My man has had not one but THREE health crisis in less than two months.
I could barely think straight let alone write. Medically it was scary for both of us, and we needed private time to process what happened before I could share it with all of you.
John’s health issues also put the kibosh on our road trip plans since we need to stick close to Tucson and his health management team. Instead of writing, I juggled revamping travel plans, gathering medical invoices from three hospitalizations, and doing regular life stuff.
Finally, the dust has settled a bit, and I’m ready to share. Strap in. These next three blog posts are doozies.
Don’t ignore this
One mile into our hike up Soldier Trail in Tucson John began to experience chest pain.
“It’s different this time, Gretty.” I watched him rub his chest just left of his sternum. “It’s radiating and about seven on a scale of ten.”
We immediately headed downhill and found ourselves at the Cardiologist’s office three days later. Dr. Shaheen listened intently to John’s symptoms and, after proclaiming John’s family health history “atrocious” we were sent directly to the Emergency Room. John would be admitted for a heart catheterization the following morning.
Crashing into reality
We could not believe this was happening to us.
Didn’t John successfully climb Mt. Kilimanjaro nine months earlier? Heck, didn’t he bike 30 miles just five days ago? Yes, he occasionally was getting “pain” in his chest, but each time it would go away after about an hour of exercise. Since when does cardiac pain go away upon exertion? Plus, what about his GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)? Couldn’t these symptoms be as simple as gastric reflux?
It’s happening sweetheart
Even though the ER was super busy, John’s chest pain “fast-tracked” him to the front of the line.
I stayed with John until he was settled into his hospital room, then headed home to check on Penny, our Cockapoo.
By 4:30 the next morning, coffee in hand, I arrived at John’s bedside by 5:30 a.m.- a full two hours before his procedure. Like clockwork, the OR transport personnel arrived and off we went to the pre-op area. Still filled with disbelief, John and I filled the sterile surroundings with silly comments, nervous laughter, and laser locked eye gazes as the team probed, shaved, and poked his body in preparation for the heart catheterization.
Finally, it was John’s turn for his procedure. As the transport team paused at the OR door, my shaky lips kissed John one more time, and I whispered a prayer in his ear.
Ninety minutes after that kiss I spotted Dr. Shaheen striding quickly across the waiting room. His eyes seem glued to mine.
I recall attempting to read his face and body language in his 10-second commute. Was that fast gait carrying good news? Did his eyes look frantic or relieved? Why did John’s procedure take a half-hour longer than Dr. Shaheen had said it would?
A small entourage of medical students accompanied Dr. Shaheen encircling me with white lab coats and staring eyes.
He touched my shoulder, and I heard him say “I am so glad that I insisted that you went directly to the ER yesterday. One of John’s coronary arteries was 95% blocked and is now stented. The good news is John did not have a heart attack, and his heart muscle sustained no damage.”
Relief! Kind of.
Dr. Shaheen gave me a brief hug before turning away. Honestly? Part of me thinks it was to steady my body and prevent me from falling backward upon hearing this news.
The Recovery Room
You never know how stressed you are until relief sets in.
Now that John was safe, and out of danger, I could relax and respond emotionally. We kissed, and I began to cry. After several sobbing snot-nosed minutes, John’s nurse Karen wrapped her arms around me and held out a box of tissues.
With tear ducts wholly depleted, and sanity restored, I sat next to John. Throughout the next six hours, the staff attended to his post-op needs, and I ignored the voice mails on my phone. While it’s great having a supportive tribe during a time like this, frankly, just sitting next to John proved to be medicinal for both of us.
After the first hour, an essential medical process began. Karen pulled 5cc of air from the high-tech pressure dressing over John’s right wrist. (Picture a small-scale ankle air cast). With the cuff fully deflated and no sign of bleeding John was taken to a general floor for overnight observation.
Home and back to “normal”
The next morning, I again arrived at the hospital around 5:30 a.m. bringing John home-brewed coffee. I remembered everything I was supposed to bring except a pair of pants for him to wear! Luckily the staff had scrub shorts for him to borrow because I guess I’m not the only pre-occupied forgetful wife they have encountered. After a good laugh, we made it home!
The story doesn’t end here
Unfortunately, this is true. We thought this was the end of our story, but sadly it’s only part one. Check out part 2 ”Two Girlfriends, One Car crash, and 10 Life lessons”, and part 3 “Recurring chest pain and surprising discounts from our Health Sharing Co-Op.”
Have you been where John and I were? Are you wondering how you can best help your loved one through a severe health crisis? The following 18 points will help in case you run into a medical emergency. Although not exhaustive, it certainly is a start.
- Listening to your body. John has learned the difference between cardiac pain (angina) and his GERD symptoms.
- Listen to friends advice. We have a good friend, Mark, who suffered a heart attack at age 45. Upon hearing of John’s occasional chest pain, Mark’s response was always, “Dude, go to the ER. Don’t mess around with this. Trust me.” Yup. We should have listened to Mark a few months before John’s episode.
- Pray! Even if you’re not the praying type, now is the perfect time to quietly offer up your loved one to the Creator of the Universe. Be honest in your words. Verbally pound on God’s chest for a few moments.
- Determine your family health risk. Does John’s experience resonate with you? You cannot erase your family health background. Make some life changes if you have an unhealthy family history.
- Do you know where the nearest hospital is while traveling? Have a plan, even if you don’t have medical issues.
- Do you have a medical power of attorney? If you are an RVer, know that not each state will recognize the medical POA from your home state. On the advice of our attorney, we have a written medical POA in each county we spend the most time. During a crisis is not the ideal time to find out you cannot make decisions for your loved one.
- While I’m on the topic, do you have your living will complete? It’s so simple to do. Make copies for your family, the local hospital, and your significant other. Here are some free online forms to create yours.
- If a friend offers help, take it! Let them bring dinner, walk your dog, or ride in the car with you. They want to feel like they can do something.
- Remain positive. The best time to be positive and take responsibility for your peace of mind is when you don’t feel like it.
- Remind yourself that your loved one is in good hands at a medical facility. You can relax a bit. Grab a soothing latte at the cafeteria and take a walk outside.
- Don’t stuff your emotions. Say it out loud. “I’m scared” “I’m freaking out here” “I am so angry” “I feel so frustrated.” Verbalizing your fears will lessen their hold on you. Let the tears flow if they need to.
- Don’t bring unnecessary stuff to the hospital. The lost and found doesn’t need your donation. Keep valuables at home.
- Stop by medical records and obtain a copy of your records especially if you are not staying in that area very long – or sign up for the online portal local portal web to access your medical records.
- Remember to bring shorts or pants for the ride home. (Because I didn’t!) Make a list of tasks you have to do. Your brain will be elsewhere, trust me.
- Turn off your cell phone while in the hospital – avoiding the temptation to “check-in” on what’s up. The world will not stop spinning while your phone is off.
- Delegate one family member to disseminate information to the rest of the family. Same thing with your RV friends back at the campground. Everyone gets the same information and avoids spreading false information.
- Use your phone to record (with their permission) any instructions or explanations from medical staff. They will be ok with this request. Sometimes medical personnel’s accents are difficult to understand, they talk fast, or perhaps your hearing isn’t that good. Remember, you are under stress, and these instructions are essential for your loved one.
- Take advantage of the social work team and the spiritual support teams at the medical facility. They are eager to assist you.
Curious about part 2 and part 3 of my story?