I’m a healthy and fit non-smoker with no family history of heart disease. How then did I just spend the last day and a half in the Northwestern Hospital Cardiac Care Ward? I needed to awaken and recognize a few truths in my life in order to refine myself. That’s how. In order to truly clarify my life purpose and take that purpose to the next level I needed to have the ability to trust my heart. To trust it on so many levels. What’s the rest of the story you ask? I’ll gladly share. It may take a few chapters.
In a recent blog I made a passing comment that I’ve been sacrificing a lot of sleep lately. For some reason even though I wrote those words, I didn’t hear that message as loudly as people like my father-in-law, my mother, my wife and the Universe had been hearing them for months. Yesterday morning I got the message loud and clear.
Coming off a fifth consecutive combo of long day of work, and late night of social engagements, I finally hit the wall on Tuesday morning. In typical Jim fashion though, I got up and went out to do my morning stretch and got in a light martial arts workout in the park. I felt surprisingly good despite my lack of rest and even contemplated riding my bike into work. With a brush of good fortune I remembered that I had a flat tire that had yet to be repaired so I dashed off to the train and went to work for my routine Tuesday 13-hour double shift.
When I got to work I started to realize that something wasn’t right. I was lightheaded and felt out of rhythm in some way. I’m certainly no stranger to working through being tired, but something made me wonder if this time something more might not be factoring in? I couldn’t help but think back to the morning that my friend Richard came to work and reported that he didn’t feel right. He chose to go home instead of going to the hospital. Although the heart attack that killed him that day likely would have killed him even if he had gone to the hospital, I didn’t want to be that guy. You know that guy who says “I’ll be fine,” or “I got this,” or “it’s just a little gas.”
So thus began my journey through the Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and cardiac care ward.
When I arrived in the emergency room I was alone and scared. I hadn’t yet called my wife Christiana because I wanted to get to the hospital first. I saw people in varying degrees of pain and suffering and it made my heart hurt, but in a different way. A man who looked to be about 8o sat with a bloody nose. He kept grabbing more and more tissues from the box on his lap to dab the blood. His shirt was stained with new red blood across the heart side pocket. A woman sat shivering a wheel chair with an IV bag hanging over her head off of a bar above the wheelchair. The bag was secured by a piece of tape. The tape wore thin and broke. The bag fell on her head and she shrieked. I couldn’t stop myself from jumping up to assist her but as I did my name was called and I was hustled off for an immediate EKG.
Part of me felt like I was line cutting but I guess if you’re over 50 and you say “light headed and chest pain” in the same sentence you get the equivalent of the amusement park thrill pass jump to the front of the line card. After my EKG I was sent back the waiting room. A volunteer had helped the poor lady who got head-bombed by the IV bag. The longer I sat in the waiting room the better I felt for myself and the worse I felt for the other people waiting. I had two thoughts running through my brain, 1) the longer it takes them to call me again the better chance I’m not having a heart attack, and 2) why the hell is it taking so long to help these poor people.
After about 15 minutes another nurse called me and took me in a little room to get my vitals. She confirmed that it was probably a good sign that they didn’t rush me upstairs after looking at my EKG. I began to relax a bit. I was sent out into the waiting room where I started to look at Facebook and email on my phone and re-engage with life since it was becoming more and more evident that I wasn’t likely to die on this day.
A few minutes later a man came and called my name. He told me they were taking me upstairs to a room to see a doctor. Gulp! I had just settled into that I’m going to be fine mindset and now they were taking me ahead of the shivering lady and the guy with the bloody nose! What did this mean?!?!?!
I arrived upstairs before Christiana made it to the hospital. Once again I found myself feeling scared and alone. I was quickly given another EKG and had my vitals taken by a nurse. I sat up in my hospital bed and looked out the window and thought to myself, “well at least I have a decent view.” Christiana arrived and I felt both relieved for me and sad for her that she had to see her older husband hooked up to a bunch of machines and face some of her own fears. Then the first doctor came. He asked me what brought me in and I told him my story.
