I want to warn any reader that the meat of this journal entry (Blog) is near the end of this long story. It would be difficult to explain what I’m trying to get across without a little history first. So, I promise, if you get through the first part, I’ll try to articulate the reason for the title. Okay? here we go…
I think just the name “Cardiologist” is scary. It’s difficult to describe the conversation my wife and I had as we traveled from our home to the Cardiologist office. I do recall words being spoken but exactly what was being said that day has fainted away. Long pauses and bouts of spoken optimism and few silent prayers are merely all I remember. I recall as we sat in the parking lot before entering the office, my beautiful wife held my hands and we prayed.
Just a week earlier, I had been called to this same office. My family doctor had submitted a prescription for a heart monitor just to rule a few things out. For the past few years I had been complaining to my doctor that I get exhausted while doing simple things. Just walking up stairs or mowing the lawn had become difficult tasks. I would muscle my way through any physical activity though thinking that if I just pushed myself i could get anything accomplished. Nearly two decades ago, I went through the Police Academy and had been taught in PT training the theory of “mind over body“. There is wisdom in mind over body but not when your body is broken and you just don’t know it. I had a few obvious symptoms and they were becoming more relevant. During even the slightest tasks I would become light-headed, immediately start sweating on my forehead, have shortness of breath, and dizziness.
My doctor instructed me to go to a Cardiologist and wear a heart monitor for a month. This monitor would send a reading to some office somewhere and it would record what exactly my heart was doing twenty four hours a day. So off we went to the Cardiologist. We never met the Cardiologist though. He had an assistant meet with me and she demonstrated how to hook up this monitor by attaching three wires to various locations on my chest. She gave simple instructions on how to recharge the battery and explained that this monitor would be monitored 24/7. She explained to me that I would need to wear this for four weeks and then I was to mail it back in the pre-addressed packaging that was in the monitor box. Well, that seemed pretty simple. Bummer that I had to wear this thing for an entire month though.
On the fifth day of wearing this heart monitor, I received a phone call from the Cardiologist. It turns out, that I don’t have to wear this monitor for the entire month after all. The Cardiologist asked me if I was married. I explained that indeed I was. He then told me that my wife and I needed to come see him in the morning. He stated that they had discovered a few disturbing issues from my heart monitor and made an emergency appointment for me the following day.
Now, concerning what do people talk about on the way to an emergency Cardiologist appointment. I’m still not sure I can recall much of anything. I recall attempted optimism of guesses that the doctor would tell me to lay of the Twinkies and walk around the block a few times. We assumed that this would all come down to diet and exercise. But then again, I remember wondering if this was it. Even the best attempts of being optimistic in these moments seemed to fail. Somewhere, in the back of our minds lingered the pit of despair. The mortal crutch that we all bear knowing that one day we will all die. What had the Cardiologist found that was so immanent that we have been rushed in to see him? Also, I kept thinking to myself that it must be serious, simply because he wanted my wife there for something.
Out in the parking lot of the Cardiologist office, my beautiful wife said an amazing prayer. A prayer requesting comfort and understanding. A prayer for acceptance of whatever we were about to hear.
We were led into a private examination room and a nurse did the normal routine of checking blood pressure and my temperature. She asked a few questions and then left. A few minutes later, the Cardiologist entered and with him was a secretary who sat and recorded everything that was discussed. The cardiologist began the conversation by asking how I felt? What were my symptoms? So I responded by quickly explaining my exhaustion and dizziness, etc… The Cardiologist then agreed with my response and said it matched with his findings from the monitor which I had worn. He grabbed some papers in a file and showed them to my wife and I. They were copies of heart monitor graphs.
He explained that I had a heart condition which was called a Third Degree AV Block. This condition was extremely serious and needed immediate correction. He proceeded to describe the condition and gave us details of what exactly a Third Degree AV Block was. Apparently, it is a birth defect but not something I inherited. A Third degree AV Block is a condition that the top two chambers of your heart and the bottom two ventricles have absolutely no electrical communication at all. The heart needs this electrical communication to keep a steady pace rhythm pumping top to bottom in sync.
