On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, my 51-year-old husband suffered a massive heart attack in our home, coming in from moving the lawn with a weird pain in his upper back on the right side which later traveled up his neck and around his ear. His RIGHT arm was cold and clammy. Despite, my years of CPR training required for my work as an Occupational Therapist, it took me a while to realize that this was indeed a heart attack. His symptoms were atypical. It is usually the left arm and later, the doctor told him, “you had a heart attack like a woman”.
I remember searching in the basement for my bag from when I worked in home health care- over 5 years earlier- for my stethoscope and cuff. I remember his pulse was faint and slow. Looking back, I don’t know why it took me so long to call 911. Don had no idea he was having a heart attack. I finally called 911 and frantically searched for aspirin that I knew we didn’t have when the 911 operator asked if we had any aspirin.
About 5 minutes after the medic arrived, Don went into full cardiac arrest. It looked like he had a seizure and he became unconscious. I remember the other medics arriving just as this happened and remember them rushing us out of the living room where we all had been standing and watching as Don went into full cardiac arrest. I recall walking the children around the corner into the kitchen and sitting on the steps and I began tapping (EFT). Looking back, I believe the only way I was able to do this was that Don’s spirit was alongside me.
I could hear the medics and understood everything they were saying. I listened intently to them as I made an effort to comfort my kids. They used the defibrillator and I could hear them say,“he has a pulse but it is faint”. If memory serves me right, they used the defibrillator 3 times while he was in the living room before they moved him out to the ambulance to get him to the hospital. He was in ventricular tachycardia when they left and his face was dark blue.
I am forever grateful to the Robinson’s Volunteer Fire Dept. and that medic who stayed with me and asked me, “Do you have someone you can call?”
My mind went blank. Who should I call? He asked about family or friends. I had many friends but tried to think of someone who lived close. I then though of Lia who lived only about 10 minutes from me and called her and her mom took a message which she quickly got to Lia. Lia arrived quickly and drove me and the kids to the hospital. The medic offered to follow me to the hospital, but I knew I needed someone else to drive. And then Lia could stay with the kids. As I type this 5 years later, I can picture it like a movie in my mind. I remember Lia’s calmness and her suggestion to drop me off at the emergency room entrance and then she went to park the car with the kids. I vividly remember walking into the hospital and asking to find a bathroom first! I wrote a post on that one. Then I came out and asked where he was. I remember standing just outside a small room/ ER area and the doctor telling Don, “you had a heart attack” Don was awake but did not see me and gave the doctor a crazy look when she told him he had a heart attack. They told me they were bringing him to the cath lab.That all seamed to happen in less than a minute. They rushed him upstairs and I never got to say anything to him. He has no memory of that experience.
The next 2- 3 hours were the longest hours of my life. They first brought me to the cath lab floor to a very small room to wait. I told them that my friend would be coming up with my three kids and was there somewhere bigger we could wait. They then brough me to the cardiac cath waiting room which was empty due to it being after 6pm. The nurse or someone had told me it would be about 2 hours and when that time passed, I started to panic. And Lia, with her calm sense of problem solving called the front desk, or maybe she suggested I do that,finding the number for me and later we learned, that they did not realize we were waiting there because usually after hours, they have family wait in one of those small rooms like they first brought me to.
We watched Idol as we waited because that is what we would have been doing at home. We had been watching American Idol as a family for a few years. Abby needed the distraction. We ate peanut butter crackers from the vending machine for dinner. Lia had lots of change on her. She really was my angel throughout this experience and I don’t know how I would have done it without her.
You can follow the rest of the story below.
I will now share a post I started sometime after he returned home from the hospital. This post was dated December of 2011 before I updated it. It is a post that I started, but never finished nor shared. I am sharing it now as we celebrate: Cuatro De Mayo, Don’s 5th anniversary of rebirth.
I began journaling through the experience of my husband, Don’s heart attack through Facebook posts.
