Written by my husband, Ken
“I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being” (Ps. 104:33)!
It is hard to believe that just a little over two weeks ago I went into the ER with a pulse of 40 and BP of 90/50. Everything still seems a bit surreal and as if it never really happened. About four weeks ago, I had flu-like symptoms where I said to Lori, “I feel like I am 92 years old and ache all over.” The symptoms lasted three to four days and disappeared, yet I never regained my summer form of walking and swimming 60-90 minutes a day. Then ten days later, I started noticing on my BP cuff that my BP was very low without taking my meds for a month and my heart rate was 40. Often the cuff would just say “LO” and not give me a reading. That was frustrating, yet it was telling me, “Go seek medical help!”
I was getting ready to do our regular sortie with Lori to find WiFi as we purposely do not have it at our summer place, and as we were heading out the door, I had to sit down on the stairs as I felt a bit faint. Lori said, “You need to see a doctor.”
After a couple calls, I realized that there was no doctor who could see me in our area so we headed for an Urgent Care an hour away. Lori drove as I kept taking my BP and pulse trying to think what in the world could this be. I was exercising a lot and taking lots of fish oils. Maybe I had just overdone it?
When we got into town, I thought it best to just go to the ER. I could see the Urgent Care sending me there for an EKG anyway, so why not. Once in a room and hooked up to an EKG, it was pretty apparent that my heart was missing lots of beats. It was generally missing every other beat, but sometimes would skip 2-3 beats a time dropping to 35 – 40 beats a minute. The PA showed up and told me I had a heart block that could be caused by various things, but that they suspected Lyme disease based on my previous flu-like symptoms. I thought that was fine, just let me go home until we had the test results in a day and I would start on the antibiotics.
My pastor and his wife arrived as they were driving by the hospital after the wife just finished a five day stay in the larger city hospital with a gangrene gallbladder. They had heard of my plight and stopped in to give us moral and spiritual support. This is the best pastor/wife team we have ever seen and we love them dearly.
The ER doctor showed up and read me the riot act saying, “Right now you are on a cliff, but at any time you can fall off the cliff. You need to be transported by ambulance to a larger city hospital an hour away.” Then they all ganged up on me, except my pastor, talking about Lori being a widow and how dangerous this was. I finally resolved to go with the flow and watch an $8,000 deductible on my health insurance get eaten in just a few hours.
The ambulance personnel hooked me all up with lots of wires and paddles and off we went to the hospital with the best cardiac wing. Once I arrived, I was taken right to my room. They placed a bunch of electrodes on me and started 24 hour monitoring of my heart. A warm and friendly Cardiologist arrived and told me they suspected Lyme disease, but the test would take 24 hours.
An hour or so later, a nurse came running into the room and said, “Mr. Alexander are you okay?” I said, “Yes, I feel fine. Why?”
“Well, your heart is pausing, not just missing multiple beats.”
“Oh yeah, I can feel it in my head when it does that,” as the blood drains out.
The Cardiologist arrived and said, “We are moving you to ICU,” and off I went to another room where they slapped a large set of paddles on my chest, front and back, along with the wires all over my chest, and told me that if I passed out and needed a restart, or needed to be paced with a shock every couple seconds, all they had to do was push the button on the crash cart. That sounded not so comforting a thought of being shocked forty times a minute to pace my heart. I took comfort in the fact that I had not fainted yet, even as my heart rate was now wandering down into the 20’s at times.
Was I scared? Kind of, but not really, knowing that not only was I in God’s hands, but also if you are going to have this kind of problem, there can’t be a better place to be than in an ICU with one of the best heart wings in the area. Ironically, a low heart rate keeps the stress down and I felt calm and relaxed with little blood flow to the brain. Everyone was kind and friendly; regularly checking in on me, “Ken, are you okay?” “Uh, yes, why?” “Oh, your heart just paused 7.6 seconds.”
I had trouble falling asleep not just the first night but every night. Not only is there a lot going on in an ICU with carts flying by and “Code Blue Stat room 6” coming over the PA, but one of the weirdest things I discovered after a while was that every time I was about to fall asleep, I would get that twitch you get sometimes that wakes you up just before you were to fall asleep and you wonder, what is that about? Well, in my case, the twitch happened every single time my heart beat went to 30 beats. I could predict it almost every time as I would twitch awake and look at the monitor saying 30… 28…26.
