The last thing on my mind in 1973 was a heart attack. But it happened two weeks past my 40th birthday. I had been in New York for a weeklong seminar, doing nothing but sitting in conference and eating. I flew home on Friday night, then got up early on Saturday morning for a practice session with son John's Pony League baseball team. I was the manager. After some wind sprints and other warmup exercises that I ran with the boys, I started throwing batting practice. Gradually, I became aware of pressure in my chest that became increasingly intense. It felt like a basketball being inflated inside me. I finally had to quit pitching and sit down, but the pain did not go away.
About that time, son Larry drove up to watch practice. I asked him to take me home. I'm sure that John and the other boys wondered what was going on. The rest of what happened is a bit hazy in my memory. Ann found a doctor who gave me a shot of something - Demerol, I think, and I was soon on my way to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa in an ambulance.
The next thing I remember was a nurse bending over me in the hospital saying, "Mr. Berg, you have had a serious heart attack, but if you will do everything that we advise you to do, you've got a 50-50 chance of recovering." Whoa! That also meant a 50-50 chance of not making it. What a jolt! Up to that time, I guess I never thought seriously about death - never acknowledged to myself the reality of death. I didn't consider myself immortal. I just didn't think about it. That nurse got my attention to be sure.
Soon, I was in the Intensive Care Unit. Another heart patient was in the other bed. I could see his heart monitor, but not mine. All either of us had to do was watch each other's heart monitor. Ann was allowed in for five minutes every hour. That wasn't nearly enough time for me to tell her what needed doing. This limitation on visitation was supposed to reduce stress, but it only increased my frustration and anxiety. By now there was no more pain - never was any more pain - only anxiety. Things were going on in my business that needed attention, but all I could do was worry.
After two days in ICU, I was moved to a regular room. Ann could now come and go as she pleased, and other visitors came. I didn't have to watch my neighbor's oscilliscope any more. There was a Gideon Bible on the table beside the bed that I ignored for a while. Later, out of boredom I picked it up. The book opened to where someone else had been reading. The place was Proverbs. I don't think that I had ever read Proverbs 3:4,5 before. If I had, the message there had not sunk in.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding, acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He shall direct
What a profound and comforting statement! It didn't take me long to memorize those two little verses, and to realize that I had never had enough faith to claim that promise. As I thought about what those words meant, I realized that the things I had been worrying about didn't really matter that much - that it didn't make much sense to worry about what I couldn't do anything about anyway. When you come to a crossroads, make a decision and don't look back. Trust ....
I was in the hospital for ten days, then recuperated at home for another six weeks before returning to work. The worst thing about that was not being able to drive and do what I wanted to do, because I felt fine. Nowadays, the doctors send you back to work within a few days and start an exercise program.
I think that the week of total inactivity couple with the sudden burst of physical activity is what triggered the attack. The pressure of business, or the way I worried about it, was an underlying cause. But once, it was over, and I look back, it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. I came away with a renewed faith in God and a new outlook on life and death. The doctors called the attack a coronary occlusion. A piece of plaque in my arteries had broken loose and stopped up the heart valve. The heart continued to pump, but the blood had no place to go, so the heart just inflated like a balloon. That was the pressure I felt in my chest.
Twenty-six years later Ann joined the club. It was July of 1999 when she was overcome with pain in her chest, arms, and jaws. When she finally told me about it, we went immediately to Union General Hospital in Blairsville, Georgia. They couldn't help her much, so an ambulance was ordered to take her to Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.
Following the ambulance in the car, I'll remember that mad dash to Atlanta as much as anything else. We were weaving in and out of traffic at 80+ mph, and all the while I was on the cell phone trying to let family know what was going on.
At the hospital they did the enzyme tests of the blood to confirm the heart attack, then performed a heart catherization to test for blockages. The doctors determined that surgery was unnecessary, prescribing blood pressure medication, proper diet and exercise, and after three days in the hospital she was released to come home. Again, we were reminded about the realities of life and death and the love of family and friends.
I know for a fact that both heart attacks were wake up calls. We are both in better health after the fact - body, mind and spirit - than we would have been had they not occurred.