I’ve had a lot of ideas for titles for this post. But none seem right, not even this one.
This is a short recounting of my latest adventure that I would not repeat or choose.
It was before 3:00 A.M. and I was sleeping. PC’s alarm would be going off at 5:45AM. He growls, which wakes me. He’s making sounds, like he’s having a nightmare. I try to wake him up but he won’t wake up. I turn on the light and call 911. I felt that cold knot of fear which made me quivery, but I wasn’t going to let it get the better of me. A million thoughts flashed through my head, what if he dies, being one of them. I would love to say I wasn’t panicking, and I don’t think I was, however, I was crying and I remember saying, “You’re not doing this.”
PC was groaning, which the 911 operator called agonal breathing. His breathing slows, then stops. When he stops breathing, it dawns on me to check for a pulse. No pulse. I ask the operator if she thinks CPR is in line. She verifies that it is. With my superhuman powers, that I left at the hospital, I lift PC off the bed and do CPR until the paramedics arrive and take over.
The paramedics carried PC out into the living room, intubated him, and used the defibrillator to shock his heart back into a normal rhythm. While they were taking care of PC, I changed into clothes, and called my dad, who didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t want to call my in-laws, but finally knew I had to. Because I couldn’t reach my dad, I called a close friend to come to help me. Eventually, I reached my father by calling my sister. I called his cell, the house, my youngest sister, and then my middle sister before reaching anyone.
I was going to ride with the paramedics in the ambulance, but they took off without me. Luckily, I asked where they were going.
At the hospital, though I did not know it until much later, PC’s heart stopped again and they had to use the defibrillator again.
Ignorance is bliss, and I wasn’t scared, so much, at this point. I think mainly I was in shock or maybe even thought I would wake up and find it all a dream.
When the hospital finally admited PC I am allowed to go back and see him. He’s unconscious. At this point, all he had was the paralytic the paramedics gave him when they itubated at the house. PC’s mother is a nurse. She was very worried that he was not conscious, even though he was not sedated. PC started twitching which seemed to indicate that the paralytic was wearing off and the hospital started him on a sedative because he was intubated and on a ventilator. They explained PC would panic if he woke up in this condition.
We moved to a room in the ICU once all the normal emegency room tests were completed. Up to this point all the tests, x-rays, etc. didn’t indicate why his heart stopped.
In the ICU, the nurse kindly tried to warn me that brain damage due to lack of oxygen was probable. This is when my composure finally slipped, for a moment. PC and I talked about life support and pulling the plug just a few days before this. PC indicated that he did not wish to remain on life support, including a ventilator, if he was dead. I did not know what to do, so I argued with the nurse that I called 911 immediately, and PC was still breathing when I called. And even as I was doing CPR, he’d try to take a breath after I gave him two breaths. My mind was reeling. No, he couldn’t be brain damaged. It couldn’t be. PC’s mom, who is a nurse, already recognized the warning signs, and she confirmed the diagonosis. Taking a quick step back, if my nurse mother in law is crying over the condition of her son, it is probably pretty serious. “Serious as a heart attack” now means something to me.
Jump forward a few hours. PC slept away the day, thanks to the sedative. In the evening, he woke up (but wasn’t really aware of what was going on) and wouldn’t respond to the sedatives that he was given. He looked at me and focused on me. (Good sign)
He started panicking because of the ventilator, and started trying to pull it out. At that point, the nurse called the doctor, and the decision was made that they could extubate him. He was determined to pull out the tube despite the restrains and number of nurses attempting to hold him down, between 7 and 10 depending on who is telling the story. Afterward, they also stopped the sedatives, and he slept the rest of the afternoon. PC had no difficulty breathing on his own, in fact, his breathing was better off the machine than on it.
Sunday Night/Monday Morning was restless for PC. He woke up every hour or so, and I came to his side. Gradually, he was able to speak and would ask me where he was and why he was there. His short term memory wasn’t working. He asked me the same questions every time he woke up. He wouldn’t believe me that his heart stopped every time he asked.
Monday, though he had no short term memory, he was aware that he was in the hospital. The restraints came off, and he slept most of the day away. He had some visitors, all of whom he recognized. No long term memory issues, which is a good sign, and indicates that perhaps he doesn’t have any brain damage. Short term memory loss was probably due to the sedatives.
Tuesday, was even better, and he was down graded to IMC (intermediate care).
All the tests to this point were still normal, healthy, and strong. No indication of what made PC’s heart stop.
On Wednesday PC’s short term memory started working again. The doctor ordered a special heart MRI, that’s only done at one hospital in town, and an EP study that is done at the same hospital, but due to insurance, PC has to transfer to another hospital for it.
We left the hospital at 10AM. Arrived at at the next one at 10:30. Waited until 12:45 for the MRI. PC was in the MRI for an hour, before they pulled him out for an emergency MRI on a trauma patient. He waited outside for 1-2 hours. Not sure how long he was out before I was able to go back to him. I waited with him for an hour. He went back in, and wasn’t out until 5:20. There was some drama about the length of the test because the AMR driver and nurse were about to go off duty and if they did, PC would have to stay at the hospital that is not covered by insurance for the evening. It all worked out and we were on our way to the covered hospital.
I rode in the ambulance for my very first, and hopefully only, time. I helped PC to eat his lunch since he had nothing since breakfast.
Thursday, PC was not allowed to eat before his test in the afternoon. They decided on a heart cath as well as an EP study. They took him at 2PM. An hour later, he was back in the room and wasn’t supposed to move AT ALL for 6 hours. That means sitting up, lifting his head, moving his legs, etc. I fed him dinner. Do you know how hard it is to hold still for 6 hours?
Friday, PC again couldn’t eat before his test. They finally came at 3PM. It lasted 3 hours! This was the EP study, where they were electrically stimulating his heart to see if they could get it to stop again. I was nervous about the study and refused to leave the lobby with everyone else to go eat. After the study, the doctor came out to say that he knew what was wrong and that they had to implant an ICD (internal defibrillator). Neither PC nor I wanted this, but there really was no other choice, and it wasn’t mine to make, ultimately.
PC came out of surgery at 9PM. He had to do the laying still thing again, but that wasn’t as hard this time because he was really tired from the procedures. I stayed with him until 1AM at his request.
Saturday, about 5PM, PC was discharged from the hospital.
So, what happened?
PC has a genetic disorder called Brugada Syndrome. It causes an abnormal rhythm that causes heart failure. He didn’t have a heart attack, which means the heart muscle is damaged, instead his heart is healthy. Of all the EKGs that were done, none showed the abnormal rhythm except the one during his EP study. We got two irregular waves before it went back to normal. Luckily, it manifested itself. Even if they (doctors) couldn’t determine what caused PC’s heart to stop, I think he would have the ICD.
PC is alive and doesn’t have any brain damage. That’s what is important. Thinking about the events. Thank God that he made a sound that woke me so I could call 911. Thank God I’d just learned CPR. Thank God he wasn’t brain damaged. And Thank God they discovered what made his heart stop so I’ll never have to call 911 and do CPR like this again. God really was looking out for us.