Thursday, April 5, 2012

From light to dark and back again.

While waiting at the pharmacy for Hubby's dynamite (nitroglycerin) I remembered that we needed band aids for his artery puncture where the heart cath.was inserted.  He jokingly asked for Snoopy band aids.  They had them!  I had to get them.  When I brought them back to where he was sitting we realized that Snoopy even had the same shirt on as my husband, only his says, "Joe Cool" and my husband's says, "Let me drop everything I'm doing to work on your problem." Too funny!  He loves this shirt because it's exactly what goes on at work but he's too polite to wear it to work.  It was appropriate to wear to the pharmacy to pick up the medication he can take to save his life the next time he has a heart attack at work.  :S

It's almost comical how positively I was thinking in my last two posts.  This is just not like me.  I try really hard.  I work on staying upbeat every day but I trust nothing and, really, no one.  I always feel, however, that when things are going well, I will have to pay for it in some way.  "Something's gotta go wrong 'cause I'm feelin' way too damn good.", one of my favorite lines from a Nickleback song.  This mentality leaves me feeling more cynical as time goes by but I am learning inch by inch to not be so fearful.

So, I was feeling really good and excited about life and welcoming spring with open arms.  My husband was having one of the best weeks of his life.  Then he had a heart attack.  BUT I'm not feeling very cynical at all two weeks later.  Thank goodness!  It's a new life.  That was the worst day of mine so far, but it feels so great to still have a husband that I can't even begin to think that we've been dealt a crappy hand.  The fear is even beginning to subside and it feels wonderful to just be together after such a scare.  We both feel as if we've aged ten years in the last fortnight but we are ready for a lifetime together after realizing that we were pretty close to not being allowed to have it.

I'd had the most relaxing morning-- breakfast, yoga, a little housework, and making laundry detergent.  It's so silly but laundry detergent making is my zen activity, running my fingers through the powders to mix them while enjoying the refreshing scent of the ingredients.  I had actually left my yoga DVD playing, the soothing theme song repeating, as I mixed my ingredients. 

Earlier that morning I had kissed my husband goodbye and told him I loved him as I do every day.  He came back in a moment later, having forgotten something, and as is my habit I made sure to give him another I love you.  I never let him leave the house without telling him because I literally think  every time that he could get into a car accident on the way to work or home.  I've gotten into arguments with people before, as to whether or not this is a healthy attitude to have and have determined that it absolutely is.  It makes me appreciate every day with him and every opportunity to show him my love, "just in case".  Later that day I was very glad I had given him that extra I love you.

Laundry detergent was made and scooped into the large container I use to store it in, then the phone rang.  I never answer the phone, avoid talking on the phone, and usually never even hear it ring.  I heard it this time and went directly to it.  I missed the call but a message was left a second later.  It was the doctor at my husband's medical clinic.  I listened three times to make sure she had addressed me and not him in the message.  

When I was sure that I was the one who was to return her call, I imagined and was certain, that she would say that my husband had come in with chest pains.  I don't know how, but I knew that was what she was going to say.  I guess I always worried without fully realizing it that this was going to happen one day and I almost wasn't surprised, yet was completely shocked and shaken to my core, if that makes any sense, when that is exactly what she told me when we were connected.

My husband had experienced a sudden headache then tightness in his chest and jaw pain while sitting at his desk at work.  Because of the way he was ignored by the ER staff at our local hospital when he was doubled over with a gallbladder attack a couple of years ago, he refused to call 911 or go to the ER when he suspected that he was in trouble.  Instead, he drove to the one medical doctor in town that he trusted.  I found out all of this later and wasn't surprised one bit. This is the absolute WRONG thing to do, but I figured that because he was ignored the last time at the ER that his decision to go to her clinic instead may have just saved his life.  She told me that she had already called him an ambulance and that he was conscious and speaking and that I could meet him at the ER.

