I had a heart attack on October 9, 2004 at 10:00 in the morning.
Having come home at 2 am from a night-out with friends, I woke up late for an early-morning appointment. I had to to meet my friend, an architect, with whom I was going to Sta. Rosa Laguna . We were going to check on the progress of a house I was having constructed.
A few minutes after getting into my friend's car (she had offered to drive), I felt back pains and a heavy sensation in the center my chest area. These were familiar discomforts as I had been experiencing the same pains intermittently over the past few weeks.
As in the past, I expected the pain to subside gradually. It did not.
I did not want to worry my friend needlessly so I tried to stay calm and take several deep breaths. When the pain remained, I realized that something was very wrong. It was at this point that I asked my friend to take me to the hospital.
While the pain was constant, it was not excruciating. And while my friend was obviously concerned about me, we both remained relatively calm and even managed to exchange a few jokes along the way. I remember thinking to myself how inconvenient this all was for me and how screwed up my schedule was going to be because of the unexpected development. More so when we took a couple of wrong turns before finding our way back towards the right direction.
Upon finally reaching the hospital, I walked myself to the ER while my friend parked the car. I told the receiving clerk of my chest pains. My blood pressure was taken. After that, everything just sort of happened all at once.
I was hooked up to several machines. Needles were inserted in my arms. Tubes were pushed up my nose. Doctors started milling and moving frantically around me. In my mind, I pictured one of those typical chaotic scenes in the medical emergency shows.
I was told I was having a heart attack and that there was a small window of time to minimize any further damage to my system. I could die within the next few minutes.
I don't remember panicking. If anything, I went into full control mode. I started organizing things in my head. As the doctors fought to save my life, I was making a list of people to call and arrangements to make.
I had to be sure that everything was going to be in order even if that was the last thing I did. At one point, I even asked my friend to take my picture with my mobile phone - me lying on a gurney smiling and waving at the camera as everything was going crazy around me. I was not going to let anyone know that I was scared. That would have been unsightly and uncool.
After my vital signs had stabilized, I was brought to the ICU for closer monitoring as I remained in critical condition.
While in the ICU, one of my visitors -a friend from work - gave me a daily devotional. "Grace for the Moment" by Max Lucado. I had received a copy of the same book about two years ago which I had hardly read.
This new copy remained unread in the hospital. A couple of days after, while waiting for the results of yet another medical test, I took the book and just listlessly opened it to the reading for October 9, the day of my attack.
The reading's heading was "A Home for your Heart". It began with Psalm 91.1, "Those who go to God Most High for Safety will be protected by the Almighty".
While those words were inspiring, the accompanying thoughts hit me like a ton of bricks. I am going to have to quote in full, as follows: " Chances are you've given little thought to housing your soul. We create elaborate houses for our bodies but our souls are relegated to a hillside shanty where the night winds chill us ad the rain soaks us".
I had my heart attack on the way to check on the progress of my house construction. God was trying to tell me something! But, na-uh, I wasn't going to be convinced that easily. Not me.
I could say that these were just weird coincidences.
It was a coincidence that I had received two copies of the same book.It was a coincidence that the reading fell on October 9, the day of my attack.
And then again, maybe not.
For several months, maybe years, I have been occupied - obsessed even - with the idea of building this house according to my specifications . I could even go as far as saying I was obssessed with living my life according to some Grand Plan.
But, in order for me to do this, I felt I had to be on top of my game all the time. I was spending almost all of my time at work. I hardly had time for family and friends. I had to have people's admiration and recognition.
So much so that, even at my most vulnerable moment, in the face of death, I was still trying to be in control. I was making calls while in the ER to make arrangements and giving instructions! I was discussing with the doctors about what was to be done with me and how I should be treated! I even had my picture taken!!!
What kind of person has his picture taken while having a heart attack?
To my shame, I don't think I prayed or asked for God's help until after there were no more calls to make or doctors to speak to.
You would think I should have learned my lesson already. I had a near-fatal car accident a few years back when I missed a sharp turn on an incline. My car summersaulted at least twice before landing upside-down at a 45 degree angle to the ground just a few feet away from a deep ravine. I was not wearing a seatbelt. I crawled out of the car without a bruise. People who saw the wreck would ask how many people had died. They would then say what a coincidence it was that, next to my wrecked car, there was a huge sign on which were printed the words "JESUS SAVES"
There were just too many coincidences to ignore.
I had to consider the possibility that God has been trying to send me a message through all these years. A message that I had been ignoring . He had had to resort to pretty drastic measures to call my attention.
After my heart attack, I opted to invest in the healing of my heart, I realized that I was, in fact, giving myself a chance to have a more meaningful life. But, first - God wanted me to start with a clean slate. He had to teach me to let go of my attachments. I realized that the house was just a representation of all the things that I had grown attached to - my pride, my worldly possessions, my ambition, my desire for recognition. I suppose in a way, God wanted me to realize how temporary these are and how they could just be taken away in one instant. He also had to teach me to be humble. While in the hospital, I was stripped bare - literally and figuratively - of my clothes and finery. I had to be totally dependent on others even for my toilet needs. For someone who is as vain and proud as I am, that was a difficult lesson to learn.
These are lessons that I would have resisted under different conditions. So, it is true - God had to take pretty drastic measures to make sure He had my attention!
I suspect He wanted me to ask myself these questions- "Why me?", "What is it that You want me to do?", "What is this all leading up to?" "What reason is there that I'm still alive?". Lying on the hospital pondering on these thoughts, I guess I half expected the answers to come to me in the form of an angel coming down from the ceiling.
True to form, God hasn't me any quick answers. I don't think that is His style. Even now, several years after, I'm still trying to figure things out. Through all this, I feel an Invisible Hand intervening by presenting the opportunities to let go of my attachments and be clear on my priorities. I've made several interesting choices since then in my search for answers.
I don't think I'm any holier or more profound that I was before my heart attack. But I have noticed a few changes. I have a greater sensitivity to the things around me. I think maybe I'm just a little bit kinder , a little bit more gentle, maybe even a little bit more patient and forgiving..
Partly, I suppose this comes from a keen awareness of how temporary life is, that all this could end at the snap of a finger. But, mostly, I believe that its part of God's process.
I know I also have to learn the virtues of patience and obedience. If I had my way, I would want to fast-forward and get to the stage where I'm like super-wise and enjoying my rewards from Him for going through my experience. But God cannot be rushed. His work with me is not done yet. His lessons continue.
As 2010 comes to a close, I find myself asking the same questions all over again. What positive changes have I made in the last year? How can I make my life more meaningful in 2011?
I am thinking that I would like to simplify my life by just focusing on the essentials and letting go of everything else. I think it is fitting that I have decided to sell the house that I was having constructed when I had my heart attack. In my mind, I am going through a list of other things I should just let go of
What I do know is that the things that were so important to me before don't seem to matter as much anymore. I don't think that means I'm any less dedicated to doing my job, for example. I still take satisfaction is being able to do it well. It's just that I have a better understanding of what I can and cannot do and I accept that my work is not the be-all and end-all of everything.
I am grateful that I still feel a sense of hope and anticipation for what is going to come next. God is teaching me all these lessons to build a home for my heart and prepare me for even greater things. Not for my glory. But for His.
Merry Christmas, my family and friends. And may God continue to bless and guide us in the year ahead.