I began the posts as a way to quickly update family and friends about Don. I later realized that the posts could also serve as journal entries for my “in the moment” feelings and thoughts.
So now, just over 12 weeks later, I am looking back on my Facebook posts and will share them here.
Note: It has been nearly 5 years since Don had his heart attack. I started this post copying all my posts from May 4 through May 10 including a blog I wrote. Now I want to add the remaining posts for May 11- 16 to include all the days he was in the hospital. But I have to figure out how to do that! So until I do, I will share it as it is.
This is a chronological listing of my Facebook posts. When I first did this, I went back and even included my comments in reply to other people posting to me. I left the posts “as is”including mispellings. I added some things for clarification in parenthesis. I also have a few times summarized a post like a conversation with Harrison that we had on Facebook. When Don had a heart attack May 4, 2011, Harrison was 13, Abby was 9 and Jason was 2.
May 4 8:56pm
please pray for Don. he had a heart attack and is the hospital at Presby Main. all here right now. he’s in cath lab..talked to nurse waiting to hear from doctor.
May 4 10:10pm
Don is stable. waiting to go see him
May 5 4:23am
don is doing better but still in CCU and will be there several days. I Got to see him Ad talk to him and then we came home.kids did not (see him). just called to check on him. he’s improving. will know more later . going back to hospital soon. thanks for everybodys prayers. keep praying
here with Don. he’s improving. in CCU all today. he can eat now. feeling some relief
Thank God for 911 and the medics with Mint Hill and the other station. and the Cardiologist and nurses and team here at Presby. so glad I live in a big city. and all my friends and family and being here talking with Don and knowing he is improving.
reply to a comment: Thanks Michele. Holding up ok. He is talking and eating and joking. Still in Cardiac care unit for t least a day or two and then to step down unit.May 5 at 10:38am ·
trying to figure when to go to hospital again and dinner for my family (with all our food issues)
reply to comments and friends offer to bring food:
You guys are awesome. I know Leslie mentioned shopping. There are things at Trader hoes (Joes) we need. We can eat some wheat but we have been eating gluten free and my biggest concern is Abby and not changing what she has been eating too drastically. She has been gluten and egg free and the other big thing with her is no preservatives and artificial colors…
Rice and potatoes and vegetables. Potatoes of all kinds…fruit is great for H and J. They eat a lot of fruit! And we do eat Ezekial Bread…found at most stores in frozen foods.
And Abby loves meat. Yet with her OCD /abxiety issues I am not sure what she will eat that others have made. She still has not been able to eat out.
I am so happy for meals right now cause I an not sure how I an getting through this other than this is far better than the alternative.May 6 at 4:44am ·
I am trying to ask for help (not easy for me) cause the other thing I may need…and right now I have my parents here til sat and then my sister in law comes in Fri – today thru Tuesday. Will be help with day to day at home…cleaning up…for those that k ow me, housework is not my thing. I love doing laundry but other than that…
I an trying to think ahead cause I know it will be great with my family…my sister in law is a nurse but she lives in St. Louis and so when she leaves…is likely to be about when Don comes home and right now that idea overwhelms me.
I am taking it one day at a time. I an just trying to reach out because that is not something I do well. And ask for help when I feel strong enough to ask for help (cause asking for help aibt easy fir me!)….but man am I learning fast!May 6 at 4:50am
back with Don at hospital. he continues to improve.
a picture of Abby and Olive- Olive in Abby’s ballet skirt
loves my family and friends. don – I love you. healthy healing heart ..tap tap tap
reply to the comments: Thanks everyone! You know I love prayers in every form and every religious or non perspective! And healing energy and all of it…its all energy I think its all helping. In so many ways its amazing he is still here and improving.May 6 at 4:53am
I would like to post a picture of my mother and also one of Don and I….can’t seam to find many pictures other than of my children…May 14 is Don and my 17th So glad my honey is still here with me….just trying to do what I need after a good 5 hour rest , while everyone sleeps… My new mantra”the past is behind me… only look and move forward”
Dancing with my love at a family wedding Abby about a year asleep in my arms.