I don't remember much after that but standing in front of my open closet doors telling myself repeatedly that I had to get dressed.  I was in my yoga clothes and bare feet.  I had already told the boys very quickly what was happening and that they needed to get ready to go ASAP, but then I stood there frozen ordering myself to "grab a t-shirt and go".  I don't own any and for some reason I thought I specifically needed a t-shirt so that confused me even more.  I was finally able to yank things down and get my body to move.  It's so surreal to remember it now, like the story of the idiot lady a teacher told us about in elementary school who gets a knock at the door and opens it to find a stranger telling her her house is on fire which sends her searching for the vacuum cleaner, or was it a coffee pot? The funny thing is, hours later I looked down at my feet in a hospital waiting room to realize I had donned my still muddy gardening shoes before racing to the ER, rather than street shoes.  ???

At the ER they let us right in.  The doctor met me and led me and my children down the corridor saying, "They are still working on him."  I said, "WORKING on him?!"  I was picturing my husband out cold, flat-lining, defibrillators...Nightmare.  He calmed me by saying that he was doing okay, they were just getting him ready to go to the big hospital.  By now we were in the room with my husband and I saw him wide awake and looking at me, apologetically, from a stretcher.  I wanted to go to him but the doctor was explaining everything to me and I was trying so hard to focus on his words because I knew they must be important, but at the same time I was slinking toward the foot of the bed to reach through the jumble of people working busily around my husband so I could just reach his toes.  I hung on to them while the doctor informed me that his condition was fluctuating and that he had been in bad shape when they got to him at the clinic and in the ambulance ride over, but that he seemed to be stabilizing a bit for the time being.

From the doctor I heard, "There is already heart damage.  Ordinarily we would airlift him to Mission, but as you can see we have bad weather today."

My heart just fell.  I hadn't even noticed that it was pouring outside.  I want him airlifted.  The boys and I had taken a field trip to meet the crew of the mountain airlift unit and to see how state-of-the-art their helicopter is.  I knew from that day that if you are having a heart attack, you want to be flown in MAMA to Mission Hospital in Asheville.  An hour and a half road trip is a fraction of that flying across the mountains in MAMA.  I think, heart damage, bad weather, hour and a half trip by ambulance.  It's one of the saddest moments of my life.  I want him in MAMA! 

I was allowed to go talk to him for a second while they prepped him for the heart catheterization he would have when he reached the hospital in Asheville.  He told me that it was the same feeling as the "attack" he had the week before when he thought it was a combination of being overheated in the shower and the acid reflux that he deals with every day.  It was a heart attack, they've told him.  So this was number two and there is heart damage and he has to survive the long ride to Mission?  This glass-is-half-empty girl could not comprehend how this situation could be any worse, or how it could possibly have a happy ending.

We told him we loved him and they took him out.  A paramedic gave me strict instructions not to try to follow them, that they would be going too fast in the ambulance with police escort.  He told me to take my time in the stormy weather.  I didn't know how I was going to get us over there but we headed out after saying a prayer in our car and driving to the clinic where my husband had left our more reliable vehicle.  I knew that I would feel safer in it but hated to take the extra time to switch cars. 

Halfway to Asheville, because I remembered that the night before my husband and I had, out of the blue, discussed living wills and I took it as some kind of sign, because that's the kind of spaz I am, I decided that he didn't have much chance of making it.  It had been too long and I worried that he just couldn't survive this.  I remember when he was having complications after his gallbladder surgery and they took him away to look for a pulmonary embolism.  I was scared to death because his blood oxygen levels were dangerously low and they needed to find out why.  He wasn't afraid or worried.  He was totally at peace and okay if worse came to worst.  I remembered this while trying to get to Mission and felt at peace that if he didn't make it he would be fine with it.  I knew he was calm and feeling just fine. 

I asked my grandmother and friend William to meet him if he had to go.  Then I just asked God for peace and to drive us the rest of the way.  I wasn't thinking clearly and it seemed like we would never get there.  I don't remember anything else until we were on the interstate and I was saying out loud, "I'm on the interstate?!!  Are we on the interstate?"  We were.  Then I remember nothing until we were two exits away from the one we needed to take.  I don't know who drove me there.  I don't remember doing it.  I'll take it as answered prayer even if the numbness was my own body's coping mechanism in a time of crisis.  I don't recall merging at any point, or even other vehicles on the road, I was only aware of the relentless rain.

