It’s hard, if not impossible, to know what it is like for those around you, those who love you, when your own life is in crisis. I will never know what my husband felt like the day that I went to the ER but he drove our son to camp. I asked him if he was willing to write about it. Here is his story.
When I woke up that morning, she wasn’t in bed. This was unusual since I am the early riser in the family. I found her curled up on the coach in our TV room looking miserable. “I don’t feel very well. I have been taking ibuprofen all night and I still feel uncomfortable. I think it is some really bad heartburn or something.” Not long after this, she said, “I better go into the doctor to see what is wrong. You go ahead and take Owen to camp, but let’s make sure he doesn’t think anything is wrong and worry all week.”
So that’s what we did. Jen ate some breakfast, showered and got ready just like it was a normal day. She left for the hospital while the boys and I drove out to drop off Owen for his week-long camp. I let the boys watch a movie during the car ride and all the while I was waiting for a call or text from Jen for any update on what they might be finding. First update came via text … she is fine, but they haven’t figured out anything yet. The second update came just before Noah and I were going to leave Owen for his week-long camp: “They just gave me nitroglycerin.” That is usually given to someone to prevent heart attacks.
This is one of those parenting experiences that you will never forget. As I am giving Owen, though begrudgingly as it was, a hug good bye, he asks “so, is everything OK with Mom? Yes, Owen. She is going to be fine. Have a great week. Your mom and dad love you very much.” I knew what I had to say and I knew that my facial expressions had to not let on to how I really felt.
As Noah watched a movie on the car ride back home, I started calling my support system: my parents, my sister and my brother. I’m very fortunate; all of them live close and all of them are willing to drop everything when I really need help. My sister met me at the house to take care of Noah so that I could go find Jen at the hospital. When I found Jen they still didn’t have much clue what was going on, but the ER was ready to transfer her to the intensive care unit.
As I listened to the doctors and nurses come up with theories to explain her back pain: maybe you strained yourself in yoga, or your last run was more strenuous than usual, etc. I kept asking myself, “Why are we in the intensive care unit if she strained herself in yoga. And besides, Jen is tough and I can tell this time, the pain she is explaining is different.”
The thing that finally triggered them to do an angiogram was a blood test that indicated her heart was in trouble. Prior to the angiogram, the cardiologist did an ultrasound. As I watched, I remember thinking how strange it was that he never did the ultrasound on her back, where the pain was. After looking at the images for a while he says, “Well, I can’t see anything wrong. But I do think we should go through with this angiogram so that we can eliminate some potential issues that we can’t diagnose without it.”
They gave Jen some extra drugs to help take away some more of the pain. They kept asking her if the pain meds were helping. “No, it still hurts and hurts bad. Please make it go away.” The surgical team came to take her for the procedure and started to wheel her through the winding hallways. Just before a set of large double doors they stopped.
“This is where you need to say good bye. We call this the kissing place.” I gave Jen a kiss on the lips and forehead and said, “I love you. See you in a little bit.”
This is another one of those life experiences one will never forget. So many things race through your mind at this point . . . “Was that the last time I will see my wife alive? Poor Owen and Noah, how will I ever tell them the news if she dies today?”
While I sat in the waiting room, it occurred to me that Jen’s immediate family should at least become aware that she was going in for an angiogram and that more news would follow. I was soon joined in the waiting room by my parents and brother and sister-in-law. This was a Sunday evening, so the hospital was practically empty and I felt like we were the only ones there.
When a nurse finally came out after more than an hour to give me a report, she said, “Well, your wife is doing much better now and resting very well. During the angiogram, we found one of her main arteries was blocked, so we inserted a stent. A doctor will be out shortly to explain more.” To be completely honest, what I heard/processed the first time was “your wife is doing much better and resting well.” It wasn’t until the doctor came out to explain more that I fully understood that Jen had had a heart attack.
I believe that for over a year and a half, Jen wasn’t training for her second marathon . . . she was training for her first heart attack.
I am blessed with an amazing family that is there for me when I am most in need.
The health care system is filled with many wonderful caring people with many amazing talents, but when it comes down to it, you (or your spouse/advocate) are the best judge of when they have done enough to diagnose the issue you may be experiencing.
I have started to run for exercise; this wouldn’t have happened under normal circumstances.
Since the heart attack, I have a wife that is so dedicated to being there for her boys and me for as long as she possibly can that she has become an expert in her disease, whether it is diet, exercise, or medical studies, and is determined to be a mother and my wife. This is the Jen I know and love: always making sure the ones she loves know they are so important to her.