9-1-1 The tale of Johnny’s heart attack


As Johnny was recovering in his room the cardiac nurse casually mentioned to me how lucky we were that Johnny’s blockage was located where it was… had it been just one inch higher, it would have been in the area they call the “widow maker.”

For the record, a heart attack at age 55 with a 100% blockage doesn’t make one feel very lucky. But in hindsight, I realize just how blessed we were throughout this ordeal.

For starters, on a Sunday evening where they had to call in the cardiac team from home, we went from the ER to the cath lab in less than 30 minutes. (take that Dominos!) Johnny, who was awake for the procedure, said the topic of conversation was, “What were you doing when you got the call?” Our cardiologist had already finished his cookout and was full and happy. (Which I consider a good thing!)

When Johnny’s blockage occurred, his blood pressure skyrocketed to something ridiculous like 223 over 159. I still can’t believe he didn’t have a stroke.
(Yet another blessing.)

Within minutes of entering the ER, 6 nurses descended on him all at once — poking, prodding and prepping. They were a well organized machine working together flawlessly. It seemed choreographed, and yes, I would give them a perfect 10 on “Nursing with the stars.” One thing we didn’t know at the time, was those large stickers they put on his chest are actually defibrillators. Gone are the old days of paddles to shock the heart. (Sorry TV dramas, you are out of date.)

I can’t sing enough praise for the nurses and staff of Deaconess Gateway Hospital. From the moment we entered they were on the ball. Quick and efficient they calmly did everything right and literally saved my husband’s life. After his procedure while he was recovering, they were equally attentive and caring. They always checked on me as well, making sure I had what I needed. I really appreciated that, because I wasn’t going anywhere!

This morning, our first morning at home together, we are sitting on the couch side by side with dueling keyboards. He’s next to me on Facebook and pretending not to searching for clues of how things are going at the office, and I’m sitting here reflecting on how close I came to being a widow.

“One inch higher and it would have been in the area they call the widow maker.” Or, one hour later, and it would have been too late. Yes, my mind is processing the “what if’s,” and the blessings and the thoughts of how death and disease affect us all.

Before my sister Karen died last year, I was steadfast in my belief that death only happened to other people. What a shock to finally realize that not only did death not play favorites, but in fact, we all are going to die at some point, even me! (Pause here to go take your anti-depressant)

Because I now spend my days with chemo patients who are fighting for life, I often think about death whether I want to or not. Lord knows, I HATE CANCER. Everything about it, but primarily, how unfair it is. How it doesn’t matter if you are a health nut, young mother, smoker or non smoker, fat or skinny, cancer doesn’t play fair.

Once Johnny was prepped in the ER they literally jogged him up to the cath lab and kind of pointed to the cath waiting room where my daughter and I could wait during the procedure. I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye, or tell him that I loved him. This occurred to me as I sat there waiting, knowing that one of the risks of the procedure is sudden death. What if I never saw him alive again? What if my last words to him were something stupid and trite like, “I guess you’re going to get that vacation after all.”

How would I survive as a widow? We are certainly not prepared for that outcome.

So today I concede that there is ONE good thing about cancer. (And yes, at this point I am only willing to concede ONE) With cancer, at least you know in advance that you might die and you have the time to prepare for that. You have the chance to make a bucket list. You have the opportunity to leave this life with no regrets. You have the ability to tell everyone you love, and vice versa, that you do indeed love them. You have the time to make arrangements for those you are leaving behind, and above all, you have the chance to make life changes and enjoy the actual important things and stop sweating the small stuff.

In that way, and that way only, cancer is a gift. A gift of a second chance of getting it right and going out on your own terms because death doesn’t only happen to other people, and it never happens in the time frame we want.

Yesterday I picked up six new prescriptions for Johnny, one of which is nitroglycerin which he will have to carry with him at all times. Our lives are never going to be the same. We’ve got alot of new information to absorb and some serious modifications to our lifestyle if we don’t want a repeat performance of, “Fun in the cath lab.”

So I am closing out today’s blog with a request for prayer. The road ahead is going to be a hard one for a while, and while we certainly have the motivation to make changes, the actual “doing” has the potential to be a rocky road. (We’ve never excelled at self discipline.) Thank you God for getting us this far, thank you God for giving Johnny more time on this earth, and thank you God for giving us the chance to try once again to get it right.

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Jill Kincaid is the founder of Chemo Buddies. Chemo Buddies is a 501(c)3 non profit organization that is made possible through private donations by people like you. Please consider making a tax deductible donation today by selecting the “donate” button above.

Posted in blog, death and dying, heart attack