Monday, January 29, 2018
Down But Not Yet Out
[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 1, 2018] ©2018
Sometimes life is truly not fair.
As his 2017 New Year’s resolution, my husband Olof decided that he would celebrate full retirement by getting himself into the absolutely best shape he could be. And with Olof’s signature determination, he began walking two hours a day, swore off his beloved Scotch, eschewed potatoes, rice, and pasta, lost 50 pounds, was able to stop blood pressure medications (BP got too LOW!), bought clothes two sizes smaller, and celebrated the start of 2018 looking and feeling the best he’d felt in at least ten years. Virtue rewarded.
Eight days later, he collapsed from a heart attack. But that’s not even the bad news. It was the brain bleed he sustained when he did a face plant into a heavy piece of furniture on his way to the floor. He also tore the ligaments in his neck, and required a mouthful of stitches.
Even though there is no history of heart disease in Olof’s family (they all die prematurely of cancer) and that he had never had a single twinge of chest pain, I realize now that there was a telltale sign that I will never miss again. We were going to be leaving early the next morning on a trip. I came home at 5:00 p.m. after an afternoon of errands and asked Olof an innocuous travel question. He bit my head off. It was just so uncharacteristic. He’s the most even-tempered guy on the planet.
“I’ve just got some heartburn,” he replied to my query but I saw the wince. Olof never has heartburn. “Would you PLEASE not make a big deal of it?” he continued, seeing my concern. “It’s HEARTBURN.”
There was no way I was getting on a plane with this man in 12 hours without his being checked out in the ER first which I knew would meet with tremendous resistance. In all 53 years I’ve known him, Olof has suffered from chronic undifferentiated SGH (Stubborn German Heritage).
Turned out that this heartburn had been coming and going for three hours but getting steadily worse. So I go into my office to Google "heartburn vs heart attack", not for my sake but hoping to convince my immovable engineer object that an ER visit would be a good idea. Then I heard the crash.
Olof was on the bedroom floor bleeding profusely from his face. The paramedics fortunately got there in four minutes. Olof's blood pressure was 60/30 and he was having a full-on heart attack. One of the paramedics said to me: it was really really good you were home.
Things went from bad to worse in the ambulance and again in the ER where the words “traumatic brain injury” were first mentioned to me.
But I have to say: if you’re going to have a heart attack, go to the new state-of-the-art Prebys Cardiovascular Institute at Scripps. Can’t say enough wonderful things about those folks. Two hours after Olof’s arrival, a stent was in place to open the fully occluded right coronary artery, and he was awash in blood thinners. Which, alas, made his brain bleed worse. Surgery was discussed.
There was a lot of fortunately-cooperative debate between the trauma team and the cardiac team about whose organ should take precedence, with two CT scans a day assessing the bleeding. It's amazing he isn't glowing in the dark. Anti-seizure medication was started as well.
I couldn’t help but cringe at the thought that had this happened hours later when we were on an airplane, or worse, driving on the freeway to our destination, that this would be a different story. The hospital chaplain stopped by and talked about “miracles of timing.” I could definitely get my head around that.
Meanwhile, our bedroom was left looking like a crime scene. I knew it would be really upsetting to Olof to come home to see the contents of his cranium on our bedroom floor. When the carpet cleaning guy arrived, he asked nervously, "What happened in here?" (I think he feared he’d be testifying in one of those True Crime TV shows.) I decided to jettison my story about spilling a barrel of red wine during a bacchanalian orgy gone wrong and just confess. And bless him, he spent almost two hours on the carpet using special chemicals that extract blood. (No wonder Folex didn't work!)
Olof’s advice at this point is that if you’re going to have a heart attack, sit down. My advice: Listen to your wife! (Calling 911 works too.)
The paramedics and the cardiac cath lab and the trauma ICU saved my husband’s life. But it was my neighbors who saved mine. I couldn’t make it up to them if I spent the rest of my life trying.
But note to Olof: now that I know the Crabby Husband Sign, if you ever look at me with so much as a frown again, I’m calling 911. Believe it.
Trauma ICU: Happy to be sitting up in a chair for the first time
Olof found our eight-year-old granddaughter’s beautiful smile incredibly therapeutic
Our new life