Miracles from Heaven
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people; first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy.” -Albert Einstein
Ten weeks ago I embarked upon an unwanted journey as I sought urgent medical intervention after severe symptoms of heart failure suddenly re-appeared. In just 16 days, I witnessed numerous miracles, some tiny, some critical and life-altering. The following are just a few.
If you follow this blog at all, you know that the heart issues I have had have been largely ill-received by those in the medical field. Time and time again, whether locally or even at the most well-known hospitals in the United States, the care given to me was for the most part, to put it graciously, less than stellar. But early on in this journey when my symptoms re-appeared, it amazed me to see the physician team I had assembled from every different hospital system in eastern Wisconsin work nimbly and tirelessly to get me the tests and treatments I needed in an expedited fashion. An iron transfusion was run through my insurance and scheduled within 4 days, on the same day as an appointment with the hematologist. I had completed an at home overnight oximetry test in two days. I had consulted and heard back from my allergists, who appropriately modified that plan of care. And my cardiologist was trying to expedite my testing, and then offered an in-person appointment. It was refreshing to the point of almost startling to see this medical team doing exactly what should have been done without exception. It gave me as the patient an opportunity to catch my breath and attempt an impossible task of quickly wrapping my head around the fact that somehow adhesions must have returned around my heart.
From there, I visited my local emergency room when I could no longer control my symptoms without a large dose of oxygen. And while I had a portable oxygen machine that was assisting me, to go from no oxygen to 4 liters of mandatory use to control my symptoms within 12 hours, was alarming to say the least. When I explained the situation to the emergency room doc, I expected push back, minimizing, and disbelief. But startlingly and miraculously, this emergency room physician, Dr. Duscher, understood the situation completely. And then he went to bat for me, as he worked the phones for hours to get me a direct admission to the hospital in Milwaukee where my cardiologist was located and that had the right equipment available to complete my heart testing in an expedited fashion. Amazing!
It was several days later when the next miracle occurred. My cardiologist at St. Luke’s was no longer certain that I deserved his help. He was ready to discharge me, as was the hospitalist assigned to my case. So much so, that I began calling for my medical records and discs of my imaging, so I could hand deliver them to my surgeon in Texas. I remember the morning when the hospitalist strode into my room, declaring my cardiac MRI results had shown that my heart was normal, just a day after an echo of my heart showed there was thickening at the base of my heart. The medical records team at St. Luke’s had filled my request for the reports of my testing so quickly, I had the MRI results right there on my laptop, and was able to prove to the hospitalist that there were many abnormalities demonstrated by the MRI, thus providing the evidence I needed to support my request that a heart catheterization be completed.
Two days later at Aurora St Luke’s, I was being discharged after the heart cath was complete. At the time, given my symptoms, I knew I probably should have been medically transported down to Texas for my surgery. My portable oxygen machine could give me up to 5 liters of oxygen, but I was already on 5 liters of oxygen at sea level in my hospital room. It wouldn’t be enough to prevent an oxygen deficit to my heart and the rest of my body at an altitude of 35,000 feet. As I waited for a final conversation with the cardiologist, the nurse who was discharging me recognized my uncertain predicament and offered her assistance in any way she could. Knowing I would not live to see a surgery if I caught COVID on the commercial flight I would be taking the next day, I asked, “Could you find me an N-95 mask, so I can safely travel on the airplane without getting COVID?”
She left the room immediately in search of one. She returned 5 minutes later with a teal N-95 mask, with someone else’s initials on them. “It’s all I could find,” she said apologetically.
“No, it’s perfect. Thank you!” I replied with relief at this small, but not inconsequential miracle.
There were many more miracles that night and the next day, as friends stepped up at a moment’s notice to fill needs large and small. From lifting my heavy backpack and giving me a ride to a hotel, to bringing me a needed medication and supplies for my trip to Texas, transporting me down to Chicago’s Midway airport, and offering to travel with my kids so they could visit me in Texas, my friends blessed me with their generosity of time, support, and encouragement as I embarked upon the next phase of my journey.
When I flew down to Texas the next day, I didn’t have an appointment with anyone. I didn’t know whether or not they would help me. I believed my Wisconsin cardiologist had spoken with my surgeon in Texas, but it had been late in the day on a Friday when my testing was completed. I highly doubted that they had spoken after my heart cath. And because they had performed the wrong type of heart cath, I really didn’t have the proof that I needed for the surgeon to do the surgery. But as I sat in my rental car after arriving in Dallas, I realized my chest pain was getting worse. So much so, that I drove straight to the ER of the heart hospital where my surgeon worked. Once I parked my car, I could barely walk the 100 feet from my car to the ER entrance. My legs felt too weak to even step up onto the curb of the sidewalk.
