We all have moments in life that change our course. We have moments that make us question everything we have ever known, everything we have ever loved. If you haven’t had a moment like this, you will. It’s inevitable.
I want to tell my story about such a moment. The month of February is American Heart Month. It’s a month that didn’t mean much to me until 2017. Did you know that heart disease is the #1 killer of women? That heart disease kills more than all forms of cancer combined? (stats from heart.org)
On a random Saturday in October of 2017 I almost died. I was 38 years old. And my stubbornness and my “everything is fine” mentality almost cost me the rest of my life.
My story isn’t about traditional heart disease. But knowing your body, caring for your heart, these become priority topics after my experience. I had a DVT, I had pulmonary emboli, I had a heart attack, I had open heart surgery. The fact that I’m typing this…exceptional.
I knew something was terribly wrong. My body was trying to tell me. It was a Saturday morning and kid 2 had a mid-morning soccer game. I didn’t want to miss his game, but I knew I would have to. I didn’t mention just how bad I felt. I hated to be a burden. The husband was prepping for the game and needed to go to the gas station. I said I would get kid 2 dressed for his game.
I yelled downstairs, asking kid 2 to come up and get dressed. He was 8 at the time, in 3rd grade. He wouldn’t come up. He was having a ball jumping on the sofa. Kid is high energy. I really wanted to get him ready, to ease the busy morning for the Husband since I knew I was out of commission for the day.
I made my way downstairs. As I hit the bottom stair my breath wouldn’t come. I couldn’t breathe in. It felt like the air was trapped, unable to get into my lungs. I remember the face of my son. He looked scared. I said something like “I’m sick. Why couldn’t you come upstairs?” I hate that I said that. In that moment I didn’t realize how this would play out, how that comment would cause him to feel responsible and guilty. Later it was determined that if I hadn’t gone downstairs I would have most likely died in my sleep. This is one of the many strings of miracles that saved my life. Kid 2 hasn’t played soccer since. I worry that it’s the memory of that day.
I lay back on the chair, struggling to breathe. Due to the lack of air, my brain was starting to get fuzzy. I remember saying “Get your sister.” I needed help. I wish I could have just dialed 911 myself. They were not old enough to make these life or death decisions.
Next, I remember hearing my daughter say, “You have to help Mom.” The husband had returned. He was in a hurry, impatient. I had minimized how poorly I felt, so he wasn’t expecting something so serious. He told me to get up and he would take me to the ER. I tried. But I couldn’t. I remember telling him to just go. Go to soccer and I’ll be fine. He said, “I obviously can’t leave you like this.” He was starting to understand that something very serious was happening. I heard him on the phone with 911. I was struggling, pain was starting to radiate through my abdomen. I was covered in cold sweat. So much sweat. I was cold, losing all feeling in my hands. I hear him telling the operator “I think she’s having a heart attack.” From far away, outside of myself I hear my own voice..”I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t want to do. Something bad is happening.”
And in my mind…where are my kids? Are they scared? I try to control myself, but tears start. I’m panicking. I’m dying. Literally dying. My mind was so far away. I could see myself, but I didn’t feel like myself.
Another lucky turn–the fire station was just down the street. In only moments there was a fire truck, an ambulance, police cars. I heard the sirens, I saw movement, but I couldn’t focus on any faces or words. I see feet. I hear them asking me to sit up and I try, but I cannot. I have lost all control and am not even inside of myself. This is alarming, but a feeling of strange calm has come over me. Like I’m seeing all of this, but it isn’t really happening. They transfer me to a cot, which makes me feel like a burden again. I am worried about them carrying me. I’m worried about my kids. I’m making a scene. Lots of neighbors have appeared.
I feel myself being wheeled out to the ambulance. Bumpy. And all I can think about is…where are my kids?
Once in the ambulance a lot of my memories are jumbled together. From that moment I started heavy medication for the pain. I remember having some spiritual thoughts. I thought of Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and how all of these examples show love and light. I thought of prayer. I thought of my kids. Most of all my kids. I knew I was dying and I didn’t want to leave them.
My journey spanned 2 weeks, 2 hospitals and open heart surgery. It all started with a blood clot in my leg that traveled. I’ll write more posts about DVT, PE and my rare heart condition that saved me from stroke in future posts.
In February, when I see the talk of heart health I embrace the topic and want to spread awareness. Women are more likely to ignore heart symptoms until it’s too late.
Today I want to encourage everyone reading this to stay on top of your health. Make it a priority. Make the time. Start with never missing your annual doctor visit. Track your blood pressure and cholesterol at least this one time a year. Other factors that can make your heart healthy over your lifetime: no smoking, maintain a healthy weight, stay active, eat healthy.
You are never a burden. Your health needs to take priority. The biggest lesson that I walked away with…you can die any day, any way. Taking care of yourself is an easy insurance policy.