Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What I Learned Six Months Ago Today

This piece asks readers to look back on the previous year for major events in their personal lives.

Six months ago today, I went to Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus to undergo a heart catheter procedure. Sixteen days earlier, I'd had a "silent" heart attack, felt but undiagnosed. Twelve days later, my doctor seeking to eliminate possibilities, an echocardiogram was done. It was discovered that I'd had a major heart attack that damaged 40% of my heart.

I was to do nothing until the catheter procedure the following Monday, the doctor told me. This was Thursday. If I had any chest pain, I was to get to the nearest emergency room ASAP.

It was a long weekend.

But I have to confess that during the hour-long drive to Riverside from our house on the day of the procedure, I felt utterly calm. This is how I really felt: Whether I lived or died, I was in the hands of God.

I'm sure that I've written about the procedure before. But it was an amazing experience. I was awake throughout, talking with the doctor and OR personnel the entire time.

A 100% blockage was discovered in one of my arteries. The plaque material was recent enough--and therefore, soft enough--for the doctor to be able to push a stent through and I was released the next morning.

As I think I've explained before, when I arrived at the hospital, my ejection fraction, a number which measures the efficiency with which the heart is doing its job, was at 25. That's ten points below what's considered dangerous. No person's EF is 100% and average is about 65%.

So, I had been sicker than I realized, probably for longer than I realized.

Medical personnel have expressed bafflement at two things.

First: They can't understand why I had a heart attack. No relevant family history of heart disease. Great blood pressure. Good cholesterol readings. Not overweight. Exercised thirty minutes a day.

Second: They can't understand how I survived the heart attack I had. Their bafflement has to do with the location of the blockage. "There is no medical way to explain why you're still alive," a cardiac nurse told me.

Occasionally, as I reflect on the events of six months ago, Paul's words to the Phlippian Christians of the first century come to mind. His sentiments aren't precisely my own, but I do get what he was telling the members of that first century Macedonian congregation. Paul wrote it while imprisoned in a Roman jail, contemplating the very real possibility of being executed:
For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith...(Philippians 1:21-25)
As I say, my sentiments weren't (and aren't) precisely the same as Paul's. But I found out how real Christ is and how real my relationship with Christ is six months ago today. I knew that Christ was there with my family and me and that He still would have been there with us had I not survived my heart attack. I learned the truth of some other words written by Paul, too:
If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. (Romans 14:8)
Of course, I can take zero credit for this remarkable assurance which marks my living and my dying with a certain hope. All the credit goes to God Who sent His Son, so that all who turn away from the natural inclinations of sinful, selfish hearts and, powered by the Spirit, dare to trust their all in Christ and so, receive eternal life with God. (I still am a sinner, by the way. Christ died for sinners like me and He empowers the honest to daily push their sinful inclinations into submission to Christ. I try to be honest with God. It's better that way; God knows when I'm lying anyway.)

And that eternal life begins here and now--in hospital surgical suites and waiting rooms, in the places we live every day. The Savior Who took on flesh, Whose birth among us we are celebrating this Christmas season, has shared in our messy lives, invited us to own the blame for His undeserved execution on a cross, and commanded us to follow Him. Eternity belongs to those who dare to be honest with the God who dared everything to win us back death and sin and evil.

Six months ago today, that all became more real to me than it ever was before. And Christ--His love, His power, His grace, His righteousness, His willingness to destroy the sin I daily lay at His feet--all those things are more real to me today than the desk at which I set.

I've met the King and I'm intent on serving Him alone. He saved me for this, not just six months ago, but at the very moment He first saved me, on that cross two thousand years ago.

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