Wherein the Sh*tty-A$$ Heart prevails

12-12-12

Adventure Racing

Adventure Racing

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.

My boy and the dog (also male) on the river

My boy and the dog (also male) on the river

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!

an LAD before stent

an LAD before stent

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.”

Right.

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,

Susannah Scott

PS>

More info on “Cardiac Mood Changes” Article 1 , Article 2, Personal Blog from random dude

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Comments

  1. Susannah!! First of all…whoa. Sobering and inspiring at the same time! What a journey for your family. You made it, and I’m sure it’s made your relationship that much stronger. Funny how we can be cruising along in life and everything that we’d given so much weight to can become so insignificant when you’re suddenly staring death in the face. You were strong before the event, and you’re even stronger now. The whole “forged in fire” deal, you know. Thanks for sharing such a great reminder to be thankful for what really matters. Not airport delays, not burned casseroles, and not the new holes in the wall from rambunctious kids.

    I’m hugging my family close today. Love ya, Sus!

    ps. your boys are all beautiful! :)

  2. Susannah,
    This post puts life in perspective! Wow! Hard to imagine the terror that you must have experienced, along with your three adorable boys. And right before the holidays. So, glad everything went well for your hubby and your family.

    Several years ago, my dad had quintuple bypass, also right before Christmas. Two arteries 90% blocked. The family always gathered at my parents’ house for the holidays, but my mother informed us my dad needed some time alone. He, like your husband, went through a period of adjustment. I remember reading articles on the emotions someone goes through after this type of surgery. A few weeks later my dad was his good-natured self, having come to grips with what had happened.

    Sending you and your family big hugs!

    Renee

  3. Firstly, *big hugs*, Susannah, for going through such a traumatic event. I love that you really were so strong for your children–that’s exactly what they needed to hear –> that Mom would be their superhero :)

    Secondly, your story really hit me hard and I gotta say, I’m tearing up a bit. My father passed away from a sudden heart attack. He was 45, I was 15. So, like you, I kinda wanted to slap Mr. S. a little. I understand that he went through something major and there are tons of emotions tied to it, but at the end of the day, he got a *second chance*. A second chance so many of us never receive. Because of my loss, I make damn sure that my kids know they are my world. They (and my husband) are what I am most grateful for in 2013 and also what I’m looking forward to in 2014. I’m gonna go hug them right now!

    Thanks so much for sharing your story, Susannah. Tell Mr S. I’m so glad he’s come out of this stronger and that he gets to be Invincible Superman once more :)

    • Oh Rachael, I hate that your Dad didn’t get a 2nd chance. I know countless families would “crawl over lava” to have a loved one back, even in a rotten mood. My heart to yours today :) Thank you for telling me I said the right thing to my children, I so appreciate your perspective and you shoring your experience. XOXO, S

  4. This story epitomizes why “what doesn’t kills us makes us stronger” transcends cliche. I’m so glad you and your boys all came out of this as well as you did, and that you can share the experience with us.

    My dad had an event almost 20 years ago, also right before Christmas, also first called a heart attack that he now corrects to “severe angina.” He quit smoking and eating beef fat and never had another episode, as far as I know.

    Merry Christmas!

  5. My husband had the widow maker blocked 99%. He had chest pains while on a business trip and he ignored them. He told me about them and I go to the Doctor now. It took them a month to figure this out. But all is well he had the stents put in as well. I am very blessed. He wasn’t moody in fact he felt so much better. He was coming home from work prior to the stent and going to bed because he was tired. It was a scary month. But we made it. I am so glad for you too.

  6. I’m so glad your hubby is feeling better!!! Scary stuff!!!

    Beautiful blog! Off to hug my loved ones…

    Merry Christmas Susannah! :)

    Lisa

  7. I had a Heart Attack in June. I started my Blog while I was in hospital. My wife doesn’t understand why it’s easier for me to write things down than to say them out loud… I guess that’s (some) men for you!

    I think the Blog helped me avoid being too much of an idiot in the immediate aftermath, but I will say “Thanks!” to her again (and many more times I’m sure).

    Great to hear your hubby’s on the mend from his “severe angina attack”!

