Getting to the Goal with Faith

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With Sandra spending another the night in the hospital for tests – 10/9/18

I admire the work former 49er quarterback Colin Kapernick has done on civil rights and I loved the work that he did between the 20-yard lines. The problem was that he couldn’t get the job done when it counted. He got into the red zone in spectacular fashion, but failed to get into the end zone when championships were on the line.  Niners fans still feel the “oh so close” pain of 2011-2013.

For non-football fans, Let me explain. The goal of the game is to score points by getting into the end zone. The 20 yards that separate the team from the goal line is called the red zone. That’s where things get tough. The opposing players create all kinds of barriers. The final 20 yards is a lonely proposition for the team leader, especially if the team doesn’t cross into the end zone. Just ask Colin Kapernick.

Seven months ago, I started an evaluation process to determine my eligibility for a heart transplant. The first 6 ½ months were fast-paced and hectic. I took countless tests and completed several procedures. While it hasn’t been completely without hiccups, the process moved along with speed and efficiency. God willing, I will soon be on the schedule for surgery to insert a mechanical pump into my heart.

I’m now in the red zone of the first part of this process. The march to the red zone was filled with excitement and optimism. CT scans, heart catheterizations, lung capacity tests, and psychological evaluations filled my days.

In just a few weeks, the surgeon will confirm the date when he’ll perform major open heart surgery and place a machine into my heart.  It’s a lot to take in. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that. There are also many other things going through my mind. I think about Sandra and the girls. I think about how our lives have changed and will change once more. I think about the long road ahead.

Like the quarterback calling plays in the red zone, I feel like I’m in a lonely place. The Kaiser lineup of professionals is world-class when it comes to know-how, talent, and bedside manner. Sandra has been amazing. Working as a team, we collaborate with the health specialists and ask lots of questions until we fully understand the options in front of us. Nevertheless, the consequences of my decisions are mine and mine alone.

Every step the team takes toward the end zone is thoughtful and deliberate. They’re finalizing the details to prepare for surgery: more blood tests, more doctors’ appointments, more orientations. The doctors, nurses, coordinators, and support professionals are clearing the path of any health or medical barrier that could keep me from the objective.

But, I still have 20 yards to go. I’m within striking distance of the first goal and progress feels like it’s happening in slow motion. The biggest obstacle to reaching the goal line is the same stumbling block that led to my obsessive quest for “success” before the heart attack changed everything. My mind wants to jump ahead to the next phase of my journey instead of taking it one day at a time. The failure demons and fear of the unknown are trying to creep their way back into my consciousness.

That’s my nature. That’s the trait that led me to success and ultimately ended with my health catastrophe. The need to control circumstances has always been my way of getting what I want. Every step of the way, I used this strategy to steer my career and public life in the direction I desired. With the end zone in sight, those same forces are tugging at me again and raising concerns about the unknown.

I’m in a pitched battle to focus on the here and now so I can push away thoughts about what might be. The good news is that I have more and better tools at my disposal. The spiritual awakening that has blessed me within the past few years is ready to take the field in my fight for the last 20 yards. Rather than speculate on circumstances that haven’t even happened yet, I plan to surrender to faith, hope and love.

During the 1980s with the 49ers, pro football Hall-of-Fame quarterback Joe Montana always went to the late great Dwight Clark when the team was in a pinch. Although the red zone can be a lonely place, I also have a go to guy. In his letter to the Esphesians, St. Paul the Apostle wrote, “For by grace of God you have been saved by faith. And it is not your doing; it is the gift of God.”

Faith is going to carry me to and through the end zone. There will be additional doctor consultations, blood work, and other details to complete in the weeks to come. I’ll make sure to stay on top of everything and control my commitment to meet each demand and request. I won’t be troubled about what the results of those interactions could be. I’ll leave that to God. It’s His call anyway.

I’ll continue to focus on every minute, of every hour, of every day. I’ll laugh and yell at the TV when the president and his marauding band of court jesters do another stupid thing. I’ll read about my friend Alexander Hamilton. I’ll enjoy dinner and an occasional movie with Sandra. I’ll look forward to Facetime and texts with Marisa and Erica. I’ll hang out with my extended family and friends.

I’ll live each day as if it was my last, not because it could be, but because that’s the right thing to do. That’s all God wants us to do. The inability to get a team into the end zone has ended the careers of many quarterbacks. I feel good about my chances. I have God on my team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trust Your Healthcare Team – It Could Save Your Life

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The other day I sat in front of the neighborhood Starbucks reading The Atlantic magazine and listening to jazz legend John Coltrane through my ear plugs. I could hear my high school buddies saying, “ohhhkay…look at the school boy” in a gently teasing way. While I’m not any smarter than the next guy, I do have a love of learning new things, a trait that I got from my parents.

