December 11, 2017

A Heartbeat Away from Eternity

Don Johnson

My title is a cliché, perhaps a tired cliché, but last week I experienced the truth behind that line. I experienced a heart attack shortly after walking out of one our local Walmart stores. I’d like to tell you the story, both to give glory to God and to urge you to make some serious commitments to the Lord for this coming year.

Earlier on Monday, Dec 22, several of our men met at our church for a Bible study. After the meeting I headed downtown to take my truck to the dealer for some repairs. From there I walked a block to the mall where Walmart is located. I did my shopping, paid for my merchandise and walked out of the store. I looked at my watch, it was about 3:04 p. m. Up to this time I had no inkling that trouble was coming. Shortly after looking at my watch, I began to feel a heavy pressure in my chest and a sense that I was very unwell. “This can’t be chest pains, can it?” I thought (I have since learned that many people deny the symptoms they are experiencing). I was heading toward a Starbucks shop, but I suddenly had no interest in coffee.

I sat on a bench, hoping the symptoms would pass. I took out my phone, went to the Mayo Clinic site and searched for how to identify chest pains. I read through one or two articles, but couldn’t decide whether this was really it or not. (Sometimes I might be a bit slow!) I got up, thinking maybe I could walk it off, but within a few steps was feeling much worse. Coming towards me in the crowd was an old friend, a former co-worker in one of my secular jobs years ago. He greeted me cheerily, but all I could say was, “I don’t feel very well.” He said, “You don’t look very well. Do you want me to call 9-1-1?” I agreed, and then said, “I’m starting to feel dizzy — I need to sit down.”

The ambulance arrived quickly. I was very grateful to lie down on the stretcher. I was hustled into the vehicle, an IV set up, ECG stuck to my chest and we were on our way to the hospital. Arriving there, I was greeted in the treatment center by my own heart doctor who happened to be on duty that day. He directed the procedure and equipped me with my own medicated stent. As soon as the stent was in place I was feeling much better. It was amazing how quickly all this happened – less than two hours from initial symptoms to full treatment.

I am very thankful for modern medicine, though I don’t understand everything about what happened. The way I understand it is this: this particular incident could happen to pretty well anyone, though I have some risk factors that others may not have (a male over fifty with family history of heart disease). Most people, however, have some plaque deposits in their arteries. The type of attack I had involved a break in some plaque deposit in my heart, allowing plaque to escape into my blood stream. My platelets reacted to the presence of the plaque, forming a clot around the site. By the time they got the angioplasty equipment in my system, they determined I was 99% blocked. (One of the doctors compared the “before and after” as if it was rush hour vs. an open freeway.)

Obviously, this was a very serious situation. The outcome could have been fatal. But in spite of this, I never lost consciousness through the whole procedure. I had no difficulty breathing that I can recall (the EMTs kept asking me about my breathing as they rushed across town). I didn’t suffer cardiac arrest, thank the Lord! So the incident was serious, but the circumstances at this time seem to have been the best they could be given the situation.

On reflection, I am thankful to the Lord for many things. I can see His hand directing events without my immediate awareness. For one thing, this didn’t happen while I was driving on the highway – just a half hour before. For another, meeting my friend was providential, I am sure. If I hadn’t run into him, I would have probably stoically pushed on, feeling worse and worse until I collapsed. Meeting him got me to the hospital as soon as possible. My own doctor met me at the hospital, with some memory of my history. And the whole procedure happened near one of the leading heart hospitals in Canada, so I couldn’t have been in better hands. (I should also say, our system means that money is no issue, either. I told someone today, that “I don’t believe in socialized medicine except when I need it.”) All in all, there are many things to thank God for. All the praise goes to His name.

May I dwell on this point, however: a heart attack can happen to anyone. One of the doctors told me that even young people (especially in our society) can have plaque deposits in their arteries. An attack like mine potentially can happen suddenly to anyone at anytime. In my lifetime, I have known several who have died very young from similar attacks. A fellow who sat right behind me in Hebrew History class at BJU died on a basketball court in the midst of our semester. I don’t question why that happened or why I survived this time. It is all in the hand of God.

The reality for us, however, is that we are all really only a breath away from eternity. God could bring any one of us to account at any time. It appears that it is God’s will for me to live yet awhile. I know I have time made available by him for his service. Really, that is true for all of us. The time we have is by the gracious permission of God. We do not know what tomorrow will bring forth.

I have at least one plan for the near future. The friend who called 9-1-1 for me is a man who I have witnessed to many times. I plan to speak to him again soon, trusting the Lord will give me the opportunity. No doubt there are many others who I can speak to this coming year. I would not have these opportunities but for the grace of God.

What opportunities will you have in 2015? Who will the Lord bring across your path? How faithful will you be as a witness of the grace of God? (We’ll leave the effectiveness up to the Lord, shall we? Let’s just be faithful!)

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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