Chapter 9: Moving Day

Saturday is “Moving Day” in the context of professional golf’s typical four-day tournament, Thursday and Friday are used to whittle down the field of players to the final 40 or so who will play the two weekend rounds. Everyone who fails to make the cut goes home. Saturday is called “Moving Day” because it is the day when competitors try to set themselves us for the final push on Sunday.

There are a couple of similarities for me on this Saturday. Moving out of CCU is very likely according to the nurses and doctors I had seen so far. And moving to a semi-private room means I was one step closer to being discharged and one step closer to returning home to Atlanta. The implications of changing rooms and eventually being discharged were the dominant themes for the day. It must be similar to the golfer fielding questions about where he needs to be on Sunday in order to have a chance to win the tournament. But he hasn’t even played the 18 holes scheduled for today! One thing at a time, please.

Curt was trying to get a new plane reservation to fly to Atlanta on Saturday evening or Sunday, but there were long wait times on the phone. Eventually, he took a taxi to the airport and made a reservation for Sunday at 1:00 PM. Curt had been a great support and friend to me when I really needed him to help me. I thanked him for everything as he left my room that afternoon.

I had changed the station on the radio that Lind had secured for me. All day Saturday there was classical music filling the background in my room. The music reminded me of beauty being born of suffering as I recalled the struggles that had filled the lives of many composers. Perhaps beauty could come from my pain.

I had received an email message from my friend and fellow elder Brian Terrell saying that he was going to be making an announcement during the worship service on Sunday morning at our church. He had expressed his shock and disbelief upon receiving my email on the 10th that I had sent to elders and pastors at my church. Later in the day I sent an email with the following prayer requests:

  1. Thankful for wonderful care at hospital in Montreal
  2. Safe travel for Jenny & Jameson to Montreal on Sunday
  3. Good discharge from hospital on Monday
  4. Smooth flight home on Tuesday.

It all seemed so simple.

Again, I was told in the afternoon that I would probably have to leave my CCU room and move to the Cardiology section that was two floors up later that day. I would likely go to a semi-private room with one other patient. The hospital was experiencing high emergency demand with a flu epidemic and the usual influx of sick people on the weekend.

Rev. Terry Gyger was an old friend of mine who had spent many years helping folks plant new churches in major cities around the world. Terry had recently “retired” from a position as president of Redeemer City To City based in New York. He and his wife Dorothy had been using Atlanta as home base and now Terry would be working from there as well. He was helping my church in our transitions and we had just made the decision to hire him as our Interim Senior Pastor prior to my trip to Montreal. Thus, he was on my distribution when I emailed the Intown folks about my heart attack. Terry contacted a pastor friend of his who lived in Montreal to let him know of my situation. Consequently, I received a call that morning from Rev. Jean Zoellner who was traveling back to Montreal from Ottawa and wanted to come see me this evening. I was delighted to hear from him and looked forward to his visit. He came by after dinner and we had a refreshing and encouraging time. He lived in a South Montreal neighborhood with a L’Arche community. The L’Arche folks had converted a church into a day program center and the rectory was now the L’Arche residential house.

Since I now had my suitcase, backpack and a plastic bag of clothes (think large bag including boots and a winter coat – Montreal in January, remember!) that I had worn to the ER, moving me to another unit would not be a simple feat. However, around 10:00 PM, the nurse told me to go to sleep because they had not heard anything. After expecting to move all day, I was wondering what was going to happen. She said, “We’re keeping you here as long as we can because we know we are better when you are here.”

I was so struck by her comment that I immediately entered it into the notepad in my iPhone. I was not sure exactly what she meant, but I liked the sentiment.

Finally, at 11:40 PM, a couple of nurses and an orderly came in and said that it was time to move.

We gathered all my stuff, decided to toss my 3 different oxygen masks, and I sat in a mega wheeled chair and we were off. It reminded me of a Jeff Foxworthy story about his family going to Hawaii. I think he called it, “The Clampetts Go On Vacation.” When the elevator door opened to the 4th Floor I thought I had crossed into the tropics. The air was thick and hot. Where was I? There were even beds in the hallway and it was dark and seemed foggy, though I expect that was my brain having been awakened during my first rim cycle of sleep.

Soon, we reached my new room. It was smaller and there was sleeping person on the other side of the curtain. I got into a harder, flatter bed. It was nosier with new nurses who insisted on checking my vital signs and connecting me to an older, heavier transmitter for monitoring my heart activity. Unfortunately, I was not able to get much sleep that night.

