As I continue “Marriage 101: ‘In Sickness'” in our hospital room, the clock on the wall shows the little hand on the one and the big one on the twelve. One o’clock: the exact time Jeff was wheeled into the emergency room of Medical Center of Arlington, three weeks ago.
Yes, you heard me right. Three whole fun-filled weeks in which his doctors juggled his heart with his gallbladder.
That night, as Jeff clutched his chest in the icy-cold emergency room of Medical Center of Arlington — or, the “MCA ‘Hilton'”, as we started calling it — we were so sure that he was in the middle of a heart attack. Were we ever shocked to learn that those pains that started in his chest before traveling elsewhere were caused by gallstones! Only a couple of days later, while he was undergoing an M.R.I — Magnetic Resonance Imaging — those pains returned.When the test came back, the cardiologist told us that this attack in the MRI was an honest-to-goodness heart attack.
Since it was crucial to his life to stabilize his heart first, his cardiologist scheduled a heart catheterization where he discovered two good arteries and blockage in the other three, yet, he told us that he thought best not to perform any other procedures or even another stent, as it might have actually blocked the arteries even worse.
Then came Week Two which crept by like an army of snails on Lithium. The wait was brutal and we wondered why Jeff’s doctors didn’t just haul off and hold a big pow-wow to decide what to do, and when and where they would do it. In the meantime, his heart man and two GI men (one of them a surgeon), and a general practitioner kept an eye on him. At one point, one offered him the option of going home for a week or staying put where he would already be safe, should he suffer another episode. Well, as much as we both wanted him home, we also knew the only safe solution was to stay put where he could safely wait it out.
During that same week, our room was a hub of activity with doctors, nurses, PCA’s (a new term for nurses’ aides), respiratory therapists, and a phlebotomist or two milling into and out of our room at all times of the day and night until I expected they would be able to find it blindfolded.
So far, Jeff has had endured at least one X-ray, blood work, two MRIs, one heart catheterization, two echocardiograms.
In the works for Week Three, would be an ERCP (“alphabet soup” for Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography) to prepare for what we had all hoped would be the grand finale: a cholecystectomy (or, gallbladder removal). It would take place probably Monday or Tuesday. (That was the maddening part of this whole thing. No one gave us a definite date or time so that we could make plans. They explained that it depended on when they could get a room for it and the doctor performing the procedure could work it into his schedule.)
Week Three started off with a bang when I heard Jeff whispering to me. Doped up on Benadryl, when I couldn’t get my eyes to quit itching, the night before, I had finally sunk into bottomless slumber.
“Psssst. Wake up, babe.”
“Mghgbt,” I mumbled, lifting my leaden head off the pillow. “Huh?”
“We gotta move.”
“Down the hall. The nurses tried to move us at six, but I held them off.”
“Why do they need that?”
“Because of a leak on the second floor that dripped down to our floor. Get up. They’ll help us move.”
As my brain started waking up, I remembered someone laying out tarps of some kind, the night before. When I had started down to the Nutrition Kitchen to get Jeff some strawberry ice cream, a nurse had routed me through the support-staff office and cautioned me to ‘be careful’.
Sure enough, just before breakfast, here came nurse rolling in a wheelchair for our ‘schtuff’. As I had been gathering stuff up and taking it home, as we realized we hadn’t needed it, and as I had kept our belongings fairly easy to grab up, our exodus to the room at the end of the hall went smoothly, but it screwed our breakfast up. Still, all things considered, the rest of our day went smoothly and our new “digs” were even a bit bigger. Week Three, the week we had been waiting for, was just about at our door, so we were in pretty good spirits. On Monday, May 2 — which also happened to be our twenty-seven-month anniversary — he would go down for an ERCP to pluck out the stones. On Tuesday, he would get his gallbladder out.
At last, the GI Lab transport arrived and wheeled Jeff out on his bed. I followed along behind him until we got to the place where he would go in.
“Break a leg, baby,” I whispered in his good ear before entering the hospital lobby to wait out the forty-five-minute procedure.
On that day, there had been a fatality shooting in the Walgreens on New York Avenue, the street I take to get to school. Another family whom I had seen in the GI area gathered around the t.v. After making a couple of remarks to them, I opened my laptop and set to work on grading more essays. I just started grading one when the doctor came out.
Wow, is it that time already?
“Mrs. Schwarz, we’re through in there,” he said.
“So, you did pick out the stones?”
