It was 7:15pm before Tim arrived home. In the meantime I had made arrangements for the children to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. To my relief, Grandpa had suggested they stay for the night, since our furnace was still not working. Immediately after Tim arrived, we took the children to Grandma’s and from there we headed to the hospital.
Our family doctor was on call. She listened to my heart, then my lungs, took my blood pressure and did the usual ‘once over’ that one might get if you went in with flu symptoms. Everything checked out so she sent me home.
I should have felt relieved. Tim & I had the house to ourselves for the rest of the evening and night—a rare thing in our busy household—but the restlessness stayed. Something was wrong. I knew it. This was not going to be a romantic early celebration of my upcoming birthday, though I did joke about that and Tim.
Back home in our chilly house, I went online and did a Google search of the various symptoms I had. Nothing definitive jumped out at me. Heart attack or pneumonia were the only two that made any sense and I was not a candidate for either. It had to be some other bug.
A nice hot bath would help fight whatever I was coming down with or, at the very least, the hot water would help warm me up and make me comfortable. I filled the Jacuzzi as full as possible, the water as hot as I could stand it, and then asked Tim to get a book and read near me–I didn’t want to be alone. Never before, in thirteen years of marriage, had I been afraid to be alone when I was unwell. It was another sign that something more serious was going on. Another sign I overlooked.
The hot water felt good. Relaxing. For ten to fifteen minutes I ran the Jacuzzi, letting the bubbles soothe my body.
Then, suddenly, my chin ached badly. Pain. Pain everywhere. My left arm hurt unbearably and the back of my tongue ached. I was rolling from side to side in the tub trying to get away from the crushing pressure in my chest. My mind felt numb.
“Tim, we have to go back to the hospital. Something is terribly wrong. I don’t know what’s going on but I am not okay. Please go get my coat and warm up the van,” I could hear desperation in my own voice—as if I was my own audience, assessing my situation. Back in my clothes—this time track pants and a sweat shirt, I was ready to go. I clung to the rail as I walked carefully down the seven stairs to the main floor. I called emerge to tell them my symptoms and ask for advice. Should we drive? Should we call 911?
They told us to save time and drive directly to the hospital—they would be waiting and ready for me. Minutes before we arrived, the pain subsided. We debated going back home, but thought better of it. What if the episode happened again… and worse? Better to be in the hospital.
Our family doctor walked into my room, a puzzled expression on her face. “Didn’t… I… just… see you?” she asked, enunciating her words as she spoke.
“Yes. I’m back. Something is wrong,” I said, then explained what had happened. I listed the symptoms, all except the one about pain down my left arm. I knew that it was not a typical symptom for women and the last thing I wanted was for a doctor to think I was imagining things. I remembered my other doctor yelling at me when I had skin cancer, and telling me I was depressed. I wasn’t going to go through that again!
My doctor ordered blood tests, ECG and chest x-rays and told me that I would be held until test results returned. The blood test took longest.
When the x-ray and ECG were done my doctor popped in my room to update us. “Well, I have good news. It’s not your heart and it’s not your lungs. Now we just need the blood results to see if anything shows up. “
Tim and I chatted and got caught up on life ‘stuff’ while we waited for the blood test results. It was shortly after two o’clock in the morning when my doctor returned. She sat down on the foot end of my bed.
“Trudy, tell me again, from the beginning, all of your symptoms and what happened today,” she said, with that look that says, ‘something is wrong.’
I recounted the day’s events again, and like the first time, I left out the detail about the pain in my left arm. “Why?” I asked.
“The blood-work showed that you have elevated heart enzymes,” she explained.
“What does that mean?” I asked, knowing the answer. I had studied the heart only weeks before in Biology and had scored 96% on the exam. I knew what it meant but I needed to hear her explain, so that I wouldn’t second guess myself.
“It means that you might have had a heart attack,” she said, “or you could have Pericarditis—inflammation of the lining of the heart. Have you had a flu or sore throat recently?”
“Nothing really… Maybe a mild sore throat for a day or so, but that was a while ago. Now what?”
“It means we’re keeping you here—you’re staying so that we can watch you.”
I don’t remember how long Tim stayed, but sometime toward morning he went home. I was tired. My mind was reeling and yet with a strange sense of peace—I had shifted to survival mode. How could this be happening to me? It was two days before my 37th birthday—I was too young and healthy.
My father had died of heart attack, at seventy-three, after about twenty years of dealing with Diabetes, and not making healthy food choice and life-style changes. I was always healthy and active. It made no sense.
Granted, I had AVNRT—Atrial Ventricular Nodal Re-entry Tachycardia—an Arrhythmia that caused the heart to suddenly speed up for no apparent reason. I had only had a few episodes in my life. And my heart had stayed around one hundred and twenty to thirty beats per minute even with the worst episodes—never completely out of control. The doctors had assured me it was nothing to worry about.
My heart rate had not gone up during this hospital stay—there was clearly no tachycardia happening. This was, without question a new issue and only time would tell what it all meant. Still, my mind raced….
Would I live another day… another year? Would Tim be a widower at thirty-five? Would our children be motherless?
Tears spilled onto my pillow. I didn’t want to think about those possibilities.
Only a few weeks earlier I had been out with Alicia, getting items for her twelfth birthday spa party when she asked, seemingly out of the blue, “Mommy, if you died, would Daddy remarry?”
“I hope so! We’ve been so happy together, and I wouldn’t want him to be lonely! Since I would be in Heaven, it wouldn’t matter to me,” I answered. “Why do you ask?”
“I don’t want a step mother. Ever. If you and Daddy die, I hope it isn’t until I’m eighteen. Then I would take care of my brothers and sisters,” she said.
We had chatted for a bit about it and then I forgot the conversation.
Lying in the hospital bed, uncertain of my future, I wondered if it had been a fore-shadowing. Was my life about to end and my daughter’s nightmare about to start? Even as these thoughts invaded my mind, I made the decision to trust God with my life. I had bumped into death several times, or so it felt, and I had always come through okay. I had to believe that I was protected, as long as my purpose was not fulfilled. I had a sense that my purpose had only barely begun, but, if I was wrong, I was confident that the same God who had always been with me, would also be with my husband and children.
The doctor ordered Lorazepan—that magic little pill that brings calm into almost any world. Yet another secret I learned, working in a nursing home. However, I had no intentions of taking a ‘calming pill’. I felt calm and at peace mentally and emotionally, in spite of the foreboding circumstances, so I politely refused.
The nurse insisted it would help. I’m stubborn to a fault when I believe something strongly enough, but I didn’t have the energy to argue, so I accepted the tablet, paused, and carefully slipped it under my tongue so I could spit it out when she left.
I felt a bit like I did as a kid, when someone caught me with a candy I wasn’t supposed to have, and almost expected the nurse to say, “Open your mouth and show me that it’s gone… and now, under your tongue…” She didn’t.
The instant she turned around I popped that little pill out of my mouth, slipped it into a Kleenex and then into the garbage.
I fell asleep, at peace with God and life… or death, as the case may be.
To be continued…
© Trudy Metzger
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