Sunday, July 14, 2013

A year ago....

Advance warning:  LONG post ahead...

365 days.  A lot can happen in a year.  But nothing can erase the memory of what happened July 14, 2012.

Here's my recollection of events leading up to that fateful day:

July 7, 2012 and it was hot.  I mean, HOT.  That sticky, muggy kind of humid day where your shirt starts to stick to your back the moment you step foot onto your porch.  And Gary's baseball team was playing in a tournament, a triple header day with games at 11am, 12:30pm and 2pm.  He was excited to be playing because he had missed that last two tournaments - in 2010, we were in at the shore in Ocean City with our cousins, and in 2011, we were on a road trip in Toronto with the Lepage family.

I received a text around 12:30pm from Gary asking me to pick him up (he had driven in with our neighbour, John, who plays on Gary's team).  When I asked why he wasn't playing his second game, he told me that he had passed out while playing first base and had been vomiting.  I got him home and he spent most of Saturday and Sunday vomiting and exhausted.  We both chalked it up to heat exhaustion.

By Monday, the vomiting had stopped but he was experiencing terrible acid reflux and pain in his stomach.  I took him to the clinic on Monday in Belle River - he was barely in there for 3 minutes when he came out with a prescription for a couple of drugs to relieve the symptoms.  The pharmacist suggested that maybe the esophagus had been damaged during the violent vomiting and needed to heal.

Gary was still off work on Tuesday, due to extreme fatigue and acid reflux.  He still had not eaten anything since Saturday morning but we were keeping him well-hydrated with G2 and water.  During the night Tuesday, he was experiencing severe pain and I wanted to take him to the hospital.  He was concerned about what to do with the kids and said that if the pain was still bad in the morning, we would head to emerg.

On Wednesday, he woke up and felt much better.  However, after a shower, I could tell that he was already fatigued.  He insisted on going to work so I dropped him off.  I still wanted a second opinion, since the clinic doctor's asssesment was so quick and I was concerned that these symptoms were more than just heat exhaustion or some type of esophageal irritation.  I called Dr. Johnson and while she was leaving on holidays, she squeezed him in for Thursday morning.

On Thursday, Gary again insisted on going to work and driving himself, despite my better judgement.  He saw our doctor, who said the symptoms indicated that it probably wasn't heart or lung related but it could be a number of things so she ordered some blood tests for him that day, as well as an upper GI test.  He took the rest of the day off, got the tests done and went home to rest.  He was feeling better, the reflux had lessened but he was still weak and fatigued, which we attributed to his lack of nutrition over the last six days.

Early on Friday morning, our doctor called, just prior to leaving for her holidays.  The blood tests had come back with some abnormalities and she wanted Gary to come back in.  She of course wouldn't be there but she had arranged for her colleague to see him.  As well, she had contacted a gastroenterologist and arranged for him to see Gary at 7am on Saturday morning.  I insisted on going to his appointment with him.  Dr. Voltic indicated that his sodium was slightly low, as well as his bilirubin count.  Because he had not eaten at all during the week, she wanted to send him to retake the same tests, with a few others thrown in for good measure, and to still meet with the gastro specialist at 7am.

7 am came very early that morning (especially since Holly and I had stayed up until 3am chatting and scrapbooking!) but we were only expecting to be a few hours.  Depending on the results of the second bilirubin count, they would be doing a scope or an ultrasound.  When we arrived at the hospital, they drew blood and did an EKG - all standard procedures before sedation, I think. 

We were waiting for the doctor when the nurse who had performed the initial triage came back and asked Gary if he was having any chest pains.  Surprised, he said no and asked why.  She indicated that his EKG had come back changed from his last one (in 2009) so they were going to do another, just to make sure.  They moved him into an ER bed (where we would wait for the gastro specialist) and said that he would be right in.

Well, he did come right in but said that he was conferring with the ER doctor because of the changes in the EKG - he didn't want to proceed with the scope unless everything was clear.  At this point, I'm trying to remain calm, but am starting to worry.  Gary was confused because he hadn't had any chest pains or other typical symptoms that would indicate something was wrong with his heart.

