Friday, March 25, 2011

Another Routine Day in the ER

Fortunately for me, I was wearing clean, new briefs. Turns out mom was right: You never know when you might end up in the emergency room and all those people are going to see your underwear.

I knew I was having a bad day when I kept getting short of breath while working on a plumbing project in South Bend. I had some tightness in my chest, but I was not overly concerned. Mild angina attacks are not uncommon for me, and I always carry a bottle of sub-lingual nitro tablets.

I decided I would call it a day and head home, just in case I started feeling worse. At first the nitro was helping to relieve my symptoms, and I began driving back to Indianapolis, telling myself I would be okay.

Somewhere between South Bend and Peru, heading south on US 31, my chest pains become stronger. The nitro tablets weren't helping much anymore. That is when the serious praying began.

"God, please, just let me get home in one piece. I promise I will head straight for the hospital!"

The further south I drove, the worse I felt. There was a strong steady ache in my chest and left shoulder, and I felt a little woozy. I considered my options. Pulling over to take a nap sounded tempting, but I wasn't sure I would ever wake up.

Finally I passed a sign that said Kokomo was 20 miles away, and that sounded like the place for me. I have driven through Kokomo hundreds of times, and had often noticed the large billboard for Howard Regional Health System that pictured a lifeline helicopter streaking through the sky with the caption, "Tell them to take me to Howard!" Howard Regional was my new destination.

I kept driving and praying. The ache in my shoulder grew stronger. The tightness in my chest was increasing, and it seemed to be harder to breathe. I was struggling to keep my anxiety under control so I didn't make things any worse.

When I ran out of nitro tablets, I still had about 10 miles to go. I swallowed another aspirin, and then let a second aspirin dissolve under my tongue. That was not a pleasant taste sensation, but I was getting desperate.

I began to think that maybe this was it. Is this is how I would die, having a heart attack while trying to get to a hospital? I thought maybe I should just pull over and let it happen, but I just kept praying and kept driving.

I got really serious with Jesus at this point. I apologized to him for not having done anything more constructive with the life he had given me. I thanked him for having saved me so many years ago, and thanked him for the peace I now had, knowing that I would be with him in heaven the moment I left this earth.

I asked him to show me if there was something I had missed that I should have accomplished for him, in case I did actually survive this thing. Maybe, I thought, he had orchestrated all of this as a teachable moment. Maybe I was about to experience some glorious revelation or a life-changing vision of heaven.

Well, this illustrates what a pathetically mundane life I live: After all that praying, the only thought that came to my mind was the fact that my garage and tool shed are filled with 35 years worth of junk, and I felt ashamed that my kids were going to have to clean up all my trash after I was gone.

After this moving spiritual experience, I realized that I was getting close to the hospital. Maybe I was going to live! The sweetest sight I have seen in a long time was that sign that read: Emergency Room Entrance.

The staff at Howard Regional was fantastic. Within 30 seconds of walking into emergency, I was being wheeled into an exam room. The emergency room doctor, William Driehorst, and a team of nurses were on me like white on rice. They were all moving at double-time, hooking me up to things and poking and prodding me. As they peeled my clothing off, I was glad, as I mentioned earlier, to have those nice new briefs on.

You have never experienced total customer service until you walk into an emergency room with a heart attack. I've never had so many people working so hard on my behalf.

Within 30 minutes of my arrival, I was in surgery. It turns out that Howard Regional has an outstanding cardiac care unit, and one of their top physicians, Dr. Michael Ritchie, was my surgeon. Was Jesus looking out for me, or what?

The next day Jan, one of my nurses in the ER, visited me in my room and told me that she was glad I stopped when I did. "Your EKG was awful. You would not have made it to Indianapolis," she said.

While in the ER, I had been teasing the staff that I drove all the way to Kokomo because of their billboard, and they thought that was so funny that the hospital's PR person arranged for a reporter from a Kokomo newspaper to visit me so he could do a short feature about my experience. I will be happy to autograph souvenir copies of next week's edition of the Kokomo Perspective for the nominal fee of $10 each. (I've got medical bills to pay, you know.)

Life really is like a box of chocolates sometimes.

So now I'm back home, resting and praising God for once again delivering me. Life goes on, and I hope to have a long time yet to watch my grand-kids grow up. I look forward to many more trips through Kokomo, and I'll always give a salute as I drive by Howard Regional Health System.

My number one spring project this year will be cleaning out the garage and shed. Then I will be ready to die in peace should I happen to run out of nitro tablets on a deserted stretch of highway sometime in the future.