Sometimes you’re going along in life feeling like everything is falling into place quite nicely. Things are working out the way you had hoped and life is good. And then something comes along that changes everything. Life is interrupted.
I was two weeks into a new job; excited about it, but overwhelmed by all I had to learn and wondering if maybe I had gotten in over my head. Still, I was anxious to dive in and learn all the new things. The Christmas season was upon us and life was as busy as ever as our family was adjusting to me not being home to tend to their every need. Our schedule was packed with Christmas activities and concerts, computer training (for me), and parties before Christmas break.
Andy told me he was having some weird episodes of feeling like he was close to passing out. They would come and go and seemed to go away when he laid down. I don’t usually like to jump to any serious conclusions, always assuming it’s nothing. I was quick to tell him it was probably stress and he should eat better and exercise, because I like to think I’m an expert in these kinds of things. So over the next week, we went for a run and I pushed him to get his heart pumping and get some good exercise; while at one point he said he was seeing stars. I did tell him to slow down, since I’m not a total monster.
A couple of days later the near-fainting episodes came back and he made an appointment to see a primary care doctor, he doesn’t even really have a specific doctor because his health has been so good. The doctor didn’t see anything too concerning, but his heartbeat seemed irregular and because of his symptoms, she felt it best for him to wear a heart monitor for 24 hours just to see what was going on. She also recommended giving up caffeine for the time being. He picked up the heart monitor on a Thursday, wore it, then turned it back in on a Friday afternoon, all the while feeling back to normal without anymore episodes. The worst feeling for him at that time was the headaches from no coffee.
Andy went in for a follow up with the primary care doctor the following Tuesday. He told the doctor he was actually feeling pretty good. His blood pressure looked normal, the lack-of-caffeine headaches had subsided and all seemed to be well. The doctor said that his heart monitor hadn’t been read yet and should be soon. She said she still felt it best to refer him on to a cardiologist, maybe just a hunch I guess. She also said it was probably fine to have a little coffee, sent us on our way and we went straight for the coffee.
Later that evening I was making a quick dinner, while instructing Coleman on how to iron his shirt for his band concert that night. In the middle of normal family dinner chaos, Andy got a call from the cardiologist.
“Hi Andy, this is Dr. Heyn, a cardiologist from Northwest Hospital. How are you feeling right now?” Dr. Heyn asked.
“Hi, I feel just fine,” Andy replied.
“Anymore tunnel-vision episodes? Light headedness? I’ve been reviewing your heart monitor and it looks very concerning. I’d like you to come to the ER right now to be admitted so that we can run a full cardiology work up on you. Do you have someone to drive you?”
“Like, right this minute? And you want me to spend the night? Yes, my wife can drive me.” Andy looked at me with wide eyes as he spoke, repeating what the doctor was saying, making sure he was hearing her correctly.
He hung up and relayed all that the doctor had said, still in shock. I repeated it all back in disbelief. “So we have to go right now? No concert?”
“She said to go now and she would meet us at the ER,” Andy answered.
I felt the nervousness take over as I finished stirring the pasta. I headed upstairs to call my mom and let her know what was going on and that we would not be at the concert, while Andy filled his parents in. We talked to the kids and arranged for Charlie to get them to and from the concert, although I knew that Andy’s dad would step right in and help get them home afterwards and tucked into bed.
I’ve worked in the medical field off and on for over twenty years. I’m no expert, but I know enough to know that when a doctor calls after office hours, telling you to meet her at the ER and that you will be admitted, it means it’s serious. I tried not to think about all the possibilities and just focused on getting our things together, kissing the kids goodbye and heading to the hospital.
Dr. Heyn met us there, as promised, and was as sweet and concerned as could be. God bless her and the primary care doctor who ordered the heart monitor. Knowing all that we know now, they helped save Andy’s life. She showed us the heart monitor readings. The average person’s heart beats 100,000 times in a 24-hour period and about 38,000 of Andy’s beats were irregular. Dr. Heyn wanted to get to the bottom of why his heart was doing this so that it could be treated properly. She had already consulted with her colleague, another cardiologist who specializes in electrophysiology, the electrical part of the heart.
We sat in the ER for five hours, Andy hooked up to a heart monitor and an IV. Those hours were spent talking, texting family and friends to ask for prayer, and wondering what in the world was happening. After a few hours Andy’s heart really started acting up. Every time his heart rate would go above 100 beats per minute (ventricular tachycardia) the monitor would turn yellow and say non-sustained vt. We learned that this meant that his heart would go up, but not stay up for much longer than five or six beats. But the monitor soon changed to beeping loudly, turning red, and saying sustained vt. The nurse didn’t seem too concerned at first, as Andy didn’t feel terrible, sometimes not even feeling it happen at all. The ER was crazy, with patients on beds in the hallways. It was loud and the staff seemed overwhelmed. We tried not to worry as we waited for a room on the floor. But as time went on, Andy began to feel when the v-tach episodes were happening and he wasn’t feeling good.
In the middle of all of this, I remembered that I was supposed to start my computer training for my new job the next morning. I emailed my boss letting her know that I would not make it for day one of the training, but I would plan on being there for day two and let her know what was going on the next day.
Around midnight we were transferred to a private room. He was put on medication to try to bring his heart rate down and scheduled for an angiogram and echocardiogram the next morning. Once he was all settled, I decided to go back home. The kids were home alone and I hadn’t made plans for the next day yet. I barely slept, with my phone by my bed, just waiting to get a call from the hospital. I woke up the next morning letting the kids know that Daddy was going to get some tests done to find out what was going on and we would probably be home later that day, maybe even by the time they were home from school. I had no idea the ride we were on.