Sometimes, your entire perspective can change in a moment. One event. One unexpected situation.
For my family, this happened twelve days ago, on March 21.
For those waiting with baited breath for me to release those long-promised posts about Trump and the church, I haven’t forgotten. Things keep happening so fast that it’s difficult to keep the drafts current, but eventually I’ll start a conversation here about that. For now, this is more important.
On Tuesday, March 21, at about 6:30 a.m., I had just arrived at my co-working space to start the day’s writing assignments. My phone rang; it was my wife, the Wild One.
She doesn’t ever call me at 6:30 in the morning. I knew it wasn’t good.
Two nights before, she had awakened in the night feeling badly, her arms aching for an unknown reason. Intuitively, she decided to check her blood pressure with a home device my mother had bought us as a gift. It was unusually high. The feeling passed, however, and her blood pressure dropped in a few minutes.
Two days later, the call from my wife: “It’s happening again. I think I need to go to the emergency room.”
She decided to wait for me to rush home so we could take an Uber to the hospital. In retrospect, she should have just dialed 911. At the ER, they moved to get her in a bed, did an EKG and ran a blood test. A few minutes later, the doctor came in.
“I’m glad you came,” he said. “Your blood test shows you had a small heart attack.”
Those words are practically scary enough to cause one. Especially when the victim is female.
The Wild One doesn’t go to the doctor. She doesn’t like doctors and hospitals at all. If she says she needs to go, it’s serious. She hasn’t spent a night in the hospital since The Director was born, 27 years ago. But once the heart attack diagnosis came in, they began hooking her up to IVs and drawing more blood. They started looking for an opening in the schedule to do a cardiac catheter procedure and look for blockages.
A lot of hustle, then the waiting game. Hours of waiting for the procedure. Time to think and process all that had just happened.
I’ve learned that I don’t handle crisis well, at least at first. It’s a weakness or a gap of some sort–I simply don’t know how to act. My bedside manner is horrible. My brain kept trying to process (in vain) what I was seeing: my soulmate, lying in a bed hooked up to tubes in both arms, frightened for her life. This isn’t real. This isn’t our life. I should have comforted her, but my mind was drawing a blank. I felt like I was outside myself, looking at what was happening and unable to trigger what the rational side of me says were the right responses. It was unbelievably surreal. This is the sort of thing that others deal with. Not us.
Other than that thing about the heart attack, from that point on, all the news was basically good. The doctors found no blockages in her arteries, no clots–in fact, they said her arteries were remarkably clear. The telltale enzyme in her blood–the enzyme that identified the heart attack–was a trace amount. Further EKGs and ECGs showed no visible damage. As of now, they still haven’t been able to tell us a specific cause–only to speculate that it may have been a “coronary artery spasm,” a relatively rare occurrence that may have been brought on by stress, high blood pressure, or perhaps a combination.
The Wild One got to the hospital at about 7am. Shortly after 5pm, they finally wheeled her out of the cath lab into her hospital room for the night. After further tests showed the enzyme level in her blood was dropping, they prescribed her a litany of meds and released her the following afternoon.
Beginning to end, the entire experience lasted about 32 hours. During those 32 hours, it felt like the Wild One’s life was hanging in the balance, and life for our family effectively stopped, suspended, waiting.
In the aftermath, we have been trying to come back to a new sense of “normal,” although that word means something different now than it once did. The Wild One, not a medicine-taker, is now told she must take some of these pills for the rest of her life to reduce the risk of recurrence. She’s using meditation and relaxation apps to help her sleep and reduce her stress levels.
The first week after it happened was pretty rough emotionally. It almost would have been easier to know the cause was some sort of blockage, even if it made her prognosis less positive. The whole thing of not knowing made the Wild One feel like she was a walking time bomb, skittish at any bad feeling in her body, worried every time she felt short of breath. Afraid to go to sleep at night. Wondering if she’d wake up.
The doctors haven’t given up trying to pinpoint a cause. She has an MRI scheduled this week which doctors hope will yield more information. In the meantime, all we can do is speculate. The Wild One is pretty intuitive and seems to have a good sense about what her body needs (although I think she ignored those impulses for a while). So she’s addressing the issues she knows about that may have led to this:
- She was under an extended amount of stress–basically, since the election, she hadn’t rested hardly at all. She’s now taking active steps to reduce her stress, and it’s working.
- She wasn’t eating right–the biggest culprit was probably high sodium, which was elevating her blood pressure along with the stress. She’s made changes to her diet.
- She was taking Advil consistently, which is known to increase heart attack risk. She’s eliminated that factor completely.
So while we may never know the exact cause, the good news is that she’s less stressed, feeling better by the day, and is even getting out now to exercise. She’s also less afraid. Getting back to a new normal.
Like I said, an event like this changes your perspective–reminds you of what is truly important. When you’re faced with death, you begin to live in the moment, embracing the experience as it comes. A few days ago, we went to see the Broadway revival of “Hello, Dolly” starring Bette Midler–tickets we’d bought for the Wild One’s birthday back in October. She was acutely aware that she might not have been there to see it. She attributes it as one of the best evenings of her life so far.
When you’re faced with the possible loss of a loved one, it changes your perspective, too. When realizing what could have been, compared to what is, you become more grateful, more appreciative, more aware of the time you have with that person. I have friends who had similar experiences but completely different outcomes. Life goes on for them, too, but I’m grateful that I still have my soulmate–and with the right decisions, will very likely have her for some time to come.
Other perspectives have changed for us, as well. The Wild One has the interesting combination of being right-brained AND having a type-A personality. This makes it more difficult for her to compartmentalize her feelings–everything integrates into everything else. I mentioned she hadn’t really rested since election night; that is a result of this integration. The election of someone as dangerous to our nation as Trump left her perpetually on edge, especially as a female and as an artist. In some sense, it was good; she became an activist, a role she didn’t really want but felt compelled to take. But she didn’t know how or when to turn it off; she was 24/7 how-do-we-get-Trump-out-of-office. No one can keep up that pace forever, and the heart attack forced her to put it in perspective–to take it in chunks. That’s actually a healthy outcome.
There’s another change in perspective worth mentioning, one that had already been changing with me, but which this experience galvanized.
Some of my long-time readers may recall my conservative leanings, how vehemently opposed I was to President Obama and his policies, and how my views have moderated over time. We now have health insurance due to the ACA (Obamacare), but I resented it. I liked having the insurance, but I resented being “forced” to take it. I still felt it cost too much, and I resented that the government was effectively deciding for me how much healthcare I could “afford.” After getting bitten at tax time two years in a row because I couldn’t figure out how the subsidies actually worked, I finally stopped taking the subsidies and now pay out of pocket, hoping for a break at tax time. To this day, it’s still extremely challenging to come up with those premium payments every month.
Today, though, I have a different perspective. I hope I get to meet Obama someday so I can shake his hand and thank him for making me buy health insurance. If I didn’t have it, my family would be facing financial ruin right now. No doubt. It’s worth the extra difficulty to have my wife safe and sound, AND still be able to pay the rent.