(This is a really long post on a totally non-geeky family emergency. Part of me wants to share, and part of me just needs to vent. You’ve been warned.)
It’s been an interesting few days…
Sunday was my wife Rachel’s birthday (I won’t tell you her age – she’d answer 29 if you asked her ;-)). We hadn’t planned anything big – an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins per her request, and we did some fun stuff on Saturday as a family (breakfast at Tom’s Pancake House, went to the farmer’s market, etc.). We ordered Pizza Hut for dinner, Emma and I picked up the ice cream cake, and we all generally enjoyed a Family Fun Day(TM).
That night, Rachel woke me up at about 2:00 AM, saying she was having really bad pain in the center of her back, coming through to her chest. She was starting to get a little panicky (wouldn’t you?), and I did my best to keep her calm while trying to figure out what was going on. I suspected some kind of indigestion, since we had greasy pizza for dinner, and I had some pretty bad heartburn myself. But we quickly ascertained that it wasn’t likely something she ate. By this point, she was starting to feel faint and nauseous, and was getting clammy. Not good. Of course, we’re both thinking the worst at this point – heart attack…
Not knowing what else to do, and preferring to err on the side of caution (isn’t that what my fancy insurance from Intel is for?), I called 911. Somewhere, in the geeky recesses of my mind (yes, they function during crises in the middle of the night) I knew that we had Vonage, which warns you about E911 compatibility, and the fact that when you call 911, your address might not be displayed correctly to the 911 operator. Apparently, that wasn’t the case. The operator immediately dispatched an ambulance, and kept me on the phone, asking questions. She told me to turn on my porch light, and unlock the door, which I did. Turns out the ambulance station was only a few blocks away, because the EMT crew was there within a couple of minutes.
So, within 5 minutes or so of waking up, there was a crew of three young, blonde, attractive women in my bedroom, asking questions and taking vitals on Rachel. And me just standing there, in my underwear. Don’t think I’m a pig for mentioning this part of the story – Rachel and I have been joking about it, and I have a feeling that it’s going to be one of those things we can refer to in 20 years, and still have a chuckle.
They checked Rachel, and didn’t find anything indicating immediate or obvious cardiac problems, which was simultaneously reassuring and distressing. They wanted to take her to the hospital to find out what was going on. At this point, a million thoughts about the logistics of the whole thing popped into my head – should I follow the ambulance in the car? What about the kids? Gabriel we could just throw into his carrier and bring along, but three year old Emma was asleep in her bedroom. Rachel gave me the name of a friend from church to call, who could come over and stay at our house with Emma. I hate to call anyone in the middle of the night, but before I even had a full explanation of the situation out, she was telling me that she was getting dressed, and would be right over. Thank you for being so willing to respond, and serve, Carol. We can’t say how blessed we felt to have you watch after Emma.
The ambulance headed out with Rachel aboard, no lights and sirens, but moving quickly nonetheless. I put Gabriel in the car, and waited a few minutes for Carol to arrive. During those few minutes, Emma woke up, and came into our bed, as she sometimes does. She must have been puzzled to see the lights on, the bed empty, and Dad dressed and getting ready to leave. I explained that mama was sick, and I had to take her to the doctor, and that a friend was going to come and stay with her. She was still asleep, though, so I doubt any of that sunk in. She curled up in our bed, and went back to sleep. The next day, some other friends from church took Emma, so she could play with their kids in a familiar setting. Thank you, Kevin and Kelly, for taking care of our Emma for us, and thank you Emma, for being so flexible and easy, and handling the unexpected events of the last few days like an angel.
Now, here I am, driving to the hospital in the rain at 2:30 AM, with my six week old son asleep in the back, wondering what’s happening with Rachel. I confess that I exceeded the speed limit most of the way, but not too much, since it was rainy, and my rush to get to the emergency room was tempered by the thought of Gabriel and I getting into an accident on the way. By this point, the adrenaline had subsided a bit, and crazy, dark thoughts about what might happen flooded in. What would I do without Rachel? What would Emma and Gabriel do without their mother? How would I be able to provide for our needs, as well as care for them? Like I said, dark thoughts. I wouldn’t wish those types of thoughts and feelings on anyone.
When I got to the ER, I went inside, and got my little visitor sticker for the ER room number Rachel was in. When I walked in, she was in the middle of having an EKG – there were about 15 little stickers attached to various places on her body, each with an electrical lead and a wire connected to a little laptop cart, recording the EKG data. She was awake, and considering the circumstances, looked OK. She was still in pain, but there were no signs of any heart problems. That was the good news. The bad news was that they didn’t yet know what was wrong. They gave her some IV morphine, which stopped the pain, and pretty much from that point on, we were playing a waiting game.
We spent the next 12 hours in the emergency room, while every couple of hours, Rachel was wheeled away for one diagnostic test or another. Chest x-ray, more EKGs, CAT scan, ultrasound, etc. We passed the time taking care of Gabriel, trying to snooze, and listening to all the activity going on in the ER around us. Listening to the radio calls from incoming ambulances was particularly interesting, in a morbid, train-wreck sort of way. After all the waiting, the verdict? 15 to 20 gall stones. Her episode of pain was likely caused by the passage of one of the stones.
That said, there had been just enough abnormalities in some of the tests (a slightly irregular heartbeat, etc.) that they wanted to be very sure that there was nothing wrong with her heart. That meant being admitted to the hospital. We had to wait a few hours for a room to open up on the cardiac floor, and after a while, we were whisked up there. Rachel was hooked up to a portable telemetry monitor pack, hung around her neck, and sternly warned that if she left the 6th floor, or any of those leads came off, nurses would come running with a crash cart.
Suitably indoctrinated, we settled in for what would be 24 boring hours of uneventful waiting. Rachel felt fine – after the initial attack, which the morphine squashed, she had no more pain. So, we watched TV (a “What Not to Wear” marathon was on TLC – I told Rachel that was her birthday present – she loves that show ;-)), tried to sleep, and called family and friends to let them know what was going on. Gabe was the star of the show, and charmed every nurse and staff member who met him – at one point, we took a walk around the floor, and all work effectively came to a halt as we passed by the nurses station. Thank you to the St. Vincents nurses and staff that made us as comforable as possible while we were there.
The surgeon wanted Rachel’s gall bladder to come out, but didn’t feel that it was urgent, so we were discharged on Monday, and Rachel will be going in at the end of this week for the surgery. It’s going to be done laproscopically, with only 4 tiny incisions, and it’s a “day” surgery, meaning no extended hospital stay. I’m going to be around to keep things running at home, and let Rachel recover. She’s on a bland diet, and will likely be for a while – the ice cream cake is waiting in the freezer at home.
Once things settled down, I told Rachel that the next time she wants some kind of exciting adventure for her birthday, to just tell me. I don’t know if my heart can handle any more excitement of that variety. 😉