The following is a note that I (Jeff) posted to facebook after about 4 hours of late night typing and much thought. I am posting it on the blog for a few who aren’t on facebook (what is wrong with you anyway??)
Since everyone was so kind to post encouraging comments, and keep me in their prayers I thought that it was only fair that I give a proper update on my health situation. I’ll start by going back to the beginning of what is a little bit of a long story, but it is a long story of God’s grace towards me, an undeserving sinner.
In mid November I went to a routine checkup with my doctor. I told her that I had on occasion been experiencing chest pains that made me concerned about what was going on in my heart. She gave me an in office EKG and noticed that I had an irregular heartbeat – I believe that she called it a “bundle branch block” she said that because of my family history of heart problems she wanted me to undergo a nuclear stress test to look more closely at what was going on in my heart. I knew from my childhood that I have had an irregular heartbeat for quite some time, I mentioned this to her, so she had previous EKGs pulled the following day which confirmed that this was something that has been an ongoing issue and was not a major concern but was more of my “signature” heartbeat. I decided that what I was experiencing was probably just me feeling flutters and muscle issues from lifting heavy things, etc. but I decided to go thru with the test just to make sure – providentially our health insurance deductible being met was a deciding factor in me getting the stress test because the doctor didn’t really think that I had anything serious going on at my age.
I went for the two part nuclear stress test on December 1st and 2nd. The first day I had to run on the treadmill and tell the nurses when I thought I was one minute away from being at the point where I didn’t feel like I could go on any more and then they would inject me with radioactive dye that would settle in the arteries that supply my heart muscle. After the treadmill portion of the test I had to wait 45 minutes and then have my heart photographed over a period of about another 45 minutes (I got a nice nap while laying on the machine). Several times during this day I was told that the results from the first days testing would be read that afternoon or evening and that I may get a call telling me that I would not need to come back if the results clearly showed that my heart was ok – again, nobody thought that I would really be having any real issues at this point in my life. They also told me not to be concerned if I got a call asking me to come back for the second half of the test, and that if they did want me to come back it didn’t necessarily mean that they had found something bad. That evening I got the call from the hospital, they wanted me to come back. I wondered what that could mean…
I went in for the second half of the test on December 2nd and it was a pretty uneventful day. I had to be injected with more radioactive dye and then wait for 45 minutes and then be photographed for another 45 minutes in the machine. The technician told me that I should hear from my doctors office by the following Friday.
Friday December 4th rolled around and I didn’t hear anything from my doctor’s office by mid afternoon, so I called them. I spoke with the doctors nurse who told me that the test showed several areas that may indicate damage from previous heart attacks. I almost fell out of my chair. She didn’t say heart attack, she said, HEART ATTACKS!! I have to admit that I didn’t really know enough about the human heart to really know what any of this meant, but I knew that this wasn’t good. The nurse scheduled an appointment for me with a cardiologist for December 7th (the following Monday) By this point I was a bit of a nervous wreck, I was reading into EVERYTHING – for instance, this must be bad because they are getting me in so quick. My mind was just running crazy with not knowing what was going on.
On December 7th Betty and I went to meet my new cardiologist, Dr. Hogan. As I was sitting in the waiting room I was noticing that all of the patients were either really old, or really obese, not a little obese, but really obese… surely this must be an indicator that I didn’t really belong here.. at least not now… Dr. Hogan spent a fair amount of time with us, he explained that in people that are overweight (yes, that is me) the nuclear stress test sometimes had a hard time capturing good images of parts of the heart, and that the areas that the test is normally not particularly good at viewing were right where the abnormalities in my test were. He seriously didn’t think that anything was wrong with my heart, what a relief! He told us that he would rather prove what he suspected with a CT scan of my heart as opposed to just guessing – I’m sure that this has to do with fear of lawsuits as well. He told me that he thought that the test would come back fine, but that I did need to get my act together or in another 15 to 20 years that I would be back, and that I would be in bad shape, possibly the victim of a heart attack, etc. based on my cholesterol numbers. Betty and I left his office greatly encouraged and with great hope that this next test would cancel out the results of the first test, and with a realization that we would need to make some changes in our lifestyle.
December 9th we met with
December 14th I went to Methodist hospital in
On Tuesday December 15th I called my doctor’s office around mid afternoon and spoke to Liz, his nurse. She told me that the doctor was just finishing up talking to my wife and asked if I wanted to wait and talk to him. I opted to call home in a minute and get the scoop on what was happening from Betty, because I could sense that something was not good, and Betty knows me well enough to know how to dose out enough information to me at a time that I don’t pass out or throw up. I called home and she very carefully told me that I had one artery that was 90% blocked, and “other areas” where the doctor wanted to “check out” she also told me that I was scheduled for an angiogram and potential stent placement that coming Friday December 18th. I got off of the phone and just set there in stunned silence for a while… I seriously have no idea how long I just sat there in a daze before I picked up the phone and called Doug. His first words to me were “It is going to be all right” Betty had already spoken with him and filled him in on everything. Doug comforted me, and prayed with me. I can’t thank him enough for his encouragement.
