You might think I’m straining a bit to connect this article to the slant of my blog: depression and faith. But here’s the link: heeding this post may keep your loved ones from the despondency caused by your sudden death.
When Ron, 62, got up on Sunday morning, he noticed significant swelling in his ankles. He hadn’t seen it the day before. When he showed it to his wife, she said, “Ron, I don’t like the looks of this. Let’s go the emergency room.”
“Nah,” replied Ron. “I don’t feel any pain. Besides, if it makes you feel better, if it’s still swollen tomorrow morning I’ll go on my way to work.”
Ron never made it to the hospital or to his office. Minutes after he awoke on Monday morning, he collapsed of a massive heart attack and died.
Though they knew he was with Christ, his wife, grown children, and grandkids wished Ron had listened to his body. Their shock and tears were the consequence of him disregarding what his body had been trying to say.
But who am I to disparage Ron?
I don’t know why, in God’s providence, Ron died and I didn’t. To be sure, it wasn’t because I was a good listener when my body spoke. To the contrary, my body persistently pleaded with me for almost two months before I visited the doctor. I was told that another day might have been too late.
My body started speaking to me in May, 2014. I had just completed a semester of teaching at Columbia International University, and I exercised, swimming or walking, more days than not. During the day my body was relatively silent. But after settling into a recliner to read or to watch TV after evening meals, I started having difficulty getting a deep breath. It was as if I couldn’t inhale all the way and get enough air into my lungs. It had been going on each evening for a couple weeks before my wife noticed from the kitchen and queried, “What’s wrong with your breathing? You seem to be struggling to get your breath?”
“I have no idea,” I answered. But since I didn’t feel any pain, I brushed her off, more interested in hearing the TV than her concern.
About a month after the breathing difficulty began, as I walked through the house late one evening, I felt a sudden stab of severe pain in the left side of my back and chest. I almost fell to the floor, the pain feeling like a knife was slicing through my insides. I cried out, stumbled to the kitchen counter, where I held on, all the while gasping for breath as my stunned son called 911. Another way to describe the pain is to use the analogy of a fireworks display. There’s sudden, vertical propulsion into the atmosphere, then an eardrum-cracking “Boom!” followed by an array of pops and vivid, mushroom-shaped colors. Inside me, it felt like a sudden thrust through my back, into my chest, that broke up and resulted in tracks of more minor pain spreading in every direction.
After a couple minutes sitting at the counter, my capacity to breathe improved and the pain subsided. I correctly figured the pain wasn’t my heart, since it wasn’t in the center of my chest. Despite my son’s protest, I called off the ambulance and declared myself fit.
I know what you’re thinking. “Duh–how could you not hear and heed those symptoms? Didn’t you think your body was sending a loud-and-clear warning?”
Maybe it’s a man thing, I don’t know. Since I felt better moments later, I didn’t want the inconvenience of losing a night’s sleep at the emergency room. I had no idea how serious it really was.
A couple weeks later, my body broached another conversation with me while I swam at the local recreation center. After only one lap, I panted wildly and fought to breathe. Did I immediately dry off and drive to the doctor? Of course not. I had fourteen laps to go, and I was determined to finish what I had started. And I did, despite more than usual fatigue during the laps.
A few days later, there must have been cotton stuffed into my ears when my body started yelling at me again. For three days, I endured sharp pains in my lower left ribcage. Just taking a deep breath exacerbated the pain. It felt like a mule had kicked me in the ribs, except I didn’t own a mule. (But I was just as stubborn as one!) On the third day, I finally talked myself into going to the doctor. If we hadn’t had our young grandson visiting us, my wife would have forced the issue and driven me there herself earlier in the day.
The Physician’s Assistant (all the doctors had left for the day) was so alarmed she sent me straight to the hospital emergency room, and wouldn’t let me drive myself there. Her diagnosis was correct: blood clots. The chest scan showed multiple, larger-than-average clots in both lungs. (They believed that the out-of-the-blue jolt of pain in my house several weeks before had been a clot arriving in my left lung and bursting into smaller ones.) After I left the hospital days later, during a follow up visit with a cardiologist, his first words after perusing my hospital chart were, “You’re a lucky man. Your particular condition has at least a 50% fatality rate.”
I wouldn’t use the term “lucky,” but his point was clear enough. I had multiple warnings, and despite being hard of hearing, survived. Ron’s body spoke to him only once before it was too late.
How many times will your body speak to you, or to a loved one, before choosing medical intervention?
The body’s language may come in the form of a small lump or knot under the skin; swelling in the limbs; persistent headaches; chest discomfort; change in the size or color of a mole; unexplained weight loss; difficulty swallowing; extreme fatigue; breathing difficulty–you name it! (By googling, you can locate warning signs of cancer, heart trouble, blood clots, and other ailments.) God marvelously created the human body so that pain and other symptoms are friends, telling us to attend to an issue before things get worse. Why bother with healthy eating and exercise if we aren’t willing to hear what our body says to us? Good stewardship of the physical body God gave includes cupping our ears and listening when it tries to get a word in edgewise.
When your body speaks, please listen. It is far better to make an unnecessary trip to the doctor or emergency room than for your loved ones to make the somber trek to the cemetery.