It seems that so long as I was awake, the major issue was the pauses because I could keep my heart rate up by doing sit-ups or movement in bed when it would drop low. But the critical time came when falling asleep because my heart would drop into the low 20’s, and given enough time the Atrium would lose its cool and start beating to its own pace causing my heart to go into flutter and a few other gymnastics. I wish I had my EKG to show, but my heart was all over the place at times. I had very little sleep the first six nights, and three of them I was awakened by a team ready to zap me. The criteria was that they would wake me up, and if I appeared fine, to leave me alone and see if my heart would go back into its normal heart block rhythm. But if I was unconscious, or incoherent, I would start getting zapped until I could get put into the Cath Lab and have a pacemaker placed. Each time I was awakened, I told them I felt fine even as my heart danced across the screen.
I asked for an agreement that instead of allowing my heart beat to fall into the low 20’s where it would then go into a flutter and A-fib, that they would wake me up when I hit the 20’s. I told them that I could go without sleep for seven days waiting for the antibiotics to kick in, as sleep is over rated. Don’t get me wrong, as I love my sleep, but having traveled the globe lecturing and consulting, you learn to live and work through whatever sleep you get and make up for the lack of sleep a week later.
On the fifth morning, I got about an hour’s sleep and was awoken by Josh, one of my terrific nurses at 4 a.m. “Are you okay, Ken?” “Uh, yeah, Why?” “Your heart is really doing some funky things right now and we have called the Cardiologist.” Sure enough, the EKG was twirling as you could see the circles from the flutter. I was so discouraged. By now the antibiotics should have kicked in and begun clearing those little spirochetes out of my AV Node and Bundle of HIS where they were messing with my electrical pathway. The hope was that I had no permanent damage. I was pretty down and discouraged and sure this was it… I was headed for a pacemaker.
Interestingly, I had noticed that when I would laugh, my heart rhythm would start to look normal. You would be right to ask why is this guy laughing with all this going on, but if you know me, I am often laughing, or trying to be funny, no matter what the circumstances. After all,
“A cheerful heart is good medicine!” (Proverbs 17.22).
“Josh, you have to tell me jokes so I can laugh!” I said to my nurse who looked at me a bit bewildered. When he came back in the room he said with a smile, “I only know one joke and it is not a good one. Two olives were on the counter and one peered over the edge and fell off. The other inched towards the edge and looked down and said, ‘Are you okay?’ His fallen friend responded, ‘o’live.’”
Sure enough for 5-10 seconds my heart came out of flutter and into a decent rhythm as I laughed. I pondered this as I thought, “I bet you if I sing my heart will go into rhythm.” So I started singing a praise songs and sure enough my heart started beating more normally. I went to YouTube and found the top 100 praise songs and began to sing along until I came to the song, “God Will Find a Way.” As I sang that song, tears streamed down my cheeks and I sang it over and over again. An hour went by and my heart, still not getting up much past 40 beats, was no longer in flutter but in a normal rhythm. I didn’t want to stop singing for fear it would go back to chaos, so I stood up and stared at my monitor as I sang glory to God.
I have only had four to five miraculous pillar moments in my life, but those events often sustain me in times of trials and troubles knowing my God is with me. If my God can take a fish to show me in the vast Pacific where to find my lost keys, He can surely do as He pleases with my funky heart. My lifelong career is the result of God’s miracle of taking my car to where He wanted me to develop a fabulous career 38 years ago. These are not some random accidents, but miracles that hold my life and faith together.
As I sang standing up, my heart jumped to 50, then for the first time a 60! As tears streamed down my eyes and a song coming from my soul singing, “God will find a way,” my miracle was happening. All even numbers showed up on the monitor of 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 120. Don’t ask me why I never saw 110, but I was shocked that my heart that would not beat for days over 40 was hitting 120! I stood for an hour praising the Lord and not wanting my heart to go back down as it settled into the 60’s and 70’s. Then I sat down in a chair and within seconds it went to 30. Back up, then sitting again, over and over again, about 30 minutes, until I could sit and my heart rate stayed in the 60’s.
