heart attacks

The aftershocks come in waves and they are not proportional to the severity of the event.

Rob’s heart attack barely rocked the cardiologist’s Richter scale, but it lifted us up off our foundations and set us down again hard. I am left feeling slightly askew and wondering about the direction of the path I thought was straight forward and relatively paved.

In the last six months, I’d prepared for a new career path that focused more on the real world rather than the innerscape my writer self shelters herself in. I’d become more or less content with writing for the Internet and questioned the purpose and practicality of finishing the memoir – or even going back to a fictionalized account of how I ended up in such a different life from the one I’d imagined a bit more than a decade ago.

“It’s funny how we end up where we are,” Rob mused as we sat sipping tea on the back deck after his first long stroll yesterday afternoon. “I didn’t ever really picture myself a heart attack survivor or even having one at all.”

I can’t say I haven’t pictured myself a youngish widow again. I am wired for “what if” and have buried everyone I know and love dozens of times as my mind grapples with far-flung scenarios they way other people plan their weeks. But I will admit that I have grown comfortably complacent enough to suppose that Rob and I will celebrate many a double-digit anniversary together.

“You really freaked out on me,” he pointed out later in the day.

I can’t tell if he is disappointed or surprised by this. As I told the older girls while I paced the waiting area during the hour of time we had no idea where he was or if he’d sustained any unplanned damage during his angiogram,

“Grace under pressure is not me, so I hope you weren’t looking for it.”

Indeed, it took me well over two months to adjust to my late husband’s death sentence and the dementia that came with it. Which is not to say that I lost my presence of mind or that I was unable to tend to the details, I function – sometimes at quite a shockingly high altitude, but I am sharper than recently honed blade and my Sagittarian bent for action is idling constantly when not actually propelling me.

“I didn’t know what was going on or where you were,” I said, again.

“Well, were you expecting them to hand me back to you in an urn?” he asked with a smile.

“Yes,” I said. “I had no idea what had happened and no one seemed interested in clueing me in. All I needed was a ‘we were able to fix him during the angiogram but he needs to stay overnight and he’s being admitted, go get something to eat and check with admittance for his room number in an hour.’ Honestly, I would have been a totally different person had someone been bright enough to do that.”

Waiting though did give me time to reassess, and sometimes this is not reactionary as much as it is necessary redirection.

One of the things that was painfully clear as I paced was that I was in no way prepared for a disaster.

Last summer when Rob went into the ER for an abscess, he prepared a file for me with all the pertinent information I would need “just in case” – and no, it’s nice to have him leap to morbid conclusions the same as I do. It makes me feel less of a dark, twisted freak.

But in the interim, the file vanished beneath piles of paper which in turn were scattered thither and yon as we moved our lives from one room to another to stay ahead of reno work.

I was also painfully aware of legalities that still haven’t been completed like Dee’s adoption, my being on the house title and some banking details that would give me access without having to wait on lawyers and courts.

And we’re still fairly non-committal on the whole “last wishes and remains disposal” thing despite numerous conversations.

And yes, this is what races about in my brain in a medical emergency. While all of you superior humans focus on the positive and can readily put hands on rose-coloured specs, I start compiling lists for my worst case scenario action item agenda.

I find myself checking Rob’s colouring and watching his breathing. I ask him constantly how he is feeling and match up my exterior check with his answer. I am always trying to get him to rest.

“You almost died,” I told him last night as I curled up on his lap while he waited for the data recovery program to finish snatching Edie’s life off her barely breathing hard drive.

“I did not,” he countered, a bit annoyed.

“Well,” I said, not ready to let it go, “it could have been much worse. You did ignore your symptoms all week.”

“There’s nothing like waking up with sharp chest pains,” he said.

“And if you hadn’t, you  would have gone to work,” I said, “and anything could have happened. What if we’d been at the family reunion? Miles from medical help.”

“But we weren’t,” he said, “and it was hard to know what was really wrong before.”

“I told you even before Thursday that your symptoms could be heart attack related,” I said.


“Repeatedly, ” I insisted. ” And I was right.”

“It’s important for you to be right?”


And it is. I have been down this road of scoffing, pooh-poohing husband with scary and persistent physical maladies.

“If I had experienced chest pains while we were camping,” I pointed out, “there is no way we wouldn’t have packed up and headed to the ER.”

He couldn’t refute me. Rob is hawkish about my health but very much like the typical man when it comes to his own.

I am uncertain about how I feel. The medical professions thus far appear blase with the discharging cardiologist telling Rob he can go back to work in a couple of weeks (a “couple” means “two” where I come from). He handed Rob a recipe of prescriptions – some of which make zero sense. They want him to take medication for lowering cholesterol even though his levels are fine and in spite of the very serious side effects of statins and the recent studies that show there is no link between high cholesterol (which Rob doesn’t have, or did I mention that) and heart disease. Apparently in the Alberta medical world, heart attack treatment is one size fits all.

