On Saturday night, just about the time that lightning forced a delay in the FSU-Georgia Tech game, the last remaining electrical circuit inside of my heart fried and failed. I was in a condition known as complete heart block. This is the story of my next couple of days.
As you probably remember from junior high anatomy, the heart consists of four chambers: two atria and two ventricles. Inside of the atria is the electric power plant to run the heart’s beats. A “long distance” power lines runs to a station box at the top of the ventricles, followed by a local transmission line down the boundary of the ventricles, followed by wires out to the two houses on the block. One of those wires, to the right ventricle, had been broken for years without symptoms. In fact, it may be a side effect of keeping in shape through running. The right ventricle becomes a bad citizen and steals some electricity from the left ventricle. But sometime last week, something started to go very wrong. Like the single broken breaker that starts a blackout, first the left ventricle local wire failed, and by the time I went to urgent care on Saturday (when walking up just a few steps was making me dizzy), the transmission line down the ventricles was starting to fail. And, by the time Sue took me to the emergency room about 10 hours later, my heart was like one of the famous Northeast blackouts: Ontario Hydro (the atria) had completely decoupled from New York City (the ventricles).
The only reason I am around to tell you that the lights are back on is that the ventricles have a couple of old-fashioned, fire-em up emergency generators for just such situations. Just like those post-hurricane generators can run your fridge but maybe not much else, the ventricles can plod along on their emergency power….in my case at about 34 beats per minute. The fridge was running, but the AC, the pool pump and the outdoor lighting were shed load. My cardiologist said that if I were a religious person, I could marvel at God’s design in providing such an emergency back-up. No kidding. The backup power lasted long enough that the lights are back on; specifically, I am now the proud owner of a “St. Jude Medical” Hal 9000 (just kidding) computerized pacemaker. As Toby asked me, does this mean I can sell the iPod?
Many of you know that I am scared of flying. I often have nightmares about it. I am almost never in an actual plane crash in my dreams; instead I’m just stuck on a plane that is damaged and in distress, circling endlessly waiting to see whether we will ever land safely. I guess this is when I lived that dream, except that it was my own body I was stuck in, and I now know the elapsed time: almost exactly fifteen hours from hearing the diagnosis until I felt Dr. Cox throw the switch of the pacemaker, and I felt my heart spring back to life.
I have never experienced anything as humbling and scary as feeling my chest jerk from a malformed heartbeat, and then waiting two seconds to see if God was going to give me another one. You can go through several lines of the Lord’s Prayer in two seconds. The good news in this regards came from Dr. Cox at about 1:30 a.m. when she assured me that I was pretty stable because just about everything that could go wrong had already gone wrong.
The fact that I am here writing this is a miracle from God, working directly through his power and though his miracle providers….all of my friends and family who prayed for me, and that decentralized network of medical professionals from the factory in California to Capital Health, TMH, and Southern Medical Cardiology here in Tallahassee. Most amazing of them all is Sue, who never let me give up hope that the next heart beat would come. And then there are Addi and Toby, who each in their own way let me know how much they loved me. I will never forget that Addi brought me home made chocolate chip cookies at the hospital or that Doug sat with me twice during the long weekend. The members of Havana Presbyterian Church wrapped me in a prayer list that stretched across state lines. May God bless you all.