Monday, January 18, 2010


Some of you long-time readers may remember when Karen had a heart attack on December 23, 2006. You can read about it here and here. It was the type of heart attack that is called a "widow-maker" and I was 22 weeks pregnant at the time. Karen had a stint placed in her left anterior descending artery, we were home for Christmas and life moved on.

So the #1 thing you never want to hear your wife say 3 years later is, "I've been having chest pains". She had them for around 48 hours prior to Friday afternoon. We hoped that she was feeling a reaction to the immense stress she's been under with her job. But when the chest pains increased and nausea and dizziness got added to the symptoms, we decided it was time for a trip to the ER.

The great news was that there was no surgery involved and Karen is home resting comfortably.

But damn! It was a hard, hard weekend-- full of panic and gratitude and then more questions.

I remember the panic I felt with Karen's last heart attack. Add to it that this time, I had a sick baby to contend with and no one to call on for immediate help. I took Karen and Kylie to the emergency room at 5:30pm. I had to let Karen out at the entrance to emergency and then find a place to park and then run with my 2 1/2 year old in my arms from the far-away parking area back to emergency. By the time I got there, Karen was whisked away into a triage area and I was told to wait in the waiting room.

I kept flashing back to the first heart attack where within seconds of arriving, Karen was surrounded by 10 people and they had a crash cart sitting nearby. And now I was in a waiting room with my toddler--trying to project calm around Kylie so that she wouldn't freak out while also worried that every person walking by had the swine flu that was going to infect us all.

Ten minutes of waiting in the waiting room- trying to decide whether to throw a fit and demand entrance to where Karen was or to just cool it a bit.

And then I was led to her emergency room. And there was Karen with only 3 people in the room and a doctor saying her EKG looked fine. I had brought a stuffed animal, a Little Pony, a small lunchbox full of Pet Shop animals, and three activity sticker books for Kylie to play with. I also freaked and brought two washable markers instead of crayons. I settled Kylie into a chair in the room and went to stand by Karen's side and hold her hand.

I can't begin to tell you how upsetting and conflicting it was to want to be a wife, and only a wife, so I could give my full attention to Karen. But I was also a parent. My daughter was calling out to me every minute needing a tissue for her runny nose, needing me to look at the page she colored, wanting to get down and run around, wanting me to wash off the marker she had gotten all over her hands and face. It took every bit of patience I could pull up from my toes just to deal with it all.

The doctor gave Karen nitroglycerin. It took TOO MANY sticks for the ER folks to get a line into Karen and to get the precious blood drawn that would tell us if she was having a heart attack. I watched Karen turn paler and paler and watched her heart race on the monitor.

And then it seemed like things calmed down a bit. Karen felt well enough to talk to me about whether I should call one of the precious few DC moms I had met and ask them to take Kylie to our house for the night. And whether we should call a parent and ask them to start the 9 hour drive this way. Or whether all of this was going to pass and if they would discharge Karen in a few hours.

But then the nitro wore off and the heart pains were back. Another round of panic for Wendy and another round of nitroglycerin for Karen.

By 8:30, Karen's heart pains had lessened but she now had a raging headache and lots of nausea. And we decided that I would take Kylie home and get her to bed.

It was utterly heart wrenching to leave Karen in an emergency room. There were tears, love endearments, and threats (If you have to go into surgery or if you die and I'm not here, I will KILL YOU!") Kylie kissing Momma Karen's hand and then grabbing Karen's foot and kissing it before we left about did me in.

Once I programmed the GPS for home, I called my Dad and asked him to start the long drive to VA. I just couldn't bear the thought of having to balance Karen and Kylie like that for another day. He raced to his car and got on the road.

At home, I got Kylie into bed and then waited from 8:30 until 10:30 for word from Karen. There was no cell phone signal in the hospital. No way for her to call or text me to tell me what was going on. An incredibly hard two hours for us both.

At 10:30 she called and told me that the blood work said that she wasn't or hadn't had an attack. Her EKG was still fine and she was stable. She was in a cardiac CCU room and she was okay. There was LOTS of tears of gratitude.

My Dad drove all night to arrive at my house early on Saturday morning. Kylie was thrilled to see her grandpa. After I had Dad and Kylie settled I drove to the hospital. And in the Cardiac CCU we waited all day. Karen was stable and we were 90% sure she was going to be discharged that evening. But we still had tons of questions. The major one was:

Was she feeling pains because there was a partial blockage in her arteries or heart?

She had a CAT scan (clear) and she met with her cardiologist. He discharged her but she has to go back for various tests to see if we can determine what's going on. By 8pm we were all back home and listening to Dad's wonderful day with Kylie. He took great care of her. And he drove back home on Sunday morning.