(changed my profile picture to this picture of Don and I dancing at a wedding with Abby asleep in my arms)
one more source of help could be friends coming to be with kids in waiting room while I an with Don. we are going to hospital later
whoever can help me buy meeting me at hospital to be with the kids in waiting room while I am with Don. call me
thank you Lonna and everyone! anyone who can meet me at waiting room to hang with the kids over the next few days
having a good night after a rough day..fatigue hit me today. sister in law angel arrived. Lonna angel met us at hospital…talked to more friends. dons improving. hoping to sleep more tonight. Needs: taking trash to dump. strong person to lift battery so we can put lawnmover away
reply to comments: Rough day for me. but Don is doing well…improving well.May 6 at 10:56pm
later reply to comments: Thank you all. forgive my impersonal reply. FB and my BB are helping me through. I did sleep a good stretch. The adreneline high I was on, has ended to some extent although when I wake up, I figure I need to get out of bed and do something cause I will likely not fall back to sleep quickly. and need food and waterMay 7 at 4:43am
one more: plan to go back to lay down in a bitMay 7 at 4:43am
Slept about 11:30 til 3:30 woke with some bizarre violent dream. Called hospital, don is doing well and sleeping Yea! and he relieved his bloated feeling earlier (you know I work in health care and so I may come across weird with what I post).
The Presby nurses are awesome and answer all my questions cause I need to know as much detail as possible having an anatomy background and all.
J ust wish I could be at hospital 24/7 but it feels good to be home and be here for my kids too. We are all sleeping in my room and have gotten all to bed within 30 minutes or so once we are up there. Feels good to have them close.
reply to comments: “Thanks Kamilla he is doing well and improving yet it will be a slow recovery and he has another artery with blockage that they have to reasses and in one month check for permanent heart damage. (figure you may understand some of this being a nurse). Getting lots of great help right now.May 8 at 9:55am ·”
I need to get real organized real fast. has any one heard about or had experience with Inclusive Health.org? I was told it was a state program to get insurance for anyone. we have a major medical plan covers hospitalization at 80% but no follow up coverage and no coverage for cardiac rehab insurance agent told me to contact them and they will cover anyone.
went to inclusivehealth.org NC sponsered company for coverage. went to find a local agent and list is very long for Mecklenburg County…anyone have any experience, know of anyone who has used them or an agent?
found a rep in Mint Hill, sent a message. Feels good to be getting some of these things done. more sleep later in day. food and drink got rid of headache, time talking with my Dad. guess time to shower while everyone is still sleeping. plan to go to hospital by myself today once Jason is up and settled. going to let him sleep as long as he needs after two difficult early mornings. breath…..
comments: Don should get PT today and I really want to be there when they come byMay 7 at 6:22am
comments: “the past is behind me, keep moving forward”
got to spend time alone with my honey. he got to sit up in a chair and walk to toilet. he is progressing well. he got sleepy and needs rest.
reply to comments: “We appreciate all the prayers and well wishes and I a. Happy to let everyone know how he’s doing. Don’t mind people asking either.May 7 at 2:23pm”
reply: “Thank you. He had stints put in right away. We won’t know if he needs more for a few months. He has to recover before they can even see how much damage was done to heart…that will be a good month before they can check that.May 7 at 11:09pm”
home with my family…my parents left. have my wonderful sister in law here. my house has. never been so clean and we have clean laundry! kids have had playmates. will go back to see don. he did sleep some
reply to comments: “Thanks Joyce. Helps to hear that. Happy Mothers Day to you. We have lots of positive thinking going on. He lived and that is all that matters right now…he survived that..we can get through anything. Best mothers day gift ever…my husband alive and doing well.May 8 at 9:53am ”
-May 7 at 4:51pm Harrison uploaded a photo of Don and I (more recent photo) because I wanted it for my profile picture
we all went to see Don tonight and he was feeling much better and had slept and got to sit in a chair and visit with us. it felt wonderful. kids made him pictures. we love you Don-daddy!