Unfortunately, I still was not out of the woods as when I laid down or tried to sleep, my heart would drop down again. I was still having pauses, and was awoken the next morning and told I had just had a series of many long pauses that were quite concerning. The Electrocardiologist was ready to put the pacemaker in, but I asked for one more day knowing that in these Lyme Heart Block cases, it is day six to seven that the real turn around happens. My other cardiologists agreed with me but told me I would do a stress test the next morning to see if my heart was permanently damaged.
I actually slept that night four hours and then was put on the treadmill. They told me that a good test was at least six minutes of a good run and to let them know when I felt things were Very Hard. At the 11-minute mark I said, “I think I can keep going, but it’s getting very hard.” They shut the machine off and said, ‘You passed with flying colors. Your heart responded perfectly well. We see nothing damaged with your heart.” Praise the Lord!
Then the terrific Christian Cardiologist came in and said, “I spent the last hour looking at every one of your heart beats from last night until now. You have no pauses and your heart beats are in the 50’s. From everything I can see, you are no longer in a level three heart block, but a Mobitz 2a which is stable. You can go home now and there is every indication that by the time you finish your course of antibiotics you should be back to 100 percent.”
WOW! What a week! It still seems so surreal and as if it never happened. Lori was in worse shape than I was at that point from the stress of it all. I had insisted that she not be with me at the hospital knowing that her body does not process stress of watching a bouncing, pausing heart, not having the natural cortisol rush healthy people get to manage stress in the body because of her pituitary meningioma. My two sons had been by my side at times, coming from a long way away to be with Dad. They kept me laughing pretty well. Lori drove down the two hours to get me and I jumped in the van and drove home after stopping at Costco, of course.
When I got back to our summer place on the lake, I was attacked by three grandchildren whom I adore, and I attacked the fourth little one who is as precious as can be. Two of my best friends from our college days, Rick and Lynn, there to greet us as they had stopped by the hospital and just missed me. We were together again experiencing life at its best and fullest with my loved ones. We tacked on a few more days to recover and then headed home where we found our oldest daughter, who had been infertile for over seven years, struggling in labor for four days. But the fifth day, just when all hope was about to be lost for a natural birth, God gave her the miracle of a beautiful baby boy without having a C-section. Another miracle in the life of the Alexander family. Thank you Lord God!
If I have a lesson learned from a tick bite, what would it be? Well, certainly do a better job checking for ticks. But I think it is the same lesson I have learned many times in my life even as I too often forget it. That in the midst of my troubles and trials, I need to start earlier to turn my praise to God, giving Him the glory so much sooner than when it feels that all is lost. There is but one reason that you and I exist and that is for God’s good pleasure and for Him to get all the glory. So the sooner we jump into singing His praises, standing before Him with thanksgiving and song, and glorifying Him in the midst of the trials, only then can we expect that He will reward our gift of faith with His very best. His best may not always be what we had wished or hoped for, but when it is God’s best, it is also for our best… always. For God is good and there is no darkness or shadow in Him that is not perfectly good.
I sincerely thank all of you who entered into my troubles with me through intercessory prayer. I could read the well wishes and prayers on Facebook and it was so comforting to feel surrounded by the family of God in my hour of need. All three of my Cardiologists were Christians, and the nurses were fantastic professionals. I truly was so blessed by them and all of you.
The thought did cross my mind several times that if this was my time to go home to be with the Lord that I have truly lived a full and complete life, especially watching my children blossom into an exceptional maturity in Christ as they build their own wonderful families. I have the best wife, children, and grandchildren ever! But if the Lord wants to use me for His glory by keeping me here a few more years, and hopefully many more years, I am all in on that! And I pray that I will be honoring to Him and used by Him to build up the body of Christ, winning souls for His Kingdom. To God be all the glory in my life and yours! We have the very best God and Savior ever imaginable and He is for real! Now will we just believe Him and walk moment by moment with Him every day, even in our troubles.
Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen!