June 28, 2016
Today Rich and I went to see my cardiologist to get the results from my 2month post-op
echocardiogram. I like my doctor so much. He had big smiles as he read the results and heard how I have been doing. He was so happy! My heart was at 10-15% when he first met me. It moved to 20% after I was in the hospital and they took 6 pounds of fluids off my chest cavity. When I left the hospital and with every follow up appointment he would tell me my heart was as good as it was going to get. Today, the echo showed my heart at 25-30%. This is YUGE!!!!!! We asked him again if he thought this would happen and he shook his head and said, “NO.”
I absolutely, without a doubt believe that the prayers of the people have carried me through and my heart is healing. Thank you thank you! Thank you for all the prayers, good wishes, good thoughts, love and support.
Last week was the Northwest Vineyard Regional Conference. I had no idea how I would do attending the conference. I definitely had to have good boundaries and rest for several hours in between meetings. My body would reboot and I was okay. I received so much prayer and love with all my NW Vineyard tribe! I loved the conference. Eric, Julia, Lance, Le Que and Robin were the best. Everyone was amazing! The host church, Portland Vineyard, the NW Leadership Team, all of the Worship Leaders and team, the amazing kid’s leads and volunteers, all the volunteers, Darlene and Nicki! Thank you to everyone at the conference. Thank you Vineyard USA for all of your support, love and encouragement!
I thank God for all the goodness in my life. I am deeply loved and cared for. “I lack nothing.” Ps 23
June 10, 2016
Today is just over two months since I had surgery to insert the ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) unit in my chest. They tell me I have a “State of the Art” unit. It is actually quite large and is taking a little getting used to.
On Monday I went to have the two-month ICD check up. Technology is fascinating. They lay a device just over my clothes where the titanium box is bulging and the computer inside the box downloads all the activity that has happened in the box to a computer that measures if I have needed the pacemaker or defibrillator. As the nurse was watching the download she says to me in a cheery tone, “You are pacing 99% of the time!” I asked her if that was good news to which she replied, “It is very good news, your pacemaker is keeping you alive.” She then went on to tell me that if I kept pacing 99% of the time that the battery life would last seven years! So even though my heart needs the pacemaker 99% of the time, the defibrillator has not needed to restart my heart – very good news!
I am feeling stronger every day. I don’t feel sick, I don’t look sick and the reality is I have limitations on my physical capacity. The doctors tell me it will take some time for my body to adjust to my heart’s capacity. Next week I have another echocardiogram to see if the retraction rate of my heart has improved since leaving the hospital. Any improvement is good!
Last night I officially resigned as Lead Pastor and Board Chair of VCC. It is so bittersweet. When change happens this quickly it takes time to get in touch with all that goes with the change. I am more than grateful that VCC can continue on under the leadership of Jessica Ketola. I have no doubt Jess is ready and it is her time. At the same time, this transition is happening so fast I have feelings of loss that have to be processed.
Loss, so much loss so quickly, so what do I do with all this loss? First, I thank God for all of the people that love, care and pray for me. So many people that I cannot even fathom. Prayers, encouragement and gifts from all over the world and from people I have never met. Prayers and love from family and friends. There has been and continues to be an outpouring of generosity and kindness that brings me to tears and humbles me to no end.
Secondly, I have an amazing support system. My family beginning with Rich, the kids, the grandkids, my sister, Fluf, nieces, nephews and cousins have loved me so well! VCC, Vineyard Church communities, pastors, colleagues and friends have literally made personal sacrifices on my behalf and for that I have no words to express the gratitude I have. A good friend taught me a meditation for my heart. She had me put my hand on my heart and think of what I am grateful for, she had me try to be in touch with holding that gratitude in my heart. That is the best way for me to express my thankfulness and it makes my heart happy! My therapist has literally saved my sanity, walking me through the last year and helping me see what is true and what is right and good. I could not be more thankful for him and the time he has taken with me. Lance Pittluck is my overseer in the Vineyard. He has been so supportive as he has brought needed pastoral care to me, VCC and the NW Region.
Last for today but not the end of it, my faith in God. The presence of Love from the Spirit of God is an experienced and living reality in my life. I am not afraid to die because I believe without any doubt that I would be in the fullness of Joy if I were to pass from this life to the next. Don’t get me wrong, I want to live and I am grateful I am still here! I am so grateful for all the ways Jesus has loved me, graced me, strengthened me and in the midst of so much surrender has sustained me. I love the Triune God with all my heart!