Moving Day was finally over. It had been a really terrific day, but the ending minutes gave me even greater desire for Home.



Sacred Heart Attack – Chapter 4: Everyone is Shocked

We pick up my journal on Thursday afternoon, the day after my heart attack. The ripple of communication about my Montreal surprise is just beginning to widen.

“I didn’t have much of an appetite and hadn’t eaten since breakfast on Wednesday. For lunch, I ate some fruit, a small salad and a cracker. I couldn’t eat the spaghetti, although it looked good.

Curt was finally able to reach Jenny by phone after school on Thursday. She quickly called me back on the hospital phone in my room. We talked for several minutes and were both in shock. And we were both encouraged that my voice sounded strong and healthy. Pretty normal. I told her what had happened and we talked about how we would tell the boys and my siblings. She would call the boys and our daughter-in-law and invite them to call me. I would send an email to my two brothers and sister. I also sent an email to the elders and pastors at my church and a few other friends.

I suppose it was no surprise that everyone was shocked by the news. Since I was hundreds of miles away, we had made the decision to underplay the significance or the severity of the heart attack for a few days by not going into a lot of detail. And since I was sounding pretty good on the phone – I guess I still had some adrenaline in my system – it was easy to pull off. But, the medical staff and Curt would remind me of the reality of my situation from time to time to keep my feet on the ground. I could not deny the reality that my heart had been weakened and damaged. I didn’t know what that would mean, but I knew that things were going to be different.

I was taking a large potassium pill and a water pill due to some extra fluid that was still in my lungs. Early on, I would simply take whatever pill the nurse was offering me. I was trusting that all of the bases were being covered. I had a bit of a fever, too, and the Tylenol seemed to take care of that. That was my only option for fever or pain.

Curt was interested in talking about when Jenny would be flying to Montreal. I was more concerned with protecting her during her busy season at school and not wanting to make plans until we knew my status and how long I might be staying in the hospital. There was a thought floating around that I might have to stay in Montreal for two weeks before flying home. Making international travel plans required a bit more planning than we had data for at that point.

At some point Thursday evening, I talked to our oldest son Jameson. He was totally shocked, as was his wife Bethany who was listening in the background when Jenny had called Jameson. Bethany said that she knew they couldn’t be talking about me and must be talking about someone else who had heart problems. It was good to talk with them. It was Friday when I talked with Justin, our middle son, who had been called by Jenny the night before during rehearsals of a new show that was about to open. Justin said that he had been too emotionally spent from his day and my news to call on Thursday. I know the feeling. Jed would call later in the weekend and in his unique style started off by saying something to the effect of, “So, you had a little surprise up there in Montreal.”

As messages began to come back from friends and family, it is restorative and nourishing one’s soul to hear folks say that they are glad and thankful that you are alive. And for them to be thanking God that you are alive.

For a couple of years, I have been using a birthday greeting that I learned from Henri Nouwen. It is in his “daybook” called “Bread for the Journey” on the reading for February 13. Here it is:

 Celebrating Being Alive

Birthdays are so important. On our birthdays we celebrate being alive. On our birthdays people can say to us, “Thank you for being!” Birthday presents are signs of our families’ and friends’ joy that we are part of their lives. Little children often look forward to their birthdays for months. Their birthdays are their big days, when they are the center of attention and all their friends come to celebrate.

We should never forget our birthdays or the birthdays of those who are close to us. Birthdays keep us childlike. They remind us that what is important is not what we do or accomplish, not what we have or who we know, but that we are, here and now. On birthdays let us be grateful for the gift of life.’

It is a powerful and profound message that truly says what we feel, but are often afraid to say. Coming near to death gives us an invitation to express how we really feel about someone. A birthday can do that as well.

Curt, also, shared with me that night some of his and Nathan’s conversation from Wednesday evening while I was in surgery. They discussed ways that this heart attack might change my life and how things would be different. They observed that I was a good man and that I really “got” the mission and vision of L’Arche. Good words to hear.

I slept well that night.”

Sacred Heart Attack — Chapter 2: Wide Awake

In the previous post, I shared the beginnings of my experience as a heart attack patient in the ER of a large trauma center hospital in North Montreal, QC, Canada. You can go back and read the first four paragraphs to get the setting. Here’s what happened next.

