Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fun things to know and tell after a heart attack

Two weeks after surgery with Dr. Ricci- 'The Man, aka, The Guy with the Golden Hands.' From the University of Miami.

1. The shock is wearing off. I did not consider myself a candidate for heart trouble. No red meat, hundreds of spin classes and an aversion to fast food did not buy me immunity from my end of the gene pool. I'm guessing self-induced stress did not help.

2. I know that we will all die of our last illness, I just didn't want it to be this one.

3. End of the Superman syndrome. I have always had this inherent confidence that I could hustle my way through any adversity. I could always work longer, get up earlier and juggle more projects to get it done.
Those days are dead. Better them than me.

4. The world is so worldly. Like a heightened sense of smell, in the hospital I became more attuned to just how ungodly most of the world is. Duh. It was just a sad dullness of how much people and daily activities are amputated from any sense of God.

5. And I had it 'easy.' A wonderfully supportive wife, immediate and church family; A world class Miami hospital and recovery in a four star hotel. NOTHING to complain about. We were very nearly in Belize and not Key West for our holiday. That could have been a much different picture.

6. Back on the bike. Amazing the vacuum that now exists in my life because I cannot work out normally. I did crawl back on a stationary bike the other day. Yes, I realized it was not mobile, but I felt so enabled. Can't wait to ride again!

7. I am determined not to waste this event. I have been arrested in my tracks by God. I am slowly picking up the pieces of projects that were in motion. But I am convinced the Lord wants to expand my faith in the medium and long term future and do something serious. I am emptying myself, waiting, listening and stretching. We will see.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Pirate Looks at 60

With Larissa, in the Miami hospital. I am looking better than I feel, and I realize that is not saying much.
Team Lusko: Daniel, Becca, Jesse, Heidi, Levi & the victim. They made me laugh, cry and kept me sane as possible when you are about to have your chest split open with a chain saw. We prayed, read scripture, sang and watched teachings together. Priceless support.
They were also constantly on covert food runs to South Beach.

In Key West, two days before, The Event. Larissa and I took Heidi and our niece Jazzy to celebrate graduating from high school.
 The sign in the ambulance was a rate card for various medical procedures.  Curious. Here I was, in route to the hospital for radical chest pains and I am proof reading the rate card. 
I can't help it, because I have journalism training, I subconsciously proof many things I see, billboards, magazine ads and what not. It is a mixed blessing (a bit of OCD). As I lay in the back of a Miami ambulance, I just couldn't help proofing the rescue rate card hanging on the wall, 'EKG: $100 etc.' 

