“Erin, you’ve had a heart attack. You’re in the hospital. You’re going to be okay.”
Somehow those words got through the layers of opioids that were being administered to me via the IV in my arm. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
In February of 2017, I hadn’t been feeling well. I put it down to many things. My weight was a littler higher than it should be. I had osteo-arthritis in my right knee, which was encased in a brace, making stairs and standing more difficult than they used to be. I am a grade three teacher and that brings with it an active day of standing, walking, and generally having the energy to be with small children.
I talked to my cousin who said she’d had her gall bladder removed a few years earlier and had similar symptoms to me and I should talk to my doctor. I talked to my student teacher when I was feeling “a bit odd” who asked if I was drinking enough water during the day, but suggested I see the doctor. I talked to my school secretary who told me I should see a doctor.
I was busy. It was coming up to the end of term two and I had report cards to start writing. I was supporting a student teacher in my class and felt I needed to be there for her. My classroom had been selected to do a writing residency for our school. This meant that our early years consultant was coming to my classroom to co-teach a writing activity with me while the other teachers in my school looked on and we all learned from it. I was finishing the last two university courses for my Post Baccalaureate Diploma in Education and completing the second course of my Masters of Education.
I was busy. I was needed. I felt necessary.
I felt lousy. Out of breath. Achy and uncomfortable.
On February 15th, my husband told me to book a substitute for the next day and make an appointment with my doctor. I argued, but I did it.
The next morning I woke up feeling worse. Because I had a doctor’s appointment later that day, I made a note of how I was feeling in my phone to share with my doctor. When I found the note later, I was shocked at what I had written. I don’t think I shared this note with my doctor. I just don’t remember.
What surprised me most of all were the words “Two extreme incidents today where we nearly called 911.”
But I clearly said no. When I got to the doctor, they weighed me (yikes!) and then after talking to me, took my blood pressure. It wasn’t high enough to be of concern and after a little more conversation, my doctor said he wasn’t sure what was going on, but to rule out anything serious, he would send me for an EKG. My doctor’s office is right across the street from a major hospital and he said it would be best if I went across and had an EKG in emergency. He even called ahead to tell them I was coming.
He didn’t know it at the time, but he was the first person in the line up of people who acted to save my life.
Prior to going into the appointment, I had told my husband that if I was longer than an hour, he should leave to move the car because I didn’t want to get a ticket. As a result, when I came to the waiting room, he was gone. So, I took the elevator to the main floor, while he was taking it up to the fifth floor. Of course. We finally connected, I told him what the doctor said and then I said “Let’s go get the car.” I was worried about overtime parking in the area and thought we should move the car closer to the hospital. My husband, not being from here, didn’t realize the hospital was across the street and so he walked with me to the car.
I drove around for about fifteen minutes, finally finding a spot in the parking lot behind the doctor’s office. We left the car and started across the street. By the time we got to the front door of the hospital I could barely walk. In subsequent conversations with my husband, I found out that he was more than a little worried at this point. He knew I needed help, but he didn’t want to leave me alone in case I collapsed on the sidewalk.
When we got into the hospital, he got me a wheelchair and then asked at information for the directions to emergency.
I remember going to the desk at emergency with my doctor’s letter and my medical card. I remember being wheeled through the big door into the examination area in emergency. After that there is nothing.
The following is not told from memory. It was told to me by my husband after the fact.
I got into the EKG room and the technician asked me to raise my arms. She saw where I raised them and asked me to raise them higher. She said “I don’t want to tell the doctors you are having a heart attack if you aren’t.” I replied “But it really hurts!” and that was the last thing I said. My heart stopped.
That was it. It stopped. I stopped. The world went on around me but I stopped. And my husband saw me lying there with my “glassy eyes staring at the ceiling” and his world crashed in.
The EKG technician called the code blue. She started manual compressions. At some point, early on I would wager, they strapped a machine to me called Lucas which continued the compressions.
Lucas. Think of a pile driver strapped around you.
At some point they cut my clothing off me. They returned my cut up leggings and underwear. I don’t know what happened to my bra and t-shirt, but given the shape and location of scars on my chest, I’m going to guess they got Lucas working before they were able to cut them off. (Don’t get me wrong, I thank my lucky stars that the hospital had a Lucas machine and were able to use it on me.)
They lasted for eighty minutes. Just think about that. Eighty minutes.
That’s an entire episode of Law & Order (plus commercials) and twenty minutes more.
That’s ten minutes longer than the 1931 movie Frankenstein.
That’s the length of time my grade three students are in double gym and most of recess.
That’s ten minutes shorter than a Manchester United game.
Think about that.
In that time, they finally got my heart beating regularly.
What could you accomplish in eighty minutes?