Worst Mother’s Day on Record

Seriously, we experienced the worst Mother’s Day ever this year!

Mama wanted to go to Disney’s Ft. Wilderness, so Papa took some time off of work so we could spend five days camping and going to the parks.

We’d yet to go to any of the Disney water parks, although our pass included both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Papa and the boys wanted to go to a water park, so we decided to give one a try and opted for Blizzard Beach.

The second day at Ft. Wilderness is when we went to Blizzard Beach. It was in the middle of the week and and we figured it wouldn’t be very busy. However, it was extremely hot: the temps topped out at 103 that day! And the pavement in the park is hot and didn’t have any sprayers to provide relief to the feet. Ouch!

The first thing we decided to attempt was a trip to the top-most point, where several water slides began, and we opted for the ski lift.

…which then got stuck…for half an hour…while we were on it…in 100+-degree heat…with no water or shade!

We were all miserable and dehydrated when we got off, not to mention starving. We didn’t stick around much longer after, between the heat, some slides being closed for renovation, and just not being impressed with the small park.

Not a good start to the Mother’s Day week.

We had other hiccups throughout the week and weekend, which resulted in it just being a rough trip altogether.

We checked out Sunday, on Mother’s Day, and decided to stop at a restaurant for lunch (moms ate free) before driving another hour home.

We got home, parked, and proceeded to go about our routine of unpacking a few things before backing the rig in next to the house.

Mama had left her cell phone in the truck during this, next to Papa’s cell phone, and finally noticed she had missed a call and a text message from her brother. She decided to call him back later, but then her phone rang again.

He was in hysterics.

Their dad — who has always been healthy, was a healthy eater, and was in no way overweight — had suddenly suffered a massive heart attack!

Their mom and dad were still at their homestead deep in the woods on Florida’s west coast, where they spend every weekend, when he started feeling sick and started throwing up. Then he got the classic heartburn feeling, that tingling and pain down his left arm, and overall feeling of malaise. Their mom had called 911, and just as the paramedics pulled into view, he went out. Completely.

It was still a couple of minutes before the paramedics were at their home and began CPR, and then they had to use the defibrillator. He came to and was screaming in pain and started vomiting again.

That’s when she called Mama’s brother, who was at his home two hours south of them, to let him know what was going on and asked that he call his sister.

Mama lost it. She is, in every way, Daddy’s girl. She is just like him and they are extremely close.

When she finally got her senses about again she called her mom. Her dad was just being loaded into the paramedic and they were just leaving for the hospital…30 minutes away. Nobody knew if he would live.

Mama, Papa, and the boys quickly grabbed some more clothes and cat food, closed and locked up the house again, and hit the road, with June still in tow.

We arrived at the hospital almost 4 hours later, and Mama kept in contact with her mom and brother on the phone en route. Her dad had another heart attack at the hospital and required the defibrillator again. He was immediately wheeled into surgery for an emergency cardiac catheterization…where it was determined he had 3 blockages, one that was 100%. An angioplasty was performed and he got two stents. (He received a third stent the next day.) When we finally arrived at the hospital (four hours away) and saw him, his speech was slurred and he was in and out of sleep. His chest was in immense pain — a result of the heart attacks, the CPR compressions, and the two defibrillator shocks — but despite it all he tried desperately to keep everyone’s spirits up and maintain a light sense of humor.

We”camped” in the parking lot that first night — not that Mama got much sleep — and the next day his speech and cognition were already improved. He was scheduled for the third stent, and we were all informed his blockages were all severe: one at 100% and two at 90%.

He was very lucky to be alive. We all were!

Once we knew when his procedure would be, Mama’s brother stayed with their mom at the hospital while we ran June to their homestead to set up for a long stay. Then we returned to the hospital, and his procedure was again successful.

