Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Message from the Heart

I’m writing an additional post this week to commemorate an anniversary of sorts. Ten years ago today I underwent open-heart surgery, receiving four coronary bypass grafts and for good measure, what medical people call an ARR – an aortic root replacement.

Until my diagnosis, a “bypass” to me was a highway that guided you around the outskirts of a city to avoid the downtown traffic. And an aorta? Well, I thought that was a Southern term, like, “Aorta clean up the kitchen, ah reckon.” But this was no laughing matter.

It all started weeks earlier when I felt unusual pressure in my chest and soreness in my left arm while power-walking. When it recurred the next day, I called my primary physician, who gave me a stress test, which led to an arteriogram, and ultimately, the determination I had several arterial blockages leading to my heart.

But the cardiologist who performed the heart catheterization also informed me that my ascending aorta was enlarged, about twice the normal size, and that wasn’t good. Picture a balloon being blown up – there comes a point when it can’t get any bigger, so it pops. You don’t want to try that with your aorta, I was told.

This "heart pillow" was more than a
souvenir - after surgery for a few weeks,
it became a close friend.
About an hour later I was meeting Dr. Richard Morrison, who would be my cardiothoracic surgeon. I didn’t know it then, but later learned he is one of the most highly regarded surgeons for this specialty in the country. We met briefly, and the following week he explained the procedure.

Dr. Morrison stated given my age and physical condition at the time, I had a 95 percent chance of coming through the surgery well. I’m generally an optimist, but I’m also a realist, so when I heard that, it seemed he also was giving about a five percent chance of a not-so-positive outcome.

Since my situation wasn’t critical, the surgery was scheduled for 15 days after I had been diagnosed. My surgeon just told me to stop my exercise regimen in the meantime, I had lots to time to think about it – and to pray. It wasn’t the prospect of death that troubled me. So far the mortality rate of humankind has been 100 percent, so I knew it was inevitable. And I’d settled the matter of life after death long before, trusting in what we’re told in the familiar John 3:16, “For God so loved the world (including me) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The issue was at the time we were looking ahead to our youngest daughter’s marriage the middle of the next year, and a grandson was also due to be born around that time. I prayed, cried out to God – at times very literally – and turned to the Bible for comfort and assurance.

I read some of the Psalms, then stopped, marking my place. The next day I reopened my Bible and began reading Psalm 41. Moments later, verse 3 jumped out at me, as if printed in neon. My translation read, “I will raise him from his sickbed, and heal him of his disease.” Wow! I didn’t hear an audible voice, but it was as if God were saying through His Spirit, “Bob, this one’s for you.”

Excited, I did the old fist-pump, shouted, “Yes!” and believed without a doubt the Lord was assuring me, “Don’t worry, My child. I’ve got this.”

From that moment, even though I understood the gravity of the surgery I was facing, I felt at peace. It was like experiencing the promise of Isaiah 26:3, which states, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because He trusts in You.”

I’ll spare the details, but I came through the surgery without any problems or setbacks. I spent Christmas day in the hospital, still recovering, but that was okay. I was still living and breathing for Christmas! As I had resolved beforehand, I soon began a rehabilitation program – involving exercise, eating healthier, and taking prescribed medication. I’m maintaining my cardiac rehab exercise program to this day.

The experience taught me and my family many things, but one of the most profound is the realization that every day is a gift. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow, even if we feel in perfect health. That makes today all that more meaningful.

Now when I read Psalm 118:24, which declares, This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it,” I agree, thinking, “Yes, I will rejoice and be glad in it. I guess God’s not done with me yet!”

Maybe you’re not facing major surgery or dealing with a dire disease. That doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate each day as it comes, realizing that for a lot of people, today never came. It’s good to take that to heart.

1 comment:

Dawn Conley said...

What a wonderful story of such a life changing time in your life! I loved how you searched and listened to the words of scripture and in turn used them to gain the strength you needed to heal! Often God needs us to just be still so we can hear his message just as you did! So glad he healed you!