I’ve been trying, for a couple of weeks, to write a post about my cardiac ablation and what’s come afterwards. Somehow, it’s felt really difficult. I’ve had lots of tries; some short, some yawningly long. None have quite said what I want to say in the way I want to say it. Here goes for attempt No. 83a (well, perhaps I exaggerate a little)…

I’d known for many years that something about my heart just wasn’t quite right; it would sometimes do little runs of fast, and irregular, beats. But it happened so rarely that all attempts to capture it with ECG, Holter monitor, or whatever had failed utterly - virtually all of the time it was pretty much perfect, like one of those children who look as though butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths, but whom you know just can’t be that good really! And most of the time it did behave perfectly - through all the swimming and other ‘abuse’ as well.

It seems odd to me that, when it did begin to be a bit more persistent about exhibiting symptoms, finding out was so profoundly disturbing, and upsetting. Cutting a long story short, a year of ‘episodes’ of AF was followed, in December last year, by a change in its behaviour (which might have been induced by trying out some different medication - the jury’s out on that one), so that it began to exhibit the symptoms of persistent atrial flutter as well. So instead of being a little bit unwell occasionally, I was quite poorly all the time. And mightily hacked off by it I was too.

I’m not going to go into the technicalities of atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter; suffice it to say that the two conditions left me with little energy and not much stamina. The effects of the conditions, together with the side-effects of the medication really brought me low. Not only did I feel unable to do much physically, my mind didn’t seem to be up to much either - I felt as though I was living in a thick mental ‘fog’. And that was, if anything, even more upsetting. I could, just about, manage the ‘everyday’ chores. But all sorts of ‘extras’ - like spring cleaning - were right out. Even keeping up with the likes of the cooking and cleaning meant that I was spending most of the rest of life resting - often fast asleep. It was quite depressing, as well as frustrating.

There was a sense of loss; of abandonment; of bewilderment; of profound sadness; of injustice; ultimately of depression. The one bright spot on my horizon was the possibility of a ‘surgical’ cure for my condition - though, until it happened, I found myself unable even to hope that it would take place, let alone believe that it would work.

It was frustrating because I’d spent so many years looking after myself pretty carefully - or so I thought - keeping very fit through gruelling swimming training, as well as eating a good diet. The swimming, it turns out now, may actually have been one of the triggers - cardiac arrhythmias are common in athletes who spend a long time training, and the more you do, the higher the chances become. Hands up those who’ve spent a lifetime amassing something like 25,000 hours training, have racked up a total distance in excess of 70,000km (yes, that’s nearly three million lengths of an ordinary 25m swimming pool) and show little sign of slowing down or reducing the volume or intensity. Er, I suppose that’d be me then.

Why me? Why had God let this happen to me?

I felt I had to try to rethink my theology, and in particular theodicies (a technical term for why God allows suffering), all in the face of my cognitive impairment - not an easy task even with a mind which worked properly, let alone one addled by illness and medication.

Cutting another long story very short, my conclusion, at least where the theodicies are concerned, is that He hadn’t abandoned me; but rather that I had shut Him out of my suffering.

And bolted the door…

‘Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. …’ Revelation 3:20

He is profoundly gentle, and polite. He wasn’t going to force His way back in. I had to realise for myself that this dark place in which I was locked, this ‘coal cellar’ as I described it to a friend, was of my own making; that the door was only barred because I had barred it. Having realised that I’d ‘done it to myself’, finding the door to open it, in the pitch darkness, wasn’t easy (listen for the knocking you fool!)…

It was easier to sit in the dark and feel abandoned. I came to understand, in a new and different way, the meaning of Jesus’ words on the cross:

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Matthew 27:46

And at one stage I nearly did lose my faith.

Now I am ‘out of the coal cellar’ - I think. The operation is past; my heart seems to be recovering - it’s beating normally, almost all of the time - the ‘remote possibility’ turned into certainty.

And I’m looking back.

And trying, yet again, to make sense of a changed landscape. Life is different again. Better, certainly, but also very different. More on the differences in my next post.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022