One thing you should know about my father is that he has an abnormally large stomach. The kind of stomach that, if x-rayed, would reveal a picnic bench of five angry truck drivers demanding a 4th serving of fillet mignon and mushrooms (if they happen to be sautéed and available). With that being said, my dad is not a particularly overweight guy. In fact, he spends an hour on the elliptical every morning and works out compulsively every weekend. He’s in good shape for a sixty year old and he’s got a hell of a heart, or so I thought.
When he called me a few days ago and said that he had a “widow maker,” which translates to “a severe blockage in the left main coronary artery,” I sunk a bit, but not too deeply. For some reason I was never worried. Perhaps I was in denial, perhaps I was being insensitive, but I knew he would make it through this setback. While undergoing the scheduled procedure this past Wednesday, the doctor discovered that four arteries leading into and from the heart were 95% clogged, contrary to the prior finding of one 67% blockage. While only one stent was originally planned for the procedure, four stents were used, and in the heat of the moment bi-pass surgery was deemed unnecessary. Hence, my dad made it through with only one complication: he now had cardiac arrhythmia.
Cardiac arrhythmia― abnormal electrical activity in the heart that causes it to beat too fast, or too slow, and can result in cardiac arrest, a stroke, or sudden death.
After the operation the doctors tried to correct this side effect by attempting two separate procedures involving two different sets of cardiac drugs, but had no success. To prepare for the third procedure, they shaved his chest, doped him with lithium and morphine, and shocked his heart with defibrillator paddles in the hope that they could reset the rhythm. They were unsuccessful, even after a second electrifying attempt.
So when I arrived in the Critical Care Unit for Arrhythmia at 6:40pm in the Bronx this past Wednesday, I could see that my dad was in a hospital fog of catheters, drugs, and machines that chirped every couple of seconds.
“Cornelius, It hasn’t gone away yet. There’s an extra beat in there, you see the monitor?” He pointed at ECG, it wasn’t a beautiful symmetry. “They’re going to try another procedure at 12:00 tonight.”
“Dad, I think we should try a visual meditation.”
“Ah Cornelius, I don’t know”
“I think we should, okay?”
“How long is it gonna take?”
“A couple of minutes, but if we really focus, who knows what could happen.”
“Bob, try it, it can work,” Joanne (my dad’s wife) added, who was also in the room with us.
I was expecting a southern eye roll, but he consented, “Okay.”
I pulled a chair to his bedside, placed my left hand on top of his heart, and started to relax myself. I felt a familiar tingle in my hands and began: “Take a deep breath in, and slowly let it out. Take another deep breath in, and slowly let it out. In the center of your heart, you see a beautiful, calming, rejuvenating white light. A light that, with each breath, grows in its love, warmth, and healing abilities. A light that calms you, and brings your heart back to its ideal state, a state of love, a state of health, a state….” And we continued this meditation for another 10 minutes until a nurse opened the door and asked us to leave so that she could change his catheters. “It’s also a shift change, so you’ll have to wait outside the CCU till 7:30,” a half hour away. I took my hand off his chest and walked out as she pulled the hospital sheets off his legs.
Thirty minutes later we walked back in and my dad looked at us. “I have something to tell you. When you left the room the nurse looked at the monitor and realized that my heart was back to its normal rhythm.” The ECG showed a different symmetry. “You did it. I always believed in meditation, you know, I used to meditate myself.”