Wednesday November 22, I spent the day in bed, disturbed only when nurses came for stats, and when the on call doctor popped by on rounds. “How did you sleep?” he asked.
“Like a baby!”
“Must have been that little white pill,” he grinned.
“Nah… I spit that in the waste basket the instant the nurse turned away,” I said. “I didn’t need it.”
“It’s still in the garbage.”
He chuckled, gave me that humoured ‘you are a defiant one’ look, went over a few other questions, and then moved on.
I was forbidden the luxury of getting out of bed alone and was told to buzz a nurse if I needed to get up for anything.
The rest of the day blurs into nothingness—probably because I did nothing but sleep, eat, and sleep some more.
That evening, the eve of my 37th birthday, Tim and our children brought a cake and birthday presents to the hospital. We walked to the family room and had a little birthday party. Our time together lasted just over thirty minutes, followed by lots of hugs and kisses and a short walk back to my room.
Having spent my entire day in bed, it was good to be out, but I was ready to crawl back in, exhausted from the short escapade.
Minutes after Tim and our children left, I realized I was in trouble. I pulled the call bell. Each nurse was kind and sensitive, tending quickly to patients, and always reassuring me. The one that answered my call bell was no different.
I tried to explain what I was feeling—the pressure in my chest, difficulty breathing, maybe some pain—it was hard to describe the symptoms.
“I would like to call Tim. I don’t want to be alone,” I told her.
“Are you worried?” she asked.
“Worried? No. ….Concerned? Yes.”
“Why are you concerned?”she asked.
“Because I have five children and they need a mom,” I answered.
“They have a mom—they have you,” she assured me.
“I’m not there for them right now, am I?” I challenged.
“Well, no.” She visibly relaxed.
“And depending what happens, they won’t have me again,” I said.
“Mrs. Metzger, there is still a lot that can be done for you, should things get worse.” The look of alarm that crossed her face, betrayed her confidence. It was at that moment I realized she was trying to read the real message I was sending. I had worked in a nursing home and understood the subtle signs that someone’s life is in danger and in that instant, I realized I was sending the message. My life really was in danger.
A doctor came to see me and ordered morphine to open the blood vessels. And so began a birthday night, high on morphine. Happy days!
Not how I would choose to celebrate, on the one hand, but thankful I had it when I needed it. They gave me the highest possible dose as often as they could, and still I asked for more, just to manage the pain.
Tim returned to the hospital and together we were transferred to a room where he could sleep in the bed next to me.
“Thank you for coming back,” I said. “I’ve watched people die alone at the nursing home, and I don’t want that to happen. If I am going to die, I want someone to be with me.”
Tim kissed my forehead—an act of tenderness that has always comforted me and communicated deep affection.
He didn’t want to lie down, preferring to stand beside my bed, or sit there and watch over me. I wanted him to be with me, but not to hover and lose sleep—that only caused me to worry about him. And, though I have learned to invite Tim’s love and guidance into my life, I am, and always will be, independent by nature. Being ‘watched over’ puts me ill at ease.
“Please go to bed. I promise I will call you if I need you. To have you watch over me just adds stress and will make things worse,” I explained. I didn’t like having to ask for that space, but I felt like I was suffocating in my own body and to have anyone or anything close to me, made it worse. I felt as though I couldn’t breath, and anyone within three feet of me was a threat to my oxygen supply.
When Tim reluctantly agreed to lie on the other bed, I slipped in and out of a restless sleep. The night seemed to drag on forever.
At one point, through a haze of drugs and fatigue, I saw the room fill of doctors and nurses, discussing my situation. They were quite certain it was Pericarditis and it would take time to recover. What they needed to do in the present was get me through this crisis. Whatever the cause, my heart was failing me. Badly.
I wanted the pain to end. The only thing that prevented me from asking God to take me home, was my love for my husband and our five children. Every time I pictured my beautiful family, my heart cried out to God to get me through this and let me live—at least until they were grown up enough to care for themselves.
Morning broke, and with it the climax of pain and trauma, as my body revolted against the high doses of morphine with head-splitting pain and nausea. I vomited. And then I fell into a peaceful sleep. I had survived the darkest night.
Throughout the day, my 37th birthday, I progressively improved, so that, by evening, I felt quite good and was hopeful that I would return home the next day.
Tim had spent part of the day with me before heading home, and then returned again in the evening for a short visit, this time without the children, afraid that the strain would be too much. I missed them but knew I had nothing to offer, in the way of energy.
Tim was relieved to see how much I had improved and I was thankful to be past the nightmare of whatever had caused the previous night’s flare up.
I settled down quickly after he left, my body obviously exhausted. Around eleven o’clock I noticed that the heart rhythm printout on my heart monitor screen was abnormal. I called a nurse and pointed out the irregularity.
“That’s nothing to worry about,” she assured me. In hindsight I can only assume that her response was superficial, intended to keep me from worrying, or she was ill-informed. If the former, then it worked. I immediately settled down and went to sleep.
The following morning, Friday November 24, I asked the nurse if I could go home later that day. I was ready to have my life back. She said that I would possibility be transferred to St. Mary’s General hospital in Kitchener, to the cardiac care unit for some ‘routine’ testing, just to make sure there was nothing more going on.
And so it was, that, not long after our conversation, I was in an ambulance with Tim and two attendants, en route to St. Mary’s for more testing.
The technician went to work almost immediately. I watched the Echocardiogram closely. Before they gave me the news, I knew we were up against something bigger. The rhythm was off, and the black spot on the apex of my heart wasn’t supposed to be there—of that I was certain.
Within minutes I was informed that I would need to have another procedure—an angiogram—to further investigate my heart. Fortunately, thanks to studying Biology, I knew what an angiogram was and what I should expect next. I had written an exam, only two weeks earlier, on the function of the heart, angiograms and heart attacks. Nothing of what was happening, was over my head. I understood it well.
In OR I was introduced to a lovely young cardiologist not much older than I, who would do the procedure, along with about half a dozen nurses and several support staff who would assist in various ways.
Dr. Renner carefully explained each step as she worked. In between, we chatted about a variety of things, like why she became a cardiologist and how many children I had, and things like that. Had it not been for the hard metal table, and the back pain, it could have been a fairly pleasant experience.
…To Be Continued…
© Trudy Metzger
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