At 11pm on February 9th my husband started with pain in his chest. At midnight he woke me up and said, “I don’t think I’m ok.” We drove to the emergency room. The guy at the desk took one look at Greg’s pale sweaty face and said, “Come right back to Room 1.” After that, things went the way they go when you’re a kid and you realize the sledding hill is too steep but you’ve already pushed off. Everything starts whizzing by in a blur and you’re thinking to yourself, “If I can (Unh!) just hang onto the (Ow!) sled, I might live through this.” I’m 38 years old, and the thought of becoming a widow just now is definitely NOT part of the plan.
As one of the techs wired him for an EKG I looked at Greg who already had two IV’s, a blood pressure cuff and an oxygen monitor and observed “How very Matrix.” “Miiiissster Annnnderrrsonnn” quipped Greg. The tech looked at Greg all wired up and plugged in as if for the flash of a second he could see him through an outsider’s eyes, not from the perspective of someone who does this all day every day. “Yeah, I guess it is kinda Matrix” he chuckled.
Rate Your Pain
Each response to the question “On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your pain?” earned him a new dose of something and when the cardiologist showed up we knew he wasn’t getting out tonight. He informed us that Greg may or may not be having a heart attack but they were going to treat him like he was. I thought that was a wise choice, though nobody was asking me. He explained what a cardiac catheterization was, they could look into the heart, see if there was any blockage, and possibly even clear it while they were in there with angioplasty. It sounded quite simple, a very reasonable, measured approach. Then he explained the risks. There can be bleeding, the procedure can cause a heart attack (I remember thinking “Can you have two heart attacks at the same time?”) or it can even cause death. The word echoed around the little emergency room cubicle.
Death. I’d been swatting away the thought like a buzzing mosquito ever since we left home. First of all Greg’s too young to die, he’s only 43!!! In my head this sounded perfectly logical. I looked around the room again. The evidence at hand, the tubes and wires, the bustling staff, all seemed to dismiss that logic rather neatly. They all seemed to say, “We’d better get moving, this guy could die.”
We paused for only a second, nodded at each other “okay,” we said in unison and they prepped him for the Cath Lab and wheeled him away.
One Thing At A Time
One of the doctors from the emergency room brought me to a “nice” waiting room, not the one with bright lights and stiff chairs. This one had a small lamp, a couch and some once pretty pillows. “Uh-oh” I thought to myself, “is this where they put people if they think their husbands are going to die?” The next 90 minutes were long. I studied my magazine with an intensity unmerited by the quality of the articles. Every time the thought came buzzing I swatted it with logic. Could I lose him, could I do it alone? What about the kids? What about his parents? “There’s no sense worrying about the possibilities,” I told the rising hysteria, “just shut up for now, we’ll deal with one thing at a time.” I almost convinced myself.
The surgeon came out. He smiled. Greg was fine.
There had been a 100% blockage in the front of his heart and they cleared it. A few days in the hospital, nine new prescriptions (yes, nine!) and that was that.
In the days following I found myself having the flashbacks I wouldn’t allow myself in the hospital: the beach in Cape Cod where we honeymooned, the birth of our first child, weekends in the Adirondacks, his cooking, his laughter. A cold wind blows through each memory “you could be alone” it moans.
A February heart attack, how ironic. This Valentine’s Day for me was like any other, but with a sharper edge. Driving home on February 14th listening to Billie Holiday I found myself in tears. From fear? From gratitude? From relief? From joy? Yes, all of those and more. When I got home I laid my head against his chest and listened to his heartbeat– steady, strong it seemed to be saying “He’s ok, he’s ok, he’s ok.”