I have not really told much of the story behind the death of my husband. It is a hard story to tell. But now, my father is ill, he is suffering from some of the very same symptoms that my husband experienced, and it is unnerving to say the least. Who am I kidding, it is freaking me out! It is bringing back so much anxiety that I am literally shaking as type this.
About a year before my husband passed away, he had an episode where his heart started racing. Not just fast, but erratically. Like you could not possibly count how many beats in a minute because there was no perceivable rhythm. He had to be excused from class (he was completing his student teaching) to go to Urgent Care, where he was sent via ambulance to the nearby hospital. This is where it all began. He was diagnosed with A-fib (Atrial Fibrillation), and he was hospitalized for two days to bring his heart back in to rhythm. There were many follow ups and medication, and even a monitor that would alarm if his heart went out of rhythm, the phone would ring, and monitoring service would be on the other end with questions and concerns. Once he was considered stable (after a week or so), the monitor was removed and he was maintained on medication. Did I mention he was 41 at the time?
A-fib (Atrial Fibrillation) – An irregular, often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow. The heart’s upper changers (atria) beat out of coordination with the lower changers (ventricles). * Mayo Clinic
Approximately six months later, a friend of my husband had passed away. It was a scary time because my husband seemed to be having another bout with his A-fib. He was insistent on attending the services, and I was uncomfortable with him driving alone for five hours. So he hopped on a train and off he went. I am told from his best friend, he suffered through the services, sweating and shaking, and was devoid of color in his face. Upon his return, we made another trip to the hospital to stabilize.
We managed to make it through the holidays, and through my daughter’s 8th birthday, but he was not feeling well. In fact, he was having trouble breathing, his lungs sounded horrible, making a crackling sound, and his heart kept losing rhythm. The doctor diagnosed him with cardiomyopathy and he had fluid in his lungs, the doctor’s office scheduled an appointment for cardioversion.
Cardiomyopathy – An acquired or hereditary disease of heart muscle, this condition makes it hard for the heart to deliver blood to the body, and can lead to heart failure. * Mayo Clinic
Cardioversion – A procedure used to return an irregular heart rhythm to normal through an electric shock or drugs. * WebMD
This is where the story gets a little weird… Before his appointment, which was about a week away, a strange occurrence took place that prevented my husband from making his heart appointment. Our Border Collie, a very hyper and excitable dog named Marley, ran up to my husband to greet him as he came in the door from school. The dog, or the husband, miscalculated, and somehow the dogs head barreled full force into my husband’s groin. Laughable, I know, we all made many jokes about the injury, as well as the “broken” appendage and consequent swelling that took place. In fact, as a man might do, he bumped his heart appointment, instead to be replaced with a urology appointment to address the swelling of his manhood. Only to figure out, long after the fact, that the swelling probably took place BECAUSE of the poor heart function and medication, and probably not because of the dogs hard head. Hind sight is always 20/20, and I wish I had had more say or influence with him at the time.
At any rate, it was a Sunday night, my husband was having trouble sleeping because he was having trouble breathing, he felt like he was congested. We actually fought before bed. My husband wanted to take medication for sleep, and I would not allow it. I was concerned about his breathing and his heart. He had scheduled his heart appointment for a later date and it was still two days away. In the very early morning, around 1 am, my husband sat up in bed stating he did not feel right. He then proceeded to fall over onto the floor.
The follow events are seared into my brain. I jumped out of bed, grabbing the phone from the night stand. I dialed 911 and proceeded to straddle my husband, trying to shake him back into consciousness. It had been many years since I had last been certified in CPR and did not want to have to go there, but would if I needed to. He was not breathing, although he did have a pulse. I was on the phone with emergency services and they were sending help. I explained to the women on the other end that his lips were turning blue. Out of fear and frustration and anger that he had put me in this scary place, I slapped my husband. I slapped him hard, trying to get him to take a breath. And it worked!!! He gasped, I jumped off of him as he rolled over and threw up on the carpet in our bedroom.
I ran downstairs, per the 911 operator’s instructions, I unlocked the front door so the EMTs could get in when they arrived, and I put the dogs in the basement to prevent incident, before returning to my husband who was conscious, but breathing with difficulty. By the time (which I think was only maybe 5 minutes) the EMTs arrived, with the police and firefighters (I had maybe 10 people in my house), my husband was sitting, conscious, and oriented. He sat himself on the gurney and we both decided that he would head to the hospital and I would stay to put my daughter on the bus to school in the morning before going to the hospital to meet him. Neither of us wanted to disrupt her schedule and drag her out of bed in the wee hours of the night. Meanwhile, I made early morning calls to my parents and his father to inform them of the new situation. They began their long distance drives to reach us. (They live 6-7 hours away, we have no family here)
Upon arrival at the hospital, I was asked to wait in the waiting room in the CICU. I was not sure why the wait, but dutifully did as I was told. A man, not in hospital attire, came out to speak with me. He introduced himself as a chaplain and began his next sentence with, “when your husband coded…” That was all I heard. I interrupted him…”I’m sorry, when he WHAT?” The man’s face dropped. That was when he realized that no one had told me, right as I arrived, my husband went into cardiac arrest, they had to resuscitate him, and he was now unconscious and on a ventilator. (I apologize, I do not recall his name, not his name, not the doctor’s names, the nurses names, nothing…) He brought me back to my husband’s room. So many tubes, so many medicines, and the sound of the vent…all burned into my brain. By this time, the work day was starting, I reached out to my boss to fill her in. And thankfully, she sent one of my closest friends and colleagues to sit with me at the hospital.
I was a wreck, but somehow my brain was moving forward, frantic with activity. I made arrangements for my daughter to go home with her friend after school and spend the night. I made arrangements for someone to look in on and feed the dogs. I reached out to my church for prayers and visit from our clergy. I somehow managed to respond to work emails, even after setting my out of office. I needed to be busy. I made calls to family and friends, and reached out to the school and my daughter’s teacher. My brain was buzzing, in spite of the lack of sleep and lack of food.
My husband’s heart was weak. The doctor’s said it was functioning at less than 10%. They needed to implant a heart pump right away, and they wheeled him off.
By the time he returned from the procedure, my parents had arrived and my friend had left. Time really starts to get away from me here. I cannot honestly say, but I believe nighttime set in. I know that my parents and my father-in-law helped with the dogs and the house, I know that I ran home at some point to change and gather some clothes for my daughter for the next day and gave them to her friends’s mother. I remember trying to catch a little sleep on the couch in the waiting room, and a random family giving me an extra biscuit when they noticed I had been there all night. I am certain it was morning when they doctors told me that even with the heart pump and the ventilator, he was not doing well and his organs were beginning to shut down. The vent and the pump were not working well together, he was in distress several times during the night. His heart was too weak to sustain a trip to another hospital and for a transplant, if that was even an option. They needed me to make a decision.
I know I have stated this before, they brought me the paperwork I had only hoped to see on a television drama. I signed the forms. It wasn’t long after that, they turned the volume off on the monitors. I sat with my husband, I held his hand, and every time I spoke to him, his heart rate increased for just a moment. But ultimately, his strength was leaving. I stood up and whispered into his ear, “I’ve got this.” And then slowly, and quietly, he left.
Time was still elusive, I know by looking back at documentation, that he left us at 10:32am on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012, approximately 33 hours after he fell to the floor in our bedroom. He was 42 years old.