I felt somebody grab my hand and when I opened my eyes I saw the sweet nurse kneeling by the bed and she began to push my hair out of my eyes. Not very long after she woke me, I heard a crash of people come into the room and for the first time, I heard the words “code blue”.
It was summer of 2006, and I was in Baptist Hospital in the cardiac intensive care unit (CICU) I wasn’t afraid at all—though world- class doctors were confused as to why a 34 year old was under their care. I was safer in the CICU than I was at home. I was careful to cover the bruises and had conjured up a story that made sense; but I was afraid they would ask and what they would do if they figured it out; they never asked. I woke up the next morning attached to more machines than I had remembered but was comforted by the slow and steady sound of the heart monitor. I joked with the nurses that the oxygen monitor on my finger reminded me of ET. Only family was allowed to visit, so only Lisa—he would not come, perhaps it was because they would figure out the bruises–I can’t be sure. He didn’t like hospitals. The blood clot that sent me to the hospital had moved to my lung and until it dissolved they kept me in that hospital room that over-looked the St. John’s River. I loved seeing the helicopter come in and out, and said prayers for the passengers of the helicopter each time. By the time I was released from the hospital, I had checked out of life and really didn’t care if I lived or died. When they released me from the hospital I knew going home was more dangerous than the CICU, and there would be nobody to push buttons or announce “code blue”—and there would be no team of people rushing into the room to save my life. I was going home to a husband who claimed he was shaken up by my brush with death and promised to change. The physical condition of my heart was finally reflective of the shattered emotional heart that I could no longer hide. In those moments in the ICU, my mind would go back to the time I made the decision to let this person into my space, my heart—the one that wasn’t even whole to start with—and I wished that I could go back in time.
By far, one of my proudest accomplishments in life was earning my college degree from Clearwater Christian College. There are a number of reasons that never should have happened, but a lot of people made sure it did; and for that I am still grateful. Soon after graduating, I headed back to Jacksonville because I was convinced I could go “home” and that the 8 years I spent in Tampa were good, but Jacksonville was home and so I headed north—leaving behind so many people who loved me and was responsible for that walk across the stage in May on 1994. As I drove north, I still remember the excitement—and I fully understood that I had the rest of my life in front of me; and I was convinced to show the world that all the things that happened up until that point would not define me—and that I would make my mark on this world and refused to play victim, period.
Like all new college graduates, I had no money. In fact, “broke” would have been a relief. So, I moved in with my sister, and that was a sweet time and a time for me to spend with my niece and nephew whom I barely knew. It wasn’t long before I got a job teaching at the same school I attended before leaving for the children’s home. I taught 6th grade, and it was a lot of fun. But, I had no friends in Jacksonville and I knew I needed to make my own friends and begin to engage in the community if I were to have a social life.
It was because I didn’t have a social life, I stayed home with Matthew and Kayla a lot. One Saturday night, I decided this had to change and before I knew it I had signed up for an online dating service. I swear to this day, I was only looking for friends.
I remember the hot August day I drove across the 3- mile bridge for my first “date” with a person who described himself as a Christian and a professional salesman. I was a little nervous, but not really, because I was then as I am now, not afraid to chat with anybody. I ordered the same thing he did—and to this day I cannot eat a chicken caesar salad. He claimed to be a Christian, and that was good enough for me; and before I knew it I was fully involved with him, breaking every promise I had ever made to myself—and giving away my morals like they were candy. I did not see violent tendencies in him when we were dating but I certainly saw warning signs. Less than a year later, we were living together and that is when his true colors began to show. I was so sensitive and he was incredibly verbally abusive. I could tell you story after story of the times he railed into me for little things like forgetting to buy ketchup at the store or the time we were on vacation and he shot a gun in a hotel room. Yet, I still married him. And I bet you are wondering why.