“A young man in medical scrubs asked me to open my mouth. He, then, sprayed Nitroglycerin into my mouth to hopefully dilate my arteries. A woman pushed a needle into my arm to start an I-V. The Nitro sprayer guy asked if I was feeling any better. I said, ‘No.’

Another woman with a long needle asked if I had any allergies, wiped my belly with alcohol, then punctured the skin to quickly thin my blood. I didn’t even feel the needle.

Soon, I was rolling to the Operating Room. It was colder and I was now completely naked except for my watch, my hipster glasses and a blue HSCM I.D. bracelet #13308614. Two kind people lifted me by the sheet under me and transferred me to the O.R. table.

One nurse was shaving my groin area and my right wrist so that the doctor would have both options for doing the impending angiogram. Another lady was adding another I-V and taping the O2 monitor to my left index finger. Lying completely flat on a metal table is not comfortable, but the pain in my chest was relentless. Shortly, the Nitro sprayer guy came back with a cup with about 6 pills in it. He held my head as I swallowed them and chased the brown round pills with a small amount of water. He said that they were for the pain that I had earlier indicated was a 10 on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being, “I think I’m going to die.”

If I was trying to take a breath and see if the pills worked hoping the pain would subside, then what happened next made sure I was wide awake. A female nurse said, ‘This is going to be cold.” She then began to “paint” a slushy-like mixture of Iodine and alcohol (and ice shavings) all over my stomach, waist, groin, upper thighs and, then, my right wrist. Her warning about the cold was an understatement, but, relatively speaking, not a problem. That was followed by fabric adhering to my skin and paper being spread over most of my body.

Someone then put what looked like a clear plastic shower cap over a shoe-boxed-size white ceramic device that hovered just a few inches above my head.

Dr. Thierry Charron soon introduced himself and said that he was going to find the clot and unblock my artery. He seemed energetic, enthusiastic and eager. I thanked him and he proceeded to make a small incision on the inside of my right wrist. My wrist was clamped and bound tight to the table.

Next, I felt a tube being inserted into my arm and soon the ceramic shoe-box above my head began to move this way and that at odd angles. I began to figure that it had something to do with the artery study. This was the x-ray machine that captured photos of my arteries as dye was injected into the tube showing where the blockage was.

There was lots of talking (in French, of course) and yelling from one part of the room to the other. On my left was a multi-screen digital display and at my knee area was a small box/monitor that Dr. Charron and another physician were using.

A few days later, Dr. Charron told me that he had difficulty getting to the blockage because a couple of arteries were crossed. On his third and final attempt he was successful. Had he failed, he would’ve moved to open-heart surgery. In emergency situations with a heart attack that had been going on for a 3-4 hours, doing open-heart procedure is much more high risk and things can go wrong.

So, another aspect of the evening of January 9, 2013, for which to be thankful.

After sometime, perhaps 30-40 minutes into the procedure, the pain on my heart got worse. Even though I had told the triage nurse that pain was a ‘10’, I would now edit that to a ‘9’ and now it was a ‘10’. I wondered what was going on, but could barely speak. I began to move my head back and forth and hoped that someone would see. Right about then, Dr. Charron said that he was close to being finished. ‘It still hurts,’ I said. At that point, he was positioning the stent for expansion and for a few seconds the artery was blocked even more and under pressure.

He said that it would be better soon. I know the Holy Spirit was present more by situation than by feeling or sense. All of these caring and highly trained people were focused on one task — saving Jimmy Locklear. Surely, that is a place where the Spirit is at home.

As Dr. Charron was completing the process of unblocking the IVA that was 100% blocked, he tells me that this was a ‘big one’. He said that another artery on the right side was 70% blocked and normally he would want to put a stent in that one on Friday. Subsequently, he showed me line drawings of both arteries. At that point, it had not sunk in how serious this was. It was my only heart attack experience, so, the severity angle was hard for me to grasp since I had nothing to compare it to.

Removing the catheter tube was a bit challenging. At one point, Dr. Charron expressed frustration when he had to pull so hard and ended up making a small scratch on my wrist. It was no big deal to me, but professional pride probably was in play here. During my recovery, a couple of the nurses were surprised by the scratch that was encased in clear tape.

While still in the O.R. I could feel a lessening of the pain, but a couple of the medical staff seemed surprised when I indicated that it was still a 5 or 6 on the pain scale.

