Sunday, October 19, 2008

Heart Attack--Part IV

Yesterday, I shared with you about my journey to the hospital in the ambulance and about my cath lab experience. Today, let me tell you a little about my experience in the Critical Care Unit (CCU). I think I was in the Critical Care Unit, it may have been the Cardiac Care Unit, I don't really know for sure, but there were people in my unit that were not heart patients, but all heart patients did go to my unit.

I had my heart attack at 1:30 PM. In less than three hours, I had been transported to the hospital, had a heart cath, and was wheeled the the CCU for the night. My hope was that I would spend a night in CCU and then go to the room the next day or so. Unfortunately, that plan failed to materialize. Maybe I was unrealistic in my thinking, but even the doctor implied that would be the schedule.

The CCU was an experience. Every 10 minutes or so I could count on a nurse coming in to read the monitor that I was hooked to. Let me set the scene. I was hooked to a heart monitor, that looked identical to the monitor above. The monitor recorded my pulse, blood pressure, oxygen level, breathing, and a few other things I didn't really understand. I had twelve pads adhered to my chest, with twelve leads running to the monitor. I also had an oxygen monitor attached to my left hand, a blood pressure cuff wrapped around my left arm, and an IV in my right arm. Needless to say, there wasn't much moving around in my unit. Let me also say that a key part of the monitoring, from my perspective, were the adhesive pads attached to my chest. Now, I realize that some women like men with hair on their chest and some women prefer men to have none. Well, God has blessed me with my fair share of chest hair. And, unfortunately, these adhesive pads were not made for people like me. Let's just say that the scene from the 40-Year-Old Virgin (I didn't see the movie, but I've seen that scene on various shows) was relived several times in my CCU room. My nurse said that there were men who regularly paid to have people pull their hair out by the roots--I reminded her each time she riped out my hair that I was not one of those men!

I settled down in the room about 4:30 and was able to see Tonya for the first time. Those were welcomed moments. I'm not sure Tonya has ever looked or sounded better than when she walked into the room. Those were precious moments and I think calmed a lot of our fears and concerns. We held hands, kissed, and just watched each other for the next few minutes. Tonya sat on the bed with me and we talked about all that had happened. As often happens, Tonya only knew bits and pieces of all that had taken place. I also had no idea what had happened to Evan after they rolled me out to the ambulance. So, those moments were husband and wife, mother and father, friend and friend talking, catching up, and celebrating the miracles that had taken place. And, the protection of God's hand upon me, Evan, and Tonya.

The specialness of the moment didn't last long, as the nursing staff, technicians, and others continued to come into the room to check my condition. And, we knew that Tonya needed to go take care of Evan. Fortunately, when she picked up Evan from the clinic, she was able to drop him off with one of my coworkers. This coworker is a wonderful Christian woman, who along with her husband, had served for many years in Europe as an international missionary. Their boys are now almost grown, one in college, and one a senior in college. They did a great job of keeping Evan--but I do think Evan pushed them to the limits. Dealing with an 8-month-old isn't quite the same as teenaged boys. But, maybe it was good practice for being grandparents one day!

The night in CCU was long. Somewhere around 8:00 PM, I began experiencing some discomfort in my chest. What was happening? Was I having another heart attack? Had something gone wrong in the cath lab? I didn't know. My heart was racing, that I did know. As I told the nurse, it felt as if the left side of my heart was fighting with the right side of my heart. Ironically, I could feel the onset of this battle before the monitor recorded it. The pain would last for a few seconds, be recorded on the monitor, and then would go away. That fight would happen every 30 minutes or so, and lasted until about midnight.

But, from what I soon discovered, that fight that began around 8:00 PM was simply the warmup for the main event to come. At midnight, the fight went into overdrive. The pain started, but the pain never went away. My heart raced and raced and raced, causing a great deal of soreness in my chest. I could not tell if I were having chest pains or if my chest was simply sore. Around 1:00 AM, the nurse called the doctor and discussed my situation. He changed a little of my medicine and told them to watch me closely--more closely than every 10 minutes! Oh yes, that is possible. Now, they were in my room every 5 minutes, at the max, checking my monitors, talking with me, etc.

This heart racing continued until the doctor arrived at 5:20 AM. I guess he got tired of being called at home, so he just came on in to check for himself. He was able to adjust the medicine once again, and the pain slowed greatly. What he found was that there were two irregular heartbeats going on. The first one, the feeling that the left side was fighting the right side, was nothing to worry about. The blood flow was being restored and the heart was adjusting to the new amount of blood. That was the pain I could feel. The other irregular heartbeat was much more serious and concerned him. That's what started around midnight. I can't remember the name he gave it, but even the name sounded serious.