I told him that I had been working a lot lately and that I had been pushing myself pretty hard. I told him that I got up in the morning and did my workout and everything felt fine, but when I got to work I was lightheaded and felt a little twitchy in the chest. He asked every question he could think of to describe what he always called my chest pain. I always corrected him and said it was pain as much as it was twitching. We reviewed my family history, my lifestyle, my diet, my previous episodes of anxiety related fears and all of the tests that had been taken already. I expected him to say that I needed to take a Xanax and get some rest.
This is what he said instead, “Even though you have very few risk factors, heart disease can hide in ways that we can’t always see with just EKGs and blood pressure. I think the best course of action is to look at all the possibilities.” I found his choice of the word possibilities to be a curious sign. He went to add that “Exploring those possibilities would mean a chest x-ray, a series of heart enzyme tests over the next six hours, keeping you (me) in the cardiac care ward overnight for observation and then taking a full stress test in the morning. How do you feel about that?”
Well what I really felt about that was “Are you f#@cking kidding me? I’m in good shape and I have never spent a night in the hospital in my life except the day I was born. I’m scared and I want to go home and curl up on the couch with my wife and I want this bad dream to go away!”
To my surprise what my lips said when I opened my mouth was this, “Well when I was deciding whether or not to come here this morning I had two thoughts. One, if there is something wrong I would prefer to be in a place where they can do something about it. Two, if everything is fine I want to walk away from this with 100% confidence in my heart and I want to be empowered with that confidence. ”
I glanced at the doctor who looked like he would have fit in well with the doctors from the old General Hospital soap opera with his wry smile. I glanced at Christiana who had that “who are you and what have you done with my husband look on her face?” Then I glanced in the hypothetical mirror in front of me reflecting my true self and I realized something. I realized I had just grown to a new level. I realized I had finally grown to the level where facing one of my greatest fears, my mortality, was the more empowering cause of action than avoiding it.
Over the next ten to fifteen minutes two other doctors came in the room. Each of them asked me approximately the same series of questions. One of them even apologized for making me tell my story so many times as she was leaving the room. I told her that I didn’t mind. That I was a professional storyteller. She chuckled and I added, “No really I am. My wife and I host storytelling shows.” She paused and said, “I’d like to hear more about that.” I relied, “I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon.”
A few minutes later a transport team member was wheeling me to x-ray for series of chest x-rays. The man who escorted me seemed to have a sense of knowing as to whether or not I wanted to talk. I suppose when you spend a bunch of time with anxious patients you get pretty good at reading their vibrations. In the moment I just wanted to be quiet so he was.
At x-ray the technician said I needed to take off my necklaces and offered her help. I said to her, “Everyone here is so helpful. It’s really very comforting.” As she took off the smaller of my two necklaces she said, “I can’t help but notice that this necklace says Infinite possibilities and that you have an infinity symbol tattooed on your arm…” Over the next ten minutes then we talked about our beliefs in the nature of reality and the power of thought. I told her about Mike Dooley and Thoughts Become Things. As I was leaving she said to me, “So thoughts become possibilities, eh? I’ll have to ponder that for the day…” I could have corrected her on the exact words of the phrase but it seemed neither appropriate nor necessary. The seed had been planted.
After being transported back up to the ER holding room, my first doctor came back. The one with the soap opera good looks. He reviewed my chest x-ray and told me that everything looked really good. I wanted to pump my fist and shout, “For the win!” but I realized that there were other victories ahead that would be more significant if I were intended to get to them. In the moment it offered me a hint of relief.
Since it seemed like it could be a couple of hours before I would be moved to the cardiac care ward, we decided it would be a good time for Christiana to head home for a bit and get a few things for me since I would be staying overnight. Little did I know when I rode the train to work on Tuesday morning that I wouldn’t be returning home. I didn’t have clean underwear or a toothbrush.
I asked the doctor if I could have something to take the edge off and help me relax. Since they didn’t have a decent 2007 Napa Cab handy they gave me a clear white liquid through my IV. Christiana kissed me goodbye as I drifted off. I didn’t feel as scared and lonely this time as she left. Part of it was the stuff they put in my IV. Most of it was because I knew in my heart that I was going to get the information that I needed…one way or the other. I slipped into the most restful sleep I have had in weeks.