My wife and I were stunned. This isn’t the optimistic news we had hoped for. So I asked him what I thought to be an intelligent question. “Is there any chance that this is a mistake? Possibly, we should seek a second opinion”. The cardiologist seemed a little annoyed by my question. He shot back a question to me. “Well, did you have someone else wear the monitor for you?” Of course, I hadn’t. Then the Cardiologist laid it all out in plain English. He said that I needed emergency surgery where a pacemaker would be inserted with two wires connecting the top of my heart to the bottom. I would be scheduled the following day at the hospital across the street. He also explained that it was absolutely crucial and that if I didn’t get a pacemaker that I would die this year.
The cardiologist went into detail on how my heart wasn’t working properly. My heart had a resting heart beat of 34 beats per minute. It also would stop beating for six seconds at a time with only one heartbeat splitting up a group of multiple six second intervals. He explained that at six seconds without a heartbeat that I would blackout and at eight seconds that I would arrest and die. My wife and I were stunned. We inquired some more trying to grasp what we had just learned. Where did this come from? It is difficult to articulate the shock that one goes through when a doctor informs you that if you don’t receive immediate surgery you’ll die soon.
The receptionist had already scheduled me for surgery the next day. Unfortunately, the hospital she had scheduled was out of our insurance network. We had to reschedule with a different hospital that was covered in our insurance and that was difficult due to squeezing me in as an emergency surgery when the hospital was already fully booked. They decided the best way to do this was to schedule me in at 4:30 am so I would be first before regular scheduled surgeries. However, even this was going to put my surgery two weeks away.
The Cardiologist gave me strict restrictions for the next two weeks. He told me that driving was out of the question. Due to the likelihood of blacking out, driving was now deemed unsafe. I was not to lift anything heavier than five pounds. That included groceries and basically anything. I was to limit climbing stars and any kind of labor. I was also supposed to stay stress free and maintain a calm state of mind. Easier said then done.
We left the Cardiologist office and drove to my place of employment. Wow, How do I explain this to my employer? This Pacemaker surgery was scheduled two weeks from now and then I will need an additional month to recover. I manage around 63 drivers and it’s a difficult job. To top this off, I don’t have the luxury to even give any notice. The drive from the Cardiologist office to work was kind of eerie. What do my wife and I say to each other? I remember there was a lot of, “It’s going to be okay”, and “at least we found this before you um..you know”. We recognized the miracle that God had given us. Yes, indeed, a miracle that this Third Degree AV block was found.
My employer took it well and everyone wished me well. Certainly everyone of my employees and acquaintances were shocked when they heard the news. I put in my leave of absence from work and for the next six weeks I didn’t work.
The surgery took place on it’s scheduled time. The surgery went well. I was put in the cardiac ICU for a two days to recover. It was odd to watch the heart monitor as I was laying in the hospital bed. My heart beat had a steady pattern that was consistent but there now was an additional “spike” line on the monitor. I watched that monitor for hours. A little white line then heart beat. white line…heart beat. Amazing.
Upon being released from the hospital I was given specific instructions on how to keep the wound clean and then the biggie. “Don’t raise your left arm above the shoulder!!!”. The danger with two wired pacemakers after post-surgery is lifting your arm to high. There’s a good possibility of pulling one of the wires out of place. Literally, by fully extending the arm the wire will detach from the heart. They say 1 out of 2000 pacemaker patients do this. It takes your pacemaker wires about six weeks to grow into your body and basically anchor inside the vein where the wire was placed. After the six weeks is over you can again raise your arm as normal.
Well, about one week after being home I did it. I raised my arm and I became part of the 2000 club. Lucky me, I got to have my pacemaker surgery twice. Another six weeks off work and recovering from home. The second surgery went well and during my recovery I was better disciplined and made sure to keep my arm down.
Finally, if you read to this point congratulations. It would have been difficult for me to have started here and made any sense to what the point of this entry is about.
After my back to back pacemaker surgeries and even an ankle surgery while recovering from my second pacemaker surgery I finally returned to work. I was so excited to be back to my normal routine. I was warmly welcomed back from all my employees as well as upper management. It was good to just be back where I belonged. Most of you probably know that when you’ve been gone from work for a while, there is a back log of necessary work that has piled up during your leave. Well, that was certainly the case for me.
