It's sudden, frightening to find yourself in Emergency. Like the flip of a coin, your life is upside down. Last Friday it was us. Bill woke in the night unable to get air into his lungs. Like drowning, but on stale heated air. He could breathe sitting up while I called the nurse on Telehelp, who told me to get him to a doctor within four hours. That's when the calm kicked in. I remembered it from my mother's death. A deep, clearheaded calm, an almost physical feeling of support, felt deep in the pit of my stomach and like a rod in my spine.
In her office, our GP said flatly, “You may have had a minor heart attack or be in heart failure. Go straight to Emergency.” She called ahead. As we drove, I didn't exactly pray, but turned to God and listened. Just two words: “Be brave”. I swallowed and mentally hunkered down for the duration.
So there we were, triaged, waiting, in a corner of Emergency, partitioned off from the flu cases. I was lying on our jackets on the floor because of my back. Then the blessings started. A friend of ours was volunteering that day and supplied us with water and updates. Just through the window, a conveyer belt of ambulances and urgent stretchers beat through the freezing rain.
But somehow the blessings flowed, I could lie in a sheltered corner and later on a gurney, so I never left his side. A woman who had been waiting four hours for test results gave up her place so Mike could be triaged.
The doctors were kind and thorough. The young resident impressed me by asking, “How was it from your point of view?” And then he carefully repeated the story back to uso he was sure he understood. Everything was good: clear lungs, no fever, no oedema, blood pressure 117 over 80. I started to breathe again. Then the scan. Because the doctor was teaching the resident, he pointed out all the features. It all seemed OK, then liquid in the sac surrounding the lungs, not a lot, but enough to make breathing difficult – and that was why he had been eating less – no room.
An xray, siphons of blood and – heart failure. A shot of diuretic through his IV, a prescription for an ace inhibitior to help his heart and an appointment for the Rapid Response Heart Clinic on Tuesday. The streets were grey and slick with rain, wet snow crusting the curbs as we drove home. The house looked the same, almost to my surprise, yet we were changed.
Bill peed and peed, his breathing got easier. He tried to sleep, not in our bed but in the guest room, where he could wedge his back against a wall to help his breathing. He had the phone so he could press the intercom button for me any time.
Carrying my half of the phone, I wandered down to the family room to fill in my gratitude diary. To my surprise, it went over the page. The previous day, before the bottom dropped out of our world, I had three items. Today I the list went on and on, ranging from neighbours' kindness to things falling into place. It was as if although we were facing this challenge, someone had smoothed the way, walked beside us. The final line of my entry reads, “This was a blessed day.”