The cardiologist came in (liked him right away!) and said that he was going to confer with a colleague, but he thinks that Gary may have suffered a heart attack at some point that week.  We were both floored.  How could this be?  The doctor couldn't pinpoint it without further testing but his recommendation was to send Gary over to the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan where they would perform an angioplasty.  Both the cardiologist and gastroenterologist couldn't believe it, saying that he had presented so atypically that it wasn't a surprise that so many people has missed diagnosing it. (Although it seems like that doctor at the clinic didn't even see him long enough to explain the situation!)

The next few hours seemed like a blur.  There were people to call and arrangements to make.  The hospital was fantastic about completing all paperwork, both to get Gary over the border without his passport, as well as coordinating payment coverage with OHIP for the US medical services.  I left Gary when the paramedics arrived to transport him and rushed home to get my passport, tell the kids and get across the border to be there in time for his surgery.

I will admit that I did sit in the parking lot for a good 5 minutes and cried.

I arrived home and my beautiful blessed friend, Holly, offered to stay with the kids after I told her what had happened.  I am so indebted to her for all she did that weekend - thank you, my friend!!!  I knew that Aili was probably too young to grasp the severity of the situation but I did want Connor to know what was going on.  I sat him down and filled him in.  His eyes reflected my panic, despite my best efforts to keep it at bay.  I promised to keep him informed so he didn't have to needlessly worry and that he could see Dad as soon as possible.  It broke my heart to see him so serious at such a tender age.

I then began to pack a bag for Gary, gathering passports and clothes.  I kept trying to call my father-in-law and once I reached him, I told him the news.  Shell-shocked, he announced that he was on his way and would contact Gary's brother, Scott.

Just after I hung up with Ed, Holly popped her head into my bedroom and apologized for interrupting, but my mobile was ringing with a US number.  I'm embarrassed to say that I immediately thought the worst, rather than keeping a positive attitude, like I encourage my children to do!  I tentatively took the phone, not sure what to expect...


"Hi, hon - it's me.  I'm out of surgery."

Relief and disbelief warred inside me as I sunk onto the bed.  How was it possible that in the time it had taken me to drive 27.6 km, explain the situation to both Holly and Connor, pack a bag and talk to my father-in-law, he had been rushed across the border (15.3 km), whisked into the ER, was prepped for surgery, had the angioplasty and a stent put in?  Whatever the reason, I was thankful he was out of a successful surgery and able to call me.  I spoke to his private nurse, who gave me directions and his private mobile number, in case I needed to reach him.  He also urged me to drive carefully and take my time, because Gary would be in recovery for a few hours.

I sat down and had a good cry.  Relief has a way of doing that to you.

With a much lighter heart, I called my father-in-law back and gave him an update, as well as rest of the household.  Aili was given a watered down version - she simply asked if he would be home soon and then went back to playing with Holly's daughters.

By the time I had made it across the border and found the ICU, Gary has been moved into a private room and was resting comfortably.  He was in some pain from the surgery, but they already had him up and moving around, which was good news.  I stayed for a few hours and headed home, when he got tired.

The rest of the week flew by in a blur.  There were the usual complications of being in quarantine because of being admitted from another country, plus the gastro pain still had not abated.  But that is Gary's story to tell and I will get him to put fingers to keyboard soon, to document this important event in his life.

It was one of the scariest days of my life and not easily forgotten.  Thank God for the happy ending and the wake-up call.  It has motivated me to encourage my friends and family to learn ALL the symptoms of heart and stoke, not just the typical ones.  You can learn more here at the Heart and Stroke Foundation's web site.


P/S:  Don't forget about the giveaways/challenges on my blog for a chance to win:
1,000th Blog Post giveaway (deadline:  June 30/13 EXTENDED TO JULY 15,2013)
July 2013 Sketchy Challenge (deadline:  Jul 31/13)
Leave Your Legacy: Pet Peeves (deadline:  Aug 31/13)

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