If you do pray, I have two requests. First, that the echocardiogram will show improvement and second, for the NW Regional Conference June 22-24 in the Portland area. Please pray for me for strength through the conference. I am so looking forward to being with everyone!
For every prayer said on my behalf, every text message of encouragement, every visit, every FB message and post, every phone call, every good thought and well wishes for me I say, thank you! There is an old song we used to sing and today as I write this post it comes to mind. “Every good and perfect gift comes from you, Father of Lights.”
P.S. I am still coloring like crazy!
June 3, 2016
Sometimes life happens and the way forward seems like driving through dense fog in the mountains. Years ago I was driving home from Kelowna BC with a van full of teens. It was late at night and as we drove through the mountains the fog was so dense I could literally only see a few feet in front of us. I had to turn on the brights and slow down to about 10 mph. In some ways my life these past few months has mirrored driving that van with passengers through the fog in the mountains.
On April 4th my life came to a sudden halt with the discovery that I had had a heart attack in February. I was misdiagnosed and thought I had bronchitis for two months. I learned that after a flight to San Diego and then to Thailand it was a miracle I am still alive. Since that day I have been in a recovery process that will continue for the next while.
After the fog cleared a bit, I was told by my doctors that the last year had taken a heavy toll on my heart and that they were disabling me permanently from pastoring the church. As Rich and I talked with my cardiologist, the doctor was adamant I not return to the lead pastor role. After hearing about what the role of regional leader and teaching at The Seattle School entails he said I could continue with those roles. My plan is to continue as long as my health and those that oversee those areas think it is a good idea.
Rich and I knew immediately who we would want to take the role of lead pastor of VCC, Jessica Ketola. Jess has worked closely with me the past four years. Jess has had a lifetime of ministry experience and to us, the Board and our congregation she is the obvious choice. Jess and Dave also believe that the invitation was from the Spirit and Jess accepted the role. Jess was unanimously approved by the Board and set in on Sunday night as the lead pastor of VCC. I am so grateful because Jess carries the dream of God for VCC deep in her soul. She has already led the church twice in our absence for extended periods of time. She is not a novice and she is ready to lead us forward.
Most churches take at least a year if not more to transition. This transition is happening overnight. Please pray for Jess and VCC that it will be as smooth as possible and the way forward will be full of new life. I can already see the signs of new life sprouting and I am very, very thankful for Jess, Dave and the amazing community that makes VCC the special place that it is.
For me, I am already sensing the stirring of what it means to have more time and focus on the region, my teaching and some writing. I still take this path one day at a time as I continue to recover. I feel stronger every day and still spend most of my time coloring, praying and now dreaming with faith and hope about what life is going to be like. A new chapter is starting and I want to savor every day being alive loving my family and friends. I am not in a hurry about anything and I feel miraculously graced to live without daily anxiety. I have to brag about my family. Rich works every day, comes home, makes me a heart healthy dinner, cleans the kitchen and then dreams with me while I color:-) He has been amazing! My kids have been so supportive – and my grandchildren that pray for their Nonnie and love to see my owie. I love them so very much!
Again, thank you to so many who have loved, supported and carried us through this time.
I love this poem by Mary Oliver – The Journey
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Today I am five weeks post surgery. The past weeks have been filled with visits from family and friends, cards in the mail almost daily, meals prepared for us, unexpected gifts, an abundance of prayer, well wishes and good thoughts sent to and for me and my family.
I am on a two-month medical leave of absence from VCC. The VCC Board of Directors along with Jess and Dave Ketola have graciously picked up the reins to everything VCC related and continue to move forward with VCC’s purpose for existing. Jess and the team carry the vision that we believe God has given us. They are unrelenting in continuing on in spite of all that has occurred. I could not be more grateful for them and for everyone’s love, support, and encouragement. I don’t even have adequate words. So, so many people have shown love and support through so many means.
The update on my health has not changed. I will be monitored closely for the next while. In a month or so I will have another test to see if I have stayed the same, improved or if my condition has worsened. As I am tested and monitored my medical team will advise what is needed. Right now the biggest need is for rest to give my body a chance to heal and adapt to my heart’s capacity. It is a slow process. If you are someone who prays and I come to mind would you continue prayers for healing, for my blood pressure to stabilize (I run very low) and for VCC that Jess and the team are graced with strength, provision and most of all direction and decision-making? Thank you!
I spend most of my time coloring. Some people binge watch TV, I binge color! My recovery is going well. I have been surrounded with help. I definitely have moments of worry, anxiety and wondering about the future. I cannot stay there. I have to take this one-day at a time for now. Coloring has become a practice for me to focus on something in the present moment. Meditation and prayer also have become super important practices for me to help stay focused on the present.
