I survived the triple bypass, recovered, and they sent me home a few days later. I was doing fine until about a week after I got home when I took a turn for the worse. For no apparent reason, I was having difficulty breathing. My feet and legs were swollen. I was and coughing and wheezing badly. That night I was unable to keep anything in my stomach, including my meds. When my temperature hit a hundred, Elizabeth called the doctor. He told her, “I’ll stop by in the morning. In the meantime, make sure that he’s keeping down his medicine. If his temperature goes any higher, call 911.”
About two a.m., I felt an electric-like jolt shake my upper body. I awoke with a start and curled up in the fetal position. I could feel my body starting to slip over to the other side. It was a weird sensation. My breathing became shallow, and I could feel my pulse rate slowing. I was neither hungry nor thirsty, and the ever-present pain was no longer in the forefront.
I felt a short wave of warmth sweep through my chest, followed by a pleasant, lingering numbness. A sense of calm and peacefulness settled on me. I just wanted to sleep. My brain slowed down time and intertwined reality with shadowy hallucinations until they became one. Defining moments in my life, both good, and bad flooded into my mind, as hundreds, maybe thousands of memories, raced through my mind, each one replacing the previous one in milliseconds, and there was no going back.
My slide into eternity slowed and then stopped. An unpleasant piercing sound interfered with the slideshow in my head and annoyed me. Suddenly, I felt something or somebody shaking me. That annoyed me further. I whispered, “Go away, and leave me alone!”
I was in the very private act of withdrawing from life, and I wanted and needed my space. As the shaking and noise continued, my sense of euphoria slipped away and was replaced by a voice. It was Elizabeth’s voice. I could make out bits and pieces of what she was saying. It sounded like, “Please don’t die. I need you!”
I felt terrible for Elizabeth. I didn’t want to leave her. However, I was pretty sure that I was on my way out, and there was little I could do about it. I opened my eyes a crack, as Elizabeth tugged and pushed me into a sitting position. Despite my weak protestations, she then yanked me out of bed and helped me take a dozen steps into the living room where I dropped in a chair, exhausted.
Elizabeth’s intervention slowed my spiral into the unknown, but it also awakened the pain that was racking my body. She covered me with a quilt, put an ice pack on my brow and forced me to swallow my medicines. All I wanted to do was to return to that twilight zone where there was no pain, and I had gotten a glimpse of my mom. Elizabeth had other ideas. She forced me to stay semi-alert throughout the rest of the night, as she prayed and waited for the dawn and the arrival of the doctor.
As the early Monday morning sun rose in the East and lit up the living room, I was slumped in my chair, zonked out on pain medicine and drifting in and out of lucidity. I thought I heard someone knocking at the door. That familiar tap, tap, tap signaled to me that it was Jesus out there knocking on my door once again. It had to be Him. I was apprehensive and fearful, but I knew that I must open the door. I whispered, “Jesus. Please come in!”
I heard a commotion at the door and closed my eyes. Then, He was at my side. Jesus had a distinct, but faint, odor of spaghetti, meatballs, and garlic. I liked that. It broke the ice, and my fear subsided. I didn’t dare to open my eyes. I wasn’t worthy to look Jesus in the eye. It didn’t matter because I could feel His presence. It was a powerful sense of pure love, agape love. I started to tell Him how sorry I was for so many things, but He hushed me. He already knew what was in my heart. There was no need for words. He forgave me for everything, spoken and unspoken. Then, Jesus was gone. I sighed and fell into a deep sleep.
When I woke up a couple of hours later, Elizabeth looked me over carefully and took my temperature without saying anything. When she was satisfied I was all right, she sat next to me and said, “Okay Jake, what happened? You were a little scary this morning.”
“The only thing I remember for sure was that I heard somebody knocking at the door. I knew it was Jesus, and I told Him to come in. I don’t have the words to describe what happened after that. I am now at peace with my Maker. A wonderful sense of joy fills my heart, and my pain is gone. This is the best that I have felt in a week.”
“That was Fr. Michael at the door, Jake. He came by to bless the house. When he saw you slumped in the chair and mumbling to yourself, he was alarmed. He went down to his car and got his little black bag and administered the last rites to you. Do you remember that?”
“No, all I remember is time stopped when Jesus was with me.”
“Fr. Michael also anointed me with the ‘oil of the sick.’ Then he blessed the house and the cats.”
Dr. Moore came by later that morning as he promised. He examined me and told Elizabeth, “Jake appears to be on the mend. His temperature is normal, and he no longer exhibits most of the symptoms that you described over the phone. Did you take him to the ER?”
“No, but his symptoms improved greatly after the parish priest gave him the last rites early this morning.”
“That’s just remarkable. Somebody is certainly watching over your husband. If the symptoms return, call me.”