Mama’s brother returned home the next day because he was fighting a bug of some sort and didn’t want to risk their father getting sick. We stuck around. Mama even took her mom back home at one point so she could shower and get some clothes, and then they worked to try to clean up the house because there was so much evidence of what had happened…and nobody wanted nor needed to relive it.

We also made the four-hour drive back home one day during the week so Papa could get some things squared away with work and pick up his work laptop, that way he could work from Mama’s parents’ homestead, and to get some other things we’d need in order to stay with them to help them through this ordeal.

Mama’s dad was discharged in the middle of the week and they returned to their homestead, as opposed to going back home two hours south in the city, where their primary home and place of work are located. It was easier for him to recover there and they weren’t yet able to make the long drive south.

That Friday we drove down to see Papa’s parents, which was a trip already planned, to celebrate their birthdays. On Saturday Mama got a phone call from her mom, who said she was taking her dad back to the hospital because his pain was still bad and his breathing and breathlessness were, in no way, improving. Another phone call followed and Mama was told that her dad now had congestive heart failure.

We left Papa’s parents the same afternoon to return to the hospital…another four-hour drive. When we got there he was still in the ER and they were waiting for a room to become available for him. He was to be started on antibiotics because there was a concern he was developing pneumonia, and he was on a form of diuretic to try to get rid of the fluid that was now around his heart. Papa then took Mama’s mom back home so she could again pack an overnight bag, while Mama stayed with her dad in the ER.

He was finally admitted into a room…and was already breathing and talking better than when he had first arrived. We also found out he did not have pneumonia but was fighting off some kind of viral infection that just had to run its course. He was still going to be there for a couple more nights though to watch his heart and pain.

The next day (Sunday) we had plans to go to Animal Kingdom to preview their new exhibit and world Pandora, which we had scheduled for months, but in light of what had taken place we weren’t too sure about going. However, Mama’s parents insisted we still go, if for no other reason but to give the boys a much-deserved break because they’d been pulled every which direction and had been behaving and putting up with everything beautifully. We did end up going, but only because we knew he was still going to be in the hospital and would be watched carefully. We made plans to return to the hospital on Monday (we’d go back home Sunday night, take care of a few things, and then go back Monday afternoon).

Before we even made it back Monday, Mama’s dad was being discharged from the hospital! He developed no pneumonia, so he was taken off the antibiotics, and the fluid around his heart was going away. His breathing and voice were returning to normal, and overall he was feeling better.

We stayed all week, helping with house chores, taking care of any shopping, and going with them to his first followup with the cardiac surgeon that had performed the catheterization, angioplasty, and stents. Mama finally got to shake hands with the man who saved her dad’s life.

Mama’s parents were able to return to the city that weekend, but her dad was informed to not return to his full job for several months. Her parents work in construction and he’s usually outside for hours on end every day, as part of his job. He was restricted to only his desk-job and administrative portion until he received a full bill of health again, which won’t be for about three months. He will have several exams and tests to go through over the next few months, as well as full cardiac rehabilitation that he will need to complete to rebuild his heart.

Without a doubt, this was the worst Mother’s Day any of us had been through. On the flip side, however, Mama’s dad has been informed that he’s now healthier than he was before his heart attack. Nobody saw it coming, but it did and at least it happened when he was neither alone nor driving.

He’s only 59. Mama’s parents just celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary in February.

What he had is known as the Widow Maker. Many do not survive this kind of heart attack.

He was lucky. We were lucky. And again, it was another blessing in disguise. Now he knows he needs to watch his cholesterol and sodium intake even more, and he is now healthier than before that dreadful day.

Mama and her dad are very close. There’s no denying that. Now they have more in common: they were both admitted into the hospital for heart conditions this year (neither related, though), they have matching scars on their right wrist from where they had a cardiac catheterization performed, and they each have a cardiologist.

Mama joked with him about one in the family with a heart condition being more than enough, and he joked right back saying he’d heard it was so much fun that he just had to experience it for himself.

It’s safe to say that love and humor are necessary to make it through this game called Life.

