On life's journey, whether traveling around the world or walking around your block, there's lots to learn about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness, so lets dive into a new ocean together!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

From My Heart to Yours-Part 1

Why wear RED? Because it looks so good on you!

February. Valentine's Day. Romance. Heart Month. Go Red. Barbara Walter's TV special about the number one killer--heart disease. You can be a walking time bomb. The symptoms vary, especially for women. I had a heart attack when I was 49-years-old and didn't even know it until several years later. Since I posted this fact, several friends have asked me to share my story. If it will save one life, then it will be worth telling.

When we're young, we don't take time to think about heart disease. Although my Mother suffered a heart attack in her early 60's and died when she was sixty-six from heart failure, I still never paid attention to the fact that heart disease was in my DNA, on both sides of my family. I was an avid runner, ate properly, and got lots of rest, so why should I worry? Well, here's my story. The year was 1995...

...I'm forty-eight when I volunteer on a WWII ship that's laid up in Seattle, Washington. After fourteen months of working endlessly on the old gal, mostly while sailing the seven seas, five weeks in Athens, Greece is a nice break for the crew--sunshine and delicious food! We have many last-minute projects to finish before departing for the Black Sea, but a feeling of excitement is in the air because we are on the last leg of our journey before arriving at our final destination--Israel.

Two nights before we are to sail, the crew gathers below the main deck in Hold Two for an hour of prayer. Afterwards, I'm feeling lightheaded, dizzy, and my stomach is nauseous. Instead of joining the crew for coffee and games in the Captain's Mess, I go to our cabin to rest. Rob is concerned, but I insist that it's nothing. Must be something I ate, I insist. I force a smile and tell him that I'll meet him later in the Captain's Mess.

I no sooner climb up on the bed than I have to run to our head--ship talk for bathroom--to throw up.
Side note: I thank God daily for our very own head. Besides the Captain and his wife, we're the only ones with a private toilet and shower. Before we left Seattle, Rob even discarded our tiny bunk beds for a handcrafted double he created for our little love-nest-at-sea.

Ahh, much better, I sigh as I wipe leftover dinner from my lips. I'll be up and running in no time. But I have no energy, so I turn off the light and lay lifeless on the bed and stare out of the small porthole. A light on the ship next to us spotlights a Greek flag; I find comfort as I watch it sway in the breeze. The ships are stuffed together side-by-side like sardines, which gives us no privacy. But tonight the over-crowded parking lot of ships gives me solace.

Suddenly my breathing is tight. My arms go numb. I cannot move. This goes on for several minutes. I pray. I'm helpless. Then as sudden as the pain crashes over my body, it makes its exit. I smile and breath normally once more. Rob steps in to the cabin and asks if I'm okay. Of course, I answer, but I think I'll pass on game night. He wants to stay but I shoo him out of the cabin so I can sleep. He prays for me, then leaves.

Later, Rob returns and quickly falls asleep. This night, his oh-so-familiar-annoying-nightly-noise making is music to my ears. Having him next to me gives me a secure feeling in this foreign country, so far away from home and family.

Side note: It's funny, when you feel good, traveling is an adventure. When you're sick, it's a nightmare. For those of you who have experienced this, you know what I'm talking about.

Just as I doze off, more pain...in my back, in my chest. Arms numb again. Can't move. How long will it last this time? After the pain disappears, I make my way to the toilet and barf the remains of my green peas and pancakes, our Swedish chef's traditional Thursday lunch menu. I must sleep, so I close my eyes and as I start to drift off, the pain and numbness finds me once more. I pray silently.

Dawn approaches. The pain is gone and I'm left with only a vibrant headache. The ship nurse advises me to go to the hospital. I politely answer, No, I'm fine. No way will I go to a foreign hospital! What if they send me home to America? After all these months, I must carry on like the tough sailor that I have become.

I push the experience aside, until a few years later when I have an EKG and x-rays in preparation for my knee surgery. The surgeon holds up the x-ray and asks, when did you have this cardio infarction? Blank look. Heart attack? he adds. I don't know, I answer. I had forgotten Greece.

A year later when I mention this incident to my doctor, she insists I have another EKG. Results: normal. God had mercy on a naive (stupid) girl. My heart had healed.

Today, more heart aware. I recently had a complete physical. Will you? I share my story because I care. Take care of your heart and it will take you far.

My next blog will have statistics, and tips for daily living.
Oceans of blessings, and I'll see you on the radio!

I run in the path of Your commands, for YOU have set my heart free!
Psalm 119:32 NIV


Jennifer Richardson said...

SHARON, this is so GOOD!!!
Thanks for the gentle but firm
reminder to care for the one ticker
we're given.
For so many years and in so many ways
I neglected mine.
Thanks for the much needed challenge.
(AND wonderfully written, I might add!!!)

Sharon Leaf said...

Thanks Jen. I owe it to my Ga-Ga Sisterhood and Grits Gals to share my story in order to make you 'heart aware.' Golly, I'm beginning to feel a little like Barbara Wa-Wa (Walters :])

Sydney Weaver said...

Thanks for re-posting Sharon (I didn't see the 1st time), and good to be 'aware.'

Love the Ps. 119 scrippy too!