Lying on a gurney in the ER with unrelenting chest pain, a battle outside my room was being waged. The ER physician who I had never met before, was clearly ticked off that I had entered his ER. I had told him that I and my physician in Wisconsin had been communicating with Dr. Jett, my surgeon in Texas, but that Dr. Jett did not know I was coming down to Texas given my heart cath had just been completed late the day before. Somehow, God worked a miracle that even though Dr. Jett was on vacation that Saturday, he was able to be reached, and he agreed to admit me.
It is clear from reading the hospital notes from Texas, that I was not their favorite patient. From listing in every note that I had flown down to Texas after leaving a hospital in Wisconsin AMA (against medical advice), which of course wasn’t true at all, to listing that I was divorced and I didn’t even have any family members listed as my medical contact. Despite this, it was apparent at the time that not every physician was of this mindset towards me. The female hospitalists were most helpful, in that they allowed me to maintain my home medicines and let me decide when I needed my diuretics and of course, nitro, and allowed me to utilize as much oxygen as I needed. While this seems like sheer common sense hospital care, this approach was in stark contrast to most physicians, who when I would be hospitalized, would battle my need for nitro, refuse me any diuretics, and turn off my oxygen in the middle of a massive bout of chest pain. It was a true blessing, allowing me to be as comfortable as I could be, as I struggled to eat or drink even one item each day, and hold a conversation without becoming breathless as my lungs filled with fluid.
The night after my second heart cath, I struggled with the incredible physical pain of intense artery spasm from a catheter left in place, and worry and fear as to whether Dr. Jett would perform the life-saving surgery I needed when the interventional cardiologist was trying to persuade him otherwise. My heart cath results, once the correct test was run, showed incredibly elevated pressures, precisely the impairment Dr. Jett was looking for as the criteria necessary to perform the surgery. But the interventional cardiologist was convinced I had simply diastolic dysfunction that would not be relieved by surgery. Late that night, it was in the midst of this angst that I had shared with no one, that my 12-year daughter sent me a text. She wrote, “I’m so glad that God is with us through all of this. It gives me peace that whatever happens He is in control.”
And it was the very next morning as I was still wrestling with the unknown, that a Facebook memory appeared from one year before. It was a picture of my daughter and two of her friends, singing in church for a special Sunday highlighting their Christian school. The following are the words of the song they were singing, in the picture appearing clear as day on the screen behind them:
The Lord our God is mighty in battle,
We are not afraid.
His hands uphold us through our trials.
Our God is strong to save.
It was three hours later when Dr. Jett appeared in my room. He, too, seemed full of angst over my case. He began to apologize, like there was nothing he could do. He had run my case by all of the cardiologists in the hospital, and they all had agreed that he should not do the surgery. My eyes became large as I begged Dr. Jett to intercede. Even though I was sitting up on my hospital bed, I imagined myself like a small child, sitting on the floor, with my hands wrapped around his lower pant-leg, pleading my case. I was only 44, I had no co-morbidities, no other reason why I should die an early death. I had three small children at home. Could he at least try the surgery?
He agreed. But not without warning me that he might be opening me up just to close me again, if the adhesions and scar tissue were stuck to the wall of my ventricle, leaving no clear divisions in the tissue for safe dissection.
I’m still here. Eight weeks and counting. Back to work, back to life, back to hanging out with my three beautiful children. Last night we watched the movie, “Miracles from Heaven,” and it brought it all back. What one might call coincidence, those of us who believe and refuse to lose faith, call a miracle. Seeing God in the happenstance of everyday life, identifying the miracles for what they are, results in a heart filled with humility, gratitude, and sheer awe. I stand here today and every day, amazed at the workings of God.
Jill Murphy is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and founder of MotionWorks Physical Therapy and an advocate for patient-centered care. A Christian mom of three, she survived a seven year journey through the broken American healthcare system in search for an answer to a heart arrhythmia that appeared during pregnancy. A stroke, open heart surgery for constrictive pericarditis, and several other surgeries later, Jill is telling her story of unfailing resilience in her upcoming book, Doctor Heal Thyself.
Having grown up on a dairy farm 40 minutes from Lambeau Field, Jill is an avid Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers fan, and is up for any activity with her three children, including walking, biking, throwing the football around, hiking in scenic locales, gardening, playing piano, singing, and coaching a middle school basketball game or two.