Code Blue: The Trauma of Watching My Husband Die (Part 2)

Note: To read Part 1 of this post, please click HERE.

It was a quick ride from the airport to the hospital. I shook my head to rid the thought that this was my 4th ambulance ride. It’s no wonder sirens always take my breath away. Tom was stable, and that was the only thing that mattered.

We arrived at the hospital and I waited alone in a small room while they settled Tom and ran some tests. About an hour later, they brought me to his new room.

I felt cold all over and couldn’t stop shaking; my anxiety was extreme. Tom was still his happy-go-lucky self and his positive attitude helped prevent more anxiety build. That false sense of hope I had earlier reminded me that anything can happen at any time and just because he seemed okay in that moment didn’t mean a thing.

The nurse informed us that the cardiologist would be doing an angiogram that morning, but we weren’t given a time. I sat beside Tom and we waited in silence listening to the beating of his heart through the monitor.

I couldn’t take my eyes off my husband who looked like a human pin cushion. He was hooked up to 6 IVs and was still having a heart attack. I paid careful attention to his heart monitor and he would often hear an extra beat. Every time his heart beat extra, mine would skip a few and I’d hold my breath. I’d ask him if he was okay and he would reassure me that he was fine. My stomach was in knots and I needed constant reassurance that he was okay.

Suddenly, his heart monitor sang; 2 cardiologists and 2 nurses rushed into his room with a defibrillator. They were very concerned, and I panicked once more. Tom’s heart had skipped a bunch of beats, but he was awake and the monitor settled. They decided to leave the defibrillator “just in case.”

It was his parents 50th Wedding Anniversary and they were out of town celebrating. Tom asked me to wait until after his angiogram, once we knew what was happening, before calling his parents. I agreed to call them once we knew something, and dreaded ruining their big day.

They finally wheeled Tom into surgery at 11:30 am. They told me they would be gone for an hour, but not to panic if they weren’t back in an hour as sometimes it takes longer. I kissed my husband goodbye and told him I’d be with him, and pointed to my heart. “I love you so much!!!”

The wait was agonizing and I watched every minute pass on the clock on the hospital room wall. I was still freezing and couldn’t stop shivering. I texted with my mom to try to distract and pass time. An hour passed and he still hadn’t returned. He finally returned 15 minutes later.

They found a blockage in the part of his heart that is responsible for the rhythm of the heart, which is why his heart was skipping beats and why he felt flutters in his chest before the heart attack. The blockage was between 90-100%; like a flap, it would block (Tom would be in pain) then the blockage would open allowing blood to rush through. We were told this intermittency may have saved his heart a lot of damage. They removed the blockage and put a stent in, but Tom wasn’t out of the woods just yet. He continued to have flutters in his chest.

I stayed by Tom’s side for the rest of the day and felt a strong need to touch him. I lay the opposite side of his bed and held his hand. I got him water and ice and anything else I could do for him. I just wanted to be helpful and make sure he knew how much I love him.

I was fearful of leaving his side. I didn’t even want to go downstairs for food, but eventually I had to force myself.

I left home with the clothes on my back, my wallet, phone and a charger. I needed food, my allergies were bad, and I was still battling severe anxiety. I tried to eat a sandwich but the food went right through me. My friend Claudia came that evening with some food, drinks, deodorant, toothbrush and a magazine. It was so nice to see a familiar face. She offered me a place to sleep but I wasn’t ready to leave Tom’s side.

The night nurse told us that overnight guests aren’t allowed but she brought in a chair that reclines so I would have a place to sleep. I wrapped myself in blankets and shivered all night. My allergies weren’t subsiding and I couldn’t sleep. I listened to Tom’s heart monitor as I lay awake, thoughts swirling in my head. He would snore a bit but would wake startled a few moments later. His heart would occasionally have a few extra beats. I would look over and make sure he was okay every single time.

I was so scared to lose him.

In the morning, he explained to me that he was afraid to close his eyes. He didn’t want to die again. The feeling he had before coding was wanting to fall asleep and he was at peace, but he wasn’t ready to stop living this life. He was afraid that if he closed his eyes, he would never open them again.

They moved Tom to another room and I wasn’t able to stay the night. Claudia picked me up and I really struggled to leave Tom’s side. The separation anxiety was strong and I felt as though I was leaving a piece of myself behind. I held tears back and focused on my breath as we drove away from the hospital, away from my husband.

While we drove, I called home to check on my kids. When we got to Claudia’s apartment, I struggled to say a word. I felt like I was drowning in sorrow. I was finally in a place where I could feel these negative emotions as I didn’t have to hide them from Tom. I couldn’t hold it back anymore and sobbed.

