This is the second installment in the story of Greg’s cardiac arrest. Thank you for your patience as I struggle to work through the events. It’s harrowing and cathartic both. If you haven’t read the first installment you can click here.
Sometimes the things you think’ll never happen – happen just like that.The Impossible,
Miller & Lovelace
Ca-thunk, Ca-thunk, Ca-thunk is the nasty sound an automatic CPR machine makes. I cringe watching it rhythmically jam a rod with a rubber stopper against Greg’s sternum. Four paramedics strain to lift Greg; he’s an athletic guy – 6’ 2” and a muscular 250 pounds. Our 1894 era basement prevents a gurney in the space. The team hauls Greg by his arms and legs squeezing him through a narrow door and across our two-car garage to a gurney waiting on the driveway.
The paramedics rush to the open doors at the back of the ambulance. Paramedic Aaron pauses, “We’ll be working on your husband for several minutes – don’t be worried that we’re not leaving right away.”
“Thank you,” we mumble in unison.
“Is he on any medications? Health problems? How old is he?”
My head swims while my silence prompts Travis to answer, “He’s 55-years-old. Zero health problems, anything else Mom?”
Stammering, I add, “A baby aspirin in the morning, I think? He might be on a mild blood pressure med, I’m not sure …”
I flush with embarrassment. What does he take?
My brother, Dan arrives with his wife, Roxie. Close behind are my sister, Donna and her husband, Dennis. Amidst hugs, they ask, “What in the hell has happened?”
Travis inhales deeply before beginning.
“I decided not to stop at the gym after work. I put my bag on the table. Dad came in the door behind me. He had just finished mowing the lawn. We talked about a podcast on guns I listened to earlier. Dad said he was getting in the shower – he and mom had dinner plans with Donna and Dennis.”
Travis’s voice wobbles as he rushes on, “I started up the steps. He was in mid-sentence then stopped talking. I turned as he hit the floor. I yelled, “Dad!’ to get his attention as he rolled to his side. I thought he was having a seizure. His jaw was clenched really tight.
“Then, I heard the door from the garage open. I thought it was Meka, so I hollered at her to call 911. But it was Jace. Panicking I yelled really loud at him to get Meka.”
Gesturing with his phone Travis continues, “I had my phone and dialed 911. Meka ran up to the kitchen to call Mom. I feel bad because I scared Jace, he’s only 7.”
Travis hugs me. “Mom ran to get Don next door. He helped me flip Dad to his back. I started chest compressions.”
Don adds, “Travis did an amazing job. He didn’t hesitate to jump in and start CPR.”
My cell phone rings. It’s my daughter, Evanne. I answer to hear her cheery, “Whatcha doin’?” It’s our Friday evening check-in. Evanne is in Pennsylvania attending special makeup effects school.
I blurt, “The ambulance is coming.”
I’m incoherently rambling. Donna takes my phone. She explains what’s happening, telling Evanne we’ll call back soon. I feel horrible not being able to talk to my baby girl.
Travis calls to me, “Mom, the ambulance is leaving!”
I sprint to my bedroom, grab a pair of jeans from my closet as I peel off my yoga pants with my free hand. Breathless, I hop on one leg and then the other pulling on my jeans. Simultaneously, I dig through my armoire drawer for a bra. I find a t-shirt that isn’t too wrinkled, throw them on. I grab the handle of my purse and it catches on the closet door yanking me backward. The reverse momentum causes me to slow down. I take a breath but can’t look at our bedroom, our bed. Please God, not yet! I’m not ready for him to be gone!
Smoothing my hair, I run down the stairs.
Landing in the kitchen, I see Travis in the back yard with Meka and the boys. They’re drawing numbers with colorful sidewalk chalk on the patio. The scene is eerily calm like a normal, warm Friday afternoon. Remy is toddling, sampling the chalk pieces on his tongue. The exception is that Jace is sobbing which breaks my heart.
