Thursday, June 9, 2016

Another life-changing event

What a week. On Saturday, while out shopping at garage sales with my daughter and her 3 children, I received a call from my husband.

"I'm sorry to bother you," he started. 

He sounded awful and my stomach dropped. Oh no, I thought, someone else has died. "What's wrong?" I asked.

"I'm going to the hospital. I'm having a heart attack."

My own heart stopped for a moment when I heard those words. "I'll be right there." I turned and told my daughter, who quickly whisked the kids into the van. We strapped them into their car seats and she headed toward the hospital. "I think I'm going to throw up," I said.

* * *

I grew up in a home where the term 'heart attack' was quite common. My 45-year-old father had his first 2 major heart attacks when I was just 7. Doctors gave him the dire prognosis that he had only 5 years, at most, to live. Life changed in my household. A sage doctor refused to give my 38-year-old mother medicine for her nerves. Rather, she gave her advice: "Go out and get a job. Get your driver's license and do everything you can to provide for your 3 daughters after he's gone." And that's just what my mother did. I was a latchkey kid long before the term was invented.

My dad survived 11 more heart attacks in the following 18 years. He died, presumably of his 14th heart attack on Mother's Day, 1982; one month before I gave birth to a little girl, whose birthday happens to be today. My childhood and teen years were full of ambulances and hospital visits. It was so much the norm for me that, as a young adult living 250 miles from home, I would hear a siren and think Dad was on his way to the hospital again. Like I said, heart attacks were the norm for us.

Perhaps that's why my husband's recent heart attack has me reeling. Yes, thank God, it was a mild one. Just like the one in February 2015. He's home now and going to be fine. But I'm still shaky inside. And I still feel like I'm going to throw up. You see, it's about history for me. His heart attacks awoke the sleeping giant of fear in me. I remember the fear of coming into my childhood home when I saw my dad's car in the driveway when he was supposed to be at work. Would I find him dead on the floor? I laid in bed at night listening for his breathing -- my dad's snoring was a comfort to me. When it stopped, I would lie in bed and debate whether or not to go into his bedroom to check to see if he was alive. Let me tell you -- it was a hell of a way to grow up.

Yesterday, I had to take my daughter for a medical test, so I left Bill home alone. He'll be fine, I thought. When I called him to check in, there was no answer. He's fine. He's probably sleeping. An hour later, I called again. No answer. I checked the home phone messages. There was one from my son-in-law. I realized Bill didn't answer that call either. Panic started rising inside of me. Panic and self-reproach for leaving him alone on the first day out of the hospital. I tried to maneuver detours and traffic, desperately trying to make it home. I called again. And again. And... finally, he said, "Hello." Tears burst forth from decade's-old reserves. He had been outside. He didn't hear the phone.

Even now as I type this, tears are streaming down my cheeks. And as I share this, I just want you to understand that my life changed with that first heart attack of his last year. A second one stirred up the feelings once again. While I used to blog 6 days a week, my posts have been sporadic. I guess priorities changed a bit. But it doesn't mean I don't care about the blog or the Green Grandma community. Sometimes, however, I find I need to care for myself more. Bill's heart attacks knocked a bit of life out of me. After all, heart attacks don't just happen to one spouse. They happen to both.

Sharing a bit of my story,

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