We reached the hospital, went into the ER entrance, assuming he'd come that way, and gave a girl at the nurse's station his name.  She had no record of him coming in. 

I was really trying to keep my composure at this point while she looked through "four systems" for any evidence that he had come to the hospital.  She asked me several times if I could have beaten the ambulance there.  I told her there was no way.  Needless to say, I was weak in the knees and thought that it could only be bad that he hadn't made it into the hospital.  I was thinking of his condition deteriorating and them having to slow or stop the ambulance on the way, or of a possible accident in the rain.  Then I finally decided that she had no record of him because he didn't make it and he had been taken to the morgue.  It's sick to be so negative, but I didn't know what else to think and she COULD NOT find him. 

After several phone calls and giving his name, all the while typing away on her keyboard and looking confused, I heard her say, "chaplain?" to the person she was speaking to on the phone.  I really almost sat right on the floor at that point.  Why would she be talking about chaplains if we weren't about to be pulled aside to get the worst news of our lives? 

She hung up the phone and told me that they were sending us a chaplain.  When she saw how scared I was she said that the reason they were sending a chaplain is because they could get me to where he was the fastest.  I thought, yes, to the morgue.  I didn't know that he was okay and had no reason to believe that my world wasn't about to crumble.  She directed us to a corner with chairs to wait and I pulled out my phone to beg for prayers from my Facebook friends and family. I had already called my mom, soon after heading to Asheville, to ask her to meet me at Mission.  She didn't get my message so was not there and I have never felt so alone. 

The chaplain came and I was waiting for the roof to drop on my head when she started leading us down the hall.  I ask her point blank if my husband was alright.  She seemed surprised that I didn't know and assured me that he was there and okay, up on the cardiac floor.  She was not sure of his condition, however, because she was not the chaplain of that floor, another one would be assigned to us. 

Oh happy day!  I didn't really care what happened at that point, my faith was restored a bit and I thanked God, then brace myself for what the day would bring.  But I really do think they need to work on their system a bit.  Jeesh!

Our assigned chaplain was amazing.  "They are here to take care of him, I am here to take care of you.", he told us.

My husband was having a heart catheterization to see what was going on.  He was actually behind the double doors across the hall from the family waiting room they had opened for us, so close, and the chaplain would keep us updated on his progress.  Before I could even think about where we would stay overnight, assuming the boys and I would have a long haul ahead of us and would be camping on the very chairs we were sitting in, the chaplain told us of the Rathbun Center, a kind of Ronald McDonald house for family members of critical patients to stay in.   He had already made a reservation for us.  He prayed with us, gave us a brochure with instructions for checking into our room and, not thirty minutes later, it was ALL OVER. 

I couldn't believe it when we got the news and the surgeon came in to show us before and after images of my husband's arteries and heart.  An artery is so obviously closed off in the before picture, looking as if it is clamped shut from the outside.  His heart is literally dying at that point, I am told.  Then, in the after photo, an arrow points to the opened section of artery where a stent has been placed. 

I asked him, "Is this the end of something or the beginning?" 

He confidently looked me in the eyes and said, "This is the end of something.  You will have to be the kind of family who spends weekends hiking and bike riding to keep him active and he should have a long, healthy life."

I could feel the ground below my feet again.  So grateful for the best case, worst case scenario!  I could have been hearing such terrible news but it was terrific!  Yes, he had a heart attack, but because he did, this was the beginning of a new life for my husband. 

Very serious was this "boy" from Harvard we had been hearing about for the last hour and were now speaking to, who must have been but didn't look a day over seventeen.  The kid who had just used my husband as a guinea pig to do the cath. through the arm rather than the leg as part of the study he was heading, was now grinning just a little at the corners of his mouth and saying, "He told me he's going to make a game after me and call it Artery Blasters."

I said, "He does make games and apps.   Did he tell you that?" 

