A Deathly Scare

My wife has returned home from the cardiac ward, so now I have time to write. I first give glory to God for returning her to us, as we begin a new part of our lives.

We were getting ready to go camping and were about 15 minutes from leaving, when she said she’d been feeling dizzy all morning, and needed to sit down for a minute. As she sat, she became nauseous and felt clammy. It was when she felt a pressure on her shoulders like a lineman’s set of pads – and the guy leaning on her shoulders HARD – that she said she was in trouble.

I asked if I needed to run her to the ER. “No, give me the phone.” Calmly, she described her condition to the dispatcher. Yes, I married a strong woman.

We live about a mile and a half from a little satellite fire station, and those guys showed up first. Meanwhile, per the dispatcher’s instructions, I’d cleared the way from the door to the kitchen where she was sitting, and it took several tries to get Wheaton, our Golden Retriever, to our little home office and get the door closed on him. He kept wanting to go back to my wife’s side, as he sensed something was really wrong.

The paramedics from way down in town showed up about five minutes later, and promptly took over. I was relegated to a corner and waited with a mix of abject fright and forced patience while they took vital signs and decided what to do next.

Her heart rate was in excess of 200 beats per minute (BPM), and her blood pressure was low, with a thready pulse in her arms. They started an IV (and fellas, you need a little more practice. but more on that later), and got saline running so they could give her a shot to get the heart rate down. They could not transport her with such a high rate; they needed it to be half that before they could get her transported. At this point the chief paramedic said that he was sure her condition was atrial fibrillation, a condition where the heart’s electrical system goes haywire; the top half beats very fast and irregularly, and the bottom half tries to follow it, but not much work gets done and not much blood gets moved. The chief was right enough; after numerous shots to get the heart rate slowed, they were finally satisfied. They set her up for transport, and out the door they went with her on a gurney. They said I could follow – but not too close, okay?

I said I’d be right along, and locked up the house, took Wheaton out for quick ‘walkies’, petted him goodbye, locked him in the house, and hopped in my little gray work car. I keep that car up to sedan-race standards for a reason: first is the joy in carving corners on the way to or from work as I drive ‘the back way’, and second, I am fussy about having the car performing at top levels at all times. That paid off now, as I approached 100 MPH on the way to the hospital in hot chase of the ambulance, which had a three minute head start. I’ll say now that it was earlier in the morning so there was next to no traffic.

I ID’d myself at the ER desk, and they gave me a sticker with her ICU’s number on it. The big doors by the desk swooshed open and I entered the foreign world which my wife was to inhabit for the next five days.

During preliminary X-rays, blood sampling, and the continuous EKGs, and helped by my kind and patient wife with the wording (I was rattled and she knows how to talk to her sisters and nieces), I began to text the family to let them know what was going on; phone calls are greatly frowned upon in ICU. And I know why: ‘next door’ (actually just a curtain’s separation) was a young girl who had taken a bike off a jump without a helmet. From all the nattering by the murder of friends noisily clustered in the room, her face was pretty badly messed up. There were at least two phone conversations going on at the same time. Yes, I wanted to yell at them to (pardon me, but my emotions were pretty high from the adrenalin) to STFU, or at least have a little respect for others.

Meanwhile my wife was eventually diagnosed as not having a heart attack to our great relief (Thank You Lord), and the preliminary diagnosis of atrial fibrillation confirmed well enough to send her upstairs into the cardiac ward for more meds to lower the heart rate and a scheduled visit from a cardiologist. As the bed-movers left and my wife said, ‘see you in a minute’, they most kindly told me, using words which my adrenalin-fueled and rattled brain could understand, which entrance to use, which floor to go to, and which room to find her in.

So I moved the car around to the lot by the entrance which would become my second front door for the next few days.

Upstairs, I found her in the cheerful, kind care of Lexi, whom I was to find to be her charge nurse for the rest of her stay. Lexi is a person working in her gifts. She’s just recently graduated into full RN status, but an excellent and gifted caregiver, gifted by God. I sat with my wife and we talked, marvelling that ‘it was good this happened now, because what if it had happened when we were 60 miles from anything?’. The rest of that evening was phone calls and tests as vitals were monitored, blood sampled, IV meds given, and the fright of the morning began to dissipate into watchful hopefulness. I found that I couldn’t sleep in the room because it was an all-female room, and my wife finally pushed me out the door very late that night.

I came home to find a very hungry (feed me first!), and oh yes, lonely, Golden.

And a very quiet, very dark house. No matter how many lights I turned on.

All the light and life was missing from the house.

I was there the next morning as soon as I could get there, not having slept and not feeling like eating anything.

Wheaton was glad to go for the car-ride. I’ve never seen a dog who so enjoys being in the car. He was happy to go, and I knew I’d be down periodically to take him for ‘walkies’.

Upstairs, I found my wife well-cared-for, and her heart rate coming down to ‘satisfactory’ levels. She was still in what was thought to be atrial fibrillation, and we talked while nurses came and went, and she got some breakfast. We kept calling the family to keep them informed.

When I arrived at the hospital on Monday morning, I’d found that my wife had an anxiety attack from all the people hovering close around and bending over her at one point during the night. However, she would soon be visited by the Cardiologist to get her diagnosis refined and a course of treatment undertaken. Meanwhile I’d been sharing texts with her good friend; and once she learned that my wife was finally able to take visitors, Zammo! She was there. The two ‘girls chatting’ lifted everyone’s hearts tremendously.

