The Hope Series – Part 3: Breathing

I was thirty when I had a heart attack. OK, it wasn’t really a heart attack. But it sure felt like one. 

When the pain in my chest first started, I thought it was no big deal. I took some pills for what I thought was muscle pain. But as I sat there, arms wrapped around my knees, hoping the painkillers would kick in and render a trip to hospital unnecessary, I noticed the task of breathing was becoming increasingly difficult. 

My husband hovered anxiously nearby. ‘I’m taking you to hospital,’ he said finally. ‘It’s just muscular,’ I countered between gasps. ‘I’ve taken pills for it.’ ‘OK, but if you’re not feeling better in twenty minutes, I’m taking you in.’

Twenty minutes later I reluctantly conceded defeat and consented to being driven to hospital. 

I was struggling for breath.

By the time we walked in, I was struggling for breath. I was only able to take short sips of air; anything more caused crushing pressure in my chest. It felt like someone had laid a slab of concrete on top of me. When they admitted me twenty minutes later, I was barely breathing. 

First thing they looked for was a heart attack. It came back clear. They checked for a bunch of other stuff, but everything came back normal. Every time they gave me pills, I promptly vomited them back up. They didn’t know what was wrong with me. 

They asked me how bad the pain was out of ten. I said ten. I just wanted the pain to stop. I wanted to breathe again. In the end, they filled a giant syringe with morphine. I heroically resisting the urge to grab the needle and do the job myself. 

As the needle found its way home, the pain began to ease. Relief flooded my body. I could take sips of air again. 

The pain began to ease. Relief flooded my body.

I sank back into my chair and let them ship me around the hospital. They kept me for two nights. The first time I tried to get out of bed, I threw up. I contented myself with the more achievable tasks of sleeping and breathing. 

My family came to visit. They prayed as I lay there in bed, drugged up and groggy, feeling like an invalid. The pain was now seven out of ten, but as my family prayed, it began to recede. Breathing became noticeably easier.

It felt like God had joined me in my hospital bed at that moment, giving my drug-induced healing a helping hand. 

It felt like God had joined me in my hospital bed at that moment.

The pain dropped to five out of ten, and by evening it was down to four. The following morning it was a comfortable two. The healing had clearly continued overnight. They discharged me and sent me home. I was grateful to simply breathe like a normal person again. 

The hospital never worked out what was wrong with me. A specialist said it was most likely pericarditis, a fancy word for inflammation of the lining around the heart. (No wonder it felt like a heart attack.) Since then, I have been diagnosed with an autoimmune illness, and pericarditis is one of the signs of that chronic illness. 

The whole experience shook me up but it came with a silver lining: confirmation of a diagnosis. And it gave me a moment in time to witness God’s grace, the moment when he joined me in that hospital bed and helped me breathe more easily. 

It gave me a moment in time to witness God’s grace.

I will always remember what he did for me.

Have there been times when God has helped you breathe more easily? Has God ever visited you in unexpected places? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.

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