It was supposed to be a vacation of a lifetime. Ed had just turned 50 a few days prior and we were about to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary. We had decided to go on an extended camping trip without the kids, just the two of us and visit family, friends, and a couple of national parks, including the Grand Canyon, which had been on my bucket list for a long time, with a quick stop in Las Vegas. On Sunday, we left Portland and drove all the way to Napa, California to visit my Uncle John and Aunt Gail. That night we had steak, baked potatoes, and salad, and caught up on family news and events. The following morning, we packed up the car with our suitcase and pillows, and headed for San Francisco. I was really looking forward to visiting the city on the Bay, as Ed had never been to San Francisco, and I had not been back since my grandmother passed away several years prior.
We left Napa and drove to the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. It was a beautiful sunny California day. The weather was gorgeous, with early morning fog lifting off the water, surrounding the bridge and we could just make out the towers and car deck. We stopped at the first view point and took pictures and then a quick hike around the old military batteries, followed by another stop at a second view point. We had then decided to take a short hike to the Point Bonita Lighthouse and we pulled into the parking lot. . . that is the last thing I remember.
"Crap, it happened again."
The next couple of days are a complete blur to me. I remember, Ed being by my side, holding my hand, I remember being intubated and trying to pull the ventilation tube out and being restrained. I remember voices, images, sensations, but for the most part those first three days I was in the hospital are lost to me.
Ed confirmed what I had known. I had gone into sudden cardiac arrest. One minute, we were talking about going on a hike, and the next I was out, gasping for breath, my eyes opened, but not seeing. He noticed I was in distress and quickly drove down the road to a YMCA camp he remembered passing. Ed grabbed the attention of a couple of staff members, who came running with an AED and oxygen. Someone called 9-1-1, while Jesse and Pete performed CPR, until a ranger from the National Park Service arrived and then Ranger Eddy took over and actually had me breathing on my own, even before the EMT’s arrived. Unfortunately, doing compressions led to a couple fractured ribs and I aspirated on my own blood, filling my left lung.
At the hospital, doctors and nurses rushed to save my life. Dr. Waxman, the on-call cardiologist, was confused by the x-rays of my chest, noticing the wires to the heart, but leading to nothing else. He found my husband, and put his arm around him, asking him to discuss my medical history and explain exactly what had happened. Ed told him we had been on vacation, when the doctor asked where we were from. Ed said, “Washington state. “ The doctor quickly removed his arm from Ed’s shoulder and mocking told him, “Seahawk fans. Don’t worry; we’ll save her life anyway.” Great, another cardiologist with a sense of humor.
When I finally woke up and answered Dr. Waxman’s questions, biting my tongue when he asked who the president of the United States was, he found Ed again, and told him I was awake, cogitative, and mad. Ed breathed a sigh of relief, smiled, and said, “Yep, that’s my wife.”
Yes, I was mad. Mad because it had happened again, mad I was in the hospital instead of on vacation, mad because honestly, I had hoped it would never happen. I had gone twenty years since my first cardiac arrest and although my cardiologist often mentions wishing he had a crystal ball, I never thought I would have another arrest and certainly not one that would come out of the blue with no warning or symptoms. Talk about a real chance encounter.
And talk about what a difference twenty years can made. Twenty years ago, following my first cardiac arrest, I would not let anyone talk about it; almost as if it was not talked about it did not happen. In addition, just like twenty years prior, I was told, I would not leave the hospital without an implanted defibrillator, and so the Friday after my arrest, doctors installed a new device. I believe I was the first patient at Marin General Hospital to receive the newest technology. . . a defibrillator that does not require wires leading to the heart. A representative from Boston Scientific was there to assist the doctors as the new device was surgically implanted under my left breast bone.
Although, I admit, I am still not happy about our ruined vacation, I do have to thank the staff of the Point Bonita YMCA, the National Park Service, the doctors and nurses at Marin General Hospital, and my local cardiologist, Dr. Kudenchuk, who personally contacted Ed on his cell phone and then sent the medical records Marin General needed to complete my surgery and recovery. I also have to thank my aunt and uncle who gave Ed a place to crash for the evenings and fed him. And finally, to my best friend, husband, soul mate, and guardian angel, who was there for me and kept a level head and got me the help I needed. . . I love you!!!
We are now back home. It still hurts to take deep breaths (darn ribs) and I feel it is taking forever for the incisions to heal to the point where I can sleep on my left side or stomach again. I am also struggling with some short term memory loss, but all this shall pass, although I worry anxiety might creep up on me.
I am not sure why I am still on this earth and have survived not one, but two cardiac arrests? I just read an interesting statistic the other day that said only 12% of those who receive CPR survive and wonder why. Is it because they are receiving CPR only without the use of an AED or did help arrive too late or is CPR not being correctly done? I don’t know the answer, but I am going to have a talk with the bishop of my church and make it a goal in my life to make sure every church building, stake center, and institute not only has an AED, but someone who has been trained to use one, because I know they save lives.