He said it was the longest night of his life…
When he went at 9:00 AM for an angioplasty to clear a partially blocked artery, the doctor assured him it would all be routine, easy peasy. It wasn’t.
He was under a local anesthesia that kept him calm and relaxed, but quite aware. His give a hoot factor though was low, really low. When he heard the doctor say, “Oh no!”, he managed to crack open his blurry eyes. Through a glimmer of light, he saw nurses scurrying and the doctor barking orders. He felt a needle go in his other arm, cold liquid rubbed across his chest and something being shoved in his mouth.
The last thing he heard was the doctor, “We need to open him up! Now!”
Somewhere between the haze of conscience life and the fog of sleepy death, he drifted. He didn’t see his life flash before his eyes, a long tunnel or white lights, but distinctly remembers thinking, ‘Well, this is it.’
He reached for something in his mind to stand up on, but everything was moving. The ground was gone. He was walking on air, swinging in time. A peaceful surrender gave way and everything went dark.
Some time or another he began to wander back into a realm of living. He knew he hadn’t died. It wouldn’t hurt this much if he were dead. His leg hurt, and his chest felt like his whole body was hanging from a meat hook. It felt like a knife was lodged between his lung and side.
He gasped for air. Nothing. With each gasp, he could only get a bit of air in one lung, but not the other. He had hoses up his nose, a tube down his throat. He couldn’t swallow, talk or move.
He panicked. He could barely breathe. He didn’t know where he was or what had happened. He wondered if he had been in an accident, or if a building collapsed on him. He couldn’t open his eyes and could only hear the steady hum of something, somewhere.
He fought with everything he had to move, but just couldn’t. He felt the ache in his chest, stinging in his leg and the constant sharp cutting of a knife swinging in his lung. All he could do was get a tenth of normal air in one lung.
After what seemed forever and a day, yet probably only a few minutes, a nurse came into his ICU room. Realizing he was stirring, she called him by name and told him in an extremely loud voice, like he didn’t understand English, that she was going to be taking care of him. He tried to open his eyes, but he was just too groggy, too foggy.
His memory began to focus and he remembered the doctor’s last words. He wasn’t sure what had happened, what had been done to him, but he knew it wasn’t good, nor easy peasy.
From where he laid in his ICU room, he could see a wall clock. It was 11:15 PM. The nurse returned every fifteen minutes or so and said little. She would look at the humming machine and check the IV bag draining into his arm.
He was certain hours had passed between the times he opened his eyes, but it was always just a minute, sometimes two, before the deep agony in his lungs began screaming for life giving oxygen. He tried to move, but couldn’t. If he didn’t get air, he knew he would die.
After what seemed like hours, the clock hit midnight. With special permission, his wife came into the ICU room for the next two hours. He tried to speak, but could barely move his lips.
She saw the look in his eye and knew he was in pain. She explained that during the angioplasty, the doctor ran the end through his aorta. He began to bleed internally and had to have emergency open heart surgery to repair the valve. While they were there, they did a triple bypass on his heart taking veins from his leg.
With that information, the pains made sense. But he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t breath and what it was that felt like a red-hot knife sliding back and forth over his lung burning and singeing as it went.
Every second was minute. Each minute was an hour. Time drug by . He was able to grunt at 2:00 AM, just before the nurse told his wife that she would have to leave and come back the next morning at 8:00.
He tried to grunt louder but couldn’t. Please don’t leave! Please understand! If you leave they won’t know! If you go they won’t hear! It’s not right! Something’s not right! I may not see you again! Don’t go! Please! If I could just talk, you would understand! I’m dying!! I can’t breathe!! Stay! Please, STAY!!!
His wife gently ran her fingers through his hair and assured him he was in good hands and that she would be back first thing in the morning. She didn’t know. She didn’t know his panic. She didn’t know he was slowly losing life minute by minute, like a slow leaking tire.
3:00 AM…4:00 AM…5:00 AM…the hours passed as days. The river of panic drained into a swamp of despair that filled a lake of acceptance that his life would soon be over. He felt his brain slowing, his thoughts drifting.
He didn’t want to die, but his grunts to the nurse only caused her to give him a scheduled dose of pain medication in his IV. And that did nothing for his burning lung.
He waned, slipping ever so closer to eternal abyss. He was at ease with eternity. He was at peace with God. He laid waiting for what he knew was going to happen sooner, rather than later.
The nurse began shaking him telling him to wake up. Over her shoulder, the doctor stood writing on a tablet. He knew if he was going to live, this was his last and final shot. With every bit of strength he could muster, he raised his right hand making a writing motion.
The doctor gave him a pen and paper. In shaky, barely legible writing he wrote two words, ‘Can’t breathe’.
The doctor quickly listened to his lungs. Once again, he began to bark orders saying one lung was completely collapsed.
The nurse quickly pulled the long flexible tube out of his stomach and back out from his throat. The doctor followed immediately by shoving another tube back down into the lung. He turned on the air and inflated the lung with life giving air.
The man gasped as air began to readily flow back and forth from both lungs. He was now able to inhale air. A flood of oxygen began to wake cells, nerves and organs. The relief from the excruciating, burning pain was immediately released and life began to flow through his veins.
His chest still hurt immensely. His leg stitches ached, but he could breathe. He would live…
…that was twenty-one years ago. We were leaning on the back of his pickup truck as he recalled in vivid detail the longest night of his life.
He stopped talking for a moment and stared at the spare tire in the back of his truck. He sighed deeply, and shook his head.
“That was the longest night of my life. I thought I was dead, but the good Lord brought me back. I’m not even really sure why, but I know this. Every day I have to live is a blessing, because 21 years ago, I thought it was all over. I hope I’ve done what He’s wanted. You know?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about his story. I’m not sure what he was, or is, supposed to do. In the grand scheme of things, it really only matters that he knows. And, that He knows.
Life could be over today. Finished. Done. Nothing left but a rock tombstone on a plot of ground. Eternity can come today, or maybe, years from now. Either way, it will come. We each have our appointed day, an assigned hour, and when the bell tolls, will I, will you, be ready to see our Maker?
I hope so. I really hope so.
Teach us to number our days, that we may have a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12