 

Hiccup of the Heart

And just like that, our new year was off to a rough start…

Mama ‘Skiy has been been considered a poster child of health. She’s always been active, she doesn’t let things get to her, and she always has a positive outlook.

Well, on January 9 she ended up in the hospital.

Long story short, she was diagnosed with “anxiety disorder” in 2001, and at the time it was determined a hormonal imbalance due to oral contraceptives was the cause. Ever since then she has had “anxiety” attacks and symptoms, which would occur out of the blue and for no reason: difficulty breathing, dizziness, tightness of the chest, racing heartbeats, skipped heartbeats…

In the days leading up to January 9, she had felt out of sorts. She would feel exhausted thoughout the day, despite a lot of sleep. She would wake up some mornings feeling as though she’d run a marathon all night, regardless she had slept 8-10 hours. Then she would experience palpitations that would leave her scared and in pain.

That particular day, though, she was feeling especially tired. Then every couple of hours she would have a heart palpitation. Around 4:00 that afternoon she was standing by the kitchen sink when she had an incredibly strong and painful heart palpitation that left her dizzy, nearly made her pass out, and left part of her vision gone. She lost her peripheral vision and her tunnel vision was extremely fuzzy. After about 15 minutes of this she called Papa ‘Skiy home from work and he took her to the hospital.

She’d never before experienced anything like this.

Mind you, Mama ‘Skiy had been to the hospital twice a year since 2013 because her palpitations had gotten worse and her breathlessness and near-fainting spells terrified her. However, every time she would get examined, she’d go through a series of tests that showed nothing was wrong and she would leave the hospital having been reprimanded for not taking anti-anxiety medication, especially since she’d had a history of “panic attacks,” which had to be the problem. After all, she was “too young” for there to be anything seriously wrong with her and a full cardiac workup in 2013, complete with a 24-hour holter monitor and an exercise stress test, showed her heart with just fine.

So we arrived at the ER and couldn’t find a parking space. None. Nothing at all. Frustrated and knowing the nurses and doctor would just send her home with a clean bill of health, Mama told Papa to just go home. We left and a few minutes later something told Mama we needed to go back to the hospital. So Papa turned around and this time we found a parking space.

She checked in at the ER counter and we waited in the waiting room…for an hour and a half. Her symptoms got worse and new ones appeared: muffled hearing, excruciating pain in the back between the shoulderblades, discomfort in her left jaw and arm… Papa grew impatient and kept asking for her to be seen.

When she was finally called back by the triage nurse, Mama did something she’d not done before when she went to the ER: she refrained from telling the staff about her “anxiety disorder.” Suddenly, everyone took her seriously. Nobody rolled their eyes at her or asked why she wasn’t on medication.

Soon after triage, she was taken to an exam room. She was changed into a hospital gown, examined, got a chest X-ray and was hooked up for a quick EKG, and had blood drawn. Mama and Papa were informed it would take a couple of hours before the results would arrive, so they decided Papa would take the boys home and they would wait there. We felt there was no reason for everyone to just sit around and wait. M ‘Skiy was heading for the exam room door, ready to leave, and D ‘Skiy was right behind him. Papa gave Mama a kiss and was holding her hand, when suddenly Mama felt odd…and then blacked out.

The machines started screaming.

Mama had flatlined. Her eyes were still open, but her heart had stopped.

Papa ran out of the room for help. Soon a tech started CPR on Mama, several nurses came to the room, and a crash cart was being wheeled in, nearly running the boys over.

After more than 12 seconds, Mama suddenly woke up. The defibrillator pads had been put on her but the machine had not been hooked up to her yet.

The first thing she saw was Papa’s panic-stricken face. Confused, she looked around and asked what had happened. Randomly, one of the many new faces in the room answered with, “You just earned yourself a pacemaker.”

She looked back at Papa and he explained what had taken place. She remembered holding his hand and feeling dizzy and nauseated, then she remembered her vision going black, and she also remembered hearing a bunch of noise before she could finally see again.

