A Change of Heart © lynette sheppard

It’s been almost two months since I posted about decreasing our stress this Christmas. And it was peaceful for us through Christmas Day. On December 26, the stress meter pegged the needle in the red zone.

Here’s what happened and why I haven’t posted in a while:

It’s December 26 and I can’t wait to see the end of 2020. 2021 has got to be better than this past year.

My husband, Dewitt, and I have had an intestinal bug for almost a week. I’m getting better, he isn’t. “I’m so tired, I have no energy,” he tells me. Reflexively, I reach for his wrist to check his pulse. 44. The time between beats is a cavernous space.

“ Hey honey,” I say, “we’re going to take a little trip to the ER.”
“Why?” he groans.
“Your pulse is a little slow.”
“How slow?”
“Oh, in the fifties or so.”

We walk into the tiny rural hospital. I whisper “Heart rate 44” to the nurse and we are whisked into a high-tech room. When the heart monitor is hooked up, the MD, nurse, and I look at one another with wide eyes. “What’s happening?” asks Dewitt.

The tracing of a normal heartbeat looks like a tall mast with a small tent on the ground next to it. Dewitt’s tall poles have full spinnakers attached and billowing out behind them.

“Looks like you’re having a heart attack,” the ER doc says. “You don’t have chest pain or the usual symptoms but the EKG doesn’t lie.”

The staff explode into action as orders are quietly issued: “12 lead EKG stat, nitroglycerin, start two IV’s – one large bore, inject the clot busters, call air ambulance for transfer to Honolulu.”

Dewitt watches, bemused. I split myself in two. My former incarnation as coronary care unit nurse pushes the ‘worried wife’ me aside. Paramedics load my husband into the ambulance and I head home to pack.

The earliest flight I can get out is 6 pm. I pack haphazardly, unsure what we will need and for how long.

The cardiologist, Dr. M., calls me. She’s put a stent in his right coronary artery and restored blood flow. She tells me not to come until tomorrow. Covid has led to restricted visiting hours and everyone must leave by 6 pm. I change flights and hotel reservations.

Dewitt has another trip to the cath lab for two more stents. These are elective procedures to open arteries that ware only 85% clogged. He’s doing well, joking with nurses and doctors. On New Year’s eve, he’s discharged and we head to the Prince Waikiki for some R and R.

Fireworks at night, rainbows in the morning. 2021 is looking good. But in the middle of the night, Dewitt must sit higher with more pillows. I text our cardiologist and she says she will pick us up to head back to the hospital.

Dewitt is in mild congestive heart failure. He’s treated with diuretics. His heart rhythm changes from atrial fibrillation to heart block and back again. A non-specific blood test has them searching for clots in his lungs, legs, arms. He gets the all-clear and returns to the Coronary Care Unit for observation.

The next morning, I’ve just stepped out of the shower at the hotel when my phone rings.

“Can you come to the hospital?” says Dr. M. “He needs to go back to the cath lab.”

One of Dewitt’s stents has clotted off, a rare but possible happenstance, leading to another heart attack. During the catheterization, he develops a dangerous heart rhythm and the paddles shock him. “What the heck was that?” he yells. “I’m sorry I had to do that,” Dr. M says quietly.

Over the next few days, Dewitt improves. His heart rhythm becomes normal. He is fitted for a Life-Vest which is basically a heart monitor and external defibrillator he must wear 24/7 except when showering.

We stay with friends in Oahu for two weeks to be close to advanced medical care. Dewitt improves and we fly home to Molokai, where his healing continues.