You can usually set your watch to when I post to my blog and if you keep up with my posts noticed I didn’t post on Wednesday last week. On Tuesday, my birthday, my husband, Frank, had what was described as a cardiac event.
It started out as a normal morning. I was still in bed and had just read the beautifully worded message Frank posted on Facebook for my birthday. Frank came into the bedroom shortly after and told me he was having a hard time taking a deep breath. Even without contact lenses in, I could tell that there was absolutely no color in his face. He said he was trying to find his pulse, but couldn’t. In typical wife-fashion, my first thought was, “you’re doing it wrong. Let me.” I grabbed his wrist and felt around. Nothing. Tried his neck. Nothing. Back to the wrist. The other wrist. Still nothing. It didn’t make sense. It was then that I had a moment of clarity. My Apple Watch. While I embrace technology fully, my husband doesn’t. He’s not a Luddite, but he won’t even talk to our Amazon Echo and prefers to hunt and peck for the letters when looking for a TV show when it would be so much easier, and faster, to just hit the microphone on our Amazon Fire Stick Remote and tell it what show we want to watch. Drives me crazy! I have an Apple Watch, he doesn’t. So I took my watch off, strapped it to his wrist we waited for a reading.
It was 205 beats per minute.
Now despite my love of all things tech, at this moment I questioned it, so we tried again, it went down to 78. “See!” I thought, “it was a glitch.” So I tried it a third time, because nobody with a normal heart rate should have an appearance that resembles Greek Yoghurt, and it was back up to 204. Within seconds, I was dressed and we were on our way around the corner to our local Urgent Care.
Of course, there was a line at Urgent Care. If a movie had set the perfect scene for this, it would have been this one. Three people ahead of me taking their time, scheduling COVID tests, fumbling with their insurance cards, a mother waiting for her tests results while a baby repeatedly called, “mommy” in the most annoying way from his stroller, and my husband, sitting on a chair taking slow, calming breaths, waited. I could have jumped the line, I could have yelled, “Emergency! My husband’s heart rate is out of control!” But at that moment I still didn’t know how serious it was and I really didn’t know what ailments the people in front of me were dealing with.
When I finally got to the front of the line and told the receptionist what the problem was, I saw his eyes widen with worry and in less than a minute, he was in an exam room with a pulse reader attached to his finger. Frank’s heart rate was so high it wouldn’t register. The paramedics were called.
First responders arrived on the scene first. These are firefighters who can get to the scene earlier if the paramedics are on the way. It was weird. I’m obviously grateful but the last thing you expect is a bunch of burly firemen in full gear to stroll in during a situation like this. They put Frank on oxygen and got his vitals. Next, the paramedics showed up, started a line which would be used to give Frank medicine intravenously to get his heart rate back to normal. The first dose, his heart rate went down for a second, then went back up. Second and larger dose, same thing. Third and final, again, the same. In no time, Frank was on a stretcher and we both were about to embark on our first ambulance ride.
Situation aside, ambulance rides are sort of cool. Unfortunately, nobody who is ever in one is in one for a joy ride. Thankfully, the nearest hospital is only two miles from our home because on the way, Frank’s blood pressure bottomed out and shit got real. You see these things on television where the paramedics act quickly and rip open a person’s shirt. In seconds, Frank’s t-shirt was ripped to shreds and they were just about ready to shock his heart when we were close enough to the hospital to not do it. Frank was wheeled into the trauma and ambulance entrance and was wheeled right into a trauma room. At this point, I was living in what felt like a tunnel. All I remember is hoards of paramedics coming in and out and the thought, “I didn’t know this many paramedics existed.” It was a genial atmosphere of camaraderie between paramedics, EMTs, and the hospital staff. It was buzzy, overwhelming while at the same time it felt like I had walked into a really loud party where I didn’t know anyone.
To my left, Frank was in the trauma room with at least a dozen nurses and doctors working quickly and efficiently, like a pit crew trying to get the car back into the race. They were talking loudly to keep Frank conscious and it was that exact moment that I couldn’t hold the tears back. Up until this point, I was able to compartmentalize, do what had to be done. It was when I looked at my husband laid out on a stretcher that I said to myself, “my world is on that stretcher.” A nurse saw me standing there, came out to let me know what was going on and behind her back, I saw them shock his heart, and Frank’s body jerk upwards.
You see, in the movies and TV, doctors and nurses are always telling the loved ones they need to leave the room to not see something. They don’t do that in real life because at that moment they are saving a life. They don’t care about what the loved one sees or doesn’t see. While it was difficult to watch, I could deal with the memory of my husband having his heart shocked. What I couldn’t deal with was losing him.
