the boys

the boys

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fancy Fainting Part 2

I love this story and I love telling it.  I imagine it is somewhat therapeutic for me...and of course I clearly love to tell stories so it's a double bonus.  Many of you have probably heard it before....some of you experienced some of it with me.  One particular friend experienced it up close and personal. 

On Memorial Weekend I wrote a blog entitled Fancy Fainting Part 1.  Well, fast forward about three and a half weeks to June 22nd.  I had made it safely down to Alabama despite the doctors orders not to drive.  I had visited with Dr. Robinson, our team physician for the Alabama Gymnastics Team.  He agreed something was amiss and sent me to a neurologist where I checked out fine....that's right: my brain, despite various concussions over the years of gymnastics and general hyperactivity, was in perfect working order.  Insert obvious comments here.

So on to the cardiologist I went.  No biggie.  June 22nd.  About 3:00 in the afternoon.  Dr. Anne Lewis....after whom I later named my first dog Louie (God rest his little soul).  Got my first test out of the way, an echo cardiogram.  It showed some abnormalities so I figured they had pinpointed the issue.  A gymnastics alumni had just educated me on mitro valve prolapse about an hour before my appointment.  It was the week of gymnastics camp and many alumni were in town.  When they told me it was MVP I thought "OK, cool.  I can manage that."  A little change in diet, maybe some meds and I was good to go.  We went ahead with the final test.  The tilt table test. 

I was in my little room all hooked up to the monitor just waiting on everyone to come in and start the test.  I remember actually playing with my heart rate.  I would look away from the monitor and slowly decrease my heart rate by calming myself down and breathing slowly.  I could get it pretty low. Lucky me!! 

In comes the nurse or the tech or whomever was working with me that day.  My teammate Shay was interning at Dr. Lewis' office so she was in the room with me too.  If I remember right this was the first tilt table she had helped with.  Shay, correct me if I am wrong :)

So the whole point of the test was to strap me to a table, stand the table up on it's end, and monitor my heart rate and blood pressure at various angles from standing to lying flat.  Overall I think it was supposed to last for 45 minutes.  About 3 minutes in things starting going south.  Well, not things so much as all of the blood in my body.  Headed straight for my feet.  Not so much in my head.  About 5 minutes in, it happened. 

The last thing I remember is looking over to the monitor and seeing my heart rate in the low 30's. Then it stopped all together although I clearly don't remember that part.

The next thing I remember is being PISSED!!!  Super, super mad.  Although no one would ever have been able to tell because I was still unconscious for all intensive purposes.  I can honestly say my heart rate is just increasing writing this....which is a good thing overall :)  Better than the alternative. 

I was mad.  Did I mention that?  The reason I was mad was because I could suddenly hear the people in the doctor's office calling my name.  Just like in the movies, it sounded far away at first and then stronger and stronger.  "Gwen.  Gweeeeeennnnnnn.  Wake up.  Can you hear us Gwen?  Gwen, can you open your eyes?  Gwen, Gwen.  You gave us quite a scare, Gwen.  We are going to put a pacemaker in you.  Your heart stopped and it took us a while to get it going again.  Gwen.  Gweeeeennnnn.  Can you hear us?"  I can hear those words as if it just happened yesterday and not 12 years ago...almost to the minute as I write this, oddly enough!!!

I was mad because in the nearly 60 seconds that my heart stopped on that table in Tuscaloosa, Alabama I had died and gone to Heaven.  I know that is where I was.  I have no doubt.  I don't even have a desire to try and convince anyone.  I know where I was and what I experienced in those 50-ish seconds.  And I was mad because I never wanted to leave.  Not a death wish by any means.  Not even in the slightest.  I had a lot to live for.  I had just finished 14 years of gymnastics and I was finally ready to move to the next phase of my life. 

It was just that heaven was the most wonderful and lovely place anyone could possibly imagine.  A place that no one would ever, ever want to leave.  I was so mad at the people who took me away from the most peaceful of places.  I even tried to stay there.  Tried to go back.  Tried to hang on to that lovely place called Heaven.  I am, of course, thankful now that they saved my life but in those few minutes between Heaven and being fully alive again, I was angry.  Lucky for them I didn't even have the strength to open my eyes for another several minutes.  And by then there was such a flurry of action and reacting that I got caught up in the drama.  It took me until later that night in my hospital room to be able to sort of realize what all had happened.  And then it took me another few months before I could put it into words and tell anyone.  I told a few close friends and even fewer family members.  Just sort of testing out how it sounded out loud to tell about the experience.

