Rabbit Trails & Heart Attacks (Part 4)

…Continued…

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.”

“Really?”

“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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Rabbit Trails & Heart Attacks (Part 3)

(Continued…)

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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Rabbit Trails & Heart Attacks (Part 2)

(Continued….)

I rubbed the middle of my chest. Took a deep breath. I was definitely not getting the oxygen I needed. This had to be my imagination. That, or I was coming down with one heck of a cold. There was no way I was this out of shape…

I called Tim. Maybe talking about it would help. I explained what was happening, and immediately shifted to denial. “It’s probably nothing more than a cold. Just a chest thing going on. Anyway… I think I’m okay now.”

“Take it easy and don’t do too much,” Tim instructed. I laughed and told him again that I was fine and promised not to do too much.

For a few minutes I sat there, resting, while waiting for the repairman. But then I grew restless and returned to vacuuming. The breathlessness returned instantly, so I called Telehealth Ontario, to ask their nurses for an opinion.  The nurse calmly went through her endless list of questions, and then said, “You need to see a doctor sometime today as a precaution.”

I called my doctor’s office, recounted the details and symptoms yet again, and asked for the first available appointment. The nurse assured me there was no need to rush—the symptoms didn’t sound too concerning—she would fit me in the next afternoon. I agreed to wait.

Shortly before noon the repairman arrived, in perfect time, just moments before Tim came home for lunch. They sorted out the problem only to discover they needed to order a part before repairing the furnace, which meant a cold house for one more night.

After lunch I decided I was well enough to go to work, teaching grade ten math.

I absolutely loved teaching! I had a delightful class of adolescent and adult students, ranging in age from sixteen years old to twenty-four. Some students had tried the class before, but struggled to grasp the concepts. I invested everything in first understanding, and then teaching what I had learned.

I would learn a few days later, in the hospital, that in a matter of weeks their marks had gone from the ‘sixty percent and less’ that they had averaged with the other teacher, to eighty percent and up. It wasn’t that I was so miraculously gifted, but rather, I understood how difficult math could be to grasp, so I took time to explain what I struggled with.

My students and I enjoyed every minute together. We studied hard and laughed a lot. When I arrived in class—late—that cold November day, they were all studying intently but stopped to cheer in welcome at my entrance, and to ask how I was doing.

“I’m …pretty…  good, “ I said hesitantly.

“Are you upset about your furnace?… Is it going to cost a lot to replace it?”

“Oh no,” I laughed. “A furnace is a furnace. They can be replaced. It’s not about that,”  I paused. I wanted to inform them of my health issue, without overwhelming or worrying them.  “I just don’t feel too well.”… I paused…, “so… if I collapse, call 911, it could be my heart.”

I spoke playfully and everyone laughed—including me. I didn’t think that it really could be anything that serious, yet I instinctively mentioned it, in humour, so that they would respond quickly if I collapsed.

The classroom quieted as everyone returned to their lessons. I seized the opportunity to study the next day’s lesson. I wasn’t really a teacher, after all–at least not a licensed one–and this day I had to learn algebra for the following day so that I could teach effectively. I had only excelled in business math, problem solving and basic math. Algebra, geometry and other ‘strange’ math required a great deal of effort and study, on my part.

As I sat there, quietly studying, the feeling of un-wellness suddenly lifted and I felt instantly normal. It wasn’t until it was gone that I realized how unwell I had felt. To put my class at ease, I thought I should tell them.

“Well, whatever it was, it just passed—I’m feeling better!” I announced enthusiastically.

“Gas?” a student asked.

There’s one in every class! We all burst out laughing. The student, having had a moment to contemplate his impulsive response, apologetically acknowledged it was poor judgement, and said he was glad that I was feeling better.

The day at school ended without incident. At home, our children and the smell of a roast beef dinner greeted me.

I would quickly feed them and then head out to pick up Tim who was still at the office. We had shared a vehicle since early marriage, to cut costs, and for the most part it had worked out very well for us. It was nights like this that it became more challenging.

Exhausted, I crashed on the couch, intending to rest for only a few minutes but, instead, I fell sound asleep. The unusual fatigue should have alarmed me, but I overlooked the signs again.

Aside from fighting the fatigue, dinner with the children was uneventful. As soon as we were finished, I sent them to get washed up and ready for their children’s programs at church.

Moments later, I returned to the couch with a phone in hand, suddenly aware that I was really not well. I called Tim.

”I’m sorry, I can’t come pick you up…. I really am not well,” I said. “I don’t know what it is but I have this overwhelming sense of danger, like I shouldn’t be driving. Do you think one of the other guys would give you a ride home?”

I felt foolish, like I was wrestling a ghost, and the ghost was winning. My symptoms were undefined and I was staying home based on a vague ‘sense’ that something was very. I wasn’t in pain and even the earlier symptoms of breathlessness were gone.

Fortunately, one of the truck drivers at the feed mill, who lived not too far from our home, was still there and agreed to give Tim a ride home, but it would be another fifteen minutes before they could leave. I was relieved.

It was 5:30pm, and with a fifteen minute drive, the wait for Tim to return would not be long. What the driver didn’t mention, and what under normal circumstances would not have been an issue, was that he had to make a stop on the way home.

 

To be continued…

© Trudy Metzger

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