“I almost lost my husband. We got married 3 weeks ago and my husband almost died. He DID die and he came back! I am so scared!!!!”

My friend tried to comfort me. “I don’t know what to say.” I told her: “Don’t say anything, just be here!”

I slept beside her on the couch that night, terrified to be alone. My anxiety as so strong that was shaking; I literally shook the couch.

The next morning, Claudia found some clothes for me to wear and drove me to the hospital.

Tom was able to leave the hospital floor so we sat outside to get some fresh air. The hospital was blocking the solar eclipse that was occurring on the other side. The warm air nourished our battered souls.

We were hopeful to be heading home but due to the flutters and how severe the heart attack was, the cardiologist wanted to keep him again for observation. Claudia picked me up and I stayed with her again. She washed my clothes for me so I’d have something clean to go home in. I slept in her bed alone that night.

Tom was discharged the next day. The cardiologist came to see us and explained that Tom’s heart was stunned and would be functioning at a 3 or 4, but expected his heart to be at an 8, 9 or 10 at his follow-up appointment in 6 weeks. He explained that this type of heart attack typically doesn’t have symptoms and happens in your sleep. Known as a “widow-maker,” it’s the kind of heart attack that you go to sleep and don’t wake up from. The blockage was located at the top of the heart, which cut off blood to the rest of the heart and typically causes irreversible damage. Tom was not showing signs of heart failure and he was hopeful that damage would be minimal. We wouldn’t know for sure until his follow-up in 6 weeks.

Tom read as much as he could about his condition, the type of heart attack he had, and cardiac arrest. I struggled to read or talk about it as it would upset my stomach. I was suffering from severe anxiety and remained off work for weeks as I adjusted to a new normal, once more. I would wake up frequently in a panic and would have to make sure Tom was breathing. The effects of stress were obvious; I was sleep deprived and was shedding pounds quickly.

Six weeks later, we attended his follow-up appointment. We were informed that there was no permanent damage to Tom’s heart. It was a miracle!

We struggled together and separately through the aftermath of what happened. We were both experiencing the after-affects of trauma, but from different perspectives. It was challenging for him to understand how deeply I was affected by his near-death, but I needed to process what happened and allow myself to experience the feelings that came along with it. I worked through this independently to protect my husband from unnecessary guilt. His health may have been the cause of suffering for us both, but we stood together in the aftermath and held each other up as we both healed.

Although it took us months to recover from this, I am thankful that we were able to come together in our experience and fears and are now stronger as a result. Love truly has the power to conquer all. I will never take this man for granted and am grateful for every day we have together.

#LoveHeals

Never Ready to Say Goodbye

She was 88 years old and still independent. final 26It’s the only way she knew how to be. She woke up that morning and drank her coffee like any other day. She washed her laundry as she did every Saturday, then had her shower and folded her laundry.

While she followed her daily routine, my mother, sister and I went to a celebration of life in honour of our dear friend’s father who suffered a massive heart attack while he was singing in church. We decided to make the most of the trip and stopped for supper. Shining across my plate was a delicate rainbow, a reflection from my water glass, a gentle reminder that our loved ones are always with us.

final 19Moments after we arrived home, a loud urgent knocking at the door startled my mother and sent her running to me in a panic. “Nonna collapsed in church and my car won’t start!” Before I could even think, I grabbed my phone, purse and car keys and we were gone.

Just like every Saturday night, Nonna went to church. It was more than her place of worship; it was her sanctuary. We were told she was out of breath when she walked in, sat in her regular seat, then gently closed her eyes. The priest intuitively knew something was amiss and when he asked a kind man to check on her, she was already gone.

Nonna was in the ambulance when we arrived and as I witnessed the paramedic performing CPR on her, I refused to believe what I knew in my heart to be true. Nonna joined Bella that night. We were told it was a massive heart attack. It felt like a replay of what happened to my friend’s father the week before.

final 23Nonna was more than a grandmother to me. She was an important part of my immediate family and was included in everything we did. She attended every celebration and gathering at our home. She loved coming to visit and was so grateful when we would surprise her with a visit too.

She and Bella had a very special bond which developed before Bella was born. I really wanted Nonna to be at Bella’s birth, and although she didn’t make it in time, she did accompany me to my last ultrasound. Nonna had never witnessed an obstetric ultrasound before and it was an honour to share that sacred moment with her.

