Showers of blessings

Two years ago today I awoke in the wee hours of the morning with a start. I was breathing hard through my mouth. My heart was racing. Sweat was pouring down my forehead. It only took me a second to check my wife’s breathing. That was easy. She was in the hospital, with a ventilator assisting her every breath. I scanned the monitor for her heartbeat. All was in a steady rhythm. I sat up and placed my right hand on my neck to check my own pulse. My heartbeat never ran too high to count, but I couldn’t keep count. I decided to focus on my breathing. It took me a couple of minutes to get my breathing slowed down to the pace of the machine in the room. I don’t know for sure how long it took, but slowly I started to come down from my adrenaline high. It was, I decided, a full-blown panic attack. As it turned out it was the first of several that would occur over the next few weeks.

A nurse came into the room and checked the IVs and monitors. She asked me how I was doing. I said, “OK.” She asked me if she could bring me anything. “Would you like some coffee?” I didn’t want coffee. She said to me, “Why don’t you take off your jacket and tie? I’ll bring you a warm blanket.” I had forgotten that I was still dressed in my black suit. I didn’t think I needed a blanket, but I untied my tie and took off my jacket and placed it on top of my backpack. I had been on my way to work to officiate at a funeral when I came to the hospital 20 hours earlier. I never made it to the church. A colleague stepped in and served the grieving family and led the service.

The blanket felt good. My breathing and pulse were close to normal. The nurse brought me a cup of hot water.

The memory of that night is still quite unpleasant for me and I don’t want to go into too many details, but the previous morning, after being in the hospital for a week as they tried to get her fibrillating heart regulated, my wife reacted to one of the medicines they were giving her and her heart stopped. If you are going to have your heart stop, the coronary care unit of the hospital is a good place. She had a monitor in place. The crash team responded within seconds. They had her in the ICU within just a few minutes. The second time her heart stopped, her cardiologist and an electrophysiologist were in the room along with every lifesaving tool and medicine they needed.

I know what triggered the panic attack in the night. There had been a code blue in the hospital. I had been dozing in a chair by my wife’s bedside when I heard the code called over the hospital intercom. After the events of the previous day, it took a few seconds for me to be sure it wasn’t her. By then, my panic had gotten the best of me. My rational brain could figure out what was going on.

I don’t remember bargaining with God at other points in my life, but I was up for bargaining that night. I prayed that there would be no more code blues in the hospital. I went from “ever” to “this week” to “today” to “at least not in the next hour” as I made the mental plea to God. I ran out of words for my prayer. I often run out of words for my most urgent prayers. I went back to a breath prayer. I can slow my respiration rate a lot with that prayer. It has gotten me through a lot of hard times in my life. I’ve had both a doctor and a dentist comment on my “zen state” when they were treating me. I’m not a buddhist and don’t think of it as “zen,” but I do rely on breath prayers when times are hard.

What I do want to write about today is how much more I received than I could have asked for at the time. I would have given everything I had, including my life, for just a few more days, or even a few more hours with her by my side. I’ve been given two years and her health is excellent. She no longer needs any medication for her heart. A surgical procedure corrected her a-fib. She wears a monitor, so we know it has not recurred. We walk a couple of miles together every day - a gift in and of itself. I woke gently a little while ago and could hear her gentle breathing before I moved. I haven’t had a panic attack for a very long time. I’ve even had a dream that I was having a panic attack and when I woke, I was not. I checked my pulse and breathing and they were normal. It was only a dream. And even the dream is now a long time in my past.

Another gift I have been given that I wasn’t able to ask for is the sense of daily gratitude. Every day for the last two years has felt as if life has given me a bonus - has given us a bonus. Every day for two years has been something special that I thought might be taken away from us. I’ve moved beyond counting days to counting weeks to counting months and now counting years. Two years is a gift of infinite measure and worth and we have the promise of many more.

We are all mortal. We will not go on forever. Our time in this life is precious and limited. And some of us are given the gift of understanding how precious that time is. There are many people who worked hard to give us that gift. There are people who helped that day in the hospital whose names I never learned. They are all life savers - literally. Each is a gift of God. And the blessings of God are too numerous to count.

Family and friends provided incredible support at that time. Before I woke that night, our son had left his work and raced to be with us. My sister and Susan's sister were arriving at about the same time. For weeks, I always had one of the sisters at home helping with everything from laundry to cooking to just listening. Our daughter came all the way from Japan with her three-month-old baby as soon as she could. Family is such a blessing. And the blessings of God are too numerous to count.

My colleagues covered for me at work. The church was incredibly supportive. People offered meals and were incredibly gracious. They were blessings. And the blessings of God are too numerous to count.

For these, and all your blessings, we give you thanks, O God!

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