While we waited for the Cardiologist to stop by, the day passed in a slow blur of comings and goings, vitals and meds, me going down every so often to give Wheaton a walk, and those things we all find to talk about as married people.

The charge nurse stopped by to check her IV, because that site was about to get more use. My wife said that the site had been hurting quite a bit, was there something they could do about it? So the local IV expert nurse was called. This person has a gift for inserting the IV, especially so now that semi-flexible catheters are used instead of needles. It was found upon withdrawal of the catheter that had been inserted by the paramedics, that the catheter was bent. No wonder it hurt. A new IV site was selected and the catheter inserted comfortably.

Mid-afternoon, the Cardiologist entered and introduced himself. You could tell immediately he was a no-nonsense guy, and from his speech and demeanour, passionately professional about his work. I identified with him straight away. He said he’d been in consultation with the local body-electric professional, and between the two of them, they confirmed his diagnosis of Ectopic Atrial Tachycardia. He described it as a condition whereby a latent nerve in the heart begins to send signals that overwhelm the normal regulating nerve of the heart, causing the top half to beat irregularly, and the bottom half, in trying to follow it, does not move much blood. He’d seen from the radiographs that the heart muscles were good, and the valves were good – in fact all the physical side of the heart was OK; it was the electrical side that’s giving us trouble here.

There was a down side: because the lower half of the heart hadn’t been moving blood efficiently, there was a chance that the blood had ‘pooled’ there and a clot was a strong possibility. Therefore, she was started on Coumiden which is a very touchy blood thinner: it’s based on rat poison and has to be regulated judiciously. If you’re on Coumiden, then you know your clinician well: weekly or bi-weekly visits to the clinic are required to sample blood and to regulate the med. My wife was also started on Sotalol, an electrical activity regulator for the heart.

The Cardiologist said that she wasn’t in fibrillation, but rather a ‘flutter’ which was the concern; and the Sotalol would be carefully regulated over the next three or four days to get her heart back in ‘sinus rhythm’, which is the normal beating. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting until the Sotalol starts doing its thing; but once you’re released, there’s a major caution – you have to be anally consistent in taking it, EXACTLY EVERY 12 hours, no matter what. And there are additional restrictions for two hours before and two hours after.

But things were beginning to look up: we had a diagnosis, and we’re getting started on the road to successful treatment. Meanwhile, I’d contacted our church’s Admin, who’s a very good friend; told her the story, and when she asked if my wife could be put on the prayer-chain, I said, ‘please do’. Now, before I go any farther, I want to tell you that these people are tough, battle-hardened-from-life Scandinavian prayer-warriors who put all their Viking heritage into intercession with God. And God better listen, ya know… I’m not a very emotional guy, but just thinking of all those people on their knees for my precious wife just makes tears well up in my eyes.

Later that afternoon, my wife and I spoke about my work arrangements: I was still technically on vacation as I had put in for leave for Monday and Tuesday. But I’d have to go to work sometime, because both my vacation time and sick leave are very limited and therefore precious. We agreed that I’d go to work in the mornings, starting with tomorrow, and then leave as soon as I could to come be at the hospital with her.

I’m a non-exempt employee, while most of the people (my customers) at work are exempt. This allows the company to work the hell out of them, but as compensation they get WAY more vacation time than me, and unlimited sick time. However, I DO get overtime when I have to come in on a Saturday and ‘bust it’ for one of my customers. Or stay late on a damn Friday; like recently when one of my customers gave me this stack of stuff that they’d been holding, and by the way had to be done for Monday morning. And then they left for the weekend………

I went in to work on Tuesday, and first order of business was to send my boss an email to ask for a few minutes of his time that morning; explaining that my wife was in the hospital, and I needed to work out the leave situation. This would have been the first that anyone at work would have heard. The conversation didn’t go quite like I’d expected (My boss is VP of HR for our company, so he has some SERIOUS moxie – also not many visitors.). Instead of me working out with him how I’d use my precious sick-time to be with my wife in the afternoons, he said, “Look, I know how loyal you have been to our Company. It’s not escaped my notice that you are willing to do what it takes for your Customers out there, no matter what it takes, or how long it takes. Let us return the favor: take care of your wife.” And he generously said he would overlook any time already taken, plus any time I’d take for the rest of the week; as long as I stayed within reasonable touch, and my idea of doing just the morning clearing of my inbox was just fine.

I sincerely believe that this was God’s hand upon this situation. Outside looking in, this is far enough outside of Company policy that only a VP or above can take this action. And my boss is a VP.

I went over to the regular HR department, to tell them of our boss’ decision, and they were tenderly sensitive to my situation; asking if they could send flowers. Touched, I said ‘that’d be wonderful’, and gave them the room and bed number. The rest of the morning at work passed like a slow tide – I’d had two days of materials in my Inbox to handle. But finally I was able to make a break for home, collect Wheaton – who was happy-happy-happy to go – and run down to the hospital.

Tuesday passed with visits and an orchid from our freinds, and the arrival of flowers from my wife’s sister. But no change in heart rhythm.

But when I called on Wednesday morning, I could hear the jubilation in my wife’s voice as she told me her heart went back into normal rhythm. Now it would only be this day and likely another to get final regulation of the medication. Wednesday afternoon, the Cardiologist stopped by again for a few minutes and brought us even more good news: my wife could just use low-dose aspirin (religiously) as a blood thinner, and would not have to be sentenced to a life with Coumadin. Even better, she would be discharged on Thursday.

All these answers to prayer, all at once.

And she’s home. The house is once again full of light and warmth.

Thank you Lord.

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