Her chest was also in a lot of pain, and when she commented on that the tech that had revived her said he had to perform CPR and the chest compressions resulted in the pain.

Soon, Papa was on the phone with Mama’s parents, explaining what had happened, and then Mama spoke to them, shaking uncontrollably and in tears.

She ended up getting more blood drawn and going through more tests. Then she was tranferred to ICU, mostly for observation.

Mama’s parents and brother made the three-hour trip across the state to see her and take care of our boys. There was no way to know how long she’d be hospitalized or what would happen next, so they wanted to be nearby and took care of the boys for the week.

The cardiologist on call that night ordered tests for any and every possible cause as to why her heart had stopped: proteins, Lyme disease, electrolyte imbalance, dehydration… Everything. Over the course of two days she had dozens of vials of blood taken.

After weighing every option, listening to multiple expert opinions, doing research, and every imaginable test result coming up negative, there was only a cardiac catheterization left to perform. We consented to either whatever surgery would be deemed necessary if the catherization showed a problem or a pacemaker implantation.

In the afternoon of January 11, Mama was taken to the OR for the cardiac catheterization. Everything looked fine: the structure of the heart was strong and healthy, there was no scar tissue or damage, and there were no blackages of any type. No heart surgery was necessary.

The only thing left was the implant of the pacemaker.

And fortunately, that went smoothly.

And it was at that point when the defibrillator pads she had received in the ER two days prior could finally be removed.

She spent the night in her ICU room recovering from the procedure. The next day she was transferred to a recovery room on another floor, and she was finally discharged the evening of January 12.

At 36 years old, just two months before turning 37 — which happens to be tomorrow — she received a pacemaker. And she’ll need one for the rest of her life.

It has taken her awhile to accept that she did not do and could not have done anything to cause or prevent this from happening. Her natural pacemaker — the sinoatrial node — no longer works properly. And the problem is congenital. She was born with it, did not receive it from her parents, and can’t pass it down to our sons. It was just a matter of time before it gave out.

It’s been a rough two months, recovering from the procedure altogether, needing to limit the use of her left arm for a month, and then using and exercising the arm again to regain her strength and full range of motion of the joint… It was especially difficult for her to depend on others for things we’d otherwise take for granted: getting dressed, showering, going to the bathroom…

Yes, it sucks. But it could be worse. She could not have listened to her body. Papa ‘Skiy could have not come home from work and taken her to the ER. She could have told the ER staff about her so-called “anxiety disorder,” resulting in them not taking her symptoms¬†seriously. We could have been complacent and figured nothing to be wrong, because, after all, the medical experts had told her for years she was healthy, too young, and that it was all in her head.

This could have happened sometime during the cross-country three-month trip! Perhaps on the snowy trail high up in the mountains of Alaska, on the path in the evergreen forest in Washington, touring the isolated and wooded battlegrounds in Virginia.

It could have happened while she was driving our sons along the interstate or to a park in the town we live, causing a dangerous and potentially fatal automobile accident.

There are a lot of things that could have happened. But they didn’t. She was in the right place, at the right time.

So now she has a dual-chambered pacemaker that we’ve named Thumper Jumper, or TJ. He’s doing his job well, as she can feel him kick on every now and then. It’s been more than two months now and she hasn’t felt this well in years. Not weeks, not months;¬†years! Lo and behold, her “anxiety” symptoms were actually early warning signs of her problem with the sinoatrial node. It was just easier — and made more sense — to diagnose her with anxiety disorder, when in reality she has what’s known as Sick Sinus Syndrome, or SSS.

Listen to your body. Pay close attention to how you feel and what that little voice inside your head tells you.

Medical professionals may be just that, but it is called the “practice of medicine” for a reason. And it doesn’t matter how long they went to school for or have practiced in their field. Nobody knows your body like you do.

After all, you’ve known and lived with it your entire life.