My emotions were all over the place for the rest of the day. When I went home and seriously thought of this, and talked with Betty it became clear to me that for whatever reason, this was not without a reason! God was at work. No doubt about it. You either believe that HE has control or not, I choose to believe that he is in control and that ALL things that he does work together for my Good, because I DO love him (Romans 8:28) This is a trial, it is something that he has allowed to come into my life and every trial is an opportunity to be a STEWARD of that trial. My thoughts turned to my friend Rafe Refior who is a deacon at our church, Rafe fell from a stepladder in July of 2008 and severely broke both of his legs in a way that was truly horrible and painful, to this day he is still undergoing surgeries to correct the damage, and even subsequent surgeries to fix the infection caused by previous surgeries. Thru all of this Rafe has been an amazing example to me of how a Christian can handle trials. I’ve heard many people say that God is in control all the time only to not actually perform as if this is true when life is hard for them – Rafe didn’t do that – I’ve never heard him talk about how bad this was, I’ve heard him talk about how it was a BLESSING, how he grew closer to his wife than he ever thought possible just by the fact that his legs were broken and his care was her primary concern. Rafe had been a shining example to me of how a trial could be handled, and I decided right there in my recliner that I was going to be a good steward of the trial that God had allowed to come into my life. I can’t even begin to describe to you the peace that came over me, it was tangible.. I’m not kidding.. I seriously felt right then and there as if I had the empowerment of the Holy Spirit just holding me up. As I write this I am recalling this experience and it literally brings tears to my eyes and makes my chest feel funny.. I really wish my chest wouldn’t feel funny. I won’t say that I never had another fear because that would be a lie, but I will say that remembering that this was a stewardship opportunity for me had a calming effect.
Friday December 18th arrived sooner than I wished. I had to be at the hospital at 8am to get prepped for my “procedure” as they called it. I’d rather call it surgery.. that makes me feel justified for being jittery and I just feel like a wuss for being so jittery for a “procedure”
Betty and I arrived at the hospital and got to spend some time with my mom, my grandma Beulah, Betty’s mom, Pastor Dutton, and Pastor Gray. I was admitted and went back to get prepped for the procedure. We were blessed because Janice Dupree (someone from our church who I didn’t even really know) had called in after seeing my name in the Faith Prayer email and asked a certain nurse (Brooke) to take care of me. Brooke was absolutely a Godsend, she literally spent the entire day with me – from nearly 8am till when we left at around 9pm. She was such a wonderful caregiver, and truly made the experience more bearable for me. I asked Brooke to take a sharpie and write all over my body to sedate me fully because I didn’t want to be awake. I’m serious – I would have been happy to have SEDATE ME 110% written all over my face arms and legs just to make certain that I was OUT!! If
I waited till sometime after noon before I was taken to the cath room because there were about three emergencies that bumped me back in line, but as Doug pointed out via text message, it is “good” not to be a priority when you are there.
I was wheeled into the procedure room and I remember looking at the monitors and all of the neat equipment. I remember that it was cold.. I remember thinking that it must be cold so that they don’t sweat in all their scrubs.. I told the technicians that I didn’t want to remember ANYTHING and that I didn’t want to be awake for the procedure, they told me not to worry. I remember the doctor poking my wrist, and then thinking that I wanted to ask him not to do it to my wrist, but to do it further up my arm – I’m funny about my wrists, I don’t even wear a watch because things on my wrists bother me. I have vague recollections of voices and things… and seeing the x-ray machine or whatever it was moving around the table.. all things that once made it seem as if I had never been asleep.. but now I’m sure I was out cold. Next thing I know I have the sense that that I am done and going back to the recovery room. I remember Betty being there and the doctor telling me that I had two 100% blockages and that they did not place stents.
I was reeling.. what did this mean? I had to go thru all of this and I’m not even FIXED?? Are you kidding me? And then Doug was there, and he explained to me that it really was a Miracle.. That I indeed did have two total blockages, but that God had caused my heart to grow additional capillaries in the affected area, and that the capillaries had basically taken up the slack for what the artery had been doing before.
So basically the sum total of the story is this: I’m ok, my heart works for now, but I do have heart disease and total blockage of two arteries. I have to make a radical change in my lifestyle – the way that I eat and beginning to exercise regularly. My whole life, and the wellbeing of my family depends on me successfully doing this. The stewardship opportunity is not over yet, and it will not be over till the day that my heart beats its final time. I am committed to winning this battle, and Betty, my best friend in this whole world is at my side and helping me to make wise choices regarding food at nearly every step. After some of the information had settled into both of our minds Betty told me that the “nice Betty” who fed me whatever I wanted and as much as I wanted was GONE, and that she had been by dictator Betty who was going to do whatever it took to help me eat right. I am going to do my best to win this battle.
I want to specifically thank Mark and Doug for coming to pray with me, and for the many times that both of you have lifted me up in prayer over the last couple of weeks. Thank you Doug for just being Doug, and knowing me, and caring for me. You were there right when I needed you, right when I was able to process the information that was being given to me. You helped me see how God had provided for me when all that I could focus on was that I wasn’t fixed. Maybe I am just being selfish in thinking this, but maybe God has kept you at our church just because he knew that I would need you. I even want to thank you for the analogies related to your cath lab days that make me squirm in my seat in ABF – those analogies and the things you had to say to us are what made me talk to my doctor. Thank you for your friendship, and for your constant concern for our family.
I were to rate things that I don’t ever want to experience in life I would have to say that an angiogram ranks right up there with alien abduction and probing. Nothing that I ever wanted to experience, but in hindsight the worst part of it was the IV – from then on it was all downhill and the recovery has been painless. Please, if anyone reading this ever has to have an angiogram, don’t worry, it isn’t bad at all.
Lastly, I want to thank my very very very best friend in all the whole world, my hero, the human that I could not have made it thru this without, my wife Betty. Honey, you truly are a blessing from God. I thank him for you and for your love, for holding my hand and helping me get thru this part of my life. I love you, and I truly am a better person just by knowing you. I love you with all of my heart.
Jeffrey B Gray (the one that didn't have a stress test in mid November)