My heart was attacking me and it was an annoying way to start the week. I had other plans, and they did not include waking up on Biscayne Bay with such classic heart attack symptoms that even I could not go into denial for long. So instead of heading for an early workout on the Bay and a cup of Illy coffee, I stumbled to the Hilton lobby and mentioned to the clerk that she should call 911.
When my new ambulance friends deposited me at the emergency room of nearby Jackson Memorial Hospital, I had no idea I would be thrust into my first major hospital experience. Fifty-nine years old and I had spent one night in a hospital for a minor cut repair. That would change. I was about to be initiated into the hospital culture. Hospitals are a combination of mediocre hotel, much needed torture chambers and a palace for medical working heroes.
Image is everything, and I could hardly bring myself to say, 'I had a heart attack.' But I did. The ER doors of JMH became a wormhole to a new reality for me. Cath lab, angioplasty and a quick prognosis. I would need open heart surgery as soon as my blood thickened. And oh yes, I could go into cardiac arrest at any moment, but the cardio doctor said I was 'lucky.' Lucky to have no other risk factors, lucky to be staying close to a fine cardio hospital and very lucky I did not wait longer. Fifty per cent of heart attack victims perish in the first sixty minutes without treatment. I was in surgery almost one hour to the minute from when I woke up in a cold sweat. My favorite line came from the gurney guy, 'Man, that could have killed you.' He has seen a lot, so enough said. I heard the word lucky and fortunate many times that day. But I knew there was much more, had this 'event' taken place at a different time and place I would have been toast. I could have been hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim as I was two weeks before. I can just see my lifeless body draped over a Canyon mule. Two days earlier, I was 45 minutes off Key West in the Gulf on a dive boat. One week earlier I was on a bike ride with my cycling team, 20 miles out, not good. But a hotel five minutes from one of the highest rated heart hospitals in the country would be excellent, thank you.
God's hand was not missing.
Things I thought while my heart attacked
'Really Lord, like this?' Fifty-nine, alone in Miami, with a legal pad of important projects on the runway. I felt no excitement for heaven, though I had assurance, I felt disappointment. Not the unfulfilled bucket list jive of cycling the Alps or diving the Truk Islands. Something else. It was just that for the past year or more I have sensed a rumbling in the Spirit. I know something big is coming, I don't know what or when. I just was put off at the idea of not catching this Spiritual Set. There were no C.S. Lewis moments of clarity, just a dull mixture of anxiety and amazement.
I am pleased to report that I had no nagging need to reconcile with any of my family. I was at total peace with my wife and kids, nothing left unsaid, except maybe, 'Good-bye.'
That brought me to the need for communication. No one knew. It was 6 AM Eastern, so the middle of the night in New Mexico and Montana. Plus, phoning with nitroglycerin under my tongue was a challenge. So I texted out, first to my wife Larissa, then a group text to all the children: 'I love you. Chest pains. Ambulance. Miami.' Here's some dark humor, I sometimes send my wife song lyric fragments and she has to answer back.
That's what she thought I was doing and not recognizing the Jimmy Buffett ballad, 'Chest Pains,' she did not play along.
I finally called her after surgery and the word went out. Facebook & Twitter are amazing.
Within twenty hours I would be surrounded by Larissa and all five kids, like spiritual centurions, Team Lusko was on guard. Levi had the most challenging flight path, taking a private plane from Kalispell to Great Falls to escape the weird vortex of Montana flight schedules.
Larissa and Heidi had both been with me in Key West the day before, I had stayed behind for work in Miami, so they made a quick return trip from ABQ.
Daniel, Jesse and Becca dropped everything and showed up quickly.
So there I was, laying in CCU with all five Lusko children and my lovely wife Larissa waiting for my chest to be opened.
In addition, support poured in from around the world. Calvary of Albuquerque was incredibly gracious as were other churches like Calvary Kendall here in South Florida. But mainly, people prayed and I could tell. And thank God, because I was in for the medical equivalent of the Tour de France. Before long I had IV's in my arms and neck (the worst) and other tubes and wires in my body. I felt like Frankenstein. Through it all, more support flowed in, Kent Bagdasar, a life long friend from So Cal showed up, as did Pedro and Lourdes Garcia. Other pastor friends offered to fly in and and run errands. I was deeply touched.
The Fruit
Four hours of surgery brought more prayer pay off. They did not need to stop my heart and use the heart-lung machine. This alone is a major meta-physical victory for me.
The 48 hours after surgery are a foggy, painful blur. I do recall looking at Levi, and demanding to know who he was.
Each child in turn was special to be around, each spiritual, each supportive and altogether a lot of my tears were shed.
Released from the hospital after 4 days, the hits keep coming. I have been off pain meds since then, literally pain free. I am weak, but walking. Talking briefly to the kids each day to make sure this really happened. It did.
Now what?
Four months ahead of my 60th, I have raised my family, conducted a 40 year media career and have been given a new lease on life. I do not plan to waste a single moment for the Kingdom.
For This Purpose
Here is an interesting point, Louie Giglio has a current 'Open Heart Series,' that really got my attention in the hospital, let's just say. It was also something wild to watch Levi teach online from Tucson just after he had to leave. Surreal. I was to have been there, but no.
All that to say, what have I been hearing? If I had to distill my spiritual impressions to a single thought it would be this:
Be sure you are able to say, 'For this purpose was I born,' as Jesus was. This is not harvesting any fresh manna, but my perspective gave me a new hunger to go all out on a spiritual adventure, 'and see what the Lord will do.'
Once you discover your God given passion, do not look back. Genuine passion is contagious, outrageous and rare. It needs to be exposed to all the world. We cannot convince people to love Jesus (thank you Frances Chan) but we can be so incredibly on fire and in love with Him that the world will want to watch us burn as they warm themselves by our fires.
Anybody got a match?

Oh, and I did not find any typo's on the ambulance rate card. I didn't spend a lot of time on this blog since I was just released from open heart surgery. Feel free to proof it.