I keep sitting here, not sure how to start this, so I guess I'll just start.
In the wee hours of the morning (1:00ish?) on September 23rd, my mom, on a houseboat vacation with my two older siblings in Lake Powell, Utah, woke up to discomfort and a voice telling her, "This is a heart attack, you're having a heart attack." She had already thrown up a couple times before she went to bed (thinking she was just sick but actually was experiencing angina) but, as she woke up more and started to try and rouse my dad and tell him what was going on, she began throwing up again.
I wasn't there so I can only convey bits and pieces without much timeline accuracy, but I know that she continued throwing up many, many times throughout the night... 30 or so was a guess. She had intense chest, arm and back pain and it was hard to breathe.
My dad was terrified and felt rather helpless. You see, they were on this houseboat on a night with just a sliver moon that wouldn't even rise until about 5:30am., no spotlight and a VERY treacherous lake, twenty miles from the closest marina and medical help. Lake Powell is full of unknowns under the water. It can be a dangerous lake to navigate in the daylight, much less the darkest of nights with no light on the boat. My mom relates now that my dad was trembling and he tried to hold her and offer her some sort of comfort. I can only imagine the anguish that they were both experiencing. My mom wrote up a summary of events as she remembered them. I hope she doesn't mind if I put some of that here in my own record of things:
"I was pretty freaked out, panic was rampant for a while. [As time passed,]I got to a point that I saw a really cool mosaic of blues & blue-green looking spots that formed a spiral. It moved ever so gently & beckoned me... I thought with great clarity... "So this is what it's like to die from a heart attack" There was no panic at that point. It was a peaceful, resigned, calm place & feeling."
"I don't know how much time passed but I started feeling & then speaking out loud to Brayt "I CAN'T die on this boat" "I can't do that to these kids, my kids & grandkids." I knew with certainty, at that point, that they would heap some kind of guilt on themselves about not doing something different... [so] I knew that I couldn't die on the houseboat. I asked Brayt to give me a [priesthood] blessing. He obliged & then later he felt like he should go consecrate some oil & do the full ordinance, so he did. Then when he said his blessing he stated: "I bless you that you will survive this night". ...[and] something shifted after that. I was in agony for more than 8 hours and I survived the night. I didn't die on the houseboat."
My dad, in the retelling, says that he had so much fear as he tried to do something but felt so helpless. He gave the first blessing without oil because he forgot to bring it, and later felt commanded by the Spirit do the full ordinance (as mom said). As he gave her the second blessing, he told me that he felt the powers of heaven pour into my mom and felt the fear that gripped him relax. He said it felt that it wasn't up to him now. She was held by the Power of God.
Even still, the night was agony. My mom said she kept looking at the sky, hoping to see some light, some signal of time passing. She felt like it would never end. But, as all hard things do, the night finally did come to an end. Morning came and they got her on the power boat and to the ramp at Bullfrog Marina.
Upon arrival, my dad ran up the ramp and found a Ranger sitting in his Jeep. He asked him if there was a Clinic close by.
"Why?" the Ranger asked.
"Because I think my wife is having a heart attack." replied my Dad.
The Ranger asked where she was and my dad pointed to the power boat bobbing at the dock. The Ranger, who happened to be a Medic, jumped in his Jeep, radioed for an ambulance, drove down the ramp, grabbed his bag and ran to where she was in the boat. He, on the bobbing boat, started an I.V. of something, and then the ambulance was there and they were loading her onto the gurney.
She was taken to the small clinic at Bullfrog and was given some sort of pain meds and who-knows-what. In short order, a life-flight helicopter crew arrived and, in Mom's words, "They were the BEST! Light, good energy, competent to the max & the let me joke with them & they seemed to get it! The pilot came in & asked "How do you feel about a helicopter ride?" Me: "That's probably the best part of this whole thing so far!" Pilot (laughing): "Now that's my kind of patient!" Whoosh..... off to the chopper..."
Mom was in a drug induced haze after that. She remembered snippets of things... being unloaded from the chopper... flashes of the Cardiac Cath-Lab... the Cardiac ICU with no familiar faces around... and then seeing my dad (who had driven the five hours from Lake Powell to Provo, where she was taken).... and then my dad walking in the room again, followed by me. My Dad had called me Friday afternoon at about 1:00 to tell me what was going on and that Mom was in a helicopter on her way to Provo. I called Taylor and Lacy, my siblings, and then Dustin. Dustin could tell I was rather shaken and suggested that I call my friend Rebby. Rebby offered to watch my baby Brynja and pick up my kids from their bus stop. I took her up on the offer and was on the road by about 2:30.