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After Bella was born, Nonna was my saving grace. She would drive down to my home, park in the driveway and my kids would get excited as soon as they saw her walk up to the house. Nonna was Bella’s favourite person. She called her “Bis” and  would fetch Nonna’s slippers from the closet and greet her at the door ready to place them on her feet. Nonna would entertain the kids while I cleaned up after supper and washed dishes. We would visit and play, then she would rock Bella while I put Hudson to sleep. I would take over from Nonna once Hudson was settled and she would see herself out. This was our routine for many months, until the tragic day we lost Bella.

final 20I will never forget Nonna’s reaction that day, the shock and horror. I will never forget how she begged God to take her instead. The memory brings tears to my eyes and is something that terrified me as I was deathly afraid of losing someone else I loved. That fear is what forced me to be strong as I believed my family would get through the tragedy as long as they knew I would be okay. Except Nonna was never the same after that day. A piece of her died along with my daughter. She lost her spark, her love of life, and hope for the future.

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I have seen that spark return for brief moments, but her essence has never been the same. I know she is now where she’s wanted to be for the last 4.5 years.

My best friend, who is a medium, began communicating with Bella shortly after she passed. The following is from a letter she wrote to me where Bella described Nonna’s transition to heaven:

 

“She shows me Nonna Bis leaving this world but not in the immediate future. She shows me a man’s shadow calling Bella’s name and saying ‘okay it is time.’ Bella is playing and she is shadowed too. She grabs the man’s hand that I get is your Nonno’s presence. They walk toward a bright light. They are holding hands and they just wait. Then Nonna Bis slowly comes into sight in an illuminating white light and smiles. img_8621 2I see her approach the man and Bella and the first words she says are “What took you so long?” The man kind of chuckles giving of a sense of ‘well it’s not up to me when you get here’ so to speak. Nonna takes Bella’s other hand and they walk into the light.”

You will never be ready to say goodbye to someone you love, but this image brings great comfort.

Nonno was 88 years old when he passed, the same age as Nonna; they both passed on the 12th day of the month. I’m not sure what it means but I don’t believe in coincidences.

Now I grieve once more as I mourn the loss of my Grandmother, Nonna Bis.

Rest in Pease Nonna Bis. Please take care of my baby girl.

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Code Blue: The Trauma of Watching My Husband Die (Part 1)

Our wedding day was magical, like a scene from a fairy tale. How could I possibly know that 3 short weeks later, I would stand on the sidelines as I watched my husband die right before my eyes.

After our wedding, we went away for 3 days, just the two of us. It was a great trip, but something didn’t feel right to me. I began to experience anxiety about my husband’s health. There was nothing to trigger it; he was perfectly fine. We both thought I was just paranoid.

It all began a week after we got home. I was at work when I received a text from him saying: “Don’t panic, but I’m on my way to the hospital.” Anxiety had been building inside me for a week and as I read those words, I felt it erupt. I could no longer see clearly and wasn’t able to read the rest of the message. I stood in the middle of the street unable to find my car keys when my boss offered to have someone drive me to the hospital.

There he was, laying in the same room my daughter laid when the medical staff tried so hard to bring her back to life. I pushed the flashback aside and saw that Tom looked absolutely fine, but something was going on with his heart and we wouldn’t know what was wrong until he could get an appointment with his cardiologist. We waiting on pins and needles as I treated him delicately, as though he were made glass. His symptoms would come and go. I couldn’t eat and couldn’t sleep because I was absolutely terrified that something would happen to him.

And then it did.

A week later, it was just before midnight and we were settling into bed when he got up to use the washroom. I couldn’t shake the heavy feeling that came over me. Then he rushed back in and said: “We need to go to the the hospital. NOW!!!” I jumped up and threw clothes on as quickly as I could while my legs struggled to support my weight. I grabbed my purse, my phone, and a phone charger thinking it may come in handy. My mother was 6 hours away so I told my father he needed to come NOW and stay with our kids because we needed to leave. “I think Tom is having a heart attack!”

Tom was brought in by ambulance and I followed behind. We were back in that same hospital room. He was in a lot of pain and nothing was helping. His blood pressure dropped and they needed to stabilize him. He seemed calm for a moment and we were alone when he suddenly sat up and said he could feel a wave of pain coming. “Go get someone!!!” His heart monitor began to go wild and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

When you have experienced a trauma and sudden loss, you understand that bad things can happen at any time and know that people die. “I can’t lose him too… It can’t end like this… The Universe can’t be this cruel. I CAN’T LOSE HIM TOO!!!!”

I backed myself into the corner and was petrified. My heart and brain were fighting; my heart told me to be at his side so he knew he wasn’t alone, but my head screamed at me to stay out of the way! I knew the scene I was witnessing was traumatizing me and I tried to stare at the floor. There was a flashing blue light behind me and the words “code blue” were relating over and over on the speaker. I felt as though I were outside of my body as I watched helplessly as my husband died.

