The Struggle to Breathe

The year 2008 would be a year of change as our firstborn prepared to graduate from high school.  We all felt the passage of time, and began measuring it by days and weeks, no longer by years.  It was gratifying to watch our son prepare for life away from home…we felt that we had given him a foundation that made him ready to take on the world, and he displayed the easy confidence that confirmed our feelings.

It was during that time, probably March of 2008, that my husband started feeling tired and ‘winded’ whenever he exerted himself.  We thought he had just gotten out of shape since retirement, and he and I began walking together in the evenings.  He really preferred to exercise alone, but occasionally allowed me to walk with him, and the hills and valleys of our neighborhood provided a very challenging training ground.  I began to be concerned that he was out of breath on a daily basis, and suggested he make an appointment with our family doctor.  Of course he put me off, saying time after time that he was just out of shape, and just needed to work out more.

On a mild spring evening in April, we set off for our walk, heading for the hilliest route.  As we approached the halfway point on our block, my husband suddenly began to struggle to breathe like never before.  He had to sit down for several minutes, trying to catch his breath, while I tried to decide whether to run back home and get the car, or stay with him.  I was not willing to leave him alone, so we very slowly made our way home.  It was during this time that I suggested that he call his best friend, a doctor, the next day….just to see what he thought.  I was desperate to get him to take just one step toward getting medical attention.  This time he agreed.

We had an uneventful night, so I got up and went to my job as a secretary in an elementary school, after getting reassurance from my husband that he would still make the phone call.   I often think of what our parallel mornings were like on that day….I was blissfully going about my workday, while my husband was alone, dealing with his most difficult medical experience so far.  After making the phone call, his friend suggested that he go see our family doctor.  They took him to an exam room and checked his blood oxygen level, which registered in the 60’s.  Normal levels are above 90.  The doctor immediately ordered a CT scan.

It was then that our parallel mornings converged into one blur:  I had just sat down for my lunch when my phone rang.  It was a radiology technician who bluntly told me that they had found pulmonary emboli….blood clots, in my husband’s lungs.  There were several of them, and at that moment he was being transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital.

I don’t know what I did or said, but I was suddenly surrounded by teachers.   Someone put my lunch away, and I was led into my boss’ office, where I told him my husband’s situation.  He offered to drive me to the hospital, but I felt I could make it there by myself, and within minutes was on my way.

The next several days were spent in the hospital’s intensive care unit, where he was given heavy doses of blood thinners in an effort to dissolve the blood clots.  At the same time, he was instructed to move as little as possible, to keep the clots stationary.  I felt my own blood run cold as I realized the seriousness of what we were dealing with:  one traveling clot could kill him.

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