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  • Writer's pictureFaith Hakesley

Holding Hope in My Heart

Originally Published to Faith Restored on June 25, 2019

+JMJ+ If you follow me on my Faith Restored page on Facebook (@MyFaithRestored), you may have seen my post from a week ago, expressing praise for my heart doctors and gratitude for my ICD. I was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome (LQTS) 11 years ago and received my ICD in 2009, but it has never needed to shock me. So many years have gone by without episode that I often take my device for granted. I sometimes wonder if getting the implant was really worth all the pain of surgery (and having to get it replaced every so often) and aggravation (it can be just plain annoying having a box sitting in your chest). One of my specialists recently commented that the treatment for LQTS has changed somewhat since I was diagnosed and so, if I was just getting diagnosed now, an ICD may have not been recommended. Chances are I would have been given medication therapy only.

Have you ever had a good day that ended really badly? That happened to my family and me last Sunday night. We had enjoyed a full day – a beautiful day full of sunshine, friends, fun, and laughter. When we arrived home that evening, everything changed. Long story short, everyone was exhausted, cranky, and impatient with one another. The kids were “done” and our usual, gentle bedtime routine got tossed out the window. Anyone with children can tell you how easily that can happen! My husband left for his night shift position leaving unresolved conflict between him and I, and I went to bed in a huff. I struggled to pray my usual Rosary before eventually falling into a restless sleep.

We can’t change the past but I have gone over the events of that evening and vowed to never go to bed in that kind of rotten, resentful mood again. Everything around you can change in a heartbeat, and it saddens me to think that our impatient, grumpy bedtime could have been my last interaction with my husband and children. Little did I know that I was about to have an experience that would shake me to my very core, leaving my family and me feeling both stunned and yet grateful at the same time.

In the wee hours of the morning, I got up to use the bathroom. I felt a little dizzy but, for someone with a history of low blood pressure who is almost always tired (can I get an “Amen” from all the parents out there?), it didn’t strike me as unusual or terribly alarming. After that, everything is a blur – I don’t remember much of anything. I woke up with my face on the floor and heard myself screaming in agony and in fear. I can’t describe the sensation going through my body but my head was felt like it was going to explode and my body felt as though it had just been dragged by a horse. Not that I’ve ever experienced that, but that’s the only description that comes to mind. My face hurt and there was blood coming from somewhere on my face.

Our 8-year old son came running to see what was wrong, followed closely by our 6-year-old daughter. Somehow, (I don’t even remember doing it) I got myself back into bed and my son brought me some water as I struggled to relax and calm myself down. The awful sensations slowly faded, my kids felt reassured that Mama was going to be okay, and they went back to bed. I’m amazed that our 2-year-old daughter who sleeps with me stayed asleep! That’s a miracle in and of itself because she usually wakes up if I so much as move.

It never occurred to me that my ICD had just fired. I’ve never experienced a shock before and I had always imagined feeling something in my chest. Plus, I had gotten so used to it just being there that the thought didn’t cross my mind right away. I figured maybe I had blacked out due to exhaustion or not having eaten enough. I alerted my husband at work about what had happened but I reassured him that I was ok and, since he was going to be coming home in a few hours anyway, I convinced him to stay at work. If I felt any worse, my parents live just a short distance away so I could have always called them.

My first ICD implant. It was replaced in 2015 and the Medtronic Company sent me my old one (they even engraved it). Funny story: they actually forgot to turn it off and, as the battery dies, it emits an alarm sound. For months, we couldn’t figure out where the noise was coming from. We did eventually figure it out – it has since stopped beeping.

By the next morning, I still wasn’t feeling like myself. I hadn’t slept well for the remainder of the night, my body felt strangely weak and shaky, and there was a dull ache over the spot where my ICD is. Something told me to alert my heart specialists just to be safe and so I sent a remote transmission. The medical world never ceases to amaze me! All I have to do is hold a little device over my ICD, push a button, and all the information stored in there is sent to my doctors. Incredible!