Because of the irregular heartbeat, there would be no leaving CCU on Tuesday. I was going to be grounded for at least a day longer. Tuesday was some better, but I was at the point of exhaustion. I had not slept since I woke up at 5:15 AM Monday. My chest was sore. The meds were taking their toll on me. And, then the other shoe dropped, literally. Because of the meds I was on, my blood pressure began to drop. And, I don't mean a little. By nightfall, my heartbeat was down in the 80/50 range, and they were PLEASED to see it at that rate! When I was resting, my heartbeat actually dropped to 66/45 at one point. I'd say the meds overdid their work, wouldn't you?

So, most of Tuesday afternoon and evening were spent trying to regulate my heartbeat. I feel asleep, finally, and rested in the deepest sleep I had had in a long time! Maybe that's what a 66/45 heart beat will do to you!

However, what I had hoped would happen--being transferred to a room--didn't happen on Tuesday...or even through much of Wednesday morning. I was so disappointed because I knew that the longer I stayed in CCU, the longer it would be before I could go home, to be with Tonya and Evan.

Finally, on Wednesday morning I was transferred to the Cardiac Care Floor. I would be monitored in my room, for at least 24 hours before going home.

So, what did I learn during my stay in CCU? Several valuable lessons:

1) You'd better be sick if you are in CCU! If not, you soon will be. The pressure is intense in there. There's little food, no bathroom, and the bed is about as uncomfortable as sleeping on the floor! At one point, I told Tonya that if she wanted to rest, she could take my place and I would sleep on the floor! She didn't understand my point until she knew just how uncomfortable the bed really was.

2) Be prepared for noise! Wouldn't you think that floors don't need to be stripped and waxed every night in CCU? And, wouldn't you think that there had to be a better time than midnight both nights? I guess not, at least not at this hospital.

3) Nurses really need to remember where they are in CCU. My room was directly in front of the nurses station. I heard way too personal stories about things going on in their lives. I heard disagreements with floor nurses on bed counts, and how patients being moved out of CCU would hurt their daily counts. Patients really don't need to be involved in the politics of medical care. Treat the patient, take the personal and political somewhere else. I really didn't need to know all that I heard, and I really didn't care.

4) Just because a person is designated as a nurse doesn't mean that he or she has the nursing gene! Some people just don't have an ounce of compassion in them. I had some great nurses, and I had a couple who had never met anyone they cared about.

5) Never decide to go back to school to become a cardiac care doctor! Because, when you do, you will be on-call at times. And, on-call generally means midnight, 1:00 AM, and 3:00 AM calls to your house. And, certainly, waking up your wife!

6) Even though my wife and I eat fairly healthy, and the doctor says that I'll need to do even better, it is just wrong when you are served grits with no salt! Sorry, I guess I won't include grits in my new diet--because they just need some salt, any salt!

7) Be thankful for modern technology. A few decades ago, I would have had open heart surgery to correct the problem I had. Or, I would have died. Thank God for things man has learned!

Tomorrow, I'll share about my stay on the cardiac care floor and dismissal from the hosptial. Then, unless something changes, I'll only write one other post after that of the lessons I've learned during this whole experience.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for your prayers. Thanks for your ongoing friendship!


  1. I am so enthralled with your story. I want to be a nurse someday. I am very curious about the heart and have thought a few times I might want to try being on the cardiac floor.

    I truly am glad you're home and comfortable. And I am glad you're sharing your story too.

    My FIL has a pacemaker and defibrillator in his chest. His story is amazing. His ongoing struggle is heartbreaking though. But his situation is different than yours. He has a weak heart from a childhood illness. It's sad.

    Still praying for you all!

    Heidi Reed

  2. Not sure you would make a good cardiac care nurse--you actually seem to have a heart! :)

  3. Awww -- you're kind. :)

  4. are very caring and loving (at times to a fault!)...that can be the best thing in the world for a nurse or the worse...a good balance, from my perspective, is what is needed!

  5. That was quite an interesting story about the CCU but sorry you had to experience it to tell it.

  6. I was really moved about how you wrote about the time you and your wife were able to spend together. You two are so blessed to have each other.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I can't wait to read what you have written.