Note: To read Part 1 of this post, please click HERE.
It was a quick ride from the airport to the hospital. I shook my head to rid the thought that this was my 4th ambulance ride. It’s no wonder sirens always take my breath away. Tom was stable, and that was the only thing that mattered.
We arrived at the hospital and I waited alone in a small room while they settled Tom and ran some tests. About an hour later, they brought me to his new room.
I felt cold all over and couldn’t stop shaking; my anxiety was extreme. Tom was still his happy-go-lucky self and his positive attitude helped prevent more anxiety build. That false sense of hope I had earlier reminded me that anything can happen at any time and just because he seemed okay in that moment didn’t mean a thing.
The nurse informed us that the cardiologist would be doing an angiogram that morning, but we weren’t given a time. I sat beside Tom and we waited in silence listening to the beating of his heart through the monitor.
I couldn’t take my eyes off my husband who looked like a human pin cushion. He was hooked up to 6 IVs and was still having a heart attack. I paid careful attention to his heart monitor and he would often hear an extra beat. Every time his heart beat extra, mine would skip a few and I’d hold my breath. I’d ask him if he was okay and he would reassure me that he was fine. My stomach was in knots and I needed constant reassurance that he was okay.
Suddenly, his heart monitor sang; 2 cardiologists and 2 nurses rushed into his room with a defibrillator. They were very concerned, and I panicked once more. Tom’s heart had skipped a bunch of beats, but he was awake and the monitor settled. They decided to leave the defibrillator “just in case.”
It was his parents 50th Wedding Anniversary and they were out of town celebrating. Tom asked me to wait until after his angiogram, once we knew what was happening, before calling his parents. I agreed to call them once we knew something, and dreaded ruining their big day.
They finally wheeled Tom into surgery at 11:30 am. They told me they would be gone for an hour, but not to panic if they weren’t back in an hour as sometimes it takes longer. I kissed my husband goodbye and told him I’d be with him, and pointed to my heart. “I love you so much!!!”
The wait was agonizing and I watched every minute pass on the clock on the hospital room wall. I was still freezing and couldn’t stop shivering. I texted with my mom to try to distract and pass time. An hour passed and he still hadn’t returned. He finally returned 15 minutes later.
They found a blockage in the part of his heart that is responsible for the rhythm of the heart, which is why his heart was skipping beats and why he felt flutters in his chest before the heart attack. The blockage was between 90-100%; like a flap, it would block (Tom would be in pain) then the blockage would open allowing blood to rush through. We were told this intermittency may have saved his heart a lot of damage. They removed the blockage and put a stent in, but Tom wasn’t out of the woods just yet. He continued to have flutters in his chest.
I stayed by Tom’s side for the rest of the day and felt a strong need to touch him. I lay the opposite side of his bed and held his hand. I got him water and ice and anything else I could do for him. I just wanted to be helpful and make sure he knew how much I love him.
I was fearful of leaving his side. I didn’t even want to go downstairs for food, but eventually I had to force myself.
I left home with the clothes on my back, my wallet, phone and a charger. I needed food, my allergies were bad, and I was still battling severe anxiety. I tried to eat a sandwich but the food went right through me. My friend Claudia came that evening with some food, drinks, deodorant, toothbrush and a magazine. It was so nice to see a familiar face. She offered me a place to sleep but I wasn’t ready to leave Tom’s side.
The night nurse told us that overnight guests aren’t allowed but she brought in a chair that reclines so I would have a place to sleep. I wrapped myself in blankets and shivered all night. My allergies weren’t subsiding and I couldn’t sleep. I listened to Tom’s heart monitor as I lay awake, thoughts swirling in my head. He would snore a bit but would wake startled a few moments later. His heart would occasionally have a few extra beats. I would look over and make sure he was okay every single time.
I was so scared to lose him.
In the morning, he explained to me that he was afraid to close his eyes. He didn’t want to die again. The feeling he had before coding was wanting to fall asleep and he was at peace, but he wasn’t ready to stop living this life. He was afraid that if he closed his eyes, he would never open them again.
They moved Tom to another room and I wasn’t able to stay the night. Claudia picked me up and I really struggled to leave Tom’s side. The separation anxiety was strong and I felt as though I was leaving a piece of myself behind. I held tears back and focused on my breath as we drove away from the hospital, away from my husband.
While we drove, I called home to check on my kids. When we got to Claudia’s apartment, I struggled to say a word. I felt like I was drowning in sorrow. I was finally in a place where I could feel these negative emotions as I didn’t have to hide them from Tom. I couldn’t hold it back anymore and sobbed.
“I almost lost my husband. We got married 3 weeks ago and my husband almost died. He DID die and he came back! I am so scared!!!!”
My friend tried to comfort me. “I don’t know what to say.” I told her: “Don’t say anything, just be here!”
I slept beside her on the couch that night, terrified to be alone. My anxiety as so strong that was shaking; I literally shook the couch.
The next morning, Claudia found some clothes for me to wear and drove me to the hospital.
Tom was able to leave the hospital floor so we sat outside to get some fresh air. The hospital was blocking the solar eclipse that was occurring on the other side. The warm air nourished our battered souls.
We were hopeful to be heading home but due to the flutters and how severe the heart attack was, the cardiologist wanted to keep him again for observation. Claudia picked me up and I stayed with her again. She washed my clothes for me so I’d have something clean to go home in. I slept in her bed alone that night.
Tom was discharged the next day. The cardiologist came to see us and explained that Tom’s heart was stunned and would be functioning at a 3 or 4, but expected his heart to be at an 8, 9 or 10 at his follow-up appointment in 6 weeks. He explained that this type of heart attack typically doesn’t have symptoms and happens in your sleep. Known as a “widow-maker,” it’s the kind of heart attack that you go to sleep and don’t wake up from. The blockage was located at the top of the heart, which cut off blood to the rest of the heart and typically causes irreversible damage. Tom was not showing signs of heart failure and he was hopeful that damage would be minimal. We wouldn’t know for sure until his follow-up in 6 weeks.
Tom read as much as he could about his condition, the type of heart attack he had, and cardiac arrest. I struggled to read or talk about it as it would upset my stomach. I was suffering from severe anxiety and remained off work for weeks as I adjusted to a new normal, once more. I would wake up frequently in a panic and would have to make sure Tom was breathing. The effects of stress were obvious; I was sleep deprived and was shedding pounds quickly.
Six weeks later, we attended his follow-up appointment. We were informed that there was no permanent damage to Tom’s heart. It was a miracle!
We struggled together and separately through the aftermath of what happened. We were both experiencing the after-affects of trauma, but from different perspectives. It was challenging for him to understand how deeply I was affected by his near-death, but I needed to process what happened and allow myself to experience the feelings that came along with it. I worked through this independently to protect my husband from unnecessary guilt. His health may have been the cause of suffering for us both, but we stood together in the aftermath and held each other up as we both healed.
Although it took us months to recover from this, I am thankful that we were able to come together in our experience and fears and are now stronger as a result. Love truly has the power to conquer all. I will never take this man for granted and am grateful for every day we have together.