(Warning – this is long)
It will be a March break I will never forget.
With only having the kids every second March break, we try to take an “alone” trip on our off years. We tried to stay home one year and I was miserably missing the kids. A vacation together is a good distraction. We try to go somewhere warm and just soak in the sun.
This year, we decided to head out to Utah. We had multiple reasons for heading out there. My brother and his family are out there, there is great skiing there (and Rob loves to ski), and most importantly we were going to be “sealed” (in our faith, we believe that families are forever and that they continue into the next life. There is a religious ceremony that is performed in our temples where a sealing to each other occurs. Sometimes it is done as the actual marriage ceremony, but many can have it done afterwards).
We arrived in Utah late on the night of the 5th after some stressful flying issues (delays, changes etc). We spent the next few days enjoying time with family (so fun to bond with my nieces and nephews) and some friends we have there too. On the Saturday, we were “sealed” and had an amazing time with family and friends. We toured around Salt Lake City and had a wonderful lunch all together. A very special, memorable day indeed.
The plan was for us to then sneak off for a view days to head up to Park City to do some skiing. We left early Monday and were on the slopes by 9:15! We had a great day skiing, although Rob did mention that the altitude was affecting him a bit. We shopped a bit, had dinner with friends and then skied the whole next day.
I wasn’t as crazy about the hill we were skiing the second day, so decided to call it a day earlier than Rob and went back to read and nap, while he skied black diamonds (way too hard for me). Rob returned stating he felt like he was “out of shape” as he was a bit short of breath (pretty unusual for him as he is an active guy). He also thought he pulled a few muscles in his back/side as the runs weren’t quite well groomed – but other than that, he had enjoyed himself. We had a great sushi dinner, soaked in the hot tub and enjoyed the rest of our evening.
The next morning we headed out to ski, certainly feeling a little sore muscle wise – these mountains are so much bigger than we (I) are used to! Rob, like a gentleman, carried my skis and we were on our way. After the first easy run, Rob said his back was really hurting. He must have really pulled it the day before, and he thought he had tweaked his back carrying my skis ☹ We went to a ski lodge mid mountain, had some water and bought some advil for him to take. We sat for a while and even Facetimed Zach and Josh in Italy!
Rob was feeling much better and we skied about 5 or 6 more runs – including him going off to ski a black diamond or two (I stick to green and blue). After about the 6th run, he was feeling tired and sore, so we decided to call it a day. By the time we got to the bottom of the mountain, he had quite a bit of pain in his back, and even in his front. He wasn’t able to carry the skis, and didn’t feel he could drive. I loaded the car, pumped him up with more advil, had some lunch and then he slept while I drove us back to my brothers (about an hour away). We got back; he was feeling much better and rested a bit more before we headed out for dinner with friends. He was feeling good again, and we had a great dinner, and he felt good enough to drive home. When we got home, while shutting the car door, the pain returned a bit – he thought he had pulled the same muscle when shutting the car door. That night he was up a bit complaining about some pain, so I massaged him and he took some more advil.
The next morning, he felt better again, but wanted to stay home and rest. We had plans to hang out with my niece and have her give us a tour of her university. I went with my sis in law, and Rob was left reading quietly in bed, but feeling much better. We were out a few hours and heading home around lunch time when he texted me to say he was not feeling well at all. I called him, spoke to him, and encouraged him to soak in the bath to ease his muscles. He did, but called back to say he was feeling worse. Like, really bad. Like go to the hospital bad. We were close to home, so I told him to try to relax.
When we arrived home he was kneeling at the bedside in pain. I told him to just relax, he was likely having a panic attack but to stay calm, and then quickly went and told my sis in law we had to get him to the hospital immediately. He was a pale green, was in a lot of pain, and sweating profusely. We made the executive decision to drive him there – despite him saying he thought we should call an ambulance. We figured by the time the ambulance arrived, we would have him there. Of course, was that the right decision? In hindsight, an ambulance could have helped him along the way, but I can’t do hindsight right now. He walked himself to the car, slumped in the front seat and we got him to the local hospital in record time. He walked himself in, told the nurse he was having serious chest pain and they whizzed him in.
The rest is a bit blurry to me. The nicest male nurse came in, took some blood, put him on a heart monitor and started asking questions. Almost immediately, one of the nicest doctors I have ever met came in and took over. While the doctor was taking more of his history, the nurse stepped out and returned with a printout of a heart monitor. The doctor looked at the printout, asked the nurse, “Who’s printout is this?” and the nurse pointed to Rob. The doctor turned to me and said, “He is having a heart attack right now”. They moved me aside, and I’m not sure what they did. X-rays? I think? Gave him aspirin, and nitroglycerin? I ran out to the waiting room where my sis in law was and my brother was thankfully there too (I missed the part where she had called him and asked him to meet us at the ER). I couldn’t make sense of what the doctor had told me – something about needing to transfer him, do some procedure. I remember signing some things. I remember my brother and one of the nurses gave him a blessing (a huge plus for us being in a place where that could happen immediately). I remember the doctor putting his arm around me asking me if I had any questions, explaining what was happening and telling me Rob was being well taken care of. I remember Rob asking over and over if he was going to die and telling the doctor he does not want to die. I remember the doctor saying they were doing everything they could, he was in good hands and he felt good that they were treating him so quickly.
