On the occasion of my sixty-second birthday, Ill try to tell this story that is about my sixty-first year. Some craziness was forming the background for some deeper diving I needed to do with God. Remind me to say more about the deep diving later.
I really like birthdays. So many people reach out in so many different ways to let me know they are thinking of me, even if only for a few seconds, on this day. A core value for me is relationships — wish I was better about those — so hearing from folks is a gift to me.
This day, sixty-two years ago, when my mom did most of the work (I was born rear-end first) is a further marker letting me know that Grace is the highest and best principle. Somebody else did all the work to get me here! Mom is still here, living down the street from us. She won’t remember that today is birth-day, but she still smiles when she sees me and when I kiss her forehead.
So, last April I told my doc that that my left ankle was swollen. Bugged me some, but didn’t actually hurt. He said it was probably just old-guy stuff, but sent me for an ultrasound just to rule out anything serious. The ultrasound revealed a DVT — a clot — from behind my knee to as far as they could trace it down into my foot. They sent me over to the imaging place to do some sort of scan, like CT or MRI to check for more clots in my lungs, “b’cause that could be bad.” Thankfully, no clots there. Then they did one of those tests when they put all the little sticky things all over your chest to check your heart. Some abnormalities there. “Let’s do a stress test!” But, you know, they couldn’t put me on the treadmill because of the newly-discovered DVT in my leg, so they did the “chemical” kind of stimulation. That felt really crazy, but the result was, “abnormalities.” So, let’s do a heart cath. That’s where they, as I understand it, run a little camera up through your right wrist, around your shoulder, and across your chest into your heart. Something like that…
“Distal blockages” all down in there in the tiny bottoms of those arteries around my heart. Too tiny down there to treat, but since these blockages were creating some chest pain, I was prescribed some Nitro derivative with a name you can’t pronounce, to keep the pain (I say discomfort) at bay. Cool thing, one of the blockages had already bypassed itself!
I want to tell you the thing about stuff like this: a brother can get discouraged. My cardiologist told me that this wasn’t happening because of anything in my lifestyle, that there wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent this. Just heredity. Maybe he was trying to encourage me. That did help, because in my discouraged frame of mind, I could look only to God to ask, “Okay, what are You doing?”
The new meds helped my discomfort, until it didn’t. It was a few months later that I started having that tightness and shortness of breath and other “pain-ish” feeling in my chest. Back to the cardiologist, yada yada, and back to the Cath Lab. Not much had changed, so they were about to cut me loose again when…
Lying on the hospital bed in the recovery room, I told them I was having that pain-ish feeling again, “like, right now,’ and that it was proceeding up my neck into my jaws. Everybody got all excited right about then and there was suddenly a crowd around me. I was, admittedly, under some kind of “conscious sedation” which, around here, they call “milk of amnesia.” I was not aware, then, that simultaneous to my pain-ish feeling, my heart rate had fallen through the floor. (That’s not good under any circumstances, I now understand.)
Next thing I knew I felt the wind blowing through my hair (such as it is) as some good folks were running my hospital bed back down to the Cath Lab. They grabbed the only Interventional Cardiologist who was free and he went back in with the catheter and attempted to place a stent to give me a little more circulation down there in the bottom of my heart. Unsuccessful attempt, as it turns out, and I left the lab with a stent stuck in the wall of an artery. “Well,” said my doc later in the hospital room, “we’re gonna get a little more aggressive with the medicine, and see if we can’t keep you comfortable.”
Did I mention we had a hurricane that day? Yep.
A month later I was still having some of that pain-ish in my chest, and had met with another Interventional Cardiologist. The good news, he told me, was that it was now October. I could hardly control my excitement. “October 1st,” he explained, “some new tools — smaller catheters and smaller stents — became available, and I think I can get further down in there and get you some relief. If you’re willing, I’d like to try.”
(You’re thinking what I was thinking…that quote from Yoda about “try” vs “do or do not.”)
We scheduled for a week later, and I was back in the Cath Lab for round three. This time, successful. The two stents he placed that day have been helpful in relieving that tight, uncomfortable feeling. And the meds. Blood thinners. I bleed when I just look at a pocket knife. Oh, and there was another hurricane that day. Ain’t makin’ it up.
I read in a book one time that men of a certain age, or Level of Experience (I like to say) begin to notice, to greater and lesser degrees, “the descent into grief.” Grief over lots of things, but the category could be called “Loss.” Like it or not, we all, to greater and lesser degrees, begin to lose stuff as we age. I don’t run anymore as I did in high school. Don’t have the hair I once had. I can’t remember stuff like names or where I left my shoes like I did when I was 40. My good friend is no longer with us. My sons have left home to pursue their dreams, and I miss them.
When I grieve, I find a principle beginning to develop that is really kind of wonderful. There is joy in the grief because the God Of All Hope comes to fill in the holes of what I’ve lost (except for the hair; I still don’t have much hair!) Even with no hair, I’m getting the message that he loves me. (And you.)
I’m accepting that I’m an older guy now. I bump up against things almost daily that I can’t do, or that someone will not let me do. Oh, I’ll be around for another 20-30 years if genetics are anything, and I’ll keep attempting this and that. But God’s Presence is more real to me today, and will be real-er tomorrow, than I’d ever imagined. Check this out:
“Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.” That’s Psalm 63:3. And this: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11
One day a log hit me in the head. I’ll tell you about that sometime, too. It was fun.