My legs were too weak and I couldn’t stand up. I was on my hands and knees and couldn’t breathe. So many nurses piled into the room, all standing around my husband as they pumped air into his lungs and tried to get his heart beating again.

A nurse brought me to another room, the same room I sat in when I was told Bella was gone. Tears streaming down my face, I pleaded with the nurse: “I can’t lose him too…” I was in shock and my fingers were frozen stiff. The nurse called my niece to come so I wasn’t alone.

Tom’s heart stopped for 2 minutes, but it felt like an eternity passed by. I lived in a world without my husband for 2 whole minutes. Even though he came back to his body, Tom was in serious condition and time was not on our side.

He needed to get to another hospital where they could perform an angiogram to locate the blockage in his heart. Thankfully the medical team were able to stabilize him so he could make the trip. I was relieved that I was able to fly with him and our first plane ride together was by air ambulance. I was a 3.5 hour drive from home with nothing but the clothes on my back, my purse, cell phone and charger, and most importantly, my husband! I was not going to leave his side.

(To be continued…)

To read Part 2, please click HERE.

We Made History This Week!!!

I was recently approached by the editor of the Canadian Medical Journal of Sonography who asked to include my story, The Ultrasound Miracle in the journal. This is the first time in the history of the journal that they included a story from a patient. So here it is, my miracle, on the cover of the journal! And here is my story, officially in print in a medical journal which will be read by sonographers all over the country! It was a pretty incredible feeling to see my sonogram photo (or as I see it, a photo of my two daughters) on the cover of a medical journal. It’s pretty amazing that my story will reach the medical community in this way. I hope my story touches many more people and opens them up to a new reality where love never dies.

Journal cover and article © 2018 Canadian Journal of Medical Sonography

The Healing Power of a Mother’s Love

It breaks my heart that my 6 year old son knows so much about death. Tonight he was playing innocently with his Legos asking questions about “Baby Carl” (his nickname for his new sibling). I would expect normal questions about birth and where babies come from. It may not be “normal” for children to ask about babies and death, but his questions did not surprise me.

The other night we were driving home from dance class and Hudson asked me how Baby will come out of Mommy’s belly. I admit that I wasn’t prepared for him to ask such a question (as I’m sure all parents feel when it inevitably comes up). I took a deep breath and answered him the only way I know how. Honestly!

What I find surprising is that the abnormal questions my son asks that are related to the trauma our family has endured are the ones I find easiest to answer. Discussions about grief and death are now second nature. And as always, when these questions are asked, I answer my 6 year old with pure and wholehearted honesty.

A child should not fear what may happen if his sibling dies before he/she is born… But mine does. He should not worry about what will happen if Mommy dies before the Baby is born, and what would happen to Baby if Mommy’s heart stopped beating. I reassure him that everything will be alright and these things won’t happen. Yet, as experience has taught me, bad things DO happen and CAN happen at any time.

I consciously choose to be open with my son about death because I know that by helping him understand, I am helping him cope. Unanswered questions often leads to fear. By answering his questions, I am helping him feel safe. By answering honestly, I am establishing trust. Thankfully it’s rare that a child sees his sibling die. But mine did. And I am coping with it the only way I know how.

Some people have warned our family to be careful what we expose the children to, that what they see or hear may traumatize them. Others have told me not to cry in front of my son. But what I have learned is that there is nothing more healing than LOVE and honesty. Yes, there are things you should protect your child from, but it’s necessary to be open to the healing powers of LOVE. We allowed the children to say goodbye to Bella, and seeing her didn’t cause harm because they were prepared for what they would see. Crying in front of my son teaches him that it’s okay to be sad. Communicate with your children and build that trust. Because a bit of LOVE and honesty go a long way.image

We Are Having A Rainbow!

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Our Family ❤️

No amount of time could have prepared me for this moment. I don’t think I will ever feel ready to embark on this journey. But it has begun. It’s real. And there is no going back.

The instant that double line appears, a million thoughts begin to flood your mind. In the chaos of emotions, you sort through all your wishes and fears. You feel excitement, bliss, anxiety and panic all at the same time.

Is it too soon? Am I ready? How can this be happening? How will Hudson take the news? What this affect the rest of the family?

A rainbow appears at the end of a storm. The term “rainbow baby” is given to a child conceived after the loss of a child.

We are having a RAINBOW!!!!
#StayStrong❤️

Bella has been a busy angel❤️👼

Bella has been a busy angel❤️👼

Photo credit: Kate Demore Photography