Sometimes things in life have a way of sneaking up on you. A few pounds weight gain. The end of the month. A surprise ending in a movie. A heart attack wasn’t really something I would have put on that list, though.
In hindsight (now that we’ve read all the webMD pages about heart disease) he had every symptom. But we weren’t thinking in terms of, “Oh, could this be a heart attack?” He had shortness of breath. But he had also just climbed two flights of stairs to get to my house. He had weight gain. But he had also eaten out almost every night for the past couple of weeks, and indulged in an abundance of holiday goodies. His feet and legs were swollen. But we had spent the day walking around Biltmore House and had been on our feet for hours.
We were enjoying the afternoon together when he complained about shortness of breath, and that he might need an inhaler. I suggested we go to the newly opened urgent care center, less than a mile from my house. He insisted it wasn’t a big deal. I went online and showed him there was an appointment available in the next 10 minutes and encouraged him to put his coat on.
The staff at the urgent care center instructed us to go the the ER right away. He said it could wait until they got back to Winston-Salem, where they live. I suggested we go to the ER right away, because the staff at the urgent care center really had nothing to gain by recommending we visit the ER (I didn’t think they would receive kickbacks for ER referrals…). We all agreed to go to the ER. Then I realized I had no idea where the ER was. Fortunately, my first three months in town hadn’t necessitated a hospital visit. The urgent care staff told us to go to Mission Health Hospital. We thanked them and headed over. I dropped off my parents at the entrance to the ER, then parked the car. I was worried that I didn’t have a ticket or placard for the car, and wondered if it was okay to leave the car in the lot. I had this thought that people in emergency situations often don’t think clearly, or make mistakes they normally wouldn’t. The last thing I needed was to come back to an empty spot and a towed car.
The ER staff ran tests for several hours, then said he’d need to be admitted. He’d had a heart attack, and they placed him on medicine that needed monitoring.
A heart attack?
Granted, my knowledge of heart attacks is rare, and mostly from the media. I remembered Fred Sanford on Sanford and Son talking about “the big one” and clutching at his chest. There have been dozens of tv shows and movies where someone has a heart attack and immediately collapses. That hadn’t happened. We had walked around Biltmore House just that morning. Dad was moving slower than usual, but he’s also in his late 70s, so I gave him some slack. There are days that I move slower than usual, too.
So there we were, Christmas week, in a hospital room overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains – dad in the hospital bed, mom in one chair, and me in the other. I asked the staff if I needed a parking permit and they said no, the lot I was in was fine. Every hospital staff member was outstanding. The doctors, the nurses, the nurse practitioners, the dietitians, the hospitalists, the administrative folks – every person answered our questions in a compassionate matter, smiled, and was, well, simply a lovely human. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was pleasantly surprised by the care and quality of service that we received.
And we were so grateful. That this happened while we were together. That this didn’t happen while one of us was on our frequent travels. That I work for a company that didn’t blink an eye when I said, “I need to take the next few days off to help care for my dad.” That they have health insurance so that this unexpected event won’t bankrupt them. And, this may seem silly, but that we didn’t have to pay for parking (and my car wasn’t towed). Small things delight me.
They discharged him with instructions to follow up with his primary care physician and a cardiologist once he was back home. And to exercise more. And to eat a low sodium diet. We went to the grocery store and were surprised at how much sodium is in so many foods. We searched online for low-sodium recipes and foods. We talked about exercise routines. And we were thankful that we spent another Christmas together, even though it wasn’t how we expected.