So nice to laugh about something for a moment and so adorable of my husband in his delirious state, feeling funked up on sedatives, to say something like that.  He doesn't remember it at all of course, but is now determined to keep his word. 

We were able to see him as they wheeled him out from behind those double doors where the procedure was performed to across the hall to the ICU.  There was some debate as to whether or not he should even be put into ICU to recover, he was doing so well and was no longer considered an "emergency" patient, but the admitting doctor won, arguing that because of the manner in which he reached the hospital, he needed extra care so my husband was moved to the Intensive Care Unit, we were told, for one to four days.  Fortunately, the local ER doctor was wrong and the cardiologist at Mission could see no permanent heart damage, but tests the following morning would be performed to determine that for certain. 

No damage. NONE.  My husband was discharged the next afternoon directly from the ICU which I have never heard of or imagined happening.

AND it was our son's birthday.  I remember last year pining for lost years as he turned from ten to eleven but under the circumstances all we could do on this birthday was celebrate.  We will celebrate both my son's and my husband's life every year after this.  The little guy's birthday plans were completely wrecked, but after a crazy day fraught with one headache after another we made it back to our little town and home. 

I was able to get a tiny cake made from a portion of a packaged cake mix just in time for him to blow out his candle and make a wish before the clock struck midnight and his official birthday ended.  Undeterred and just happy to have his daddy, he told us that he would like to move his birthday to the following weekend.  We readily consented but couldn't stand the thought of him waiting so long so gave him half of his presents, anyway.  What a sweetheart! 

So now our life begins again and we are back in the light.  I was so nervous the first couple of days.  I kept wondering why they heck they would allow my husband, who had just had a heart attack, to come home and recover under my care.  I am not qualified for this at all, and, as it turns out, I am not a very good "nurse".  I forget to take his blood pressure before giving him his medicine and sometimes, those first few days, I would sneak out to the living room for chocolate when he couldn't have any. 

Then there was my big panic attack/melt-down, complete with hyperventilation, my first that didn't occur in a drug-induced state (Demerol on day two following an appendectomy.  Last dose I ever took.).  Obviously it was a delayed reaction from the whole incident that had my "patient" trying to make me feel better at 3 a.m.  That's just wrong.  Especially when I am supposed to help him keep his stress level down.  But the problem is when you're "patient" is your best friend and the love of your life and you suddenly fear that you will wake up every day not knowing if your time together has run out.  It was just a little too much for a minute there, but fortunately a temporary state of mind...I hope.  Things seem much sunnier these days and I am determined to keep my outlook bright and hopeful for both our sakes.

Things are looking brighter and brighter.  I wouldn't even look back at that day after the meltdown, knowing I had to just bulldoze through it without "looking around", until tonight when we went out for dinner and my husband and I ended up talking about the day he had his heart attack, the whole time we were at the restaurant.  It's like we felt safe to finally talk about it because we were outside of our home. 

He told me his play by play recollections of the incident and I finally told him all of the story from our side.  With our kids giggling away about this and that in the booth across from us, we both got watery-eyed at different points and ended up clinging to each other while we talked.   

We are in the midst of celebrating 20 years as a couple and are determined that there will be decades and decades left to grow old together.  I almost can't wait to see how strong he will be in a year and to totally feel like this is behind us.  And to help him, I will learn, once and for all, how to be a glass-is- half-full kind of person.  It's my renewed mission in life because never ever ever has anything turned out as badly as I am certain that it will looking ahead with fear and dread.  I've got to get that into my head and remember it the next time I'm wimping out over something.

Do anything you can to control the amount of stress in your life.  My husband's heart disease is being blamed on stress and genetics.  One of those he can influence. 

And if you love someone, hug them tight.  You really never know what can happen.


  1. Phew. I would have been a wreck! So glad he is okay!

    1. Thanks! We are, too. He's getting stronger every day, less like a newborn kitten. :)

  2. I am so thankful that he is okay and you are all together happy. I was so worried when I seen your post on FB. We think of you guys often and hope to see you sometime. Hugs to you all.

    1. Thanks, Tammara. Hope Jess is feeling better today. We miss you guys.