I have the best mothers day gift ever…my husband is Alive and improving and I get to go spend time with him early tomorrow. challenges bring perspective …I am so grateful
Inquiry about if Don is still in same room-
My reply: “Yes but he may be moving today in morning don’t know when. But will move to cardiac step down unit. He apprecited you coming and is ok with visitors…he wants the distraction. Just short stay esp if he seams sleepy. He has not slept much. He slept best yesterday and was doing real well last night for our family visit.May 8 at 2:50am”
just talked to Dons best nurse…Sharon we love you! and I am feeling relief. I can bring him any foods. she will get social work consult for us. she understood what probiotics are. Ahh……and she was there when the other nurse looked at me H and J and said “no children under 12 allowed”- and let us in. Daddy needs to see his kids and they him…its part of what is healing him along wirh modern medicine!
comments: “don’t anybody tell me Don can’t see his kids! I understand the hospital policy but love trumps policy. I Will keep j in my arms in hall. Just one more day of CCU then that won’t be such an issue.May 8 at 3:17am”
Comments: “Its just hard with all we are going through to wallk on the unit with the kids and have everyone look at you with that “why are those kids on this unit?” and I just want to shout. We are visiting their Dad! You don’t know what they saw at home with the medics….they need to see him and he needs to see them. Its part of our healing…Dons included!!!!!!!! Modern medicine is wonderful and so is love!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!May 8 at 3:19am”
comments: ” Its these little things that are tough on me right now. Seeing my needs more and. More as I am out of SURVIVE mode and now am moving on to other emotions and boy is it a roller coaster. But I got through him almost leaving us…I can get through anything now.May 8 at 3:22am”
Sat May 14 is our 17th anniversary. I am so glad my honey is here with me! He was last in the hospital 17 years ago on our honey moon, ask us about that funny story. I love him so much.
comments: I had a conversation with Harrison about cropping the picture for my profile picture and then about how Jason is doing. my final comment back to him: “Thanks. I can likely come home before he needs a nap and then come back over here. But while he is happy I will take some quiet time and be close to Dad. But will likely come home sooner rather than later for his nap…so I can nap too and then we can come back or at least I can or Ann can or something.May 8 at 9:00am”
Happy Mothers DAy to my wonderful Mom! It was so helpful having you here when I needed you most. I wish I could find a picture of you to post as my profile, when I scan my pictures, all I find is the kids….:)
You are the best mom and the reason I am the mother than I am.
I love you Mom.
I have started blogging about this because I know I have to and need to. And I don’t need to hide my writing but share it for anyone who wants to read it.
Ahh…..talked to Dr. Iwoka. he is moving to step down today. things are going well. I like him for more than just saving the love of my love and best friend.
my reply to comments: ” Thanks Adael! Happy Mothers Day to you. This was the most I got to talk with the doctor and watch him assess Don. Our nurse told us he was rated the Best Cardiologist. Helps to hear that. And I like how he answered my questions. It eases my mind.May 8 at 8:57am”
Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers and those who act as caregivers and mothering roles….including my sister…the best big sister anyone could have
my comment: “And my husband is included in this”
*converstaion with Harrison about how Jason is doing and me waiting for them to move Don
hanging in waiting area while Don tries to sleep..looking out window thinking ..one nurse told us CCU used to be labor and delivery and likely was 131/2 years ago when Harrison was born. he may have been born very near where Don is on CCU…has a spiritual kind of comforting feeling to me in a weird and maybe silly way….
was able to peek in window and not click door…Don is sleeping so I am letting him rest. think ill take a walk and get my jacket in the car…its freezing in here!
