Frantically, I called back but no one would answer the phone. I tried calling other numbers, desperate to find someone, anyone on any floor, who could tell me what was happening. I was in shock, terrified and even angry. I was so upset that this was happening and I was not able to be there. All of the people who shared with me their stories of situations just like this came flooding into my thoughts. It seemed to take forever before we finally were able to reach someone who explained that when a code is called, everyone goes to help and no one is available to answer a call. But this wasn’t just any call! I was calling because it was my husband who was the patient at the center of this emergency. So much of what happened during this time is a blur and sometimes I wonder if my mind tries to cloud the memories in an attempt to protect me from the pain of remembering those moments. I called my mother and again her strength came to my rescue. She stepped in and took control because I was a literal spinning mess of emotion, confusion and fear. My daughter and I held each other and cried. My mother was able to have much more success in getting ahold of people who could answer our questions. We were contacted by the hospital and advised that my husband had to be resuscitated. Remember when I complained about a doctor sedating him to help with his confusion and disorientation despite his almost nonexistent heart rate and blood pressure? It nearly killed him. We were advised he was now in the Intensive Care Unit and on full life support. He was in really bad shape. He was in complete organ failure.
The next call I received was from a cardiologist, and as it turns out, the cardiologist who is one of the heroes in this story. This cardiologist had been assigned to my husband’s case as part of trying to diagnose the cause which initiated this entire emergency, prior to the sedation disaster. It was this cardiologist who was simply going to meet my husband and initiate care, who was the one who found my husband unresponsive and called the code. I call his timing a God intervention. I believe there are times when God sends interventions our way when we need it the most. I don’t even want to think what could have happened had he not chosen that moment to check on my husband. He was calm and explained what was going on, updating me on every detail. And he had a diagnosis, finally we had an answer to what set this entire emergency in motion. I got a quick education in heart anatomy and my husband’s heart anatomy was not as it should be. He was diagnosed with Bicuspid Aortic Valve. He was born with this anomaly and it went undetected and undiagnosed until the valve had narrowed and stenosed so severely that his heart was barely functional. In return, his other organs had collectively gone into failure as a result. The prognosis was grim as his body was failing him. How could this have been happening and we never knew?
There were decisions to be made and I had to make them because he was unable to on his own. The cardiologist advised an emergency valvuloplasty to help temporarily open the valve until a valve replacement at a later time when he would be more stable. But they did say that due to the severity of his situation that there were no guarantees this would work. As we discussed all of the options, it was clear to me that if we did nothing, he would die. At least if we tried this emergency procedure, it gave hope. The procedure was successful but he was still in dire circumstances. Days turned into weeks and then a monthly milestone and he remained on life support fighting for life as his body was slowly healing and gaining strength. During all of this time, our only link to him were the many calls we made every day to get updates from the nurses and his doctors. I know I keep saying it, but it just is not right to keep loved ones separated like this. I stand firm on this! It was a nightmare we could not escape. We were thankful for the progress but distraught over the circumstances of protocols and the horrible effects they were having and we knew we were not alone. Slowly he got stronger and was eventually taken off of the various machines as each organ or system was able to work unassisted. He was eventually moved to a step down unit while they determined their plans to replace the valve eventually. One of the preparations was to simply look into the heart and valves to have an inside view of what to expect to best prepare for the procedure. It was during this simple routine procedure that my husband needed to be resuscitated again. And back to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit he went, but this time it was more of a monitoring situation because this was not as extreme as the first time. Yes this is twice now he has had to be resuscitated. He bounced back much quicker this time but we were all still a bundle of nerves. It was emotionally exhausting. The cardiologists had a plan to replace the valve three months after the valvuloplasty hoping that he would be strong enough to undergo the surgery at that later date. We all but demanded that he be released to home to continue his rehabilitation and recovery. With all of the Covid-19 protocols and how we were separated and isolated, I did not want to endure that anymore. My husband was discharged with a LifeVest which is basically an external heart monitor and defibrillator that will respond if it detects the need. We followed every direction and provided the best at home care to help him get stronger with the help of home health nurses and physical therapy. Despite doing everything right, the heart valve was stenosing again and when we went in for a weekly checkup with the cardiologist, it was determined that the valve would need to be replaced much sooner than three months. Back into the hospital he went to get several days of preparation for the TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement). I was allowed to be present to see him prior to and after his TAVR valve replacement which took several hours. He was one of those cases that they just weren’t sure he would survive due to the severity and the damage to his body. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified, but I knew we had the most talented top notch team of cardiologists working to save him and I believed if anyone could save him, they would be able to do it. He was in the best care. And they proved me right, the valve replacement was a success. He spent some more time in the hospital recovering and he said he felt better than he had in years. He would finally come home and we were reunited again. He has had a minor setback due to anemia issues which required another week long hospital stay, but he is currently home and doing well. In fact he has returned to work. One might say he is just short of thriving. He still is in recovery and healing mode. That will take time for certain organs which were more damaged than others to heal. We are just grateful and thankful to have him home, to have this chance with him, to live and love and cherish our time together.
This experience and the reality of nearly losing my husband twice has had a profound effect on our lives. And adding the fact that we endured this through a pandemic with Covid-19 protocols in place which isolated and separated loved ones is something I still can’t wrap my head around. I relied on my faith, my family and my friends to get me through this. I realize it may sound cliche but it is true, we live differently. We wake up every day with a completely different perspective. We don’t take things for granted. We live our lives to the fullest. We know that we are not guaranteed anything more than the moment we are in. When you start to look at life through that new lens, you change how you live. And so now we live new lives. We now do the things we had always put off to do later. We try to live with no regrets. We reach out to our friends and family, by sending the card or letter, making the call or the visit. We don’t wait for special occasions because we have learned that every day of this precious life is a special occasion.
So I decided it was time to open up that moving box and take out the manilla envelope and dive into the contents one more time. This time I had a new perspective. This time I had new motivations. And so I read each letter carefully paying attention to every detail and it felt as if it was the first time I was reading them because this time, I took my time. I didn’t just skim over them. I scrutinized post marks, stationary, ink color, how things were written, addressed and signed. I took notes of names mentioned throughout. I approached it like a detective and there was no detail left uncovered. I couldn’t believe what a new perspective and a fresh look would provide. It was as if my mind was processing the contents of the letters differently. I wasn’t just reading them like I would read a note, I was reading them looking for clues to help direct me in a better direction for my search. All of this time had gone by since I had first been presented with these letters and I had felt guilt and frustration over never having success to properly process them. Now I believe that for whatever reason, this is the right timing. I’m in a place in my life right now where my perspective has been forever altered and in a good way. I now wish to proceed with my search no matter what it yields. I will be honoring my wishes to gain closure on this once and for all.
Will I find Lee? What will he be like? Will he look like my father? Will we share any traits? Where on this giant earth will he be? Does he have a family? How was his life? Is he happy and healthy? Does he know? Will I be dropping a bomb on him like I had dropped on me when I found out? Or does he know? I could list pages of questions I have. Some big ones though are; Will he be open to all of this? Will he be open to talking to me or even meeting me? I don’t want anyone to be upset with me. I’m just trying to figure things out. I have nothing but the best of intentions. I don’t know what will happen. Everyone always hopes for happy endings but we all know that unfortunately that isn’t always possible. I would like to be able to find him and connect and see what happens. I hope it is a positive experience for everyone involved, whatever happens. When it comes down to it, I’m doing this because I need to and I want to and I am ready to. I know that just like everything else in my life, I have the loving support of my family and friends and I will lean heavily on my faith in God to lead the way. So the search begins anew and I am finally well armed with all the information I have to continue on this journey of connection.