This I Believe

Tikvah - Ambridge, Pennsylvania
Entered on August 28, 2007
Age Group: 50 - 65
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I believe every life has purpose. I believe I would be dead if my life didn’t have a purpose.

On February 5, 2007 I collapsed in a supermarket, as without warning my weakened heart went into a cardiac arrest. The clerks are calling it a miracle that a paramedic happened to be shopping in the store at the time. She started CPR almost immediately. I am one of 3 to 5 percent of those stricken with such events to survive without brain damage.

By another miracle I was saved from death once before in 2001.

A former reporter, I run a non-profit writing venture, an international journal. That was the year I received a letter at the post office box saying “Death to the Infidel,” and “We Have Anthrax,” which I opened in my car. I can’t say it contained any powder because I didn’t pull it out completely, but I stopped breathing anyway, opened the car door to let the air sweep through. I drove to my mother’s, threw it in the trash outside, washed my hands, then again. I usually opened my mail at lunch in the elementary school where I worked. But this was a Saturday. Thank God for that.

The authorities later told me that I should have taken the letter to the police. My doctor told me I did the right thing to get rid of it. I agree with my doctor.

Regardless, soon my cat died. I became consumed with a breath-stealing illness, was treated with antibiotics almost an entire month, with little improvement. Struggling for breath, coughing, drenching sweats, followed.

This was my first near-death: During that time, one night in what seemed like stark reality, but also something like a dream, I found myself seated on a train with a guy I felt like I had just met and I had loved forever. His name was Gotlieb and he’d been a doctor, but wasn’t a doctor there. I was completely content, when a tall, dignified woman, who seemed to be in charge, told me the next stop was mine. I had to get off.

“No”, I insisted. There is nothing there at that stop for me, I told her. “I will go wherever he (my companion) is going.” She repeated that I had to get off. There was something I had to do for the people there. I awoke from that “dream,” and checked myself into a hospital.

There, I was told that “something had attacked my heart.” I was admitted to critical care, diagnosed with congestive heart failure, told my heart was pumping at critically low projectile capacity. Doctors said my illness was a “mystery.” It was serious. I could die.

I don’t know why I didn’t think about the letter until days later, recovering at home hearing broadcasts of the World Trade Center and other journalists’ tales of threatening letters with similarities to mine.

I asked my doctor for a test to determine exposure to Anthrax. He ordered an Anthrax antibodies test. I took the order to the lab, where I was directed to the government’s CDC, and an official there said I had to inform the FBI. The test would have to be approved through that branch. Following a visit by the Terrorist Task Force in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I was assured they believe I got a letter, but are not convinced there was anthrax in the letter. Still, since I wasn’t authorized to take the test, the question remains unanswered.

I may never know for certain if it was Anthrax I survived. I believe it was. But I know for certain that I survived it and the following cardiac arrest because my life absolutely, positively has a purpose. Now as I journey through my life, I am living each day purposefully and performing acts of kindness every day as though my life depended on it.