Jody posts a picture:
Princes Harrison and Jason with their crowns
Dad in his new room (picture)
Don is moved to Step down. things are good. great nurse here. think I will head home for a bit. this is a big step! yea!
and sometimes I need to cry and let it all out….I guess the whole thing is just beginning to sink in or are moving out of a state of shock…and over tired….I know all will be well but its ok too to say this really sucks
reply to comments: “Yes tears are good…a release of energy and I an glad they are coming.May 8 at 4:12pm”
and another reply: “Love all the hugs and thoughts…helps me outMay 9 at 12:33pm”
slept well and feel refreshed…boy I needed that. Ann and h and J<supposed to say A> going to see Don. me and J going soon yet cool to be home with just my J
don doing great! love his new nurses on 3D. going home for dinner with my family -1. don needs rest.
thinking about tomorrow and play mates for jason …
need to spend lots of time at hositsl next two days as Don may come home tuesdsy and I need to tslk to nurses.
Out of shock and on to next stage. still counting all my blessings yet nervous about next steps of this endeavor.
didn’t get to finish my post…3D nursing staff is awesome! Presby hospital has been awesome. Feels good knowing he is in good hands there. He might be getting PT today! Eager to get to hospital and be there all dayMay 9 at 4:43am
I am thankful for prolactin 🙂
Don is tired today and has low grade fever. he sent me message but it wears him out to do so. can’t wait to go over to see him. kids are all still sleeping here as I BB next. to them…we are all in one room together.
at hospital with Don. he is resting but doing as expected. fever is not a concern. he will be going to cath lab tomorrow t0 have other blocked artery stinted. then will come back to room he is in now. it is about an hour procedure according to nurse (and Much easier this time since it is not an emergency)
home now. don is tired but doing well. we don’t know what time he will go to cath lab in the morning. 7am or later so I will be there by then. mom is coming back later tomorrow. got a friend who can come early and stay the day. I will be good to have the stint done to open the othwr artery and know that is behind us yet is a new venture to process and think about.
got some sleep. my 3 angels are sleeping all next to me which feels so good. Ann visited Don tonight and he is doing well yet very tired. procedure sometime today…7am or later. ill be there and Will keep ya’ll posted. (I can’t believe I just wrote ya’ll…I must be a southerner now…been here 18 1/2 years!)
Blogging again about this experience.
This is part of an email I sent to a friend on May 9, 2011, just 5 days after my husband had a heart attack. I have added some additional information in<> to clarify the message but otherwise kept the message as I typed it to my friend because I feel it shows the emotion I was feeling so early on in this experience.
“I think I was in shock for several days when this happened. We had no idea he had issues other than his family history but he is the youngest of 6 siblings. We eat so healthy and he exercises…etc etc. I don’t know how I got through him arresting in our home, thank god the medic was already here when he did and then waiting in the hospital for over 2 hours with my friend and kids, when we should have been home watching American Idol, and wondering if the doctor would come out and tell me he was dead. I watch too many ER type shows, Gray’s Anatomy. I didn’t even cry that first 24 hours or until I was driving back to CCU the next morning alone.
It is a relief to say these things. I have great support in many ways but to be able to talk about this esp with someone who gets my parenting style , has good communication skills :)and with someone who has been there helps me a lot. I know I need to call you. Right now we are all nervous about him coming home. We want him home but after our traumatic 911 experience, <I’m nervous about him coming home to our family which includes> my 9-year-old with OCD and my 13-year-old (his own much milder anxiety issues) and me. I picture myself standing over him checking his vital signs every 30 minutes. I am thankful I am and OT and feel fine with understanding his rehab, but the medical stuff scares the crap out of me. I have to reassure my kids esp my daughter that we will have all the instructions we need from the hospital about signs to watch for but inside I am terrified. I wish I could be with him 24/ 7 right now while he is in the hospital but feel safe especially now that he is out of CCU with where he is .
ahh…wow…I do need to talk about this…and for me writing is even easier than talking…thus my blog but I also need to call you and have someone who can really listen “