Our story starts on January 10, 2017. It was a normal Tuesday morning, my husband left for work as usual but around 10am he started to feel “odd”. He was sweating profusely and his wrist hurt. He had always heard about pain in the arm being a warning sign for a heart attack – but for him, it was his wrist. He went into the restroom but the strange feeling worsened so he walked past everyone straight out the door and drove himself to the hospital which was about 15 minutes away. His father had had a heart attack 2 years prior, but delayed going to the hospital – by the time he finally sought medical help, too much damage was done and unfortunately he did not survive. J wanted a much better outcome and took the symptoms very seriously.
He arrived at the Emergency department and was prepared with all the appropriate paperwork. He told the admitting nurse he was having chest pains but she told him to take a seat in the waiting room (we’ve since been told he should have said he had ‘difficulty breathing”). He wasn’t in the waiting room chair for more than a minute when he apparently collapsed in full cardiac arrest. An emergency team was on him immediately starting with CPR and defibrillating multiple times, working fiercely for 20+ minutes to save his life – his heart stopping multiple times – it took about 2 hours of emergency measures to stabilize him enough for transport. We’ve since learned from the head of the Emergency Department that there were basically out of options, a final measure was to try sodium bicarbonate to stop the lactic acidosis and helped with the stabilization. Months later, he said to us “it was a long shot, last-ditch effort – it wasn’t supposed to work”. We’re thankful they tried it anyway and that it worked.
For me, I knew nothing about any of this. I was just going about my work day when I received a phone call from a social worker who asked me if I was sitting down and then told me my husband had admitted himself to the emergency department at the hospital. I was confused because there had been nothing wrong with him that morning when he left for work (or even days prior), so my first reaction was denial, sure they had the wrong person. I asked her several questions to confirm she wasn’t calling me by mistake. She also quickly realized this was all news to me, so she told me to hang up and said she’d have a doctor call me. Within minutes a doctor who identified himself as the head of the Emergency Department told me my husband “was very sick” – he had had a heart attack and they were having difficulty stabilizing him.
The hospital my husband was at was 45 minutes from me, but the doctor told me not to come there. Instead I was to head directly to the hospital they were transferring him to. My head was racing. We were young (late 40’s), we weren’t prepared for this at all. I wasn’t prepared for this. I had no idea what to do. There was never an issue with his heart prior to this day. The doctor asked me if I had someone to drive me. I didn’t, but I was fine. I knew that panicking wasn’t the answer. I knew there wasn’t anything I could do at the time, I just needed to get to the second hospital. But I didn’t know what else I was to do.
I phoned his sister – who used to be a nurse – because I was sure she’d know what to do and honestly, I had no idea who to turn to for help. She told me to start driving and she called the rest of J’s family. I contacted his son and then apologized to our poor dog knowing she’d be stuck inside the house for more hours than she was used to and left for the hospital.
About an hour later, when I arrived at the second hospital where J was to be transferred for additional procedures. This hospital has an exemplary cardiac ward and we felt some relief knowing he was coming to place with a good reputation for successful outcomes relating to the heart. J’s immediate family was there when I arrived – they left work, or canceled their appointment, doing whatever needed to be done to be there for him. I didn’t imagine so many people would be able to be there! And then we waited. And waited. And waited. The distance between the two hospitals is only about 20 -30 minutes. But we all arrived before he did which was worrisome because they had said they’d only transport him if he was stable. We kept wondering where he was and why he hadn’t arrived yet. (It was months later when I realized I could have used the ‘location services’ on his phone to track his whereabouts – saving us some stress – but it didn’t occur to me at that time).
(Part II to follow in next post)