Barely six weeks following the birth of our first child, my husband had a heart attack. It was completely unexpected and occurred just before he was due to go out to sea. It was a scary time and I wrote this not long afterwards. All the tips you ever receive on the hows and whys patients and families react in the face of trauma can in NO way prepare you simply because you are a nurse….
I Hate You, Heart Attack…
I hate you, heart attack.
You robbed us of our lives together without warning or reason.
Like a ferocious storm overtaking a dead calm sea, you snuck in and overwhelmed everything in your path, including the life we had before you.
I hate you heart attack…
You took the man I used to know when you catapulted into our lives like some treacherous blight that couldn’t be quelled. You changed every one and every thing in your path. You trampled all within your boundaries...
Why? Why him and please God, why now?
This morning he saw his baby girl smile for the first time. I remember thinking at that moment that all was supremely well with the world; with us.
I came home that afternoon to an answering machine message instructing me to call the hospital.
“Ma’am, we regretfully inform you that your husband is having a heart attack.” “You need to get here as soon as possible.”
I didn’t believe it.
I thought I must be dreaming.
I dropped the phone.
The baby was in my other arm.
I watched the phone tumble slowly to the floor and all its guts fall out, along with my own.
Or so it seemed.
I called my dad.
I wanted mom and dad to somehow make things right.
All I could do was cry. Heart wrenching wails that poured from the inside out.
I don’t remember the ride to my parent’s house. I do recall making the call to my husbands parents. Somehow I managed not to cry.
But, I did not feel strong.
Later my brother would tell me that he never wanted to hear me cry that way again.
He had heard me over the phone.
Somehow I managed the long ride to the hospital,
Clasping my sister in laws hand all the way, I silently prayed.
We had just buried her husband.
How could we possibly bury her brother too?
My strong vital husband in the ICU seemed suddenly so small.
I beg the nurse to bring the baby in. She says no and then mercifully changes her mind.
I was going in anyway.
The ships Captain is there and most of the crew.
This is not good...
Their eyes face the floor. They see me and there are countless hugs around.
They are trying to be strong for me.
I know I have to be strong for them but I am not feeling strong.
I am just so scared.
A nurse comes in and doesn’t explain anything but she does say,
“Well, I don’t have to explain what’s going on since you’re a nurse.”
I surprise myself by gathering enough strength to say loudly and passionately enough so everyone knows, “I am SO not a nurse today!”
The explain everything they do after that.
My husband tells me not to cry.
I can’t help it.
I bring our baby in for him to see. I make him touch her. She smiles her second smile for daddy.
I want him to be strong for her.
I want him to be there for her.
I want him to be there for me.
Please God, don’t let him die!
I can’t do this all alone.
I HATE you heart attack!
Later, after the hospital, we can’t figure out what to say to each other.
We don’t know how to act.
I am afraid to leave the baby with him in case it happens again.
We are so confused that I finally break down and yell,
“I don’t know how I am supposed to be!”
I hate you heart attack.
You are worse than a thief.
You raped our lives together.
I know I should be grateful but all I am is mad.
You left someone who used to rush home to pick me up to go see magnificent sunsets.
Now we don’t rush anywhere...
He is winded.
He is scared.
So am I.
He doesn’t say it but I know he is afraid.
I feel as though we are adrift in a stormy sea with no lifeboats.
We have to ride the storm, or perish.
How could you do such a vicious thing? And why?
We’re drifting dangerously apart and I don’t know what to do about it.
Sometimes I feel as though we’ll never get back.
This man no longer wants me or talks with me and I can’t fix it.
Ironic, since I am the nurse who elicits conversation from everyone.
I’m so very sad.
Sometimes I feel defeated.
But, I won’t let YOU win, heart attack.
I won’t let you take me too, because I love him more than I hate you.
I miss my husband, my sweet, creative, proud, funny, sexy loving husband.
The one who sent me flowers for no reason and for every reason, who made me feel beautiful, wrote me love letters and touched me passionately and often.
I’m searching on the surface of a selfish thought but I can’t help it because we had our baby and then we had you and now,
I’M the one with the broken heart.
As a nurse I thought I could handle just about anything. There is that involved but detached manner in which we learn to handle sad or traumatic news delivered to our patients, their families and even our colleagues. Nothing prepared me for the absolute fear and grief I faced when my husband was unexpectedly felled with an MI.
While in the ICU it both floored and fractured me that his nurse just assumed that because I was also a nurse, I would know what was going on or wouldn’t need an explanation. All these years later I realize her discomfort level probably rested on an attempt to establish a rapport or dialogue with me to ease my pain. Although I always make an effort (or so I thought at the time) to treat everyone as equally as possible, this incident with my husbands illness forced me to see that I too on some level assumed that because a patient or family member was in the medical profession, they somehow could be spared the bulk of the information because they were already aware. That, I determined, is a gigantic myth.
The nurse I personally chastised by insisting I was not a nurse that day was immediately apologetic and I am certain, as all we nurses do, learned a similar lesson that day.
Now when I have a doctor, nurse or medical employee as a patient or the family member of one, I am up front about informing them that I intend to explain procedures, teaching and anything we will do along the way. I also acknowledge that I respect their experience and expertise but that intense experiences, such as labor and delivery in my case, can certainly be distracting. Usually I notice a sense of relief when I make that statement. That doesn’t surprise me because I know how I felt when my husband was facing life and death issues and the staff concluded that I knew what was going on because in my distant past I was an ICU nurse. If I could pass that important tip along to nurses experiencing the other side of the spectrum either as patients or loved ones of same ,that would be my number one not so obvious tidbit of wisdom.:heartbeat
Written by….Martha, RN