This enthusiasm for reading is a double-edged sword. On the downside, my passion for American history and politics has me wringing my hands about the uncertain future that confronts our nation during this turbulent time. The upside is that a nearly insatiable quest for knowledge and understanding gives me hope for a health crisis that has dominated my life.

I’ve written much about the roles that faith, family, and friends have played in the 8 ½ year-long saga of heart failure and associated complications. I haven’t spent so much time on the medical team that’s been a Godsend to me and my family. From a faith viewpoint, I truly believe that God assigned this group of people to guide me through a complex medical journey.

The team at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center is an outstanding collection of talented professionals working with high-tech tools in a state-of-the art facility. I can’t imagine a more impressive lineup of individuals working together to serve the health needs of their patients. Every step of the way, Sandra and I have been an integral part of the team.

With everything I’ve learned from this experience, I strenuously offer to friends, family, and all readers unsolicited advice: Work in collaboration with your doctors and healthcare providers, and ask lots of questions.

I would be in better health today if I followed this advice. Like most men (yes, I’m taking a shot at my gender), I thought I was invincible. I was well aware of my family’s history with heart disease, as was my doctor. At annual physicals, he advised exercise and a healthy lifestyle. But, I ate unhealthy food, drank too much on weekends, and worked like there was no tomorrow.

Despite promises to the doctor, my commitments to lifestyle changes never materialized. The trifecta of unwise behavior was too much to overcome my regular exercise regimen. According to the American Heart Association, a healthy way of life can reduce heart failure by 50% for those of us with a genetic disposition to cardiovascular disease. I just didn’t listen to my doctor.

When I survived a heart attack and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, I promised myself and my family that I would do whatever it takes to live as long as God allowed. With a commitment to do my part and leave the rest to faith, my determination to follow doctor’s orders and learn as much as possible about the disease became priorities for me.

In the aftermath of the heart attack that started this life-changing journey, I couldn’t wait to go home after first going into the hospital. I came home, returned to the hospital, came home again, and returned to the hospital a third time over the following few days. The last stay turned into a 100-day nightmare. After that harrowing experience, I decided to trust the professionals.

For some reason, most of us don’t do that. How many times have you heard someone say, “The doctor doesn’t know what he’s doing”? There are others who might say, “She isn’t a good doctor.” Or the common refrain, “I don’t like taking medicine, it doesn’t work anyway.”

I’ve learned that the practice of medicine isn’t just a science. It’s also an art. Doctors aren’t miracle makers and drugs aren’t magic cures. It’s critical to develop trusting relationships with healthcare providers. That means being honest about how you feel. Maybe it makes you feel like a strong person to tell doctors that you feel fine. Being tough won’t keep you from ending up in the ICU because you weren’t straightforward with your doctor.

Most of us don’t like to hear bad news. That might be why we avoid going to the doctor on a regular basis. But, at some point, you have to accept what is and work to resolve what’s ailing you. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are more knowledgeable than we are when it comes to the science of medicine. We know how we feel. That’s how collaboration guides them to do what’s best for you.

One of the biggest lessons Sandra and I learned was asking questions every time a doctor said something we didn’t understand. For example, we didn’t know the difference between myocardial infarction and cardiac arrest. Rather than just listening, we interrupted and asked for clarification. You can resolve misunderstandings by simply asking, “What does that mean?”

My cardiologist’s guidance and advice has kept me alive and kicking for over 8 years. After clarifying our discussions during appointments or by e-mail, we agree on a plan of action.  It’s been a team effort. I now work with a talented heart transplant team that has been patient with our multitude of questions. By now, Sandra and I are probably pros at this.

How can you tell if a doctor is good? With a 100-plus days in the hospital, including 5 weeks in the ICU and 3 weeks in physical rehab, I’ve seen many doctors, nurses, and support staff. It’s impossible to judge a doctor on how much he or she knows about medicine. Remember that they know more about that stuff than we do. For me, the answer is simple. The good ones listen as much as they talk. They’re patient with questions and treat you like an equal partner.

I’ve been blessed to work with so many outstanding health professionals. Not only do I cherish the relationships we’ve have built together, the partnerships have given me a wonderful quality of life. They trust me and I trust them to tell it like it is. As an information hog, more information is better than less. They’re happy to oblige. It helps me understand and helps them care for me. I have a sincere affection for all of them.

Good healthcare is a team effort. The decision to be a team player when it comes to my health is one of the best choices I’ve ever made. For almost 9 years, I’ve lived a full life to the credit of faith, family, friends, and a strong medical team. I hope there are more fulfilling years to come. I urge you to make the same choice about your healthcare. Learn to trust your team. It could save your life.