By W.R. Greene
Last year, East Texas Medical Center announced it was going to phase out most of its operations in Gilmer. This left us with no hospital and not even an emergency room anymore.
Everyone who has studied the issue of hospital financing can give you reasons why this happened. Google “rural hospital closings” and you will be inundated with information as to why this is happening. It’s probably only going to get worse and even more hospitals will close.
ETMC saved my life when I was the pedestrian in an auto-pedestrian accident on Buffalo St. nearly a dozen years ago. You’ll never hear me voice anything but total praise for ETMC. When they began shutting everything down here, I felt as if I was losing a trusted friend.
But I have been in good health since that trauma of 2003, from which God miraculously and completely healed me (and clearly let me know He was the one doing it the whole time). Or so I thought until a couple of weeks ago.
I know the symptoms of a heart attack. I have had risk factors for one all my adult life, so I’ve always been wary about this. Yet, on Thursday night, April 23, I stoically just took a fistful of aspirin and the few symptoms I was having went away.
But we all know Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous phrase from The Terminator movies, “I’ll be back.”
Sunday night, April 26, Arnold did indeed come back and began standing on my chest again. This time my skin was clammy, too. That clinched it for me.
I still wasn’t having much trouble breathing, though. I’ve had worse difficulties breathing when I was much younger.
So I still wasn’t entirely sure what was happening, but I decided to amble out to my car and drive 20 miles (19.9, actually, according to a Google Maps calculation I just did) to the newly opened emergency room closest to Gilmer, the Good Shepherd Northpark Medical Plaza on Hawkins Parkway near Longview High School.
Once I got to the parking lot of that new facility, I sat in my car for about 30 seconds looking at the emergency entrance, debating in my mind whether I really wanted to walk through those doors or should I just drive back to Gilmer.
I’ve never wanted to seem like a hypochondriac, so I “play with pain” a lot of the time. Fortunately, though, my “achy breaky heart” (those under 30 may not be familiar with this phrase, the title of a 1992 song by Miley Cyrus’s dad) won the debate over my cool, calculating mind and got my butt out of that driver’s seat and into the ER. It’s experiences like these that remind me I’m never really in the driver’s seat anyhow.
I told the woman at the desk that I thought I might be having a heart attack, but was not at all sure about that.
From there, I was directed to an exam room. That place is new and it was a relatively calm Sunday night, so I felt as if all eyes were on me. It didn’t take long for them to tell me I’d made the right decision to come there.
A woman doctor was on duty. I got her confused as the hours went by with the nurses and would ask every woman I saw if she was a doctor. Most were nurses, of course.
I told them of my taking six aspirin that afternoon in an attempt to make the symptoms go away. One nurse said it was fortunate that I had done that and then she predicted I’d be sent to the main Good Shepherd the next day for cardiac catheterization.
As Sunday night wore on into Monday morning, they did more tests on me, including the MRI where they shoot radioactive dye into you. The worst side effect of this, which didn’t go away for more than 24 hours, was the sensation of having to urinate constantly and yet not being able to produce much, if any, urine. I began calling my condition “urinary constipation.”
Since I had my cellphone on me and was fully conscious the whole time, I was able to make a few calls to let key people know what was happening.
I prayed a lot. I tried to remember the Hebrew name of God which is translated “I AM the LORD that healeth thee.” I began reciting “Jehovah Rapha” quietly to myself, almost like a mantra. Amazingly, it turns out I did recall this phrase correctly, once I got out and was able to research it. It is sometimes transliterated “Rophi” or “Rophe” as well.
Also, how can you not recite the 23rd Psalm at a facility called Good Shepherd? You better believe I did that.
So much of this experience was just “God doing for me what I could not do for myself” as so much of my life has been: “Conscious contact with a Higher Power,” as we call it in my 12-Step Group. Both quotations or variations thereof are found in the Big Book.
I never had any fear. I’ve already nearly died a couple of times. I know it’s something to be welcomed and not feared. I know that when you leave your body, you enter what I would describe as a force field of pure love and energy. There’s nothing like it on earth.
That vertical connection I try always to have with God out there in that force field of pure love beyond this vale of tears saved my bacon (which I can’t eat anymore) Sunday night and into Monday, as it has so often in my life. The only thing that really pressed on my mind was what was going to happen to my 86-year-old mother who is a resident at the Wesley House assisted-living facility.
So, after an almost totally sleepless night, the Champion EMS team, a couple of guys named Carlos and Jessie, loaded me into the ambulance at about 10 a.m. for the 3.7-mile trip downtown to the main campus of Good Shepherd Medical Center. Carlos, in particular, was really concerned about me and kept asking me if I was able to breathe. I assured him I could.
I met several doctors once they wheeled me into the Cath lab, including Dr. Muhammad M. Chaudhry, Dr. Maziar Mahjoobi and Dr. Saifur Rashid. I’m not sure exactly who did what. I think Dr. Mahjoobi put in the two stents that were required. Dr. Chaudhry is who I go to see for a followup and is now my cardiologist. I believe he did the actual catheterization. All I know is they did a fantastic job and I felt 100 percent better within hours of the procedure being over. It was done through my right wrist and was almost totally painless.
I have no doubt left out the names of some other doctors who treated me, merely because I was never formally introduced.
From the Good Shepherd Health System website I learned these facts. Each year:
• 9,000 major cardiac procedures are performed
• 2,000 catheterizations are performed, surpassing the American College of Cardiology (ACC) minimum performance standard of 400
• 260 open-heart surgeries are performed, surpassing the ACC minimum volume standard for quality (233)
• 7,000 medical cardiology procedures are performed in the Cath lab
• 2,000 non-invasive cardiology services are performed on an inpatient and outpatient basis
Over the past five years, we have invested more than $6 million in technology enhancements, including the addition of electrophysiology equipment to provide care to those patients experiencing abnormal heart rhythms.
I spent Monday night in room 2341 at Good Shepherd. Pastor Richard Laster of the Gilmer First United Methodist Church visited me only two hours after I’d been in that room. I thought to myself “this man really does have a direct line to God.” Actually, he’d found out about it from a friend of Mary Laschinger Kirby who works at the church. Aunt Mary was one of the “key people” I had called.
By noon Tuesday, they told me I was free to go home. By that time, I had listened to a lot of lectures about what I’d been doing wrong and what I had to do to get it right in terms of heart health. My bad. I get it. Really. One doctor even scolded me for not having my toenails cut properly. That was the first thing I did when I got home.
All in all, it was an amazing experience. I’m glad I lived to tell of it. God is great and he uses human beings made in His image such as the marvelous medical professionals I met over the course of less than 48 hours in Longview from April 27 to April 29 to show that He really is “Jehovah Rapha” — “I AM the LORD that healeth thee.” (Exodus 15:26)