Aug 17, 2012 0 Share

The Tell-Tale Heart

Illustration of heart with stethoscope and heart rhythm line.

Two weeks ago, I had barely gotten out of bed when the phone rang. It was Bill. He had worked an overnight shift and just before his night was about to end he began to feel cold and clammy. He began having what he thought was a bad case of indigestion. But then his pain began to radiate to the left side of his chest and neck and his arm began to tingle. He told me, “I think maybe I should go to the emergency room.”

I quickly dressed and asked my mother-in-law if she would wake Cody and make sure he was fed and dressed before his Occupational Tech, Zach, arrived at 9:00 a.m. I did not dare say anything to Cody. And then I got to the car and made my way to the hospital.

When I found Bill’s room he was sitting on the gurney with his head resting on his elbow which was propped on the rail. The look on his face was one of boredom and dismay. Apparently when his initial blood work came back it was negative for any signs of a serious problem. But the doctor urged him to stay and allow them to run more tests. I pleaded with him to do so, and he did, but under protest.

The doctor wanted to see what the results of a stress test would reveal, but before one could be performed more blood work was done and the enzyme troponin was indeed present in significant proportions. Bill had, had a heart attack. Bill was then admitted to the cardiac unit, a cardiologist was brought in, and the doctors began discussing what the next course of action should be.

During this time I was traveling back and forth from the hospital to make sure Bill had what he needed, and that Cody was having his needs met at home. I was in somewhat of a quandary as to what I should tell Cody. He is perceptive enough to know that something was up and it was making him nervous. I could tell him and he would either have to go back to the hospital with me and be nervous and pacing the floors there, or I could minimize the situation for the time being, and have him at home in familiar surroundings, carrying on with his day in a normal fashion. I opted for the latter.

No decent parent wants to lie to their child. But no decent parent wishes for their child to be wandering around in a heightened state of anxiety, not being able to cope with what is already a stressful situation by anyone’s standards.

Later that afternoon, we learned Bill was having a second heart attack. As I sat in the waiting room while the cardiologist was performing an angiogram on my husband across the hall, I could only imagine how Cody might react if I had to tell him what was going on. I sat and envisioned him pacing back and forth, rubbing his head with both hands incessantly, a look of angst on his face, repeating the same questions and phrases over and over again. “Oh! Where’s Bill?” “Bill will be alright.” “Bill will come home with us.” “Oh! Where’s Bill?”

Then the thought crossed my mind, what if, God forbid, I had to tell him Bill wouldn’t be coming home, ever?

It was not a thought I pondered for long. I quickly pushed it out of my brain. It wasn’t a possibility I could bring myself to consider.

Then it dawned on me. Cody’s Grandma Jo was due to arrive at the house at any moment to pick him up. I had forgotten completely that she was coming to take him to spend the night with her and Grandpa Joe. Frantically, I called her and explained what was going on. A huge relief came over me when she said that she could gather his things from his room—she knows his medicine routine—and that he would be just fine. She gave us her love and best wishes and said she would be arriving at the house soon. At least Cody would be away from the situation for one or two nights. By then maybe we would know more about what was going on and how to better address the situation with him.

As the situation unfolded, it turned out that the episodes Bill experienced were mild. Doctors prescribed new medicines and he was able to come home the next day. When Cody arrived home, he hugged his stepfather for a long time and the sight of his expression going from one of worry to one of joy was priceless.