This is a story about heartbreak. But not the boyfriend/girlfriend kind, as you might imagine. It’s about finding out I was in some very deep, life-threatening doo-doo. It’s about feeling frantic, panic, abject fear, loss of control while looking into the possibility that I might actually die.
It’s also about bone-deep, life-altering revelations which came as surprise blessings. It’s my hope, in sharing this, if you or someone you love is experiencing anything close to these feelings right now, that what I learned will help you/them come up for air in times when you are certain you’re drowning.
Most of my life I have believed LIFE was happening FOR me, not TO me. But it was only when I got to really test drive this idea in real life, when everything seemed to be stacked against me, that it eventually became a rock-solid belief. Who could have ever imagined that a broken heart would lead to my personal mission, propelling positivity in the world…as a belief system and way of life.
Here’s my story…. For years, nearly every summer, we escaped Dallas’s searing heat and took off for Colorado. We always got so excited about going, the car was getting packed a week in advance! The majestic mountains, marshmallow puffy clouds, blue skies, crispy cold air, sparkling rivers, and miles of hiking trails were waiting for us!
At 10,000+ feet, the altitude wasn’t for everyone. But it really had almost no effect on us. After acclimating for a few days, we were always good to go. But this time, on this trip, for me, it was different. A week had passed and I was still gasping for air. My heart was doing weird, wiggly beating too.
So, I told myself it was a sure sign that I was in rotten shape. I had let myself go. Clearly, I was getting old. So, I decided to push a little harder, adding 10,000 steps to my daily activities.
This wiggly heart thing, I had noticed it before coming to Colorado. My stress level had been through the roof for several months. It was that tossed salad of everything being difficult, all at once….working for several months with some unusually difficult clients, plus my marriage was going through a very rough patch as unresolved relationship issues were surfacing, along with the building of a brand new house an hour and a half from our home in Dallas. The back and forth trips added more stressful hours to an already long workday. When we discovered our builder was patently dishonest, we loudly disagreed about how to handle that situation too. More anchovies flew into the salad. So, I made my own diagnosis about my weirdly wiggling heart. It was just one indicator of too many things being out of alignment, for too long.
Returning to Dallas at summer’s end, I booked my annual physical and asked my doctor to run an extra test on my heart, in addition to the usual EKG. My heart was still wiggling and erratic, even more so at night when I was fitfully sleeping, worrying about everything that was still so wonky in my life. A myriad of serious heart issues have been part of my family legacy….so, why not stop the self-diagnosis….and just do a double-check for peace of mind.
After all the routine tests and checks and the additional heart stress test, I met with my doctor to check in personally, as was our custom. Before I could even sit down, I became a blubbering, snotty-nosed mess. Everything I had been carrying emotionally and spiritually came flying out, punctuated with gulps and gasps and hiccups. While the doctor was nodding his head and looking sympathetic, he was busy with his prescription pad, ordering anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills. His instructions were to go straight to the pharmacy and get them filled “NOW”! Of course, he also suggested marriage counseling and cutting back on work.
Standing in line at the pharmacy, something came over me. “YOU DON’T NEED ANY OF THIS!” My quiet, but powerful inner GPS had spoken. As I stepped one person closer in the line, the same message repeated, only at an even higher volume. It was SO CERTAIN, SO LOUD. SO STRONG…I left. Even though I sat in my car, shaking, adding “bad girl” to my laundry list of stressors, for not following the doctor’s orders, I felt an even greater sense of relief….that I had listened to this voice….MY VOICE….the one that’s never steered me wrong, when I’ve chosen to listen.
A week later, the written report about the results of my physical came back from the doctor. I was good to go. His recommendations remained the same….to cut back on stress/work, get the house finished, go to counseling, and take my meds.
As time rolled by, I had followed almost all the doctor’s orders…Still no meds, but I had reduced my workload, our house was finally nearing completion, and we were wading our way through counseling. Maybe my heart would catch up with the “progress” that was being made!
Realizing how much the outside stressors had played a role in our marriage, my husband and I decided a second honeymoon was just the thing. A week in the California wine country, going to the Culinary Institute of America’s highly regarded wine tasting ‘boot camp” sounded like heaven to us. It was just what the doctor ordered!
We were packed and ready to go the next morning when the call came in.
It was 4:30, Friday afternoon. My doctor was calling. WHAT, ON EARTH?
He calmly asked if I was sitting down. Hmmm. Never a good way to start a conversation with anyone…much less your doctor. Sitting down seemed like a wise idea.
”I have been remiss.” he said quietly.
UH-OH… What could THAT mean?
He continued. “When you came for your physical and you requested the additional heart stress test, I sent it off to a cardiologist to read the results. Somehow, your report was “lost in the shuffle” and it has only just now come to my attention. Unfortunately, the results revealed some “serious indicators” that you were experiencing reduced heart function.”
“HOW SERIOUS?” I said.
“It indicated that you only had 30% heart function at the time of the test. Given that it's now, 4 months later, I would consider this an emergency.” He said.
First…..Sinking did not describe my feelings in that instant. It was as if I was standing on top of a 50-story building and had mistakenly stepped into an empty elevator shaft. Everything was whirling and whooshing past me as I was falling, falling, falling. Nothing to grab onto to break the fall. It felt like I was crashing and shattering into a bazillion splinters. Good thing I was sitting down!
Next, instead of fainting an inner roar of RAGING FURY took over.
Then…my lifetime of Southern Baptist “good girl” conditioning kicked in.
I said “THANK YOU!” to the doctor “THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME KNOW!.
“THANK YOU!” and “HAVE A NICE DAY!”.
To Be Continued in Part 2...
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