Saturday, September 1, 2007
"You've had a heart attack." It was about 11:30 pm in a bright white lighted emergency room in a small country suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. Acute myocardial infarction. That is the technical term. Considering the odds of surviving a heart attack on an airplane, I was damn lucky that I was still hearing these words. "We're going to admit you."
My sister had been by my side the whole time since we had checked in around 10 pm. As brother and sister, we have always been close. Along with my youngest sister, the three of us were the last of the seven children my parents had. By the time we were growing up, the first wave had mostly left home. She was there for me, like I will always be there for her, holding my hand, joking with me, trying to keep it all real. I knew that there had been a special reason I kept saying to myself on the airplane, God, please get me to Atlanta. If it's my time, I accept that, but I knew that I had family I love that needs me. I knew that I had family waiting for me at the other end of this flight. I believed that it was not my time, as there is a purpose for me that I have yet to reveal. Perhaps telling this story is part of this journey.
At one point early on in the emergency room, when they were still trying to decide what was wrong, and also trying to make sense of my extended health travel insurance (What do you mean you don't have a social security number? 'I'm a Canadian.' What do you mean you don't have a social security number?), I turned to my sister. "Should I call my wife and tell her? Or would it only make her worry?"
"Of course, you should call her. If my husband was in this situation and he didn't call, I'd be pissed." I made the call. "I'm not sure what the problem is yet, but I'm in the hospital in the emergency ward outside of Atlanta. We'll let you know more when we know more. I love you, too. Don't worry".
Famous last words. Don't worry. Of course she worried. She spent the next few hours worrying until my sister called her to say that I had had a heart attack. At about 6 or 7 in the morning she started checking for flights and making arrangements for her and my daughter to fly to Atlanta to be at my side. By noon, the dog was in a kennel, the car was parked at the long term parking at the airport, my niece who had been visiting my daughter was back with her mother, and my wife and daughter were on a plane to Atlanta, knowing only that I was in the hospital and had suffered a major heart attack.
They gave me drugs to relax me,and to stabilize me through the night. I remember nurses checking on me throughout the night. In the morning, one of them gave me a dose of dilaudid for breakfast. Apparently I was going on a trip. In an ambulance. Did the nurse have to go with me? No, we've got him. He's in our hands now. I was getting dreamy from the dilaudid.
It's strange being in a hospital anyway. Especially one in another country. The deep South is another country. They were very kind and very polite. Really, if you're down that way, and feel a little tightness in the chest, feel free to drop in for a spell. They'll take real good care of you.
They hoist me from the hospital gurney to the emergency ambulance gurney and I'm on the move. We've all the seen the tv shows. No, they did not use paddles, I was stabilized and on my way to one of the top ten hospitals in the United States for cardiac traumas. I can see out the window of the rear of the ambulance. The siren is not on, but we are moving at a rapid pace.
Atlanta is humid and overcast. They have been waiting for rain for many days/months. Maybe today will be the day. I try to joke that this was not the way I thought I would be travelling when visiting Atlanta. We thankfully arrive quickly at the destination hospital, and they bring me through the doors into another emergency receiving area.
The doctors and nurses are all assembled, ready for incoming. The ambulance personnel move me from their gurney to the new gurney here. A nurse is pulling up the hospital gown I am wearing from the other hospital and starts shaving my groin. I think, I came all this way to get a Brazillian? Before I can get the words out, they ask if I have eaten anything this morning. Only dilaudid, if that counts. I am fully conscious, but narcotized ( which the dictionary summarizes as doped, drugged, or under the influence of narcotics; "knocked out by doped wine"; "a drugged sleep"; "were under the effect of the drugged sweets"; "in a narcotized state; stuperous". Yes, I am definitely stuperous. What a stuperous situation to be in.
The doctor has moved in and has inserted tubes into my upper thigh just below my partially shaved groin. They left a landing strip; a soul patch.
I can't feel anything, but the tubes are winding their way toward my heart. The doctors are conferring, and I get the feeling they are plumbing the clog with the 'snake" they have wormed its way into my hear. The one in charge stops for a moment to show me a photo- a black and white version of the one I have "doctored" at the top of this post. "This is your right coronary artery before we inserted the stent; and this is your right coronary artery after. You can see that the artery was 100% blocked. Now it is clear and open. We don't know now what the damage to your heart has occurred as a result of this myocardial infarction; we will keep you here for a few days, and you can see your doctors in Canada to take care of the other arteries with less than 100% blockages. "
"You are not to move your leg where we have inserted the angioplasty for a few days. This is very important." Do you have any questions? Why no, I seem to be at a loss for words, except "It was never my plan, " which I keep repeating for the next week. This is a gallows humor that my sister and I developed in the emergency from the time my father said a facsimile of these words when we told him he needed to go into the extended care facility, to most likely die, but more hopefully, not to take my mother along with him.
After the insertion of the stent, I was wheeled to the intensive care for cardiac trauma where I drifted in and out of consciousness for the next few hours. My sisters and my mother, and my brother and his wife, and probably more that I have problems remembering visited me in the afternoon. Most distinctively, I remember looking up to see the smiling face of my mother, and to feel the cool softness of her 86 year old hands as they gently caressed my forehead like she had done so many times when I was small. There is nothing like that feeling. Sometime around 1 in the morning, my wife and daughter arrive, and there is nothing like that feeling either.
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