And even Rob is agitating to work from home at least via his computer and the phone because he is in charge of some major projects with multi-million dollar scope and long-range implications for his career.

“When did I become a corp whore,” he asked bemusedly just the night before his heart attack.

But I find myself grappling with need to hurry up and finish things – the reno, writing projects and such. Time being suddenly of the essence again in a way it hasn’t for a few years. That’s probably aftershocks. I have a feeling they may continue in unexpectedly ways and waves for a while.

Feeling deja vu all over again and not in a good way.

I had this dream last weekend. Rob and I were making love on the living room floor of a house that was apparently ours though judging from the packing boxes and piles of stuff everywhere, we were preparing to move out.

So you took time out to have sex? Yeah, well, all work – no play – dullness ensues, so not us.

In the middle of all this stress relief, I look up and see this shadowy figure drifting towards us. All shades of grey though clearly the outline of a woman with short hair and ruffley bangs and she comes to a stop right over top us. In fact she is standing in the middle of Rob’s back but looking up and off into space.

In the dream I am too freaked out to continue and Rob is a bit annoyed because the ghost standing dead center of us didn’t bother him a bit, and then our older girls show up and the dream moves off into a completely unrelated scene as dreams have a tendency to do.

The dream occurred while we were camping at Garner Lake. It was a Saturday night and Rob came to bed complaining of flu-like symptoms which after his casual announcement of chest pains during our rather weeny-ish hike that afternoon had all my spidey-bells ringing.

But Sunday he was “fine”.

“I am fine,” he said as we drove home, even though hooking up the trailer left him clammy and grey looking. “It’s flu. Going around at work.”

Monday, he slept in. I had to wake him at nine when I got Dee up for swimming. He was dressed and eating breakfast when we left at nine-thirty. He was still sitting at the table, conducting business via his computer when we arrived home shortly after noon,

“I called in sick,” he said.

He was nauseous and winded, but dragged himself in for a 2PM meeting and stayed til after five trying to coax concessions out of various factions who’ve been holding up one of the plants major projects with what amounted to shortsightedness for weeks.

And the pattern played out again and again all week, mimicking the rainy weather – wet and muggy in the morning, sunny-ish mid-day, and cloudy wet or stormy evenings and nights.

Yesterday morning I dragged myself down for tea and a quiet breakfast before waking Dee for her last day of swim lessons to find him pensive at the table, still in his towel and frowning at the computer.

“I think I should go to the ER,” he said.

This was not a firm decision. He was waiting for me to weigh in and possibly concur with his week-long denial that something serious was afoot.

“Yes,” I said. “You should.”

Sharp chest pains in his left upper shoulder region woke him and hadn’t really subsided. Normally I would have agreed with his muscle spasm/flu assessment but not after a week and my growing sense that he was not telling me the whole truth about how he felt.

I probably should’ve driven him.

Retrospect. An interesting way to distract oneself from the bigger picture.

At around eleven, Dee and I were at the Dairy Queen and I planned to stop next at the hospital just a block of so away because I hadn’t heard from Rob yet. My cell rang and he asked where we were and remarked that he was just on his way for an x-ray.

“I was planning to make the hospital our next stop,” I told him.

Fort Saskatchewan Hospital is typical of small communities and would likely scare anyone whose never dealt with health care centers outside larger metro areas to death.

Rob had given me the number of his ER room and I breezed right by admissions, ER triage and into the thick of the emergency room with Dee in tow and not a second look from anyone but other patients in queue. I am not someone one stops and queries when I am in game mode.

“They’re treating this like I had a heart attack,” Rob told me.

The nurse, a very nice and seemingly knowledgable person – which is not standard for the Fort ER, was hooking him back up to the ecg monitor.

“You did have a heart attack then,” I said. Because he had. I was not surprised.

But he was still in denial and wouldn’t concede.

I won’t bore you with details. There are blood tests and suspect enzymes (which according to my Med Tech sister, DNOS, indicate level of damage to the muscle) and x-rays and then a battery of leveled tests that one proceeds through according to severity or emergency.

“What did the doctor say?” I asked him last night before the older girls arrived from the city. He wouldn’t let me call them until late in the afternoon.

“I asked him about the second blood test and he said there was still evidence of the enzyme and when I asked how much he said ‘if a burglar breaks into your house, does it matter whether he took $100 or $1000’,” Rob said. “Which I thought was a terrible analogy.”

I have yet to encounter the Doctor, which is lucky for him. My late husband’s doctors are probably still recovering from dealing with me and that was over five years ago now.

The Dali Lama for a doctor will not do at all.

People keep asking me how I am when I tell them that Rob has had a heart attack. Their eyes explode and their tones imply that I  don’t look the part of the wife of a man who is potentially quite ill.

I’ve been here and there is a definite sense that I shouldn’t be again. Didn’t I pass this grade? Why the remediation?

But there is no “why”, there is only “why not”, and the fact that I remember this is calming because I was not a model of grace under pressure the last time I found myself here.