Rumi’s “The Guest House” speaks volumes to me these days.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Again, thank you so much for all of your prayers, good thoughts, encouragement and love.
Today Rich and I saw one of my cardiologists. We made a list of questions before going. It was good, honest and hard news all at the same time. He basically said that he doesn’t see my heart getting any better than it is right now. Once heart muscle is damaged there is no amount of meds that repair it. Unfortunately for me, my heart is damaged all the way around not just in a few places. The good news is that my body will eventually adapt to my heart’s capacity. He said the meds, the ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) and the pacemaker will all help to stabilize the heart failure I am currently still experiencing.
Now that I am recovering from surgery he would like me to begin taking short, regular walks to get my body adapting to my heart’s capacity. I asked about something I can’t remember what exactly and he looked at me and said, “You have a very high tolerance for pain, you didn’t even know you had a heart attack and with the shape your heart was in when I first saw you only tells me that you have a high tolerance for pain.”
Days like today are hard. Rich and I had anxiety even going. We are both still in a bit of shock that this is our reality. The doctor talked with me about attitude. His patients that face this challenge embracing the fact that life will have a new normal do much better than those who can’t accept it. For Rich and I this is a process. We are in that liminal space of not knowing all that even the near future holds.
My friend Julie Clark came to visit me yesterday. She has a blog and a few years ago she wrote a poem she thought might fit for me. It resonated deeply with me. You can read it at https://backfromtheborderlands.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/the-eye-of-the-needle/
Again, I cannot express how cared for, loved, supported and encouraged I feel carried by prayer, well wishes and all the kindness of family, friends and colleagues.
Today is three weeks since I found out that I had a heart attack in February. I had a heart attack February 18th. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with acute bronchitis. April 4, 2016 I was diagnosed with Left bundle branch block, Coronary artery disease and Acute on chronic congestive heart failure.
I see my cardiologist weekly to monitor progress. I had a defibrillator and a pacemaker inserted and I am on meds to help my heart beat. I am on two months medical leave from VCC although I will be attending our gatherings. I am not teaching Leadership I at the Seattle School this May. I have to take life one day at a time.
I am not going to lie. Slowing down to an almost complete stop is hard for me. What else is hard for me is wrapping my head around the fact that I should not be alive. I am not trying to figure it out, it’s more trying to embrace and sit with what now? What today? If ever the words of Jesus ring true for me it’s now. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
I don’t feel sick, I feel fatigued most of the time. I am home every day. I am doing a few outings now and then and afterwards I need to rest. On days I do something, the next day I usually rest all day. I want to read, write, study but honestly, I cannot concentrate right now. I spend most of my time coloring. My main work is to get well, follow the doctor’s instructions and get well.
Yesterday, as I was praying the thought came to me, if every doctor I have seen has made it a point to tell me how lucky or what a miracle it is that I am alive, then I can absolutely have faith that a miracle can heal my heart. With soooooooo many people praying for me, sending me well wishes and good thoughts I hold on to the hope that my heart will heal.
I read this quote yesterday:
“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what to hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope.” Barbara Kingsolver
My hope is for my heart to be healed to the point I can return to normal activity.
Thank you again for all of your kindness in all its forms. I feel rich in relationships that love and care for me.
When my doctor ordered an echocardiogram I was not terribly bothered. I was wondering why I wasn’t getting better, in fact, my breathing was getting worse daily. I was hoping they would begin to rule things out and in doing so get to the bottom of what was going on with my health.
My friend Sharon offered to come along. I thought, great, she and I can go to lunch after and catch up. As we sat in the waiting room, I began to wonder what if they find something? The imaging tech called me in and explained that he was going to use ultra sound to look at my heart from all angles. I asked him how long before the cardiologist would read the results. He said they usually read them within 48 hours or if they are really busy within a week. Then he said, “Don’t worry, if I see anything concerning I will get a cardiologist in here right away.”
When the test was over, the tech told me to get dressed and wait for a minute. There was a knock on the door. A nurse was at the door with the tech. The nurse said, “Mrs. Swetman a cardiologist would like to speak with you, he will be in in just a minute.” The tech looked at me as if to say, “I am so sorry.”
The cardiologist came in and reported to me that the test showed my heart was enlarged and working way too hard. He said, “We are going to need to do something about this right away.” He asked me to wait an hour while he finished his rounds and then he would meet with me and go over the test results.