The ambulance arrived to transfer him to the larger medical facility 20 minutes away. The main paramedic knew my brother (my brother is a city manager and this paramedic was from his city). That gave me some comfort. I rode up front in the ambulance while the driver tried to make small talk and reassure me. Shortly after leaving, the paramedic in the back gave the code to put the sirens on and pick up the speed. That freaked me out as I tried to look back and see what was going on. We arrived at the hospital in record time, and as we raced through the halls the paramedic explained what was going to be done (I can’t remember what he said) and left me in the waiting room saying a nurse would come see me.
It was 2:20pm. I had received Rob’s first text saying he was not feeling well at 12:46. I texted my bro to say where I was, then my phone died.
I watched the clock. There was another family in the waiting room that looked like the Duck Dynasty family. Another family was sitting there eating some type of fast food that made me feel sick. I started hyperventilating and then pulled myself together again. “Pray,” I thought. I tried to close my eyes but that just brought a flood of tears. I kept my eyes open, but no words. I just settled on saying “Please please please” and figured that He’d understand that prayer.
30 minutes went by and my bro and sis in law arrived. After a little crying session, the paramedic came out for me to sign some papers and said that they were working on Rob and it looked like the procedure went well.
The nurse came and got us and we were escorted in. Rob was alive. He had colour. He wasn’t in excruciating pain. The doctor showed us the video of what he had done. His left artery was 100% blocked so he had gone in and ballooned the area and put in a stent. It was amazing to watch – how there was nothing and then all of a sudden the passage was opened and the arteries and branches all started to get the blood flow again. He ballooned a few more areas, and checked out the rest of the heart. He then told us that Rob was a very lucky man. He explained that they need to get the procedure done within 90 minutes from the start of the heart attack. He told us that most people do not make it. Rob’s heart attack had actually officially started while he was in the first emergency room, and from that moment to the end of the procedure in the second hospital it was 68 minutes. Miracle.
The kind of heart attack he suffered is called the “Widowmaker”. Only google it if you are feeling brave. I just feel blessed.
The pain on the ski hill the day before and earlier in the day were all the warning signs – angina attacks. The doctor told us he felt that the damage was minimal as Rob was treated quickly but we needed to wait for some more tests to confirm damage.
Rob was transferred to ICU, where he had a rocky night. He experienced quite a bit of pain (which they said was normal as the heart was trying to readjust to the blood flow and deal with the shock) and lots of anxiety (fear of the pain, fear of another attack, fear of not knowing what the permanent damage would be (we were only getting the results of all those tests the next day)).
We were able to speak to the kids – which was hard. We debated telling the kids, but I wanted them to have the chance to speak and knew he needed to hear their voices too. He was very strong and I was surprised how casual he sounded with them. He needed to hear their voices to help him get through the night.
It was a very long night. I sat in the chair beside him the whole night and he would not let go of my hand. During the night they performed another ECG as he was still having pain. They reassured him his heart was ok, gave him some medication for the anxiety and he finally slept. We were up again around 4 am trying to walk a bit to see how he felt. You don’t get much sleep in hospitals☹
The next morning the doctor came to visit. He confirmed that the actual damage to the heart was minimal. In fact, in a few months, it should not even be noticeable! He will have to be on meds for the rest of his life, and be quite strict in his diet, exercise and reduce stress. It was his genetics that did him in, and I’m sure that the enormous amount of stress he had been under in the weeks prior didn’t help.
They transferred him to the cardiac ward – where he was the youngest guy around! He had a really good day physically, had reduced anxiety and was able to get some good sleep and even began eating.
Yesterday he was discharged home to my brother’s. We are not clear to fly for another week, so will stay and he will do some cardiac rehab and rest. It was a tough day yesterday, leaving the security of the heart monitors and staff. Anxiety levels were quite high, and emotionally things are creeping in – all the “what if’s”, “am I really ok”, “what if it happens again”. He will have to learn to trust his body again. It will be a process I’m sure.
I can’t quite go to the “why’s” and the “what if’s”. I wanted to write because I find it therapeutic, and I record all our journeys and this certainly has been a life changing one.
We are anxious to get home to our kids and miss them terribly – but I am extremely grateful they have not had to endure all the trauma and details. We are so grateful to my bro and sis law for being here every step of the way. I couldn’t have had better support. We are so grateful for other family and friends for their love, prayers and support. We are so grateful that we were in a place where he got the best medical care possible and had the best (and most compassionate) doctors and nurses.
We are still reeling in shock as to why this happened, but are grateful for second chances. We are so grateful for a kind and loving God that has carried us through this and know that he will continue to do so.