Faith, Hope, Love — These Three Abide
I don’t trust much, but I trust that small still voice of God.
Hope is a feathered thing that perches on the soul. —Emily Dickinson
I’ve had a hard two years. It reminds me of the scene in the last Godfather movie, when the Michael character says, “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.”
First, I had cancer. Then, just when I was beginning to think that I really had survived, a heart attack came along and pulled me back in.
Not only that, but I had a wonky heart condition. Most people who have a heart attack end up with either a stent or bypass surgery. My problems weren’t that simple.
My arteries weren’t blocked. But the intake valve of my heart, the one that lets blood in, wouldn’t open properly. This sent my heart into wild beating, as it tried to fill its left chamber with blood. At the same time, a major artery on the same side of my heart kept clenching itself shut. This cut off blood supply to — you guessed it — that same valve and chamber.
It took me a while to accept that this was for the rest of my life, that nothing I did would fix this completely. I tried fighting it at first, putting my head down and doing my best to force myself to be the way I was before.
That only made things worse. Nothing got better until I started doing whatever it took to avoid setting off symptoms.
I started babying the symptoms away, and they started easing off. But babying the symptoms meant becoming a semi-invalid. I couldn’t do much of anything without setting off my heart. I was stuck in the quicksand of symptom prevention, with no idea how to get out.
My docs put me in a thing called “Cardiac Phase Two.” Phase one is immediate treatment such as surgery and its aftermath. Phase Two is a program of carefully monitored changes in exercise, diet and behavior, taking place under close medical supervision in a lab environment. It’s also called Cardiac Rehab.
Every move we make in Cardiac Two is directed and monitored by nurse specialists who are, in my opinion, among the finest human beings on the planet. The nurses are medical care-givers, coaches, mother hens and a cheering squad. No one could do what they do without love. I owe them a great deal.
Cardiac Two is a clubhouse of sorts. It’s a separate world where we all have the same problems and the same goals. There’s a lot of camaraderie and support in Cardiac Two.
The support is needed. Every bit of exercise they’ve asked me to do in cardiac rehab has been unpleasant and difficult. It has hurt, creaked, ached and, many times, set off chest pain, nausea and light-headedness. I not only hated doing the exercise, I was afraid of it. If someone had just given me a booklet telling me what to do and left me on my own, I would never have gotten where I am now.
I’ve learned that I have to change much more than just exercise. Before the heart attack, we ate out four or five times a week. Not now. Restaurant food is full of salt, and my salt is limited.
Back in the day, I very seldom got enough sleep. Now my heart goes dipsy-doodle if I miss my straight eight, and it can take days to get it calmed down again. I can’t indulge in sitting up until dawn, reading straight through a book, or letting my monkey brain spin and chatter me awake all night. I have to rest.
The most difficult challenge has been letting go of responsibility for other people and worrying about current events. I have battled in the political arena in one way or another all my adult life. When I wasn’t in elected office, I was advocating for what I believed.
I’ve organized, lobbied, made speeches and demonstrated every step of the way. But now, I’m on the bench, perhaps for good.
At first, that fed the monkey brain and set off anxiety. I was like an old racehorse, chewing the bit and dancing in place when it hears the bell. But my sick little heart could not take that.
The adrenalin I was feeding it clenched the artery and set me into jaw/back/chest/arm pain. The frustration from being idle shut that valve down and made my heart gallop off in a pounding beat, trying to feed itself blood that it wasn’t getting.
This may sound strange, but I never got the message until one day when I was praying about it and I felt the Holy Spirit telling me that my “work” right now is to enjoy my life. I was literally called to let go of my worries and live fully.
I know that says something unflattering about how terribly type A I am, but it’s true. I don’t trust much, but I trust that small still voice of God. I immediately gave in. I just let go of the reins. I laid it all down, put it away and gave myself over to a childlike existence.
My healing kicked into gear that day. I started getting better. The wheels started turning, heading up.
My heart attack has forced me to allow myself to heal on levels that include but are not limited to the physical. I never fully healed emotionally from the cancer, and before that, I had never completely healed from other blows in my life. It piled up on me.
Then my heart broke. Literally.
I tried all the hoo-doo that I do, and have done for decades, to get better, and none of it worked. I was face to face with me. I can’t heal my physical heart unless I also heal my emotional heart.
In a couple of weeks, I start Cardiac Three, which is more self-directed. The nurses are still there, coaching and supporting. If I get into trouble, they and the entire hospital stand ready. But I won’t be wired up on EKGs and blood pressure cuffs and such. That sounds like freedom. I’m looking forward to it.
I’ve had brief moments when the exercise actually felt good. Most of the time, I still have to white-knuckle my way through, but those brief moments give me the hope that someday exercise will be a pleasure. I see that as the beginning of real physical wellness.
But I have learned that there is no way I will ever be well in my body until I back off and let God heal my psyche. I have hope of a stronger healthier me.
And hope abides.