Recently, a young lady I know sent me an email in response to my blog. She told me that she had been in an abusive relationship for a year and could relate to the things she read in my blog. I was angry, at first, when I got her email. The last time I saw her she had her whole life in front of her and headed to college. The similarities were bone chilling. My heart broke as I read her story and some of the journal entries she chose to share with me. And this little project, this blog that you are reading, took on a whole new meaning and direction for me. How do we stop this? The scars from domestic violence are not temporary. I was willing to accept it for myself, because in my mind I was broken to start with—but this precious young lady has great parents, she wasn’t abandoned and this person she met hurt her; and she is damaged and that made me incredibly angry. So, I wondered, “what can I do?”. I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I am hopeful that the readers of my blog will also ask themselves the same question; how can we stop domestic violence? I still carry a constant reminder of that man who lived to hurt me and to please himself.
It has been 7 years since I left. Yet just a few weeks ago I was connected to heart monitors, again—and found myself lying on a hospital bed—after having failed a stress test on the treadmill. I don’t remember the trip from the treadmill to the bed, but I do remember opening my eyes and telling them I was ok, because I heard them say the words “code blue”—and I wanted them to make sure they could keep that cart wherever it was and far away from me. I started talking to them—I can’t be sure of what I said, but one thing I knew for sure was that they needed to keep those paddles away from me. I recovered and they let me leave and I walked the hallway to the waiting room where some friends were waiting. I had a choice, in that moment, a choice to give up or a choice to fight and unlike that day in the CICU in Jacksonville, I decided to fight. I knew what the doctor was going to say on my follow up appointment; because I knew what happened.
Shortly after moving to Clearwater, the doctors finally figured out why my heart was not well. The broken condition of my heart was a combination of a genetic defect in a heart valve attacked by a virus as a result of violated marital vows. You can imagine how difficult that is to process. The people that promised by vow or responsibility to protect me –collided in the center of my heart—and they broke it and I will live with that for the rest of my life.
So on the day not so long ago, when I failed that stress test, I knew why. They threw around possible treatments, including heart surgery and medicines. It was though I was back there, in the CICU, where I had a decision to make. I was sad, I am sad but we finally landed at a treatment for this flare up—one that requires me to stay home from a trip that I had planned; one that requires me to stay home on July 4th; one that requires me to stay on lockdown while they treat the virus in my heart by suppressing my immune system. I am grateful the choice isn’t surgery; but I am justifiably angry that I am still affected by domestic violence.
But then, I remember that precious young girl, and I wonder how many more there are like her. And for that reason, I write. For that reason I beg you, if you are in a domestic violence situation to get out. If you think you can wait it out, you are wrong. People say I am brave for writing these blogs, and while I am grateful for that compliment, it doesn’t describe me at all. I am writing this blog, many times after avoiding it for weeks, to get a message to anybody who can avoid the consequences of domestic violence—some of which they could suffer for a lifetime.
Every time my heart beats and I feel it skip, or it races or I am hooked up to an EKG, my mind goes back to those times, especially the first time, when I could have walked away. Sometimes my mind goes back even further to that day, that day I met him for the first time; I knew better. I am reminded of a verse I was taught as a young child that I ignored when I decided to wrap my value around another human being. The irony of this verse is not lost on me.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” Proverbs 4:23
So, on this July 4th—Independence Day—I am reminded of the day I did walk away from him; my own independence day, if you will. As I prepare to take the next dose of medicine for my heart, I am reminded, again, how important it is to tell you to guard your heart. My heart, though healing from the emotional pain; will always be damaged as a result of this person who tried to ruin me. It may not be that serious for you—but please let my story stop domestic violence in your circle of influence.
That day in 2006 when half of Baptist Hospital was in my room working on me to get my heart started again I was angry at them; I wished they would have let my heart just get the rest it so obviously needed. Today, so many years later, I am so glad my heart is still pumping blood and I am eternally grateful that it is bursting with a desire to tell this story so that we can make a difference in a world that so often is not kind. The words “Code Blue” always send chills through me because now that I realize that I am valuable, I realize how much I want to be alive today. And for that reason I will spend the rest of my life fighting this fight—the one that tells you that you are worth it. You are so valuable. You are so precious. You do not need to find value in other people. You are made in the image of God—you have a heart just like His—so full of Grace, Mercy, Truth and Love. And that, my friend, is the true heart of the matter.