There are many dates that that are special to me. The date my children, twins, were born; the date of my maternal grandmother’s birth and death; the date my first book signing; the dates of my spiritual birth and rebirth; my own birthday; and the first day of every season, every year (I am a nerdy girl). But there is no date as special to me as May 14, 2015. Actually, not even the whole day, just about 50 minutes of that day. This is my story:
I stood up from the desk of my new job in radio sales and headed over to the studio to discuss a particular commercial ad. On my way I experienced a sudden shortness of breath. I stopped walking, stood still, and tried to take a few deep breaths, but I still had trouble breathing. I changed directions and walked slowly towards the water cooler where I had a few sips of cold water thinking maybe that would help. It didn’t. I was standing still and yet I felt like I had run a mile and was trying to catch my breath. The first feelings of alarm began to set in, so I walked over to the small lunch area and began to pray. While praying I realized it (whatever “it” was) was getting worse and that suddenly I had to go the bathroom.
On a normal day it was a long walk to the bathroom, but I remember thinking to myself, “If I pass out, I don't want to lose control of my bodily functions while unconscious, so I’d better try to make it.” As I made my way down the long hallway, I kept trying to gain control of my breathing, silently praying all along. When I finally reached the ladies room, I was still praying and still trying to catch my breath. I can still see myself coming out of the stall, standing in front of the sink, staring at myself as I washed my hands, struggling to catch my breath. I took down my hair (I wore it in a tight bun that day), I unhooked my bra (thinking maybe the under wire was too tight and that had caused the sudden shortness of breath), all the while trying my best to regulate breathing, but nothing worked. I even stuck out my tongue and looked in my mouth, checking for signs of a stroke. But my tongue wasn’t crooked, neither was my smile. As I looked at myself in the mirror I thought, “I don’t look sick. My eyes and face look the same.” I remember thinking, “I’m not in any pain, it's just hard to breathe.”
As I made my way back to my office, I remember praying, “Lord if I'm going to die today, I’m ready, but please don't let me die in this office. Please let me make it to the hospital. I don't want a co-worker to find me passed out somewhere in this building, go through my belongings to find my phone, and call my family. Please just let me make it to the hospital.”
Now here’s where I still get in hot water with my family. When I got back to my office and sat down at my desk, instead of calling a co-worker for help, or 911, I googled “shortness of breath.” A whole list of options appeared, but my eyes were drawn to the line that read, “shortness of breath, swollen legs.” I clicked on that option because for more than three weeks, I noticed that my feet, ankles and legs were swollen every night. I chalked it up to the new job with longer hours, sitting all day, being overweight, too much salt, etc. Once I clicked on that option the first thing I saw was “blood clots.” Then the reality set in and I realized I had to call someone for help. Again, my rationalizing prayers began: “Lord, I don't want to call a co-worker, or 911, or emergency. Let me see if Reggie is still at work.” (My brother Reggie worked a short distance from my new job.) So, I called him and asked, “Are you still at work?” “Yes, why?” he asked. “I'm having trouble breathing. I can't catch my breath. Can you come get me and take me to the hospital?” “I’ll be right there.” While I was waiting for my brother, a co-worker saw me struggling to walk to the elevator, so I had no choice but to tell her what was wrong. She quickly got the security guard, who found a wheelchair that the building kept for emergencies and wheeled me outside and into my brother's car when he arrived.
Once in my brother's car, it was another 10 to 15 minutes before I arrived once again at Thomas Jefferson Hospital. Almost immediately I was put on oxygen and given an EKG. About an hour later an IV heparin drip was added. I was admitted to a room on the cardiac floor complete with machines that beeped all night and pulmonary, hematology, vascular and cardiology specialists who probed all day. I was blessed to have visits and calls from my children, grandson, parents, siblings, niece, nephew, pastor, his wife and church members, and many dear friends. Between the visits and calls, I prayed many more prayers, made many more bargains, worried, felt fearful and cried many, many tears. Even today there are times when I have what some would call PTSD episodes, (I prefer to call them flashbacks). Whatever the term, I take a couple of deep breaths, whisper a "Thank You Lord"' and go on about my business.
FIFTY MINUTES OF GRACE
When I think about those 50 minutes from 5:45 pm to 6:35 pm when I did everything but call for help, tears well up in my eyes. I was told by the cardiologist that I "shouldn’t be here". That usually a patient like me "wouldn’t have made it". That I’m "pretty lucky". But rather than luck, I like to call it my ‘50 Minutes of Grace.’ You see, my life didn't "flash before my eyes" but rather, it played out in slow motion. And as it did, I bargained with God, I prayed to God, and I whispered (and whimpered) to God. And He answered. At each step, I prayed and at each step God answered.
One might ask “How could you say God answered? Look at what you’ve been through, what you’re still going through?” That just makes me smile even harder. You see, God did answer. Read the story again. You will see that at each step I prayed, and you will see God answered. Not only that, His answers “exceeded abundantly above all that I dared ask or think” ask at time. Yes, there are still times that I was afraid, times that I cried, and times I felt alone. But there were also times I smiled. Times I smiled and laughed just because I was still alive to smile and laugh.
I smile every time my blood work comes back with good results. I smile every time I take a can deep breath and let it out normally. I smile every time that little “electronic clothes pin” as I like to call it (pulse oximeter), grips my index finger and returns a number above 94. I smile even as I remember being fired from my new job shortly after I returned to work, and having to apply for unemployment. I smile as I remember having to get use to my ‘new normal’ on top of living with chronic pain from arthritis. I smile even as I hear the sighs and mumbling of those who wonder when I’m going to get back to being myself, when I’ll get over it, when I’ll be my old self again, and stop talking about my lungs and my blood thinners and being happy just to be alive. As much as their comments hurts, I smile. Because, simply put, I am still alive to smile. My smile is my thank you to God for every morning He blessed me to see since May 14, 2015. And most especially for those fifty minutes of grace.
Patricia Middleton is a poet, writer, and speaker. She resides in Southern New Jersey.
For more information on Bilateral Pulmonary Embolisms, visit the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at www.nhlbi.nih.gov.
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