I think I’m having a Heart Attack…

It was a very hot day on the course and my match play opponent wasn’t making it easy on me. I hadn’t been playing poorly by any means, but he was playing pretty stellar golf. Actually, it was his putting that was so good…or rather lucky… He was dropping putts from everywhere—putts that even the pros would only have a 5% chance of making. I couldn’t believe it—and the stress was mounting. After 9 holes, I was 3 down. Then on the 10th hole, he made another birdie putt from about 30 feet that broke at least 4 feet (which means the line of his putt curved about 4 feet).  I was speechless.

4 down!

In match play, it can seem pretty hopeless when you get that far down. But I don’t like to lose and I wasn’t about to give up.

I started to mount my charge on the 11th hole, sticking my approach to 3 feet. I made the putt for birdie and won the hole to get back to 3 down. On the 12th, my opponent finally made a mistake, hitting his ball into the water hazard in front of the green leading to a double bogey. Taking advantage of his error, I hit my approach shot to the middle of the green and made an easy 2-putt par.

Now only 2 down.

The 13th hole was the kind of hole most golfers dread—a long par 3. That day, it was playing about 205 yards and I had the honors (meaning I got to hit first). The wind was helping slightly and blowing a little from left to right which was perfect for my ball flight, so I pulled out my 5 iron and walked up to the tee knowing that I needed to hit a good one. I went through my pre-shot routine, took a deep breath and set up to the ball. After a brief moment, I took the club back and swung through making perfect contact, starting the ball on a line just left of the pin—exactly where I wanted to hit it. I watched as the wind slowly brought the ball back to the right and in perfect line with the pin as the ball descended toward the green. It was about that moment that I started to utter what every golfer would say—“get in the hole!” The ball landed about 3 feet short of the pin and rolled right up to the flag. I waited for the ball to disappear into the cup, but it never did. From the tee, the flag stick was leaning slightly to the right and it looked as if the pin itself was preventing the ball from falling in the hole.

Getting properly aimed as part of my pre-shot routine.

Whether that was the case or not, I had put tremendous pressure on my opponent.  If he couldn’t answer my shot, he would lose his 3rd hole in a row and I would be back within 1 with 5 holes to play and all the momentum would be in my favor. Luckily for me, he put his ball 25 feet behind the flag stick and left himself a very difficult putt. When we got up to the green, I was a little saddened to find my ball had settled about one inch from the cup. So no hole-in-one this day, but at least my opponent conceded my birdie. He then went on to miss his putt, which won me my third consecutive hole and on to the 14th I went only 1 down.

The 14th was a longer par 5, which doglegged to the left. Again I had the honors on the tee. My plan was to hit a driver just over the corner of the dogleg and leave myself an opportunity to hit the green in two to secure at least another birdie, if not an eagle, and get this match back to all square. The only problem was that I thought my driver might be too much club to keep the ball in the fairway, but I knew I couldn’t clear the dogleg with my 3-wood. I decided to hit driver and unfortunately pushed it just a bit to the right and hit it just a bit too far, just as I had feared. The ball rolled through the fairway and barely into the rough. It wasn’t the worst-case scenario, but it would make it more difficult to hit the green in two. When I got up to my ball, the lie wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either, which basically means that I had a very tough decision to make.

I could either hit 3-wood to go for the green and risk getting the club head tangled in the long grass, or I could lay up with a more lofted iron and reduce the possibility of a big score. Option one was “big risk, big reward.” Option two was the safe play.

In a similar situation, my opponent chose option two. Given my circumstances, I elected option one. I went for it. Go big or go home, right? But something totally unexpected happened during my swing that caused me to turn my attention from where my ball was headed to something I couldn’t ignore—my heart. In a split second, my heart went from about 85 beats per minute (my usual slightly active heart rate) to what must have been almost 200 beats per minute. I had no idea what was happening, but my best guess? Heart attack.

Looking back on it, I know it wasn’t a heart attack. There were no other symptoms. I wasn’t in pain anywhere, no shortness of breath—just a racing heart that felt like it was beating faster than if I had been running sprints. It took me by total surprise. And my only thought in that moment was, “God, please don’t let me die here!”

