Today I am truly LIVING with heart disease, and celebrating the 14th anniversary of another chance at life. On Friday the 13th, no less, of September in 1996, I experienced a heart attack. Ironically, my last blog post shares the loss of a dear friend whose funeral I attended less than a week ago. In honor of all those taken by heart disease, including my Mama, both grandfathers and our dear Debbie, I would like to share an excerpt from my book, wherein I recount that eventful day…
I began finding myself short of breath and not being able to walk more than a few yards without becoming winded. I figured it was a combination of my excessive weight and the few cases that were extremely challenging wearing on me. Once the funny clinching sensation began in my left jaw and pressure in my left arm, I decided perhaps I was not as invincible as I might have liked to believe. I saw my general practitioner, who conducted a battery of tests, and everything came back great. Blood pressure was good, the EKG was normal; nothing seemed out of the ordinary other than the symptoms. I wanted to heave a sigh of relief, but couldn’t spare the breath. He decided to refer me to a cardiologist located at the same medical facility where I’d worked years before. They scheduled a treadmill stress test for September 13, 1996, and I immediately began freaking out, because I knew I was way too out of shape for such an undertaking.
I had never met this cardiologist, but was familiar with his medical assistant from my prior employment at the clinic. There I was, in my sweatpants and tennis shoes, suffering from high anxiety, but determined to make it the seven to nine minutes required to pass the test.
“Okay, Ms. Hennecy, I want you to get up onto the treadmill. We’ll start out very slowly and gradually increase the speed and incline. Optimally, I’d like to see you do the entire nine minutes, but if you get to seven, we’ll stop there if you are tired. Now, hold on, here we go.” I had wire leads connected all over my chest, the big belt was cumbersome, and I took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, saying a little prayer as I heard the machine start its humming sound. My eyes were fixed on the monitor, not really knowing what I was looking at or for, as the lines would peak and plummet. One minute—only six more to go. As the time approached two minutes I began to have excruciating pain throughout my chest. I collapsed across the hand bar, but was determined to finish. “O-wee, o-wee,” was all I could get out. “No, I can make it, I can do it, let me try harder,” I begged, as the doctor exclaimed, “What’s happening? What’s going on?”
“You’re the doctor,” I managed to eek out, “You tell me!” He suddenly began barking orders to the tech. “Get my assistant down here now. Call CCU at the hospital, tell them we have a stat cath coming in on a red code, and have Dr. White on alert we may need an emergency angio.” Hmm, so this was what it was like to die? Didn’t seem like much of a deal to me. They kept putting tiny nitroglycerine tablets under my tongue. Not only was it Friday the 13th, but now I was getting the mother of all headaches, to boot. I was not having a very good day.
“Anyone you want to call?” Why yes, of course, I needed to call my boss and tell him I would not be back in to work that afternoon, and then there was my daughter, she would need to know. And if it wasn’t too much trouble, could I contact my pastor?
I was carried two or three blocks away to the hospital and rolled inside sitting in a wheelchair, breezing past the admitting desk and straight upstairs to the cardiac unit. Was I going to die? I could not die without my babies beside me. Where was my son? Oh, right, he lived in Tennessee now. It hit me like a ton of bricks how very single and unattached I was. There was no man in my life to depend on who could comfort or support me through this horrible event. I felt so literally alone and helpless. I knew I had my kids, and my parents, and as always, there was God, but it would have been so much better to have had a strong pair of arms wrapped around me, holding me, comforting me and reassuring me it was going to be all right.
I was wheeled into my room where three or four nurses and other healthcare givers were waiting for me to arrive. Well, now I knew what it took to get attention in that place. “Ms. Hennecy, let us help you out of the chair and onto the bed. We’re going to get you into a gown, start an IV and get you straight to the cath lab. No! Let us do all the work.” Heck, that surely worked for me! From out of nowhere my boss’s wife appeared. She had extensive knee damage, but that lady dropped to the floor and began praying like there was no tomorrow—and perhaps there might not be. Only God knew for certain. The nurse starting the IV asked her to stop and leave the room, it made her nervous. Oh great! I’ve got a heathen working on me when I need spiritual support the most. Okay God, now would be a good time for you to show yourself here! After three nurses were unsuccessful in getting the line established, they decided to let the cath lab start my IV. Off I went, down the hall, dressed in the designer gown that opened up the back in such a sexy manner, off to meet the catheterization lab staff. There was my cardiologist, still stumped at what was happening to the 44 year old patient who had been thrust upon him for treatment. I got the customary shot of joy juice, they numbed my groin and in they went. I heard him shout, “Find Dr. White now! I think he’s in the next lab, get him in here!” Not only had I worked with Dr. White while at the clinic, he had performed procedures on just about every member of my family. I was, as he would soon identify me, the next generation.
