One year ago today, my 40-year-old husband had a heart attack. (He’s doing fine—I don’t do unhappy endings!) His only symptom at the time was neck pain. He’s a healthy man who does adventure-racing (hillbilly triathlons he calls them–>) and lifts weights, so, he shrugged it off and asked me for more neck massages.
I thought it was a ploy.
The night before 12-12-12, my husband stood up from the couch to stretch, and collapsed to the floor in pain, unable to talk. I called 911. The ambulance arrived just in time for his pain to go away. My parents rushed through the door, white-faced and scared. Our three boys, (9, 7, and 5 y/o) got up from bed, terrified by the lights and sirens. They huddled together, with their blankies around our feet, crying.
After much coaxing, my husband agreed to let me drive him to the hospital. “It’s just a pulled muscle,” he said on the way. “We’re going to be there all night for NOTHING.” It was 30 degree outside. I asked him why he had put on shorts and a tee-shirt. “It’s all I could find, because YOU haven’t done the laundry.” That stung, but I understood that he was embarrassed and angry. What I didn’t know—and wouldn’t understand for weeks—was that he was scared too. Scared, that the fallacy-of-invincibleness that lives in a man’s mind, wasn’t true about him anymore.
At 2 am, the ER doc admitted him to the hospital for observation. My husband was incredulous, but since his cardiac enzymes were mildly elevated, he agreed to stay. When we were alone, he was sulky and pissy. I left and went to my parents’ house and crawled into bed with my children. I snuggled their sleeping bodies close and tried not to think about the future.
The boys woke me at dawn, their faces tight with fear and worry. “What happened to Dad?” my oldest asked. “Where’s my Dad?” this from my littlest. My middle one, the quiet one, just looked at me, his lower lip quivering and his eyes tearing up. “What will happen if he dies?” he whispered.
The other two nodded their heads, and I realized we all needed this terrifying question answered. I am proud of what I came up with in that moment. “Well, that is not going to happen,” I said, hugging them close and sounding certain, even to my own ears. “But if it did, we would go on. We would be sad, but we’re strong. I am a strong woman. You are strong boys. We would be alright.”
Thank you Jesus, I never had to find out if it was true.
I was getting ready for the day when my husband called from the hospital. “I’m not feeling so good. Can you come rub my neck?” By the time I got there, they were rushing him into the Cath Lab. He was gray and throwing up. He looked awful, and he couldn’t lift his hand to mine.
“I love you,” I said to the back of the retreating gurney.
Someone led me to the waiting room and I sat down where I could see the clock. I pulled my knees into my chest, feeling small and crushed. You always wonder what to say to people who are lost in their own misery. I can tell you, I heard nothing. My family arrived and surrounded me, but I heard nothing. I watched the clock and replayed over and over how pained he had looked. I berated myself for taking a shower that morning, grabbing extra clothes, having a cry on my Mom.
It was 1.5 hours before the doctor came out and told me he was going to be all right. They’d put in stents because he’d had a 90% block of his Left
Anterior Descending Artery—the big one—the widow-maker. Back in the patient room, I was elated. I felt like we had just won the lottery. I needed to talk to friends, family, the whole world. I wanted to celebrate. We had just escaped the widow-maker!
My husband was groggy and irritable. The beeping monitoring machines were making him crazy; he even swung an I.V’d arm at one of them. When I called our friends to explain what had happened, he took my phone away from me and hung it up. “Quit telling people I have a shitty-ass heart,” he yelled at me with a hoarse voice.
A shitty-ass heart?
I was shocked. My husband never yells, and never hits things. I was baffled. The next few weeks were rough. While my husband’s physical health was excellent, his mood was resentful and gripey. I had emotional whiplash: the man I would have crawled over molten lava to save, I now wanted to scorch with a fire gun.
I came to realize that I had a “cardiac” event too on 12-12-12: Terror—to elation—to bewildered aggravation, makes for a tough ride on the heart. After much research, I found out that his behavior was not uncommon. In fact, a person is three times more likely to have emotional distress/changes after a cardiac event. It’s a damn shame that just as you’ve “gotten them back,” you want to kick them to the curb.
After a few weeks of this, I had had enough.
“Quit acting like an asshole because you have a shitty-ass heart,” I said.
My husband turned to look at me, a big grin on his face, and we both laughed for the first time since the “event.” Things got better after that. Somehow, when we could laugh about it, it wasn’t so scary or big, for either of us. Thankfully, life went on, with a heightened level of gratitude for our blessings, and for each other.
Then, today I said to him, “I’m going to write a blog about my feelings when you had your heart attack. Okay with you?”
“Sure, fine,” he said. “Wait… It wasn’t a heart attack. It was severe angina that was caught in a clinical setting before it became a heart attack… And don’t use my name.”
My husband, the nameless man of the shitty-ass heart. An invincible superman in his own mind.
Just the way he likes it.
Hug the ones you love–twice today for me. What are you grateful in 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014?
All my best,
Something to take your mind off sad things, my bestselling paranormal book! –> Luck of the Dragon