As I stated earlier, I manage an arm full of truck drivers which includes multiple tasks. A few of the tasks would be dispatching, finding jobs, hiring, annual reviews, time cards, heavy over-size permits, piloting heavy equipment, hiring and terminating employment, safety meeting, compliance training and reporting, etc…. Not to mention that each of these employees has their individual needs and personalities. The first week or so upon my returning to work was great. However, during the weeks following I notice a change in me. I found that I wasn’t sleeping at night and I was just plan angry all the time. I was angry about everything. I was miserable to be around. I was constantly irritable with all my co-workers and I felt that I was falling into a deep depression.
Throughout my first month back to work, I found that simple tasks were unbearable. The job that I’ve been doing for years now seemed impossible. I must admit though that during our summer months work typically is difficult. But work being difficult was not new to me. I can take a few punches and maintain my character but this was different. The change was not work it was me. I knew that something was wrong. My behavior at work had now come to a crossroads. In fact, I even went to the VP and told him that he could take my job and….(I’ll keeping it clean). I sent emails to my area manager and told him to place an ad and find my replacement. I seemed to be out of control and out of my mind. I have worked for this same company now for twenty three years. I started from the bottom and worked my way up. Why was I doing this to my career and how can I make this monster in me stop?
One night my wife mentioned that I have become completely withdrawn for her and our children. She didn’t recognize the man that I used to be. Now to be clear, I’ve always been a little rough around the edges but this was something completely different. I discussed my behaviors at work and read some of the emails that I had sent to my supervisor regarding me quitting. This upset my wife and she became nervous about what I was doing. If I lost my job we would really be in trouble. How would we pay or bills, our mortgage, and all of our expenses?
After a long discussion with my wife and with my employment in question we decided that we should do some research. The only thing we could think of that may be a problem would be this pacemaker. At first we thought that was ridiculous to think a pacemaker would change someones behavior. How could a pacemaker cause a person to become angry, irrational, or even crazy?
Our research was pretty easy. We just Googled “pacemaker and depression”. That was it. We learned in just a few minutes that this has been a huge issue and researchers and doctors have been actively studying this behavior for a long time. It turns out that for many men who receive an internal pacemaker that within a few months after suffer from clinical depression and anxiety.
We found dozens of articles and were literally surprised about all this research concerning what I was going through. The odd thing about this depression and anxiety that I was feeling happens so gradually that you don’t notice the change until the monster is already there. I’m almost fifty years old and have always been in control of my behavior and demeanor. I’ve never had any experiences where my brain took over my being.
I was reading a blog yesterday concerning disappointments and struggles that this individual was going through. It touched my heart and made me reflect on my life’s history and personal struggles and road blocks that have happened in my journey through life.
As I went about my day, I kept thinking about this article. I realized something quite spectacular. Possibly, my thoughts being articulated into words in this blog won’t clearly explain in depth of what my mind has brought to light. However, here is an attempt to explain.
I’m almost 50 years old. I am married to the most amazing woman and we have three children. (We also have five grand children). We married quite young and had big dreams of our future. When we married, we both had jobs that paid basically minimum wages. We worked hard each day and month to month we barely could get our rent paid and all other expenses. We dreamed and discussed about the distant day of purchasing our home and raising children. Years went by and we just couldn’t seem to get out of our daily rut. We wondered how everybody else seemed to be able to do it. What was the secret?
Anyways, to make this article shorter, life handed us lots of struggles. We would take one step forward and life would shove us two steps back. Each day seemed to drag on and hand us different hurdles to trip over. Day after day and month after month came new trials. Of course there were good days, In fact great days. Certainly the stresses of life were there but between the good, the great, and the hurdles that tripped us we stumbled through life. Probably our focus may have been on the negatives which make us weary that we weren’t progressing as our dreams were formatted.
Yesterday, I read a blog that reached out and bopped me on the head. I thought about this writers story and wrote her back. I’ve included what I wrote to her at the end of this blog.