Dr. White came walking into the lab. I looked up, smiled and said, “Hi, C.W., how are you?”
“Well, it’s more like how are you young lady?”
My doctor explained to him he had a 44 year old female patient who presented a 96% occlusion to the left anterior descending artery. I would later learn it was also referred to as “the widow maker” artery.
Dr. White looked at my last name on the monitor and with a boisterous reassurance said, “Oh, hell, it’s just another one of those Hennecys. Go ahead and schedule her for angio and we’ll put a stent in first thing in the morning. Keep her comfortable and stable until then.”
I couldn’t help but grin as Dr. White shuffled off to go back to his own patient, leaving my new cardiologist looking totally befuddled. He looked down at me and said, “But you’re only 44. This makes no sense.” I recounted my genetic history and he suddenly had a better understanding of the situation being presented to him. In October, 2005, Dr. White would implant another stent on the right side of his return customer’s heart.
It was really amazing how much I found myself to be at peace in the midst of all this turmoil and confusion. How close had I come to dying?
(Later that night…)
In a moment in time that seemed to breach this world and the spirit realm, the door slowly began to open and a healthcare worker I had never seen peeped her head inside the door. She asked, “May I come in?” I was a bit perturbed to be interrupted as I was reliving my life, but I uncaringly nodded my head. She closed the door behind her, and came over to my bedside. The sparkle in her eyes and smile on her face were absolutely mesmerizing. She was not too tall, had long brown hair and was a good bit overweight. She reached and took my left hand in hers and said, “I know you are going through a very difficult time right now.” Well, she had access to my charts, this was not exactly breaking news. The next words she would speak riveted me and gained my full attention. “God has sent me here to pray with you and reassure you everything will be okay. You see, He has so much more for you to accomplish and your time is not up yet. He does not want you to be afraid, but I know you are. You have to know everything is in His hands and He is taking care of you, even right now. You miss your son, don’t you?” How in this world did she know that? Who was this woman? She did not have on an ID badge. “Can I pray with you now?” I’m sure I looked quite dumbfounded as I nodded my head, tears beginning to roll down my cheeks, and closed my eyes. She knelt to her knees on the bedside stool and began to pray a prayer of peace, comfort, and healing in words that were almost as if a carol of angels. So gently her voice spoke, “Amen,” and she released my hand. I opened my eyes to see absolutely nobody standing there. I was the only one in the room. What had just taken place? I rang the buzzer to call for a nurse. When one arrived, I asked her about the lady who had just come in to check on me. “Who do you mean, Ms. Hennecy?” “She was about this tall, long brown hair, heavy set, no name tag, dark brown sparkly eyes, such a sweet lady, who was she?” I almost lost my breath when the nurse replied, “Ms. Hennecy, we don’t have anyone working here that fits that description. You have a long day tomorrow and it is getting late. Why don’t you try to get some rest? Would you like something to help you sleep?” I didn’t hear anything past that, shaking my head that I did not want any narcotics to knock me out. It was beginning to register that I had just had an angelic visitation. My God loved me enough to commission one of His heavenly beings to bring His message of hope to me. In Proverbs we are told “He will give his angels charge over you,” and He did.
The next morning they came to wheel me down to the cath lab again, this time for the angioplasty procedure. God has always used some of the oddest manners in conveying messages to me. As I lay on the gurney in the holding area before being taken in for my surgery, my pastor was standing with me and offering up as much encouragement as possible. I was washed in fear of possible complications, or God forbid, perhaps even my own death. As a tear slowly emerged from the outer corner of my eye, ran down my cheek and onto the pillow holding my head, I suddenly began laughing. He was going to call for a nurse, convinced I was not in my right mind. I pointed at the wall immediately across from me. There, in the brightest of colors, was a poster, but not just any poster. There was the cutest, cuddliest teddy bear holding a giant red heart and the message beneath him, in big bold letters said, “Smile! Jesus loves you.” As I regained my composure, I told my pastor he was good to go, I’d been sent a personal message straight from my Heavenly Father that all would be well. I was in the best of hands and I knew that full well. The nurse came shortly thereafter to roll me into the cath lab. I smiled and winked at my new friend as we passed by the poster.
Once Dr. White was able to gain entry and see how extensive the occlusion was, he immediately decided a stent implant would be necessary. Again I found myself thinking if I had come close to dying, it really was no big deal. They asked if I had a preference of music while they did the procedure. I had already been given my pre-op cocktail intravenously, and without hesitation shouted in my infamous southern drawl, “Crank up some Skynyrd!”
ORANGE BLOSSOM WISHES: Child Molested, Woman Abused – Her Victorious Journey to Freedom – iUniverse 2008; printed with permission-Carolyn S. Hennecy