It's hard to know how to feel. We are both so grateful that this ER visit didn't result in surgery and yet we are both so scared that surgery may be on the horizon.

We desperately want to go to on our vacation in Mexico. We are supposed to leave this Friday and be gone a week. This trip has been the light at the end of our tunnel for some time now. We are praying that Karen will get a clean bill of health in the tests that are scheduled for this week. As her cardiologist said, "We have to rule out various things about her heart's health. But the best way to see if this has been about stress is to go on vacation and see if you feel better." We are praying that vacation will the be answer.

In the midst of it all, I remembered my picture-a-day goal. This year, I want to take pictures not just of Kylie but of all aspects of my life. So I shot this one with my iPhone while eating lunch by myself at the hospital cafeteria. The brochure says "Smart Hearts." I like the angles and lines in this photo and am proud that I took it. But every time I look at it, I want to throw up.

I'll keep you updated and hopefully also share some fun stuff that Kylie has been up to. Until then, please take a moments and send us your prayers and best wishes. Thanks.


Lynanne said...

I'm sending as many positive thoughts your way as I can muster. Take care!

Unknown said...

How frightening. I was tearing up just reading this. I'll keep your family in my prayers - and send you happy vacation thoughts as well!

Cara said...

I'm sorry, what a touching story. I am sending my best for a speedy and easy recovery!

Teaberry said...

Go forbid something like this happens again, but if an instant like this were to arise again, please CALL US and we will take care of Kylie for you-- no problem at all. We are just moments away and could be there in no time...

We are both hoping that Karen feels better soon and are very happy to hear that it wasn't another attack. I read that post some time ago.

If Karen is in FFX Hospital, know that is THE BEST in the area (including DC hopsitals!) for cardiac care!

Nicole Elizabeth said...

Hi Wendy... it's been a while since I've posted or read ur blog, and I'm starting to get caught up on entries again. Totally agree with what Alicia said... totally frightening, and definately sending warm prayers your way. Hope recovery is well.

Alayna said...

That must have been so scary for all of you. Sending lots of good thoughts and hoping that your vacation is just what the doctor ordered. Thinking of you all!

Loralou said...

SO glad to hear that all is ok at the moment and I really hope it stays that way!

Nada in Australia said...

Thinking of you all.

Kerry Lynn said...

Oh my!
First of all I had no idea Karen had JUST had a heart attack when I "met" you. That must have been horrible!!
And now this experience sounds just awful too.
I know what you mean about wanting to throw up when you see that picture, I have pictures of Jackson in the ICU from a couple months ago and I can't even look at them.
I hope that Karen gets clean bill of health and you are able to go on your trip!
I so wish I lived closer so I could help out in situations like this.
Hugs to all three of you!

Beth said...

Oh, Wendy, I'm so sorry to hear this.

Please call me or email me and let me know how I can help... playdate with Kylie, dinner, etc.

Thinking of you, Karen & Kylie and sending lots of healthy thoughts! Please let me know how I can help!

Kirsten said...

My partner has heart problems too. I feel for you. Sending good vibes your way!

E. from Pot o' Gold said...

How scary. I'm sorry!

M said...

I'm so sorry you had to go through that, it must have been frightening. You're in my prayers!

Audra said...

Oh my goodness! I hope all is well, you guys will be in my thoughts and prayers!

Soupy said...

oh NO! Many prayers and virtual hugs going out to you both (hang in there so hoping Mexico is an end to this week of yours...........)

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking positive thoughts for you and your family. I hope a vacation is the key.

Ethan's Mom said...

OMG...I just read this! Wendy, your words brought me to tears. I'm so sorry that you both had to endure so much stress and worry. How amazing of your dad to make the long drive to help out. Aren't families wondrous?! I will be crossing my fingers that everything turns out well and no interventions will be needed. You are all in my thoughts and prayers.

Stacey said...

so glad she's okay. hopefully you get to go on vacation and her heart is doing alright. {{Hugs}}

SJayneI said...

Most definitely in my prayers and thoughts!!

2momswithaplan said...

I can only imagine how hard it was for you to leave Karen there that night and bring Kylie home. Wow! I'm so happy she's ok. I will keep you both in my thoughts and prayers. For now, enjoy your vacation!

Unknown said...

Hang in there. Sending positive energy your way from Eugene.

Natalie PlanetSmarty said...

I am so sorry that you had such a health scare. I hope that you can still go on your vacation, and things will get better from this point on.

Shannon said...

So sorry to hear this! I hope the tests are all ok.

Stef Ryan said...

Wow-- sending warm thoughts your way. I can't imagine how tough all that must be to deal with.

Kathryn said...

I'm so glad Karen is okay.