My dad's heart attack
Yesterday was not a day I would ever want to relive, yet I can’t help but relive it over and over again in my head. In those moments I keep going back to God’s great faithfulness. Here’s what happened:
At 5am yesterday my dad woke up not feeling well. He said his back hurt and it was radiating down both his arms. He couldn’t understand how he had hurt his back. He went down to his office and hoped it would get better. He decided not to wake my mom. She got up at 6am and when she did dad told her how he was feeling, explained his symptoms (at this point his left elbow was throbbing). He couldn’t get comfortable and was feeling short of breath. My mom said “that sounds like a heart attack.” After a few minutes of discussion he finally asked my mom to call for an ambulance.
While on the phone with the ambulance my dad is yelling symptoms up the stairs to my mom, one of which was shortness of breath. We laughed all day about him screaming “shortness of breath” up the stairs as he obviously had enough breath to yell it. In any case, the ambulance showed up and they did an EKG in the driveway. They confirmed he was having a heart attack and they would be rushing him to the hospital. My mom couldn’t go in the ambulance. My sister had made it to my parents’ house before he left as they family emergency phone calls had already been made and she lives one mile from their house.
My brother lives close to them as well. He made it to their house shortly after the ambulance left. Since my brother is a competent yet fast driver my sister suggested mom ride to the hospital with him, as he would probably beat the ambulance there. Hearing my brother recount the story of that drive is something that will live on in our family “hilarious stories” history forever. The short, but not as funny version (because my brother isn’t telling) is that on the way to the hospital my mom was praying out loud in the car. She was of course very emotional, but at one point my brother changed lanes a little bit too quickly for my mother’s taste and she screamed “Oh sweet Jesus!” He quipped later, “It felt like her prayers got a little too personal at that point.”
I got the news of my dad’s heart attack at work. I have to be in the office at 7am. I arrived shortly before that and as I got to my desk my phone rang. My husband’s car had gotten a flat tire the night before and he had decided to work from home that day so he could get it fixed. I had left my cellphone with him in case he had any trouble with the car. He doesn’t own his own cellphone. (Yes. I know. Another story for another day.) I picked up my phone at work and he said “You’re mom just called and your dad is having a heart attack.” “WHAT?!” was all I could managed to get out. “Yes, you need to get to Mercy hospital now” he directed. “Was he conscious?” I asked, wanting to know how bad it was. “Your mom said he was talking and cracking jokes the whole time.” I breathed a little easier knowing he was still being his ornery self. “Ok. I’m on my way. I’ll keep you updated.”
I quickly told my co-worker what was happening, sent an email to my boss, packed up my stuff and left. I prayed the whole way though I don’t remember now what I prayed. It was at that point I felt myself go into survival mode. I know that looks different for everyone, but for me, I went numb. All emotions were gone and in its place was a supportive and positive individual that only cared about caring for everyone else. The whole day I didn’t cry or lose it in any way, it was just a smaller version of my dad’s personality and my mom’s caring demeanor. I didn’t even really cry or express any emotions until I got home and the numbness wore off and the tired set in. It was a strange experience.
I was the first one to make it to the hospital as I worked 5 minutes away from it. I walked into the ER and asked for Val Wagner’s room. She said they had already taken him down to the cath lab for a procedure. I was surprised because at this point we knew nothing as to what was happening. One nurse was coming out to lead me that way when my mom and shoeless brother walked in the ER doors. (Why he was carrying his shoes and not wearing them I didn’t quite get an answer to.) The nurse escorted us to the cath lab. I asked about my sister and my brother said “she should be here soon. The traffic was terrible.” The nurse was telling my mom on the way over to the lab that he was getting a stent put in for a blockage in his heart they found. (NEWS TO US!) She also said, “He told me to tell you he wants the day off.” (My parents own their own business and work out of their home) She laughed and rolled her eyes. He was even still joking while having a heart attack. My sister showed up shortly after that and we all waited outside the cath lab to hear how he was doing.
After about 30 minutes of waiting we were called back to a consult room to talk with his doctor in the cath lab. We were told he had a major heart attack this morning due to a 100% blocked artery that runs down the front of the heart and an 80% blocked artery down the back of the heart. This kind of heart attack is called the widow maker because a lot of people die from it. They got to it in time and they were able to get a stent into the 100% blocked artery in the cath lab. They decided to wait a couple days before they put a stent in the 80% blocked artery to give his heart sometime to recover.
He was sent to a recovery room before being moved to a room on the cardiac intensive care floor. It was in the recovering room that a very diligent nurse named Willow realized he was having ANOTHER heart attack. (Not to sound dramatic but she basically saved his life.) They rushed him back into the cath lab. It was a very scary time for my family because we knew him being taken back in was a bad thing and then we didn’t know what was going on for a long time.