About two years later I was a regular guest speaker at American Heart Association events in the Birmingham area.  I was the guest speaker at one of their kick off events for fund raising.  Having benefited from their fund raising events with a state of the art Medtronic Pacemaker, I enjoyed giving back to them in the best way I knew how.   I have always been a fan of public speaking and anyone that knows me knows that talking about myself comes very easy.  I don't need index cards or notes or a teleprompter to tell my own story.  I usually just wing it and see where the event and the audience takes me.  I can usually read them pretty good and this particular audience was very welcoming.  I found myself telling the story and leading into my experience with Heaven.  It was such a rewarding experience. 

Now I want to tell everyone!  Again, not to convince or convert or turn anyone.  Just to simply share in the joy that is God and Heaven.  To tell people that it exists and it is as wonderful and exquisite as you could ever dream it to be.  It is real.  I have been there.  I have felt it.  I have experienced it.  I know that everyone reading this has had their own life experiences and have certainly lost love ones.  I hope, I very sincerely hope, that this gives each of you some peace to know that Heaven most truly and surely does exist and whomever is there is in eternal happiness.  I hope to see you all there someday. 

Dr. Lewis, if you ever read this I want to say thank you again.  I don't know if I have ever told you this story, but perhaps you have heard similar stories from other patients whose lives you have saved.  I sure was mad at you and your staff that afternoon, but I really can't thank you enough now.  You and your staff gave me my life back in the most literal of senses. 

And to Dr. Robinson, you will always hold a very special place in my  heart.  No pun intended.  Your willingness to follow through on what might have seemed like nothing but turned into something quite literally saved my life.  I don't think anyone looked more surprised than you did that evening when you stopped by the hospital to make your rounds.  I vividly remember you telling me that you send hundreds and hundreds of patients for similar tests all looking for this very thing and never really expecting it to happen.  Thank you for your diligent follow through. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Road Signs

Back in the olden days my family used to pile 15+ people into 3 cars and drive for 2 days to Daytona Beach, Florida for summer vacation and to see the Daytona 500.  Yup, every summer.   Later on we did it with some family friends, the Houghtons.  Four adults and 4 children.  It was awesome.  Of course I wasn't one of the adults so I probably didn't mind being crammed into a car for 2 days as much as they did.  The good years were when we had a station wagon and could lay down in the back, spread out, play games, wave at passing cars, etc.  We were not concerned with seat belts or car seats.  There was a lot of laying in the floorboards and in the back windows.  Climbing from the "hump" in the front seat to the back seat.  Gosh I LOVED riding on the hump in the front seat.  That was like the prime spot to see everything! 

I've got some really great 8 mm videos from my childhood of those trips.  My parents converted them onto DVDs for us a few Christmas's ago.  I am amazed at the number of people we have crammed into the cars!  Some really great memories! 

Anyway, this was clearly before the age of cell phones or even the good ol' bag phones for the car.  The only way to communicate when someone had to stop and use the bathroom (which was often with young children) was to slow down or speed up to pass the other cars in our procession and hold up signs saying "Need to pee"  or "need food" or "need gas" or "ready to move the kids to your car."  I don't know if they actually had that last one but I'm thinking I would have if I were them!!

Today on my way home from work I was thinking that I would like to have a little stack of flash card type signs to hold up to various drivers. I think you know where I'm going with this.  And once the idea got rolling in my head it started to really take shape.  This is a new age.  A new century.  Hell, it's a new millennium.  And thus, the signs must roll with the times.  They will be laminated for safe keeping.  Perhaps 3 hold punched with binder rings so I can easily flip through them.  Color coded seems like a good idea.  But organization can only get you so far.  It's the words that will make this plan work.  Here's what I have in mind:

and the follow up to that one:
and just for good measure....because I think it is timeless:

anyway, it's just an idea I am tossing around.  I am very open to suggestions.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Spiritual Preparedness Plan

I am a big "what if-er."  I can pretty much drive myself all the way to the loony bin with what if this' and what if that's.  I think that the recent tornadoes in Missouri and Alabama have really brought out the "what ifs" in a lot of us.  I have heard many people talking about getting their emergency plans and emergency kits together.  People are getting physically prepared, but what about getting emotionally and spiritually prepared?

