In June 2013 I had a heart attack which almost took my life. During surgery I suffered a cardiac arrest and for a short time had a sense of being somewhere else – a place filled with mellow late afternoon light; silent, without dimensions or boundaries. It felt very good. Peace, no pain, then suddenly with a bang the defibrillator kicked me back into the operating theatre, with sounds of frantic activity and anxious voices saying you’re ok, you’re going to be ok. (They were more anxious than I was).
The surgeon treating me said with a wry smile afterwards “you gave us a fright - that one was out to kill you.” Earlier one of the ambulance paramedics and a member of the surgeon’s team each used the same phrase – “you were in the right place at the right time.” It could have been very different but for a weather forecast which made me decide not to go cycling off the beaten track on that particular day.
Just two days before the heart attack I had a vivid dream in which I saw myself swimming in a rough sea when from nowhere a tsunami wave came straight for me. In my dream I knew I only had minutes to live. I woke up with a bang, alive and suddenly wide awake. I went to my office and wrote down what I had just experienced. I dream a lot, mostly nonsense and quickly forgotten. But I have had three highly significant dreams over my lifetime that I can still remember in detail and which communicated something which changed the course of my life, and in one case that of our church community.
My initial reaction to the dream was that’s not for me, it must be a warning for someone else. I don’t feel as though I’m out of my depth or in rough water at this moment, life is busy but that’s normal and I feel fine. So that morning I typed up the notes made at 3am and emailed them to about half a dozen people I thought might bring some sense out of what I had experienced in the dream. One of my friends replied by return – “that was for me I need to get out of the deep water I’m in right now before the wave hits.” Great, I thought, that’s a result.
Another of my friends had a different reaction as he read my email – this is for Adrian, he is going to die. How do you share something like that, fortunately he didn’t but prayed instead.
Like the dream, the heart attack came totally out of the blue. I was finishing off a job at a property half an hour’s drive from home. I recognised the classic symptoms - intense pain in the chest and arms, the feeling that I was about to pass out, difficulty breathing. But part of me was arguing back - I don’t do heart attacks, I keep fit cycling, the medics say I’m low risk….
The ambulance reached me within minutes of my call and two hours later, surgery completed, I was fixed. By the time my wife Nicky reached me I was sitting in bed drinking tea, feeling as though I had been run over by several buses. I truly love all the wonderful people who work in our National Health Service.
On the first anniversary of the heart attack I visited what is for me a special place of meeting: St Michael and All Angels Parish Church in Felton, Northumberland. Why would God communicate with me through a dream which mirrored the heart attack experience but did not include sufficient detail to send me scurrying to Accident and Emergency to avoid it?
As I sat in St Michaels I had a sense of Jesus saying that he was with me when the tsunami wave hit and left me defenceless and completely vulnerable. He showed me that we were both in the wave and then we beached and stood together on the shore watching as it receded, its power spent.
The dream had been sent to show me he knew the wave was coming. It came and he didn’t stop it, but he was with me, my journey and his were intertwined.
I feel as though I have been given some “extra time” and I want to use it to grow in friendship with the one who was with me in the “wave.” I trust him more now, even when bad things happen.