Sharon and I sat in the waiting room trying to remain positive. It was good they found something and would be able to take care of it. I called Rich and he was on a job over an hour away so couldn’t come to the appointment. I called my sister Karla and she came right away. The three of us, Sharon, Karla and I sat waiting, trying to think the best and remain positive.
When the three of us met with the cardiologist and he ended up making the statement, “I don’t think you ever had acute bronchitis, I think you had a heart attack that night in February,” needless to say we were all in shock.
He stepped out to make arrangements to admit me to the hospital. Immediately tears were streaming down my face. Sharon and Karla came and hugged me. I said, “I am only 49 and I had a heart attack?” Sharon, said, “I know, this is hard and you can cry, do what you need to do right now, but one thing, you are 59 not 49. Not that 59 is not bothersome for a heart attack, but you aren’t 49.” We all three laughed through tears. I have no idea why I thought I was 49…
I am so grateful for Sharon and Karla. They stayed with me all day as the whirlwind of being admitted to the hospital with all the doctors and nurses coming and going inserting needles, getting history and making decisions. Sharon took notes because crazy information was coming so fast! It’s all kind of a blur but I remember at some point that day having to let go. Surrendering to the doctors, surrendering to help from Sharon and Karla and others that arrived and mostly surrendering to God for whatever this was going to mean. Beginning then taking it one day at a time.
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“I don’t think you ever had bronchitis, I think you had a heart attack.” Everything the cardiologist said after that pretty much sounded like, “blah, blah, blah.” I was in shock. It was Monday, April 4th. I had a heart attack on Friday, February 19th. Later every doctor and nurse that talked with me always ended with, “You are very lucky to still be with us.”
On Thursday night February 18th I woke up in the night with coughing fits. Dry coughing fits that woke me several times. The next morning I went to a seminar I was attending at The Seattle School. I was not feeling well and getting worse as the day went on. At dinnertime, we were walking up a hill. I walked a half of block and was out of breath and couldn’t go on. I went to dinner and then home. That night as I went to bed, laying down I could hear myself wheezing so loud I sounded like a coffee pot percolating. I was coughing and at one point felt tightening in my chest. I felt the same tightening I had become accustomed to over the past year. I thought it was anxiety. I tend to carry anxiety in my chest. All I remember was it was a horrible night. I could not lay flat, I could not sleep and I was coughing all night. I stayed home on Friday thinking I must have the flu or something. I went to the doctor on Monday the 22nd. The doctor spent about five minutes with me and diagnosed me with acute bronchitis. He prescribed antibiotics and told me that acute bronchitis takes a long time to get over.
March 1st I had new insurance and had to see a different doctor. I went in to follow up because I was not getting better and I was leaving March 18th for ten days on a trip to Thailand. On March 4th I saw my new doctor. She worked off of the diagnosis of acute bronchitis, listened to my lungs, etc. and prescribed inhalers to help me breathe.
The day I was leaving for Thailand, March 18th, I called my doctor and told her my breathing was getting worse. I wondered if she could prescribe antibiotics for my trip in case it kept getting worse. She had me come in for a chest x-ray to make sure I didn’t have pneumonia. Her assistant called me late in the afternoon and told me I was clear of having pneumonia but the x-ray showed my heart was enlarged compared to a test I had seventeen months prior. She wanted me to follow up as soon as I got back from Thailand.
I went to Thailand hoping the sun and rest would help clear up the bronchitis. My breathing got worse every day. I would have shortness of breath just walking a few feet.
I got home on Easter Sunday evening – called my doctor on Monday went in for an exam and she ordered more tests. The labs came back and said something was going on which then led to the echocardiogram on Monday, April 4th and the result being I had a heart attack, I never had bronchitis. The cardiologist that read the report said my heart was at 15% capacity meaning when pumping the release was only 15% – normal is 55-60%.
I was admitted to the hospital and basically told, “a) You are lucky you survived the heart attack and, b) You are lucky you survived traveling to Thailand and back, you are lucky to be alive.”
They immediately gave me meds to drain the fluids that had built up (I was literally drowning) and within five hours I lost six pounds of fluid. The next morning, I had another echocardiogram and it showed my heart at 20%.
On Friday, the 8th I had surgery to insert a defibrillator and a pacemaker. I did not need bypass surgery as the original blockage had healed itself. The damage was around how my heart was pumping and the rhythms. The doctors have said that this is all they can do for me. That we will know in a few weeks, months if I am improving, staying the same or getting worse.
I have been home a couple of days and I think it is really just dawning on me how serious this is and how my life has been spared. I am praying, reflecting and thinking about those words I heard over and over again over the past week, “You are lucky to be alive.”