by Kari Diane Pike
Back up to late October -the day before my husband and I were scheduled to leave for our first trip as "empty-nesters." A doctor noticed my blood pressure was too high. When it continued to be high the next morning, I picked up a blood pressure prescription on our way out of town. And so it began.
Something didn't feel right. I didn't feel right. At first I thought it was just stress. My heart kept skipping beats and I had an uncomfortable tightness in my chest that came and went. Sometimes I would wake up in the night with a sharp pinching sensation in my chest. The Monday I started to pass out driving north on the freeway convinced me something was terribly wrong. I tried calling my cardiologist. I spoke to his triage nurse. She switched me over to scheduling. I got an answering machine. I left a message. They never returned my call.
The skipped heart beats and fluttering increased throughout the week. The pressure in my chest became more constant. I had several more fainting spells. By Friday afternoon, the pain in my chest had spread through to my back and down my left arm. My fingers started to tingle. I called (or my husband called) the triage hot line on our insurance card. She urged me to call 911. I didn't want that much attention. The hospital was close, so my husband drove me to the emergency room. A full cardiac workup showed everything to be normal, except for some minor pulmonary edema - hence the pinching sensation. When they suggested I follow up with my cardiologist and my primary care doctor, I questioned their reasoning. Didn't they just prove that everything was normal? I even asked if they thought I should talk to a PhD instead of an MD. At least I made them smile. One of the ER nurses called me at home the next day to check on me and to persuade me to make sure and get in to see my physicians. I asked her if she had any magic words that would get me in the door on such short notice. She laughed. And said no, but I should try anyway.
Fast forward through the next couple of weeks. The cardiologist's PA ordered a nuclear stress test. I talked my PCP into taking me off the new medication since that seemed to be the starting point. She went with that...and put me on a new blood pressure medication. I took it. It made me want to crawl out of my skin. She said I would get used to it. At least all the other negative reactions disappeared.
In the mean time, our BYU kids were coming home for the Thanksgiving holiday and we had planned an incredible schedule for the weekend with a family dinner, ordaining our youngest son with the Melchizedek priesthood (have I mentioned that Levi has his mission call and will be serving in the Moscow Russia mission?), taking two of our children through the temple for the first time and baptizing a grandson.
Wednesday, my mom called and said that Dad was acting strange. He had fallen and hit his head a couple of days earlier. He said his head hurt whenever he tried to lie down, and he slept a lot. He fretted about a list of things he wanted Mom to do if he didn't wake up in the morning and even went off by himself to purchase Mom's birthday present (her birthday is in July) just in case he wasn't around by then. She took him to the emergency room where they found a couple of brain bleeds. Worrying about Dad made my morning discovery of a leaky kitchen faucet and flooded cabinet pretty trivial.
I woke up about 4:30 a.m Thanksgiving day gasping for air. I felt better sitting up, but I could feel my throat continue to swell. I prayed and felt impressed to take some Benedryl. I didn't want to ruin the day for everyone by spending another day in the ER. The Benedryl helped, but I still couldn't breathe lying down, so I had Doug take me to urgent care before everyone woke up. Drug allergies stink. On the upside, large doses of steroids gave me energy to spare.
We had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner and the ordination took place that evening. Mom called after she drove back home - and discovered she had been burglarized. The patio doors had been kicked in. The police said Mom must have scared them off when she activated the garage door opener. They snatched her brand new laptop (a beautiful red one - only a few weeks old), and damaged a couple of cabinets, but left other valuables. It could have been much worse.
Friday and Saturday flew by as we focused on family and the temple and the baptism. One friend, upon hearing about all the drama, said "surely there's a rainbow around the corner, right?" Her comment startled me because, despite all the challenges, I was so focused on how blessed I felt to watch my children making good choices and succeed in their lives that what I saw was a few storm clouds trying to obscure my view of a glorious rainbow. After giving it more thought, I realized that without the storm clouds, I wouldn't have been able to see the rainbows.
There's another part to this story. You see, earlier in the year I had to give up something very precious to me. And my heart was breaking. I'd spent months trying to solve problems with my vocal chords that make speaking or singing difficult. Singing a simple hymn can be painful and exhausting. Singing has always been a huge part of my life - and I had waited years to have the time to sing in a vocal ensemble with my brother Paul. Singing was huge part of my identity! I offered heartfelt prayers begging to be healed. I shed a lot of tears. Those other challenges created opportunities to serve my family and shifted my focus outward.
My stewardship as a seminary teacher (yet another blessing I had perceived as a challenge) has also played a huge role in shaping my perspective. I love how Heavenly Father gives me answers - even humorous ones - through scripture study. For example, after a particularly difficult day, I read Numbers 11 while prepping for a seminary lesson. Moses was feeling pretty burdened by those whiny children of Israel (because who wouldn't feel overwhelmed with somewhere around a million people demanding to be fed). He took his problems to the Lord and said something to the effect of,
Have I conceived all these people?...whence should I have flesh to give unto all the people?...I am not able to bear all this people alone...And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight.... Numbers 11: 12-15Can't you just picture this? How many times have I said, "Okay, Lord, just kill me now, instead of by degrees, because [insert challenge here] is really hard!" That is how my thinking went when faced with the idea of not being able to sing anymore. But my thinking has changed. I've changed. I've gained a greater testimony of prayer and of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I've learned that when I focus on the light of Christ, it shines through storm clouds and reveals breathtaking rainbows. The polishing that I receive during those storms helps me reflect that light so that I can share it with others and help serve them in their time of need.
The children of Israel failed to recognize and remember the great blessings the Lord gave them. That's another part I learned. Remember. It's one thing to recognize blessings. That's important. True gratitude involves remembering - remembering who I am, why I am here and who the Lord is and what He has done for me. I am grateful for answered prayers - even when those answers come in unexpected ways.
I pray that I will always remember the blessings the Lord has heaped upon me. He always nourishes me and strengthens me and helps me accomplish everything He asks me to do and become who He created me to be. Jesus Christ is my light. He prepared the way before me and He will lead me back home to my Father in Heaven.
Life is magnificent.