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High blood

Memories of a heart attack

Awakened by strange voices, I opened my eyes and wondered where I was. Then I recognized a nurse in green who told me that I was in a hospital in downtown Honolulu, and that I had a heart attack and had just gone through tests to find out what was the problem.

I recognized next the face of a doctor in a white coat. “Mr. Mendiola,” he said, “we found four blocked arteries that caused your heart attack.”

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“And,” he calmly continued, “we now need your consent so that we can do open-heart surgery and perform a multiple bypass at the soonest possible time.”

Shock washed all over me. I felt strange being at the receiving end of bad news that I had been trained to break to patients.

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I was then a participant in a yearlong training program for chaplains called Clinical Pastoral Education at a hospital in Honolulu. Thus, I knew that open-heart, multiple bypass surgery was extremely invasive and one of the most delicate procedures in medicine. Worse, it could become fatal.

I asked for time alone to phone my son Nico in San Francisco as well as my wife and daughters in Manila. As I spoke with them, the events of the past eight hours slowly came back to me.

On that day, Monday, April 16, 2007, I woke up early as usual to prepare for the day’s schedule of classes and practicum. I brewed my regular cup of coffee, then took a shower. Some 15 minutes later, I felt an unusual pain in my chest. I quickly toweled myself dry and got dressed. I then grabbed my digital blood pressure monitor and took the readings. The monitor registered my BP at 260/140 and my heart rate at 80 per minute!

I felt disoriented but managed to pop a blood pressure pill. Despite being newly showered and even in the cool Hawaiian weather, I was perspiring. My chest felt heavy, as if a 50-pound weight were pressing on it. Minutes later, my breathing became labored and my arms began to weaken.

“My God, these are the classic signs of a heart attack! What am I going to do?” I mumbled, almost in tears. “Call 911? Or get a cab and go to the nearest emergency room? But I was there yesterday and they told me my chest pains were just muscular.”

I prayed: “My God, please help me, I am all alone. Mother Mary, pray for me… now and if this be the hour of my death.”

Then, as if pushed by an unknown force, I grabbed my phone and dialed 911.

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What happened next was like a scene from a TV series. An operator answered my call and her gentle voice calmed me down. She took down my name and age, the nature of the emergency, and my location. She then assured me that help was coming shortly and gave me instructions what to do in the meantime. She got off the phone after assuring me one more time that help was on the way. Some five minutes later an ambulance and a fire truck arrived as I collapsed on my bed, overcome by weakness…

Next thing I knew, I was in a room with a doctor and a nurse filling me in on what had happened to me, what measures had been carried out, and what needed to be done next.

I signed the hospital consent form after talking to my family on the phone. Then I went through more tests to determine my body’s overall condition to undergo open-heart surgery.

Four days later, heart specialists performed a 5-artery bypass (they found a fifth block after opening my heart) that lasted for seven hours. I returned to the Philippines after a brief period of recovery.

Today, as I mark the Lenten season, I recall the events of my heart attack with a grateful heart. I know I could not have survived were it not for God’s loving protection and grace. He truly is my God and Savior!

* * *

Danilo G. Mendiola, 75, is retired from corporate work and now serves with his wife in the Marriage Prep Ministry of their parish in Quezon City.

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