I Almost Became A Widow with A Baby
My story unfolded in a time of already crazy stress. My family had evacuated Fort Myers, our home likely to be underwater and in the eye of Hurricane Irma. We never expected to have my husband die 4 times, be resuscitated and brought back to life, repeatedly, it was the fifth time he coded, they saved him. They being the incredible cardiologist who worked for several hours to open a blocked artery (LAD) and put in a stent. What happened?
That Sunday morning, we woke up, we decided we were going to go meet another family that had evacuated and go for a hike, to get away from the news and TV images of Irma taking aim at our home. We pulled into town and he got out of the car, shaking his arm. It wasn’t normal. I hopped out and said “What’s wrong?” He said my chest hurts, my arm is tingling. When they say a wife just knows. I did. Like a rock in my gut. I looked at him and just knew. We drove to the local hospital.
The local county hospital did several tests and almost sent us home, saying it was anxiety. But they did one more test and that showed a protein saying something happened to his heart. We were sent on an ambulance to a cardiac hospital 90 minutes away. I was with my husband. Our 15-month-old son and his 12-year-old sister were left in the care of his ex-wife, who is our angel, his 83-year-old mother, and the ex-in laws, all who evacuated with us. That’s another story of the strength of family and the ties that bind. I will forever be grateful for this unselfish, incredible woman and her parents who didn’t hesitate but jumped in to help save me, by caring for my baby, while I fought to keep Daddy alive.
About 20 miles from the cardiac hospital, lights and sirens and a code we didn't want went out. My husband was having a massive heart attack. Every second mattered. I could hear him suffering and dying in the back. We got to the ER and I grabbed his hand and ordered him not to die, so what did he do?
I watched, screamed and cried. They got him back, for a few minutes and he coded again. He coded 3 times in the ER. They took me away and asked who could they call? Who to call? I don't even know where I am?! He's 48. We have a baby. I'm 38. We have only been married a year. This isn't supposed to happen! Isn't the likelihood of us losing our home enough?
I had long forgotten about the fact Irma was closing in on Fort Myers at that moment, I could care less. I just wanted my husband. I had no friends, no family, just a cold gurney to crumble and fall on. They got him stable enough to get to the cath lab. He codes 2 times there.
It took forever. I prayed. I prayed and cried and begged and negotiated everything I could think of anything to have him live. When the cardiologist finally came out he said my husband is a miracle. His heart is very angry and very unstable. They fixed the problem but they couldn’t tell me his body would recover or his heart would be strong enough to live. He would have a lot of permanent damage. I would have to wait 72 hours to see if he would live. We were in the cardiac ICU. He was on every machine there is, multiple IV lines. He looked gray. For his body and heart to recover was medically sedated. My life as I knew it was over. This was a new reality and every ounce of energy I had in me was now focused on willing my husband to live.
I will never again doubt the power of prayer. I know miracles happen. We had multiple cardiologists tell us my husband is one of them. One told him, I can’t wait to see what you do, you’re here for a reason.
We spent 9 days in a cardiac ICU in Northeast, Georgia, then another 10 days in town in a rental property. Doctors orders. My husband so sick he wasn’t allowed to travel home. We went back to the ER twice for severe drug reactions. We were displaced for 21 days. On the 4th day of all this drama I had to kiss our baby goodbye and send him home. He couldn’t be in an ICU. I only hoped at that point I’d be bringing Dad home soon too. Our baby learned to walk in those three weeks we were gone. Not so funny thing is Daddy learned to walk again too in that same time. He was so weak that even getting out of bed was a major task. I was in charge of everything. A new very strict diet, his care, his meds (so many I made a spreadsheet to keep track) setting up follow up care, finding a cardiologist at home, figuring out how to get home, making sure the baby was ok far away… the list went on. We had friends and family come into town to visit, that let me grab a shower or a cup of coffee and cry. We had family and friends back home cleaning up the damage which by another miracle was minor in comparison from the hurricane. Still, I was managing a world I never expected to navigate. I now know more about the heart and cardiac care than I ever imagined. I’m his caregiver. I’m also a mom and career professional with a demanding job. Finding balance has been the biggest challenge. It still is.
Fast forward to today. Four months later. My husband is night and day different. He’s completed cardiac rehab which I credit in so many ways for getting him back. The day we left the hospital we started immediately to change our lifestyles. We are now both vegetarian, trying to be vegan. We go to the gym together. (Our lives were never bad before, we ate healthy but liked steak, we worked out and walked daily, we thought we were healthy). So what did we learn?
STRESS! STRESS will kill you.
We learned that stress, unrelenting stress for the weeks leading up to the storm and the stress of a new baby, buying and renovating a home, career changes, being newlyweds, it built up and it broke his heart. My husband was never on heart medication or cholesterol medication. He had regular physicals. No one said you should be watching this or that. Again we ate healthy, we were active. We were young. We thought that was enough.
We now openly share our story and have convinced many friends our age to go see a cardiologist. We’ve learned to mediate. To not stress about the small stuff, and friends, it’s all small stuff. Health is everything. We’ve learned to embrace a plant based lifestyle, and while hard, we notice the difference daily in our energy. I’m proud of my husband. He’s a fighter. But you can’t do this alone. Heart disease in now a part of our daily life. We’ve watched others struggle without support. You have to lean on friends and family and you have to have a caregiver. You have to be a team. This is hard. This is overwhelmingly hard. I still have nightmares, last night I woke up and just clung to him, so scared. Maybe one day that feeling goes away. Our lives forever are changed. Ever since that one abnormal heartbeat. You can’t just go back to normal. Heart disease is your new normal but it doesn’t have to defeat you. YOU can beat this. Never give up. We learned it in the first grade and it’s true. Now more than ever your heart needs you to be kind.
(Side note: This picture is from Thanksgiving. We spent Thanksgiving and Christmas together, one giant ex and new in-law family. Simply wonderful.)