When The Engineer and I first married, I laid down a rule: last one out of bed made the bed up. One year ago today was the first day my rule was broken. By me.
I lingered in bed then took a shower and washed my hair. As I made my way back to make the bed, I noticed a tug of war happening inside my body in that hollow space at the base of my throat. Unlike the pain folks must have felt on the torture racks of ancient times, I felt only discomfort. Intense discomfort, to be sure, but not excruciating pain that would’ve granted those turning the gears at both ends of the torture rack names and other information they sought. I made a silent note of this unusual sensation, filing it away in my mental file cabinet under For Future Reference, pulling the bedspread up over the pillows. The decorative throw pillows never made it to the bed that day. When the diarrhea and nausea hit simultaneously, Brain and Bones whispered in unison This. Is. Serious.”
We’d only lived on the island a short while, and to that point, not a single visitor had been able to find us via GPS. That’s why I didn’t trust the EMT’s and an ambulance to find me, and I sensed I couldn’t afford such a lengthy wait, so Andy drove me to the ER, something I’ve since given many second thoughts. How awful, I think in hindsight, it would’ve been for him to watch me die in the passenger seat.
As we pulled into the ER parking lot, I uttered my first words, directing The Engineer to forget what the signs said and listen to me when I told him to park at the curb to the left of the entrance to the door. At that moment, I really didn’t care if we inconvenienced anybody especially since we’d left the door open for others, and there was plenty of room for other vehicles to get past us. “You need to take the lead, and you definitely need to fill out the paperwork,” I said as the doors opened to let us through, “and remember to say the magic word: heart.”
A very nice man in a blue shirt greeted us, and when he heard the word “heart”, he quickly moved Andy to a seat near the door to the exam rooms, and offered a seat to me in the gen pop area of the rather crowded waiting room. I ignored him and took a chair next to Andy.
In a very few minutes, a smiling peppy woman also dressed in blue stood before me. “Can you walk?” she chirped. “I can,” I told her, “but I don’t think I should.”
“Oh, it’s not that far,” she assured me, swatting at the air. “Come on. Follow me.”
I tried, but when we passed mile marker 27, I stopped, leaned against the wall, and asked if she had a wheelchair she could summon. “Oh, we’re almost there,” she assured me waving her hand at what seemed to me an endless hallway. “We’re turning right here,” and that made me feel more optimistic . . . until we turned and I looked down another endless hallway. I stopped again, and she let me rest a few minutes before urging me on. People were waiting for me. And besides, we were almost there.
I entered room 16, and sure enough, many people were flitting around preparing for me. I was helped into one of those fashionable hospital gowns and somebody helped me climb up into the bed. It felt really good to be off my feet.
Though I don’t think I ever got his name, the hospitalist on duty that morning was one of the kindest men I’ve ever not met. As the flurry of activity happened all around him, he remained calm, smiling, and he made sure he touched my arm or held my toes (which ever was more readily available), sending reassurance through his touch. His touch was my anchor in what was becoming a very stressful, scary time.
“Stemmy in 16, Stemmy in 16,” we heard over the loud speaker. I looked at Andy and asked “Aren’t we in 16?” “Yep,” he said. “That’s you.
Minutes later the flurry of activity slowed when someone said loudly “The cardiologist is here” and people chose one side of the room or the other as a smiling man stepped inside the door, rubbing his hands together in keen anticipation and announced “Not just any cardiologist. The BEST cardiologist is here.”
Now y’all need to know that my first job as a married woman was working as an administrative assistance for the CEO of a private hospital in Atlanta where I was quickly introduced to arrogant doctors. I can’t tell you how many times I grabbed a doctor by the top shirt button, pulling them down to my eye level, and looking into their retinas saying “The only difference between you and me is the classes we took in college.” But on this particular day, Dr. Smalheiser’s words registered not as arrogance but as confidence – just what I needed to hear before turning my heart over to this stranger.
Shortly after his arrival, I was whisked down to the OR – kissing The Engineer good bye at the door, making him promise to move the car then come back and wait for me close by – and the flurry of activity began all over again in what seemed like a small, cramped room. When I left that room, it was with 3 new pieces of heart jewelry (aka stents) and though tired, I had more energy than I’d ever known.
I spent 3 days in ICU and 1 day in the Step Down unit (forget the official name), and recovery was easy, effortless. Three days after I was released (1 week after my Heart Alert) I was back in the hospital as daugher Alison’s pit crew in the birth of my newest Sprite, Ava Jeanne.
Ladies, there is no checklist that I can find for heart attacks in women. I had no radiating pain, no elephant sitting on my chest, no intense pain. Just the uncomfortable stretching sensation and the briefest of brief diarrhea and nausea. Listen to your bodies and heed their warnings. If in doubt, head to the ER . . . by ambulance (though I have another story for you about that on another day.)
I call my event not a heart attack, but a Heart Alert because it did indeed get my attention! My daughter Alison calls today my Second Chance Day, and that makes sense, too. Anyway, I spend today – the one year anniversary of getting a Second Chance from my Heart Alert – creating my Vision Board for how I want to spend the next year and beyond with a side of creating the longest Daily Gladitudes and Gratitudes List ever. My friend Rainy and I call our Vision Boards “Explosive Blessings”, and honestly I need to add a room to the house – a great big room with blank walls to hold it all. Here’s to much life ahead of us all and more goodness than we can count. I’ll share photos when my board is complete. Do you have one you’d be willing to share with. me?
Cheers. Clink, y’all.
Right this way if you want to hear Jeanne read (Remember: she’s fluent only in English and Southern!)