As so many people have recently experienced, any amount of physical preparation and disaster plans may not be enough in the face of an unexpected event like a tornado.  Split second decisions to take cover or grab your pet; to get out of your car and dive into a ditch or stay in it and outrun the storm; or to hold on to a loved one while another is being ripped from your arms surely result in a lifetime of what ifs.   And not only the what ifs, but the blaming of self or others for tragic outcomes.  It is impossible to predict outcomes and it's impossible to rethink every decision we make.  Physical preparedness and general decision making will never be enough.  Faith and spiritual preparedness is the key.

I heard a story recently about a young boy who was torn from his parents arms during the tornado last month.  And while that story is sadly familiar to many, what may or may not be as common was that the family could hear him saying bible verses as he was taken away.  Whatever split second decisions the family made in the moments before the tornado likely would not have changed the outcome.  But the decisions that family made to spiritually educate and prepare their child served him best at the end of his life.  For that alone, they should be very proud. 
I have had a few near-death experiences, more than my fair share probably.  One of those experiences was in a tornado.  Or rather on the very outer edges of one.  Near-death might be exaggerating it but we did not know that at the time.  My mom and I were driving from Birmingham, AL back to Tuscaloosa.  We had been shopping all day for dresses to wear to a family wedding and graduations later that spring and summer.  Tornadoes and severe weather are just as common in Alabama as they are here in the Midwest.  Spring is filled with storm watches and warnings.  We knew the drill.  But life can't, or doesn't, stop for every severe weather warning.  It's just the nature of living it every year.  We become immune. 

Mom and I were almost back to Tuscaloosa on Interstate 20/59 in my white 2-door Chevy Lumina.  We were less than a mile from the T-town exit of McFarland Blvd and we had been watching the sky all the way home.  I remember the storms had been bad already in Birmingham and we were headed west directly into them.  It was bad and it was getting worse.  We tried to inch our way back to the house I rented with my friend Clare....a house which incidentally was destroyed in the recent Tuscaloosa tornado. 

I have always been taught to never ever stop on the side of the road.  It's safer to keep moving forward and so we did.  At one point we could feel the tornado more so than we could see it.  We could feel the car lifting slightly every few seconds as if something was drifting up under us.  We found out later that the tornado had hit the Wal-mart at the McFarland Blvd exit.  It has been only a few blocks from us so we know now for sure that we were feeling the outer edges of the twister.  At the time we didn't have I-phones to check the radar.  I don't think we even had cell phones at the time because I remember my friends Lisa and Clare being worried sick when we finally arrived home.  We had no idea how close we were too it other than the fact that it seemed to be lifting our car off the road ever so slightly every few seconds.  I think that tornado dropped a car into the middle of one of the aisles of the Wal-Mart. 

Mom and I both knew that we were potentially in some serious danger, but instead of freaking out we calmly discussed our options and the possibilities.  We knew we didn't want to stop, but going forward was proving to be dangerous too.  I honestly don't even remember if there were many other cars around.  I think that it was too dark to see much and we were focused on ourselves.

I remember saying a prayer with my mom and then she told me that if something happened to us and if one of us didn't survive that the other one of us should not feel bad or responsible.  Then we just held hands and said prayers, some silently and some aloud.  I have always thought that was so insightful of my mom.  She knew that we were in God's hands and there was no place for guilt or blame if one of us made it through this alive but the other one did not.  I can imagine that is easier said that done, but it's a very good place to start when facing tragedy. 

Every time I hear a story about a family that has experienced loss of life during a tornado, I think about that day and how strong and calm my mom was for both of us. I hope that I can set the same example for my children. So every day I am trying to ask myself if I, like my mother, am working to prepare my children spiritually for whatever may come.  Good, bad, wonderful, or tragic.  I hope so.  I really, really hope so.
3 generations at the circus- 2010