O.

On Being Fragile and Calling 9-1-1

“Call 9-1-1”

Bethany had never told me that before so I knew this was serious.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“Yeah, hi… my wife is on the ground and she’s experiencing some kind of chest pain. I don’t know what to do.”

After some basic questions about my location the operator asked: “How old is she?”

“Thirty-nine”

“What is she doing? Is she breathing?…”

“Yes, I think so… I don’t know. Yes… It’s hard to know. She’s breathing…”

“It’s OK. EMTs are on the way. You will hear lights and sirens. Make sure you stay with your wife… remove any pillows. Make sure the front door is open. Stay on this line.”

Just writing that brings me to tears. Because I don’t know exactly what I was doing or saying between that time and the arrival of the paramedics, but I remember being calm as Bethany turned pale and was in incredible pain. I think I asked my four-year-old son to help me unlock the front door and clear a path in the hallway to our bedroom, but it all kind of blurs together even just 36 hours later.

Don’t know why I took this photo, but I did.

Five EMTs made their way into our house. Bethany was still coherent, but in pain. They asked her a million questions, some of which I answered because she couldn’t. The one I remember loud and clear was “What is your pain level on a scale of 0-10, if 0 is nothing and 10 is the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?” Without hesitation Bethany said “8!” As they loaded her in the ambulance one of the EMTs said to me, “Go get her cell phone and charger.” I ran inside, grabbed it, ran back outside, laid it on Bethany’s lap in the ambulance, they shut the doors, and then they were gone.

I didn’t really cry until about nine hours later when I was driving home by myself from the hospital. Sure, I was tired. Yes, I was frustrated that the last time I had seen my wife that day was in the ambulance because Covid restrictions kept me out of the hospital. Yes, I didn’t love that most of the information I got that day was through Bethany having to text me because I couldn’t be there to get information directly. But it finally hit me… Bethany could’ve died.

By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital Bethany’s pain had lessened, but she was still hurting. Her chest pain came and went most of the day. They ran EKGs and they were normal. They did a chest X-ray and found nothing. They did three rounds of bloodwork and saw “something” they didn’t like. Then Bethany texted me,

Spending the night😕possible start of a heart attack

“I’m really glad you told me to call 911” I texted back.

After a CT angiogram, it was determined that Bethany had a “spontaneous dissection” of one of her arteries. Without getting too specific here, it just means there’s something there that was restricting blood flow to her heart. Though uncommon, these can actually heal themselves and/or be healed through medication. Although relieved that we had some kind of answer, we recognized that this could’ve been worse and this entire day could’ve gone differently.

That’s why I cried on the way home. My friend Jeff called me and asked if Bethany was OK. I said yes, but… “I’m starting to get emotional. She’s doing great now, but I think it all just hit me.”

Life is fragile. We say it and we hear it said. I even preach it from time to time, especially to the high school students I get to serve at the church. But we forget it. There are so many days that go well, that run normal, and of which very little happens that causes us to consider just how fragile we are. I praise God for that in my life while I recognize that my experience is different than many even in my own church. Not everyone gets long periods of time where they are not reminded of their fragility. As a pastor I get a front row seat to the hurting and the long-term care that comes with it, both physical and spiritual. But because this is not my personal experience, and because life tends to just keep on going, I don’t always have to be confronted with the thin barrier between this life and the next.

Bethany is asleep right now in our bed. After spending two days in the hospital we were able to pull a Shawshank Redemption move and bust her out of there (OK, not exactly, but that’s how it felt!). Almost immediately after we got home she told our kids “I’m going to bed.” She was tired and weak and in need of rest. We ended up talking for a few minutes in bed before she fell asleep and Bethany admitted she was ready to meet Jesus. Maybe it was the meds talking, but I know my wife. She was and is ready.

I told her I’m glad it wasn’t today, but in the back of my mind I thought about what the the apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Then he adds, “I am hard pressed between the two [that is, between living and dying]. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (1:23-24). He wrestled between his own impending death and the thought of being with Christ. He loved the church, but he loved Jesus more. That, I think, is what was behind what Bethany said. She loves me and our kids, but she loves Jesus more.

While studying the book of Ecclesiastes last year I came across a quote from a preacher who said, “None of us are getting out of this alive.” He was talking about this life and was just repeating essentially what Solomon wrote in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” We all know this to be true whether we want to talk about it or not: there is a time to die. And that’s exactly why in Solomon’s wisdom he wrote this a few verses later,

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-13

Solomon’s advice is simply to enjoy life while you can. In light of the reality of death–whether it be today, tomorrow, or in the distant future–enjoy it all. Enjoy even the simple pleasure of a meal–this is God’s gift to man. That’s wisdom from God because you don’t know when the time will be.