My mom was in the Cardiac ICU from Friday until Sunday afternoon. Sunday they moved her to the regular Cardiac Floor (which was bustling and crowded... and her new room we not-so-lovingly called her "Harry Potter cupboard-under-the-stairs" because it was so small...) I stayed in Provo the whole time and was at the hospital all day, every day until she was released on Tuesday evening.
My dad and I took turns being the information liaison for everyone who was calling to inquire and send their prayers and love. She had many visitors and love and prayers being said for her.
Because she went so long without any medical intervention, she did suffer some damage to her heart, but it is improving and she is working to get her heart function back. We learned after her surgery (where two stents were placed) that the problem was in her lateral anterior descending coronary artery. This is the artery that is also dubbed "the widowmaker" because it has a VERY high mortality rate. They tell us that it was 100% blocked by a blood clot that had developed on the stent they had placed there last year. How my mom survived so long with such a thing and how she is currently doing as remarkably well as she is... TRULY a miracle.
As for my own experience and the title of this post... I had NO idea, in the midst of my own hospital "supportive role" experience, how taxing to my own psyche it was. I thought my mom was doing fairly well on Saturday and Sunday, all things considered. And she was. She was not really eating, though, and battling nausea, chest pain (from Pericarditus, they think, but were never sure...) and drug-effects, among other things. It was rough. More rough than I realized at the time. Monday rolled around and she showed such improvements from the weekend that I had a dawning understanding that she had been worse than I knew. But she improved so much on Monday. She started eating more, had less nausea and started walking more with her cardiac therapist. Then Tuesday she was WAY better, even, than Monday. It was an amazing transformation. Her spirits were higher on Tuesday and we got word that she was most likely going to be released that day.
As I, unconsciously for the most part, started to relax about my mom's condition Monday evening and into Tuesday, I began allowing myself to feel my exhaustion. I felt like I had been a piece of cloth that was spray-starched into rigidity for support and suddenly someone poured water all over me, releasing the starch that was holding me up. I was "puddley". I had permission from the universe to be tired and, boy-oh-boy, was I tired. I also felt like I was made of blown glass. All my emotions were suddenly right at the surface, and I would shatter at a touch. I worked at "keeping it together" to some degree for the rest of the day, but all I wanted to do was cry my eyes out in someone's arms.
My dear husband was at home with the kids these five days and trying to work and juggle schedules, etc. He was anxious for me to come home, so on Tuesday night at about 8:30, I left Provo for my trek home. It was late to be leaving, tired as I was, but I didn't want to stress D out any more than he was. As I was driving, my tears, held together most of the day, were bursting to come out. But to drive safely, I couldn't let them come.
I wanted desperately to stop at a friend's house who was on the way home, but the late hour and other circumstances didn't allow it.
And so, I swallowed it.
I know it was a mixed blessing to be able to do that. I needed to not delay my drive any more since I would be home very late as it was, but I also felt like I really needed to cry.
But I didn't.
And the emotions burrowed. They went subterranean and I can feel them there, like a splinter in my body.
Did you ever watch a movie called The Holiday? Cameron Diaz's character couldn't cry, try as she might. I've felt like that ever since. I do cry, just a little bit. But then those tears just dry up as quickly as they came on.
I did get some release yesterday. My mom came over to my house to help me dip pretzels, of all things to do post-heart attack (bless her, but she saved me!). In my gratitude for her help, I hugged her and said my thanks. And I started to cry. She hugged me for a long time. She said sweet-mommy things to the child in me who needed comfort. And I 'got it' in a way I hadn't yet. A new level of settling in. My mom so nearly lost her life. She was spared by the power and grace of God and her own will that made the choice to stay. She was here with me in my kitchen offering me comfort instead of me desperately seeking the slippery peace I would have been had she merged with the blue/green mosaic that was beckoning her on that turbulent night in Lake Powell.
My tears went underground, but my mother stayed, and I will wait patiently and in gratitude until those tears would like to come forth.
I love you more than words can express, Momma.