The news had started to get out as my husband was fielding phone calls, text and Facebook messages from home to keep everyone in the loop and get prayer chains started. Quickly people started showing up to support us. My pastor, my associate pastor’s wife and son, my parent’s pastor and associate pastor, my dad’s good friend Dave, and my Uncle all came down and offered support and prayers. It was amazing to see throughout the day how many people my dad’s life has touched. SO many people reached out and prayed. I just can’t thank them or God enough.
Our good friend and former director of the Mercy cath lab, Pam Benhke-Schaad showed up as we were waiting for news about my dad’s second procedure. My mom said later she had been praying she would show up so we could get some news. She showed up right on time! She walked right into the lab and was able to get an update for us. She found out a blood clot had formed right above the stent they had just put in! This happened 2% of the time. They pumped him full of blood thinners and put in a second stent above the stent they had just put in. He was going to be in critical condition for at least 24 hours because of all this. They had put so much blood thinner in him that if he needed a by-pass surgery at that point it would have been so incredibly risky! BUT praise God, he didn’t need that. They got him back into stable condition and were able to get him to his critical care room that was waiting for him.
The rest of the afternoon was tough. He was very lucid and talkative most of the time, but they also had trouble with controlling his pain level. He’s been very nauseous most of the day as well. Every time he’d get medication for the pain he’d get nauseous and almost throw up. Also he was having trouble remembering what we were telling him had happened to him because of all the medication in his system. (That’s part of the reason I decided to write this all down.) He had to lay still for four hours when they were finally able to pull the line in his groin that they used to get a tube into his heart in the cath lab. They didn’t want him bleeding out and lying completely still while not feeling well is hard. BUT he did it and the blood coagulated like it should. He is also having anxiety. He’s never experienced anything like this before so he’s not sure how his body is supposed to feel. He’s worried about another heart attack and the next procedure possibly on Friday to stent the 80% blocked artery is definitely making him worried. All are very understandable emotions.
His nurse, Gail, was phenomenal throughout the day. She cared for him and dealt with our whole motley crew all day. She tried to get him to focus on resting and relaxing. She took good care of him. I’ve been praying that all the nurses he gets to work with are as phenomenal and on top of it as she was.
My husband made it down to the hospital shortly after they got him to the CCU. My brother-in-law also showed up for a bit. The pastor’s from my parent’s church provided us all with lunch and dinner for the day. They were wonderfully supportive. My husband, my brother, and I stayed the whole day and kept watch. My mom and sister headed home for a bit to shower, clean up, and grab some things my dad had asked for at home. In the evening the whole family (minus the Patterson kids) showed up for dinner and seeing dad.
My favorite story of the day came from my 3 year old niece. Her mom and dad were explaining to her and her 7 year old sister what had happened to Papaw and what he would look like and what to expect when they visited him. My sister-in-law said, “He wasn’t feeling well, and he was turning colors, and he was having a lot of pain.” My niece replied “Wait! Back up! Papaw can change colors?!” When my brother retold that story to my dad that night he just howled with laughter.
As I look back over the last 24 hours I am grateful. Grateful that God spared my dad’s life. I’m grateful we were not on the cruise when this happened but at home where he could get help quickly. Grateful that God put all the right doctors and nurses in our path today. I’m grateful for Pam, our cath lab friend, who stayed with us and explained what was going on, and what to expect, and that she had an instrumental hand in the great care that the EMTs, ER doctors and nurses and the cath lab doctors and nurses had that saved my dad’s life today. I’m grateful for all the people that reached out, visited, supported and prayed with us. Prayer is such a powerful tool. God answered all our prayers today.
My family would appreciate it if you would continue to pray for my dad. Here is specifically what he needs prayer for:
That he can get some food down and keep it down soon
That the pain will be manageable
That he will have peace about his new heart and everything that happened
That he will have peace about the procedure on Friday because he is having a lot of anxiety about, it as you can imagine. AND that the procedure will go smoothly with no complications.
That this will be a wakeup call for him to take better care of himself so he will be around a long time.
He is now in the Critical Care Unit for 24 to 48 hours. After that they will move him to the regular heart recovery floor if he is doing well.
Thank you. Thank you for reading this incredibly long post. Thank you for caring. Thank you for praying. My dad is so very important to me and my family. Even though I like to write I cannot find accurate words to describe my love, admiration and respect for him. He’s touched so many lives and the outpouring of love and support for him has just been so amazing to see. Thank you friends. Go hug your loved ones.