I stood up from my desk at my new job (radio sales) to go walk over to the studio to discuss a particular commercial ad. As I started walking suddenly I had trouble breathing. I stopped walking, stood still and tried to take deep breaths but I still had trouble breathing. I changed directions and walked slowly to the water cooler and tried taking sips of cold water but I still it was a struggle just 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 better try to make it.” I walked slowly still trying to get control of my breath and make slow it down inwardly praying all along. Nothing worked. Finally reaching the ladies room, I continued to whisper silent prayers but I still couldn’t catch my breath. I can still see myself walking out of the stall towards the sink, standing here looking at myself as I washed my hands, trying to catch my breath. I remember taking down my hair (I wore it in a tight bun that day). Unhooking my bra thinking maybe the under wire was too tight and that was why I had shortness of breath. All along I tried my best to regulate breathing hoping that it would return to normal but nothing worked. I looked at myself in the mirror I thought "I don’t look sick. My eyes and face look the same." I even stuck out my tongue and looked in my mouth. It looked the same. I remember saying to myself "I am not in any pain, it's just a struggle to breathe." And then I started feeling lightheaded.
As I made my way back to my office I remember praying "Lord if I'm going to die today, please don't let me die in this office, please let me make it to the hospital. Lord, I don't want a co-working finding me passed out somewhere going through my things to find my phone and calling 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 emergency, I googled ‘shortness of breath.’ A whole list of options appeared, but my eyes were drawn to the one that said "shortness of breath, swollen legs." I clicked on that one because for more than three weeks, I had noticed that my feet, ankles and legs were swollen every night. I had chalked it up to the new job with longer hours, sitting all day, being overweight, eating 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 (Reggie is my brother who was only ten minutes away from my new job)." So I called him and managed to get out, "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." He got there in about 12 minutes.
During that time, a co-worker caught 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 the wheel chair that the building had for emergencies, and helped me outside and into my brother's car when he arrived.
Once in my brother's car, it was another 10 maybe 15 minutes and I was in the hospital. Almost immediately I was put on oxygen and given an EKG. About an hour later an IV heparin drip was added. Initially I was told I "probably had a silent heart attack". After refusing what I thought was an invasive procedure I was given a blood test, heart echo test, chest x-ray, CT scan and many, many more blood tests before finally being told much later on that night that I had *Bilateral Pulmonary Embolisms' or what I now know are multiple blood clots in both lungs.
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.
50 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 “let go" of my new job shortly after my return, and having to apply for unemployment and affordable health care. I smile as I remember having to get use to my “new normal” on top of living with chronic pain from arthritis and bursitis. 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 cluelessness hurts, lol, 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 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.
- To find out more about Patricia Middleton, visit www.patriciamiddleton.com.