I feel the stifling humidity as I slide the door. I hug Jace but can’t talk. He asks through his tears, “Is Mr. Greg going to be OK? I’m praying hard for Mr. Greg.”
“Good idea, Jace,” I say managing a smile. “Mr. Greg loves you. We’re gonna make sure he’s OK.”
Travis and I hurry to Dan and Roxie’s waiting car. It’s a quick trip to the hospital, less than a mile.
We arrive at the ER entrance just behind the ambulance. We rush to the registration area.
“Who are you here for?” the receptionist asks with a lethargic smile.
“Greg has arrived by ambulance,” she states with authority.
‘Yep, got it! We were right behind the ambulance,’ I’m already annoyed.
“Once he is settled in you can see him.”
I manage a weak, “Thanks.”
Thanks, Miss Obvious! Please Lord give me patience with these people.
Dan and Travis take charge of calling Greg’s family and our closest friends. Donna calls our priest asking him to join us at the hospital. I pace. I want to pray. I need to pray. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t pray. Waiting is impossible.
“What’s going on?” I ask the receptionist.
“They’ll let me know when you can see him.”
My head throbs with frustration as I head to the restroom. I wash my hands. I dry my hands. I run my hands under cold water. I dry my hands. “Please God. Please God, please – not now. Not yet!”
Walking out of the restroom I hear the receptionist nonchalantly declare, “You can head back now.”
A nurse rushes us to a large consultation room – to wait. Why is this better? My family tells me to sit. To drink coffee. Have a bottle of water. How about some tea? Do you want anything to eat? I decline it all.
A nurse with a ‘Kayla’ name badge pops her had in to announce “You should be able to see Greg in a few minutes.” Tell me that One. More. Time. Kayla. I’m gonna lose it …
I interrupt her canned speech not pausing to let her answer. “What is taking so long?”
“Can’t I just go and see him?”
“Is he awake?”
“Is he alive?” I don’t give a damn if I’m being rude.
With a smile, she answers the most important question, “Yes, Greg is alive.”
Kayla leaves no further information.
Waiting. Waiting. WAITING! I make a few phone calls, send text messages to several people. My family manages to help me laugh a bit. They try valiantly to keep me calm. My heart is pounding out of my chest. Fear rises to my throat every minute or so. I’m insane with fear that Greg is going to die in that ER bay alone. I push it down with a hard swallow praying, ‘God, please not yet.’
Kayla finally returns with a smile.
Travis and I lead with Dan, Donna, and Dennis behind us. Roxie stays behind with our throng of visitors. Be strong. You can do this. Stay in control.
I rush to Greg’s side. Except for the breathing tube, he looks healthy, not pale or that horrible purple-ish gray color he was sporting earlier.
The lead nurse, Jessica, explains, “Greg was awake when he arrived. He was vocal but not making sense – sort of yelling and gesturing. He couldn’t respond to our commands, so we intubated him. We’ve sedated him to minimize possible brain damage. The paramedics shocked him twice to restart his heart. Once at your house and once in the ambulance.”
This news shocks my heart. I question her, pushing forward.
“Has his blood work been completed?”
“What about a chest X-ray?”
“Was it a heart attack?
“What about his troponin level?”
“The doctor will be here soon to answer your questions,” a CNA assures us as she flips past the thin privacy curtain. She doesn’t introduce herself and neither do I.
“Talk to Greg so he knows you’re here,” Jessica adds.
Greg’s eyes are closed. I kiss his cheek. Travis kisses him, too. We say his name and he’s immediately agitated. Suddenly he jerks forward pushing on his elbows like he’s trying to sit up. His eyes are still closed, though.
“Why is he trying to sit up if he’s been sedated?” I ask in an urgent tone. Travis and I lean on his shoulders to get him to lay back. Both women jump up from their computer screen.
“Greg, you’re okay, baby! Relax, Travis and I are here. Everybody’s here!” I say as we struggle with him.
