When I say ‘practice makes perfect’, it does hold a bit of morbidity. I tell myself that I was just thinking of worst-case scenarios….going over events in my mind and how I would react to them. Telling myself that I was preparing for something that I would react instinctively to, a reaction that would keep me from freezing helplessly. One cold December morning it would make all the difference.
In the early morning hours, 2:30a.m. to be exact, on December 1, 2012, I was awakened from a sound sleep by my husband falling over on me. He sometimes sleeps upright so that he can breathe better, and it keeps him from coughing so much. I thought he was sitting up and just tipped over onto me. So I gently shook him, knowing that since he is such a light sleeper he would immediately sit up and apologize profusely. Nothing. So I shook him a little harder: nothing. The alarm bells started sounding in my brain and I immediately wiggled around, using my feet to push him off me so I could quickly roll off the bed and turn on the light.
The image is seared into my memory, destined to be there forever: my sweet husband, lying pale and motionless, eyes closed, with an eerie stillness about him. My eyes went immediately to his chest….there was no movement: he was not breathing. I jumped onto the bed, trying to figure out how to pull him to the floor without hurting him. I knew trying to do CPR on the bed would be pointless, since it would provide no resistance when I needed to do hand compressions. And this is where my ‘practice makes perfect’ mantra would begin: I would have to try to resuscitate my sweetheart while calling 911.
Thankfully, the act of my trying to pull him onto the floor caused him to give a small gasp and open his eyes. I began talking to him as if he were a baby: this singsong was the only way I could communicate without crying, or perhaps it would disguise my crying, shaking voice. I told the 911 dispatcher that he was responsive, and I would now go downstairs and unlock the front door for the emergency personnel. As I talked to him, I got his medication card out of my bedside table…another of my worst-case scenario preparations.
Within minutes, a police officer was coming up the stairs. Soon after, the room filled with paramedics, and they began asking me what happened, his medical history, IVs were inserted, they read off his medications, I showed them his MedicAlert bracelet indicating his blood disorder. There was tons of activity swirling around, yet it all seemed to be in slow motion….I think it had everything to do with the calmness of the paramedics, their kindness as they talked to us both. There are several hospitals in the area, so thankfully I also remembered that I needed to request that he be taken to the one where his doctors have privileges.
He had two more episodes of syncope in the ambulance on the way to the hospital…thankfully he did not stop breathing again. In the emergency room, he had two more episodes: this time he vomited with each episode.
I am not sure there was ever an explanation given as to why this occured, but the cardiologist on call that night speculated that he would need a defibrillator. On Friday, December 7, 2012 that is exactly what happened. Despite his history of complicated surgeries, everything went without incident, and he was discharged just a few days later.
With renewed hope and happiness, I threw myself into preparing for Christmas. I had spent the last week watching people prepare their homes for this wondrous time of year, all the while wondering if we would have anything to celebrate. Late one night I drove up the driveway, and things seemed different, although I couldn’t really put my finger on it. As I backed down the drive the next morning, I noticed the wreaths on our front doors. Our sweet friends next door had put them up, and put away our harvest decorations. I sat at the road, crying and admiring our beautiful wreaths, with the knowledge that if I didn’t have the heart to do anything else, I would see the evidence of Christmas Spirit each day during this difficult time. When all was said and done it truly became the best Christmas ever.