The good news is, the shock to his heart put his rate back in rhythm, and soon afterward, the doctor, who is now Frank’s brilliant cardiologist, came out to speak with me and give me way more information than I could possibly absorb at that time. Despite it all not sinking in, I was grateful for it, and from what I did comprehend, I found out it was likely that Frank was going to have an ablation on his heart to correct this and he would be there overnight.
Next, it was time to get down the business, and I was ushered to the counter by a hospital administrator who took down some information and gave me a folder of information about the hospital and Frank’s stay. I said to her, “So this is like a welcome folder to the world’s worst all-inclusive resort?” to which she said, a bit annoyed, “I just need to give you this information.” I looked at her, apologized, and said, “Sorry, I often use humor in stressful situations.” She sort of got it.
By rights, I shouldn’t have been allowed to stay in the ER with Frank but given that he had a cardiac event and it wasn’t busy, it was okay. This was the first time I heard those words, a cardiac event. We were both starving and the birthday wishes were coming in fast and furiously, which was good and bad. On the one hand, it gave me the perfect opportunity to tell friends and family what happened, but on the other, it was difficult to manage. However, I was still grateful to be reminded of how loved we both are. Friends offered to do things, like bring food or pick things up and bring them to the hospital, but there was one big problem with these generous offers: We couldn’t accept any of them. Hospitals that do allow visitors in the hospital during COVID are like roach motels. Once you’re in, you can’t get out, even if it is to accept food from a friend. If I were to leave the hospital, even for a second, I would not have been able to get inside again. A kind nurse scrambled up a box lunch and Frank and I split a tuna fish sandwich which, under the circumstances, tasted like a four-star meal. This would be the only thing I would eat until I got home later that night. And I was the lucky one. Frank wouldn’t eat for days. The first thing Frank said to me when he was able to speak in the ER was, “You saved my life today.” He realized he probably would have shrugged off feeling run down as sinuses or fatigue and would have gone to work.
After being poked and prodded and visited by multiple doctors, Frank was ushered up to his room. At this point, Frank had all of one ripped t-shirt, the joggers he had on and the easiest shoes he could put on his feet, a pair of docksiders. He needed his phone, a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and other incidentals. While Frank was wheeled up, I was advised to go to the visitor entrance and find out about being able to go up to his room. Upon finding that area, I was told, again, if I go in, I can’t go out and come back so I decided to instead jump on the subway three stops, run home and get his things and come back. Running on fumes, I made it home and back with about two hours left in visiting hours and brought him his stuff, and was able to stay with him. I came home by 6 with a throbbing headache, bought a bottle of bourbon, ordered a fish burrito, and fielded a few phone calls. Happy birthday to me!
The next day Frank had an ablation and angiogram scheduled and I was able to go to the cath lab and be with him. We would find out for certain if Frank had a heart attack and the ablation would destroy the tissue in the upper chamber of his heart which was causing his heart to beat out of control. All this would be done by going through the groin. It was a long day but the angiogram showed absolutely no blockage, incredible for a man of 50, no heart attack, and what he has (or had now that he had the ablation), is an atrial flutter which causes the upper chambers of the heart to beat too quickly. Frank also had a chip put in his chest so his heart rate could be monitored by his cardiologist. It was with the hope that we thought Frank would make it home that night but the procedures were longer than planned and coming out of anesthesia was difficult for him. By the next morning, I took him home and the follow-up plan is an MRI and a sleep study to see if he has sleep apnea that could be the cause of some possible heart abnormalities.
Frank was home by Thursday and is tired and has a lot of bruising and pain in the groin in the incision site and where they shocked him. But this will pass in time. Time is what Frank has now.
During the COVID lockdown, every night at 7 pm New Yorkers everywhere clapped out the first responders, healthcare workers, and essential workers from the windows. We did it without fail for months and I loved it. Every night it truly was beautiful. But it wasn’t until I got to experience firsthand the care, expertise, and dedication each healthcare worker displayed during this that I could really, really get it. My husband is alive because of them and I have a feeling of gratitude that is so huge I can’t even fully express it. These people give of themselves so generously so that others can survive and thrive.
I also couldn’t help but think of my word for the year in 2021, ease. Five days in and nobody would use ease to describe what I went through, but here is what I learned. I lived my word in spite of what happened. Ease is precisely what got us through it. As I said in my post about my word, to allow ease into your life requires faith and trust. Ease asks that we don’t always know how life is meant to unfold and to let go, to live in peace and harmony and at one with the flow of life. As one of my favorite quotes goes, you make plans and God laughs. Nobody can promise me a stress-free year and if these days have proven anything, it’s that. But, certainly, I can decide how I choose to handle it.
My sincere thanks to my husband for allowing me to share this story, to the first responders of the NYFD, the paramedics and EMT workers of NYC, ProHealth Urgent Care of Carroll Gardens, and, most importantly, the doctors, nurses, and staff at NY Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital…even the administrator who didn’t get my humor.