“We need to increase his meds to keep him calm, get the doctor,” Jessica says to the nameless CNA.
The ER doctor arrives to increase Greg’s sedative; he finally relaxes. She introduces herself after the harrowing episode. I have zero idea what her name is.
“Who performed the CPR?” she asks brightly attempting small talk. Travis retells his story.
“You are a hero!” she exclaims a bit too cheery. He is a hero.
She explains the possibility of brain damage ‘in cases like this.’ To expect the ‘worst because the odds aren’t conducive to a good outcome even though Travis did a good job starting CPR right away.’ She ‘just wants us to be prepared for disappointing news.’ Gosh, you’re sooo positive! But you don’t know Greg …
“We need to get Greg to Rockford as soon as possible,” I say through clenched teeth.
“Let’s wait until the on-call cardiologist arrives. We can discuss hypothermic therapy for Greg. It’s a procedure they have perfected in Rockford and he’s a candidate for it,” she assures me.
I’m sweating, pacing, trying to stay occupied until the cardiologist appears. Donna tells me she has tracked down our local priest. He will arrive shortly to administer the sacrament of anointing of the sick to Greg. I’m thankful for her foresight. Maybe I’ll be able to pray when the priest is here.
Father Doyle arrives just a few moments later. Our family gathers close during the anointing. Travis has his arm circling my waist. We both hold Greg’s hand. On the other side of the bed, Father Doyle prays aloud tracing the oil in the shape of the cross on Greg’s forehead.
Tears fill my eyes. This just can’t be. Please God, I know you are here with us, here every minute of every day. I know I’m not to ask Why me? But I can’t help but ask, Why Greg? Why now? Not yet! What should I do?
The aroma of the holy oil wafts through the bay settling my nerves. I hear the prayers of Father Doyle. God is here. I understand he has been with us – every moment of this ordeal.
In the corridor bidding Father Doyle good evening, I spot the cardiologist walking toward us. I know this man, Dr. E. I marketed his expertise to the local community when I worked for the hospital. I tamp negative thoughts mixed with prior opinions. We move back to Greg’s bedside.
“We can keep him here …” Five words into his speech I stop him.
“He’s not staying here. What do his tests indicate?”
He pauses mid-sentence and looks at me. Begins speaking, pauses again as recognition floods his face.
“What about the CAT scan – any brain bleeds?” I push on.
“Has the CAT scan been completed? I haven’t seen it.”
Jessica responds, “Yes, it’s done. The chest X-ray, too.”
“We’ve been waiting for you to look at them. I want him sent to Rockford now.” I declare.
“If you want to send your husband to Rockford, we can possibly do that, but we need to make sure he doesn’t have a brain bleed, it’s imperative he is stable before we move him.” Tell me something I don’t know!
“We can get that information if you’d just go look at the test results. Why don’t you do that now?” Dr. E pauses, then decides not to continue. I’m trying to control my temper.
“In the meantime, call Rockford and order the helicopter. You might as well get the process moving – I requested it two hours ago.”
“Ordering the helicopter would be a waste of time if he isn’t going to be transported,” he retorts.
“But he IS going to be transported. The ER doctor informed us of the procedure that Greg needs can’t be done here. The hypothermic procedure to minimize brain damage is done in Rockford.”
Travis places his hand on my arm to calm me. Aware I’m squeezing Greg’s hand, I’m furious that I’m sparring with a doctor I don’t necessarily respect. I’m fighting with all my strength to put my bias toward this man aside. But in my heart, I know Greg needs to be where they see this type of situation daily.
Dr. E shifts gears, “Who was with Greg when he collapsed?”
Travis speaks up and relays his story, again. Dr. E congratulates Travis on his skill and bravery. I soften a bit, realizing Dr. E is not my enemy, but that doesn’t change the fact that we need to get Greg on a helicopter.