A short time later, I was shocked when a nurse called to tell me that I had suffered a ventricular arrhythmia. My ICD had probably saved my life. I had to hold onto the kitchen counter for support as I struggled to grasp what I was hearing.

I could have died. Not only that, but it would have been my children who found me.

I attempted to go about my day as if everything was normal. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself over the years, it’s that I can be stubborn to a fault. My body was telling me, “slow down,” but my brain was saying, “go, go go!” My body was not doing what my brain wanted it to do.

I insisted I was ok to drive our kids to their vacation bible school summer camp at church, but my husband knew better than to trust me driving in my shaky condition. While at the church, I received a call from another nurse reassuring me that I would probably feel shaky and dizzy for awhile. She said my doctors were upping my beta blocker dosage and, because of my episode, I would not be allowed to drive for up to six months (good thing my husband drove after all). Everything about the past several hours hit me in that moment and I sobbed, feeling completely hopeless and helpless. By no small coincidence, our pastor was available to give me Anointing of the Sick. That alone gave me more greater comfort than anything else for the rest of that day.

And so here I am, a day later, taking it easy (that’s a difficult thing to do when you’re a mom and you see so much that needs to get done) and wondering what’s going to happen next. I’m trying to let go and accept things as they are. The house probably won’t be in order, the kids might be watching a bit more TV than usual, we may be ordering out a bit more for the time-being, and our whole routine will be off for a bit. And I’m learning to be ok with that. There are more important things. I’ll be seeing both of my heart specialists this week and hopefully we will be able to come up with a plan. I have been reassured that there is probably no particular reason or rhyme for what happened – it’s just a part of my particular condition and these things can happen when you least expect them to.

I’ve cried many tears (got to keep those tissue companies in business!), punched a pillow or two in frustration, and cried some more. I’ve been hugging my husband and children more and appreciating even the difficult moments. I’ve prayed a few Rosaries and spent time just talking to God. A part of me is shouting, “I’m sick of this! What do you want of me, Lord?” Another part of me is at peace and grateful for the experience. As I’ve learned with my other experiences of suffering, I’m not going to try to figure this one out and my emotions are likely to be “roller coastering” for a bit. I am traumatized by this event and will likely be for some time. I was afraid to even go to sleep last night.

God has a plan, and He will bring good out of this (I’ve already seen glimmers of God’s grace within the past 24 hours). I was able to receive Holy Communion this morning which awarded me such great peace. There is no greater grace than being able to receive Jesus Himself! What more do I need?

Our pastor said something to me that has been on my mind all day. He said that God is close to me and that He is giving me the saint treatment. In my head I was thinking, “Well, could He please stop?” Yet, the words of St. Pope John Paul II came to mind, “Christ associates Himself in the closest possible way to all who suffer.”

Jesus “gets” what I’m going through right now – He’s united to me on this cross and this suffering has value. All I can do is take up my cross, follow Him, and trust in Our Lord and accept His graces. Perhaps it’s easier said than done, and experience with grief and trauma has shown me that I will still have moments of doubt and despair. What matters is that I persevere and hold onto hope. Whatever God’s plan for me, however long or short a time on earth He has planned for me, it’s going to be ok. He wants me to be a saint (God wants us all to be saints!) and so I’m trying hard to embrace this current trial with complete faith and trust in Him. It’s not easy, but I sure am trying. With faith there is always hope, and hope is what I am so desperately clinging to right now.

I’ve always felt that my faith is a simple one, and perhaps right now Our Lord is calling on me to come to Him as my favorite saint, St. Therese of the Little Flower, always so faithfully did – as a little child.

“For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven; it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” ~St. Therese of Lisieux

I humbly ask for prayers for my family, for me, and for my doctors as we work to sort things out and develop a plan for the next several months.

God bless you all!

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