The funny thing about it was that in an instant, it revealed the things that were most important to me. I love golf and it is one of my greatest passions, but I wasn’t thinking, “Well, if I have to die, I’d rather it be right here on the golf course.” No, I was thinking, “God, let me see my family one more time. Let me see my wife and kids.” And, “Lord, I’m not ready to die, I don’t feel like I’ve fulfilled the purpose for which you created me.”

I remember a speaker saying something years ago to the effect of, “I hope you have conflict. I hope you have a crisis—because when you do, it will clarify your beliefs.” That statement couldn’t have been truer for me in that moment. The year prior I had decided (with my wife’s approval) to put a lot more effort into my golf game to potentially attempt to play some professional golf on some mini tour down south. So I had been playing a lot of golf and it had begun to take a toll on my family. I’m sad to say that at one point, my wife accused me of loving golf more than I loved her. That wasn’t true of course, but it did open my eyes to how my wife felt about how I was spending my time. While I feel that God has blessed me with a natural talent for golf, it caused me to begin questioning if professional golf was really what God wanted me to pursue.

Back on the course, thankfully, it only took a minute for my heart rate to decelerate and somewhere between 5-10 minutes for it to return to normal. As you might expect, I lost my focus after that. With every swing, there was the fear of it happening again. Fear that I wouldn’t make it home. Fear that I might not see my family again. At different points, I had to choke back tears at the thought of never seeing their precious faces or embracing them again. Needless to say, I lost the match. What made it worse was that this tournament was out of town. I was 45 minutes away from home and I rode with someone else who was somewhere in the middle of the course. So there was no way of immediate escape.

So I just decided to put my trust in the sovereignty of God and practice what 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to “pray without ceasing.” Thankfully, God didn’t see fit to take me that day and I made it home to see my family once again. Because everything seemed to return to normal by the time I got home, the fear had mostly subsided and I had wondered if what had happened had just been some anomaly.  I really wasn’t even sure if I was going to see a doctor to try to figure out what had happened….That is, until I walked out of my house two days later and heard that frightful warning that I had just said my final good-byes to my family.

As much as I tried to shake it off, I couldn’t get rid of that imminent feeling of doom. I just drove around trying to decide what to do. Then I started to feel it…

Shortness of breath…

Tightness in my chest…

I didn’t know if I was having a panic attack or a heart attack. It was Sunday evening. Immediate Care was closed and I didn’t really want to go spend another $1,000 at the ER just to find out I had anxiety. I didn’t know what to do. So I called my wife to tell her what was happening and to get her thoughts. She suggested paging my doctor. So I did. And of course it was some other doctor on call, which wasn’t a big deal, I guess. I told her what was wrong.

“Two days ago I experienced a temporary rapid heart beat on the golf course. Right now, I’m feeling short of breath and tightness in my chest.”

What do you suppose she told me to do?

“I can’t tell you what’s wrong, but I’d suggest going to the ER if you’re that worried about it.”

Interestingly, I still wasn’t ready to commit to the ER and the potential bills that would follow. By this time, it was just after 5:00 p.m. and while the Immediate Care we normally went to was closed, I decided to double check the hours of the Minor Emergency Clinic at my doctor’s office clear across town. (This is where I’m especially thankful for modern technology and cell phones with Internet access!)

I was in luck! They didn’t close until 6:00 p.m. So I raced across town and got checked in hoping they would be able to provide me some answers.  As they called me back, they did all the normal things—checked my blood pressure (a little elevated, but understandable given the circumstances), checked my heart rate (a little faster than normal, but nothing to worry about), temperature was normal, heart and lungs sounded good…

So far, everything seemed normal. But given what had occurred Friday, the doctor ordered an EKG to check the electrical activity of my heart to see if there was or had been any distress. So they performed the test and after a few minutes, the doctor came in to give me the results.

“Have you ever had an EKG before?” he asked.

“No.”

“Well, your results have come back abnormal…”

To Be Continued…

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