    • Paul I love your blog, just followed you! And you were a young 42, just like my husband. So thrilled you are doing well. I totally understand being able to better write than talk. It has taken me a year to process the “event.” Writing this blog post was very emotional and cathartic for me. Thank you so much for sharing here, S
      http://heartattackwaitingtohappen.com/

    • Josie Matthews says:

      Paul…such a great way to ‘think outloud’ with a blog. Your comment about better writing than talking hit home. My hubby and I always argue about that…I MAKE him write to me cause he can never put his thoughts into verbal discussions. He is so awesome at writing though. Glad to see you are doing well!!!

      • Thanks Josie! I’ve been speaking for over 40 years and Blogging for about 10 minutes. I’m not particularly good at either, but at least there’s a fighting chance to get your head together when you’re writing your thoughts down. For a start, talking would probably require that I do more than one thing at a time! :-)

  8. Susannah!
    I am so glad everything worked out for you! Tell your nameless husband that his heart isn’t so shitty, He survived, which means he must have a pretty good heart and supporting family, the only heart that is shitty is the ones who aren’t thankful for surviving and living everyday to the fullest with their families and friends. Wishing you all a wonderful and magical holiday season.

  9. What a story, Susannah. I’m so glad your husband is fine, his heart as well as his mood. ;-)

    • Carole! Hope I get to see you and hug you in person in 2014. I’m going to St Louis in April to a RWA conf that Margie will be at (Come!). I love my writing/food journal I won from your writinghealthy site. xoxo, S

  10. Made me cry. Well done.

  11. Susannah!

    You did a wonderful job with this post about love, marriage, and family. I’m so glad your husband and everyone else is healthy and doing well. Great blog! And love how your hubby gave you the “okay” as long as you didn’t use his name. : )

  12. Wow Susannah I had no idea you guys went through that. It’s too bad they don’t educate patient and loved ones about this. I’m glad you got the chance to reform that shitty ass heart. :)

  13. Thank you for sharing this with us. I’m so glad your husband is doing better and my husband even cried, and he isn’t one to cry.

    • Aw, thank you Amanda! We are good! I had my husband read through the comments, he kind of teared up too! But, he did say, he wished I would have said upfront it was angina–please!

  14. My son, 42, recently lost a close work-out buddy to the widow maker. The loss hit him hard, not because he respected this man so much, but because he was so active both in and outside of the gym. Thanks for sharing your family’s experience. I’m happy your story had a more positive outcome. We never know what life holds for us. For that reason we should grab onto every happy moment and emotion with both hands.

  15. Josie Matthews says:

    Susannah, This post has so much great info, advice and heart. First of all I love that you shed light on the emotional difficulty the victim and the family both go through. Its so important to know what you might be up against. (This is the nurse in me talking now) In all my classes I teach RAPID RESPONSE. Thank God you reacted quickly and did not allow our Superhero to pooh-pooh his symptoms. Take advantage of 911 and our wonderful first responders. They would much rather show up and have it be nothing than have something tragic happen because someone didnt want to call. If symptoms are present, please always remember to not put potential heart attack patients in the car and take them yourself…Even if they seem ‘okay’. Things go downhill quickly. Ambulances have the meds they need if things were to get worse. Heart Attack symptoms can be classic…or a bit strange.
    You are so intuitive to have seen the inner workings of the mind through this whole frightening process. A real thinker you are!… and such a special mom and wife.
    My hubby is turning 48 this year and has been on BP and chol meds for years. I fear for him so much. REAL bad family genetics…We all need to not only hug our loved ones but also take good care of them with healthy meals and encouraging exercise. Easier said than done!
    Thank you so much for opening up to us and sharing this meaningful important experience with us.
    And to all that have been affected by heart disease or other serious illnesses, my love is with you all.

    • Thanks so much for sharing this Josie! I am been amazed at the number of folks that have reached out to me after my post. Folks can always ask their doc for a stress test. That seems to be a good first step for anyone (like your hub) who might be at risk. Bet you already know that! Really GOOD point about taking the ambulance instead of driving. A just had a stubborn, balky patient on my hands! So thankful to have another year. xoxo, S

Trackbacks

  1. […] publishing it.  A post I recently read, written by the wife of a Heart Attack Survivor (Wherein the Sh*tty-A$$ Heart prevails), reminded me of […]

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