it’s a miracle he’s alive—and he was totally symptom-free, at least until that Thursday. Apparently, you can do everything right and genetics will still get you.
As I write this (on Sunday), he’s still in the hospital recovering from surgery—a quadruple by-pass!—although we anticipate that he will come home very soon. I’ve been with him the entire time, except for a few hours at home to sleep. Everything happened so quickly, we’ve been in shock, but now that I know he’s all right, I finally have some time to process everything.
First of all, God never promises a pain-free life. We all will experience things we’d prefer not to experience. However, we have a choice. We can complain, or we can allow God to use these experiences to mature our faith.
God never promises to answer our prayers in the way we would like. While Pete survived, we have a number of friends who had heart attacks or a similar arrhythmia, and died. I’m sure their friends and families prayed just as hard, but God is sovereign and His plans trump ours.
Now Pete is coming home with a healthier heart, but we still don’t know if the surgery also corrected the electrical issue that caused the v-fib. He will be monitored for the next months, but there are no guarantees that it won’t happen again, perhaps this time in a place where no immediate help is available. I simply have to trust God with my husband. His life is not under our control.
On the other hand, God does promise to never leave us. I experienced that 22 years ago when Pete was hit by a car in South Africa. And I experienced it again this month. Yes, I was shaken. Yes, it was hard watching Pete be in pain. But I never once felt abandoned by God. Rather, I was very aware that He was with me the entire time. Moreover, I knew that no matter what happened, He would continue to be with me, forever—and His presence is sufficient.
A number of people have commented on my faith, surprised that I can trust God even in circumstances like this. As I told them, it’s not me. Faith is a gift. I didn’t somehow screw up my faith so I could trust God more. He grants me faith. I just choose to accept it.
Finally, while God often gives us more than we can bear, He never gives us more than He and we can bear together. I was barely holding it together after learning about the v-fib episode, and felt that anything else would push me over the edge. When we learned that Pete’s arteries were blocked and he needed immediate open-heart surgery, I began to feel overwhelmed—and then God got bigger. He held me together. It’s such a relief to rest in His love and not feel as if I have to be extra strong. He is being strong for me.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
Lately, Pete has felt that God wants him to tell more people about how, back in 1997, God performed miracle after miracle, first saving his life and then healing him. Now Pete and I have yet another testimony of God’s incredible goodness and love.