I was transferred to another gurney and a large oxygen mask was now covering my mouth and nose. A couple of folks wheeled me past Nathan and Curt on my way to the Cardiac Care Unit. I was rolled into room #9 and lifted on to the bed. That was a bit of a process to rehang bags feeding my I-V and monitors and cables that had to be secured in my new space. Curt and Nathan were allowed to come into my room for about two minutes as long as I didn’t talk. Nathan rubbed my forehead and smoothed my hair and marked the sign of the Cross on my forehead with his finger. Curt prayed for me and said that he had left a message for Jenny and he would see me tomorrow.”

A day that I will never forget was coming to a close. I was still struggling to take in what had just happened. I knew that my mind and emotions had not caught up with my physical self. There would be plenty of time for that tomorrow.

Why aren’t churches more like people? And how that would make a difference in hard times.

One of my favorite books is TURN MY MOURNING INTO DANCING by Henri Nouwen. I’ve read it more than once and given away at least 15 copies in the past four years. Some say that it gives them a “framework” for dealing with suffering and others say that it has helped them learn to mourn their past and their sins and to receive healing. To me, it is all those things and more.

In this short 110-page collection of Nouwen’s writings and sermons on suffering and finding hope in hard times, we learn to remember and forget and to move forward from the depths of pain and challenge. This is all a great handbook for the valleys of a life lived from a whole heart, but how could some of the principles be applied to a whole community of people. Skeptical? So am I.

The church that I’ve been a part of for some 28 years is going through a very hard time. With that as background I came across these words recently in this book: Memory also reminds us of the faithfulness of God in the hard places and joyous moments. It lets us see how God has brought good from even the impossible situations. Remembering in this way allows us to live in the present. It does not mean to live in another time but to live in the present with our whole history, with an awareness of the possibilities we might not otherwise think to look for.

And this is no problem for an individual because all of my memories are contained in my heart and mind. But this is a major challenge for a church because our memory is a collection of all of the remembrances from all of the people who ever been a part of this community of faith. Those who are a part of this body in the here and now represent only a fraction of that memory of the faithfulness of God over the years. And changing pastors on multiple occasions is like transplanting the cerebral cortex with a new set of disconnected memories or starting over. The body has joys and sorrows, beauty and sadness, but only selected remembrances tie them together.

So, what do we draw upon when times are tough? Our corporate memory fails us. For an individual, here’s the advice Nouwen offer. Would this also work for a community of individuals?

1. Count your losses. As a prelude to our dance, we need to ask ourselves to remember what we have actually lost. For most churches, we have lost people over the years. Sometimes our loss is because of life changes, or illness or death, but too often it is “painfully, through misunderstanding, conflict or anger.”

2. Live in Hope. If we had a memory, we would experience the possibility of God’s rescue through a variety of means. Hope is not dependent on peace in the land, justice in the world or success in the business. Hope makes you see God’s guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness.

3. Open your community to receive compassion. To receive compassion, we have to allow others into our despair and pain. One of the hardest times for me was a few years ago when I suffered great loss and pain and was forced to let others know; including letting God know. I had to come to Him with empty and open hands and then to share weakness with people I knew and people I didn’t. Pride does not die easily and sharing our weakness and failure with family, friends and acquaintances can be excruciating. But, when shared, suffering is a catalyst for community and compassion. The key component to the word “compassion” is “with”. It is “suffering with” and “sharing with” and “sitting with” and “praying with.”

4. Overcome your activity to stop and pray. When things are great or tough, or life is sweet or it stinks, our vitality and movement into wholeness and allowing the voice of God to invade our prayers is dependent on a discipline of quiet or solitude. Our mind may tell us to get busy, but new beginnings or pressing the re-set button are only possible with the energy produced from prayer. Light a new fire through prayer.

5. Read life backwards. Nouwen instructs us that without memory there is not expectation. “For by not remembering we allow forgotten memories to become independent forces that have a crippling effect on our functioning and relating and praying… Like the people of Israel who repeatedly reflected on their history and discovered God’s guiding hand in the many painful events that led them to Jerusalem, so we pause to discern God’s presence in the events that have made us or unmade us.”

There’s more in the book and there’s more in the Bible, but here’s one of my favorite lines as we finish our time of sharing. This is the money quote for today and always, for individuals and churches.

For even while we mourn, we do not forget how our life can ultimately join God’s larger dance of life and hope.

So, if churches were more like people, perhaps we would experience more hope when our churches go through hard times.