*This post is the first in a planned series of out-of-order stories about times that I’ve seen Jesus throughout my life. Even when I didn’t believe.
In April 1998, I underwent a heart procedure for a disorder called Supra Ventricular Tachycardia. It showed up late in 7th grade and became worse as I started 8th grade. I would be sitting on the couch, running in track, lying in bed–it didn’t matter. Provoked or unprovoked, my heart would launch into a fluttering, fast-paced arrhythmia that took my breath away, scared me, and made me completely exhausted.
The cardiologist I was seeing taught me a few ways of resetting my heart’s rhythm once I was in tachycardia. Standing on my head (which for this tall bean meant lying backwards off my bed or a couch), sticking your face in a sink full of ice water (fun fact: this was discovered by studying dolphins), or bearing down like you’re pushing. The most convenient one (and least attention-grabbing) was obviously bearing down. So that’s what I typically did if it happened at school. But one day, I couldn’t get my heart to reset. I was getting lightheaded and more afraid the longer it went on. I went to the school nurse and we called my mom to take me to the ER.
The doctor screamed in my face, “Did you take anything?! Cocaine?! Pills?!” I looked at him like he was crazy. “NO! I promise!” He asked me repeatedly in a very accusatory tone. I was already afraid. He was making it worse. Why was he so convinced I’d taken something? A nurse was jabbing a needle into my arm. I looked at my mom sitting in the corner of the room. She seemed a little afraid, herself. The doctor told the nurse to inject something into my IV. Neither the doctor or the nurse said anything to my mom or I. The medicine went in.
It was like fire that started in my feet. It was really hot. It slowly crept up my body until it reached my heart. It felt like someone put their hand around my heart and squeezed it. It went silent inside my body for several seconds. No blood pumping, no heartbeat. My heart was still.
After a few seconds of staring at the fluorescent light above my head in shock, my heart then restarted into a healthy rhythm. I looked at the nurse wondering what in the world just happened to me. Did I die? She explained that the medication was supposed to do just that. It’s like getting shocked with paddles without using paddles. It resets your heart rhythm. Gee. Thanks for the warning!
During that ER visit, they had to give me that IV medication several times to get my heart to a safe rhythm. It was awful. I have never felt so drained in my life. I memorized the name of that medication so that I could request to NEVER be given it again in the future. I planned to say I was allergic, put it on my medical allergies list at my doctor’s office, just BAN IT from my body because it’s HORRIBLE. I felt traumatized by that experience. I struggled to forget it and replayed it, detail by detail, for the next several weeks. (Ok, if I’m honest–the next several years.)
We’d tried medication, I’d worn a heart monitor for several weeks and my EKGs had been studied by my doctor. It was time to do something.
In the months leading up to the operation, I prayed nightly that I wouldn’t die. I was terrified. I wasn’t even totally sure who I was praying to, but if there was a God, I knew he was the only one who could help me. So I begged and bargained and bawled, night after night. I was consumed by a fear of death and pain. I learned that part of the operation would include inducing tachycardia, which was uncomfortable and scary enough by itself– but after each time they started the arrhythmia, they would have to stop my heart with DEVIL’S IV medication. That’s right–stop my heart. Repeatedly. Knowing that I’d be experiencing that over and over throughout this surgical procedure had me afraid for my life. I didn’t know if I could handle it. It wears you down like you wouldn’t believe. It’s incredibly exhausting. I was told that I would be under anesthesia, but it was they type where the nurses are able to wake you up and tell you something and you might remember bits and pieces of the experience.
As they wheeled me into the operating room, my parents stood in the hallway waving goodbye to me. My mom was tearing up and I remember thinking, “This is the last time I’m going to see my parents.” Tears were running out of my eyes like streams and my chin quivered. When they had the bed in place in the operating room, a nurse appeared out of nowhere. She was in her 70s, had an Irish accent, and I kid you not- it was like she was glowing. She repeatedly wiped my tears away. She comforted me. She reassured me. She petted my head for SIX HOURS. She lovingly put her hands on my cheeks. I told her what I was afraid of and she promised to wake me up and warn me when they were about to give me the heart-stopping IV medication. That put me at ease. At least I could prepare myself for it.
When I woke up in the recovery room hours later, that nurse was gone. I asked about her and no one knew where she was. I never saw her again. But friends. I can tell you this…She was Jesus in that operating room. She was comfort and she was peace that surpassed all understanding. There was NO REASON for me to have ANY PEACE in that situation. Her hands on my face transmitted calm and confidence into my body. Her warmth and reassurance became my resolve to make it through the operation. I am confident that God hand-picked that woman to be my nurse. I believe that the day I started praying, begging God to let me live and to help me through it, he started shifting and moving and planning for her to be my nurse. And without even having to ask her, I know she knows Jesus. Because my heart recognized Him in hers. My desperate prayers leading up to that day, full of terror and uncertainty and distrust of God, were answered in her presence. Whether I lived or died–I was at peace. And God was starting to become real in my life.