He handed me some pictures. One frankly turned my stomach inside out.
“See this? It’s pus. Lots of it. I washed it out, but his gallbladder will definitely need to come out, tomorrow.”
At this point, I need to explain that this all happened during final examination review week. In fact, as I prepared the review, it was with the possibility that a sub might have to present it.
As I, myself, have appreciated clean-cut and easy-to-follow lesson plans from colleagues for whom I have subbed, I made mine super easy to follow, as well. So you can imagine my relief when I learned that Jeff’s surgery would come to pass on a day when I could be off. According to the plan, he would have the surgery on Tuesday and, maybe go home on Wednesday. Thursday at the latest. We were almost home.
Please note that I said “almost”.
On Tuesday, May 3, the surgeon removed the gallbladder. As it was the most serious procedure to date, I had asked one of my besties if she would be available to come and sit it out with me. As we were waiting, someone from our congregation joined us, and we started talking. Soon, I looked up to find the surgeon approaching me.
“Yes. I’m Kim Schwarz.”
“Well, we’re through and it went well. I figure your husband will sleep a lot today and then, depending on how he does, he might get to go home, tomorrow. He’s still asleep, but you can go back in just a bit.”
Jeff woke up just as I approached his bed. The nurses had handed him a kidney basin, as sometimes the anesthesia can be nauseating, but soon he was ready to return to the room where my friend Jodi, Rusty from church, and I waited.
Although Jodi had wanted us to go to lunch somewhere, I had asked her if we could wait until after the surgery. Suddenly, though, with it all behind us, I was starving.
“Y’all go on ahead,” Jeff urged. “I’m just gonna go back to sleep.”
So we drove across the street to Cafe Pulido, on Mayfield Road and had enchilada dinners and caught up on girlfriend gab, even splurging on two orders of flan, before starting back.
When we got back, I was floored to see Jeff barely making it as a nurse ambulated him after his surgery, to keep him from getting pneumonia in his lungs. We all knew there had to be something wrong. Sure enough, the same doctor who performed the ERCP said he had found a large stone with no place to escape but Jeff’s bile duct.
He would need another ERCP. This time, though, getting the stone out would be simple. The next day, a Wednesday, he had prepared for elevenish; however, with a crowded schedule, Jeff was told the doctor would squeeze him in around five-ish that afternoon.
“But I’ll have to teach,” I wailed.
“Look, babe,” said Jeff. “I want you to go on in, as usual. I’m gonna be all right. The doctor is just going to take out the stone and send me back up here and all I’m gonna do after that is sleep.”
So I did just that. After letting my seven o’clock class out a little early, I drove home to feed our dog before swinging through Whataburger’s drive-through to redeem a coupon for a Chop House Cheddar and Bacon burger. With my car smelling like grilled onions, I pulled onto the access road to turn right onto Matlock where the hospital was located. As it was after nine o’clock p.m., I knew I’d have to get into the hospital through the emergency doors, as MCA locks the main entrance at that time.
When I arrived at Jeff’s room and swung open the curtain, my usually happy-go-lucky hubby stared at me as though I were an alien. Instantly, I knew that he had been gobsmacked by anesthesia.
There was no way Jeff felt like going home on Thursday; thankfully, his heart doctor listened and supported our decision to hang in until Friday.
On Friday, around one p.m. or so, after we had finished our sweet-and-sour chicken and rice, a nurse brought his discharge instructions and left us to pack our belongings. After gathering up the plant that friends had brought us during the first week, I pulled the car out of the parking lot and swung around under the porte-cochere where two navy-vested volunteers waited with Jeff in a wheelchair.
Now that we’re home, the real recovery and change of lifestyle begins with sleep. Lots of sleep, changing our diets to low-fat cardiac, and working in some exercise, every day. On Saturday, we accomplished two of those goals: getting his prescriptions and stocking up on food he could eat.
All in all, our time at MCA was as pleasant, down-home even, as a hospital can possibly be. As a wife, I loved its family-friendliness. The nurses actually seemed to like my sleeping in his room on a fold-out couch. The staff, from diverse cultures, were professional, courteous, and many times, downright fun. The meals, for the most part, were tasty for hospital fare. Best of all was its proximity to our house: only five minutes west from our house. In short, on that tense Friday morning around 1:00 a.m. when every second counted, Medical Center of Arlington was a Godsend.
Coming up, I’ll be returning to my lighter-hearted posts. Until then, take care of yourselves. You have only one body. Be good to it.