I am a wife, busy mom of two and a registered nurse. Last year my 45 year old husband survived a “widow maker” heart attack caused by a blood clot. Because we recognized the signs of a cardiac event, he walked away from the hospital with a cardiac stent and is practically unscathed as a result of early intervention. As a seasoned nurse, I try to disconnect my emotions from crisis. I really thought that I was unaffected by my husband’s near death experience. That was until the morning of April 4th, 2012.
Fortunately, I was visited by a friend who is also a nurse. She found me pale with a weak thready pulse and intermittently losing consciousness. She knew I needed to get to the hospital. My cardiologist witnessed my heart pausing and beating at a very slow rate. So slow that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen to my brain to remain conscious. Ironically, two weeks to the day my husband experienced his heart crisis, I was getting my cardiac pacemaker. This bradycardia diagnosis shed light on a medical mystery of mine. My heart was not beating efficiently when I was under extreme psychological stress.
Years before this experience I had two previous episodes of “passing out” during stressful events when I was in nursing school. I had briefly become unresponsive and slumped into my chair while in a clinical group, and “blacked out” hitting my head on the ground immediately after a crucial final exam. Each time I went to the ER for evaluation and followed up with a neurologist and cardiologist. All of my tests came back normal. So I went back to living my busy life.
In high stress situations at work as a nurse, my mantra was “keep on moving and cry later”. However, I was so busy with my family and career that I didn’t allow myself the time to ever process grief or loss. When my husband survived the potentially catastrophic heart attack, I put up a steely facade, fooling myself into thinking that it was another stress that I could handle.
In my career I haven’t never met a pacemaker patient who wasn’t at least 60 years old with other heart problems. I never dreamed that I would need a device to stimulate my heart into beating fast enough, but I am grateful that it is there if I need it. I tease my husband that he makes my heart skip beats. The thought of losing him broke my heart. The truth is that he is the love of my life, and my heart beats for him.