With the tension dissipating, Dr. E tells us he’ll return after he reads Greg’s test results. As soon as he’s past the curtain my family cautions me to calm down while at the same time encouraging me not to back down. We are beyond the fourth hour since Greg collapsed.
Dr. E returns within minutes startling us. “Good news! Good news! Zero brain bleeds on the CAT scan. Nothing indicates a heart attack,” he exclaims. We breathe a collective sigh of relief. He looks me in the eye, “Although we don’t know what caused the cardiac arrest, I believe we can keep Greg here. We will check his blood enzymes every six hours. Wait to see how he does.”
I can’t believe what I’m hearing. What part of ‘we’re sending Greg to Rockford’ doesn’t he understand? No! We’re not sitting around all weekend with a blood test every six hours! Please God, guide me.
I simply respond, “Has the helicopter been ordered?”
“I can get that going if you’d like.”
“This is more than six times I’ve asked for it.”
I walk away. If I stay, there’s going to be an ugly scene and who wants that? Donna follows me to the consultation area. I asked matter-of-factly, “Am I nuts? How many damn times do I have to say it?”
“Well, maybe, he really thinks a blood test every six hours will save Greg’s life,” she says with a grin.
We begin stress giggling that quickly escalates to full-blown laughing. I’m afraid I won’t stop. Dr. E is heading our way. “The helicopter has been ordered, it’ll take about 45 minutes to arrive.” He turns and strides toward the nurses’ station.
I’d like to holler after him ‘It’s about damn time!’ but Greg still works here and there are many people we love and respect at this hospital.
I announce that Greg is finally being transported to Rockford by helicopter. There is a collective sigh then triumphant chuckling among our group.
The activity level of the staff increases immensely in preparation for the arrival of the transport helicopter. I swallow my anger, glad this process is in motion.
The helicopter team arrives bring an air of excitement. The crew consists of two nurses and a paramedic. They look impressive in their tan flight suits, reminding me of a scene from the movie Top Gun.
Michael, the lead paramedic, introduces his team. Another flurry of names I won’t be able to remember.
Michael looks at Greg and says, “Hey, I know this guy! Isn’t he the one who opens the door?”
Jessica says, “That’s right! He’s one of ours so take extra special care of him.”
“Definitely! He’s a great guy and funny!” Michael responds.
He explains their procedures with an air of authority.
He takes my hand declaring, “We’re gonna get him to Rockford quickly and safely. He’s in great hands with my crew.”
Travis asks, “How long will it take?”
“It’s a short 15-minute flight for us, but don’t try to race us!” Michael laughs.
“I’ll call you when we take off,” as he writes my phone number in his notebook.
The levity energizes me. I have a few moments before they take Greg away. Believing he can hear me, I say ‘I love you’ numerous times in his ear. I tell him not to be afraid. He’s going to a great hospital. He’s loved by his family, friends, and God. We’re putting our fear, hope, and lives in his hands.
Dan and Roxie volunteer to stay with Greg until he is on the helicopter. Travis and I get a quick ride home with Donna and Dennis to get our car, gather personal items and a change of clothes. How do we know how long we’ll be there?
Greg’s elderly mom joins Travis and me on the drive to the hospital. I settle in for the hour-long drive. It’s after 11 pm. I’m thankful at this late hour there is little traffic.
My phone rings. It’s Michael my new paramedic friend. With his upbeat attitude, I can’t help but breathe a sigh of thanksgiving. “Just want to let you know we have Greg in our helicopter. We are lifting off in a minute. He’s doing great. His vital signs are good.”
“Thank you for everything,” I respond as my heart pounds in my ears anticipating Greg flying in a helicopter.
Michael adds, “We’ll get him there safely – you get there safely, too. There is no reason to hurry – or speed! I’ll give you a call when we land.”
Travis squeezes my hand chuckling, “Gosh, Dad is gonna be mad he’s not awake for that flight!”