Everyone has heard of the dirt road that we all have traveled on that has gotten us to where we are today. An old cliche’ right? As I was thinking about this throughout the day, I realized that the road I traveled upon had been paved behind me. Yes, you read that right. The rough, dusty, pot-holed road of life I had traveled was now a smooth paved highway. How odd indeed. But as I reflected on my past life events, I see no evidence of any dirt road or flicker of dust. Certainly, my memories of the rough times are evident and clear to me but possibly my perspectives and views have changed.
Life’s trails are extremely difficult. Our dreams are real and most seem unreachable. There are times in life when we just want to give up. There are times when we do our best only to be shot down, rejected and dismissed. Life is hard and then it gets harder. I’m not sure if it ever gets easier or we just learn how to fail better. But what are these times if we defined them differently and I wondered how would God define these times?
We as humans being without the majestic scope of life would unfortunately define these life trials as dirt roads. Dirt roads are difficult times and they ought to be. I believe God expects us to endure this roads. These tough times we trip and fumble through I believe are necessary evils. Shamefully, traveling on these wandering dirt roads we have lost focus on our dreams and ultimately our purpose. We feel frustrated and overwhelmed and due to life’s burdens and hardships. Another tragedy often occurs with most of us as well. Our faith in God will also dwindle through these dirt roads of life. Again, we may lose our focus on our spiritually well being and our faith in ourselves. We may even divert to blaming God through these rough times.
Ironically, God is in control and he is the architect of the road in which we travel. During our traveling on this road, we grow. We grow in strength, wisdom, maturity and demeanor. Our spiritual self can grow as well. We capable of re-grasping our hope. We can learn to pray again for God to assist us and we make progress. We fertilize our life and recognize our purpose and develop ourselves as we wonder no longer aimlessly down the dirt road. One day, sometime in our life, we will turn around. We will reflect on who we are and where we came from.
As for my wife and I, we are later in our years and further down this road that we call life. We see what lies ahead of us with more clarity. We have a stronger faith in God and our salvation. We hold a stronger hope then we used to. We have more optimism in our future then we used too.
Why? how did this happen? When we were traveling these dirt roads, through Gods wisdom, we learned and grew through these trials. We were being educated and taught by our daily failings. Learning to fail and then trying again is key. Taking risks and being rejected but by learning to stay consistent and never taking “no” for an answer has built character. Most importantly, beyond everything imaginable, this dirt road as led my wife and I to God. It may be hard to comprehend, but true indeed. The pathway to God is by traveling on a a windy dirt road. Yes, the bible states that the roads in heaven are paved with Gold. (Rev. 21:21). Incredibly, the route to get there is a dusty dirt road. We call this road life.
As I turn and look down this road, through all the unsettled dust and far in the distance I can faintly see that this road is being paved. This road of life that I have stumbled on and fell upon. due to trials and heart ache is being repaired to a flawless smooth asphalt finish. I wondered why I couldn’t have traveled on this smooth surface. Walking through life without all the pains and anguish that had beaten me as I wandered.
It then occurred to me. Was this road of life as bad as I thought. As I traveled aimless and hopeless, winding around and around seemingly without a real destination, God was indeed guiding me to Him. It took the bumps and bruises for me to achieve my successes or better yet Gods successes. My development through life was only possible by traveling on dirt. A road that God was making perfect with a paving crew just behind me just out of my view. Or perhaps, maybe, Gods paving crew was always in perfect view if only I focused sooner. But how would I have known to focus on God if not to have wandered on this beautiful dusty dirt road.
Here is my letter I wrote yesterday responding to a blog:
Hang in there. God is in control. Lot’s of prayers and let Him guide you to your house. Good luck. Life seems difficult as we struggle day by day. The miracle of life is being able to look back and see all the progress you have made.
It’s a funny thing, today and yesterday sure feels like a pot-holed dirt road with no end in sight. Just dust and achy bones and thoughts of just quitting or turning around. But, God in his wisdom, has a paving machine somewhere behind you beyond your scope of vision. You won’t ever see Him paving this bleak roadway your traveling down for quite some time. However, one day, you will look back at these trials and see nothing but smooth roads. It takes time. It takes endurance, and it takes faith. Hang tough through these struggles and gain strength along the way. Soon you will have that house. The house won’t be the trophy though. Your character and lessons learned will be. How will you know when those trophies are awarded? Look back….and see the dirt road has been paved.