A surprise breakfast with their friend. Not a potential heart attack for their father.

The best part of my heart scare on Tuesday morning was our children, or more specifically, the way we managed them during this potential crisis. 

When we decided to call for an ambulance, a number of decisions were made:

1. When Elysha made the call, she requested that the ambulance refrain from using a siren so the kids wouldn't be frightened. The dispatcher said this wasn't possible, but when an EMT called back to check on my condition and request that I take aspirin immediately, Elysha again requested no siren. He agreed, so the ambulance pulled up in front of the house quietly. 

The kids were awake and aware that I was waiting for the ambulance, but it wasn't the loud, frightening version of an emergency response vehicle, but more akin to a medically-equipped Uber. 

Just a ride to the doctor for Daddy.

In fact, the kids never even saw the ambulance. Neither wanted to see it, knowing it would make them nervous, so instead they sat together in the kitchen, watching a TV show on the iPad as it pulled up in front of our home.  

2. Elysha told the kids that I would be going to the hospital via ambulance because "I wasn't feeling well" and "the doctors wanted to see me soon." I stood beside her as she explained, my chest in incredible pain and unable to catch my breath, nodding in agreement. 

In response to this news, the kids immediately hugged Elysha, leaving their Daddy to stand alone, wondering why they were hugging the person who was breathing just fine and not the guy who was afraid he might die at any moment.

Sometimes being a father is hard.   

3. Elysha called our friend, Kathy, immediately after calling the ambulance. She leapt out of bed and came to our house to get the kids to school so Elysha could join me at the hospital.


My mom passed away 11 years ago, and I don't really know my father, and Elysha's parents live more than two hours away, so having someone like Kathy (or the many others who we could've called had Kathy been away) is such a blessing. Elysha and I are fortunate to have an enormous group of friends who our children love dearly and who would drop everything for us, and knowing that means the world to us.  

4. The one mistake made that morning was made by me. I found myself strapped to a gurney in the back of the ambulance in front of our home, preparing to leave, when I realized that I hadn't said goodbye to our kids. No kisses. No hugs. Nothing. In an effort to keep them calm, I just walked out the door when I saw the ambulance pull up. 

This might have been better for them, but for a father thinking he might be having a heart attack and wondering if he would see tomorrow, the idea that I was leaving my kids behind without a simple goodbye was crushing. I couldn't stop thinking about this until I finally saw them again later that day.

5. When I returned home that afternoon, Kathy and the kids were returning from some after school ice cream. When I asked them how their day was, both said it was great. They were smiling and happy.

Charlie's teacher (who had been alerted to my emergency) had made him "Star Student" of the day, which was a beautiful and I'm sure calculated decision that was also so appreciated.  

Charlie said that one of the best parts of the day was when Kathy showed up for breakfast. 

"That was a great surprise," he said.

"She should come for breakfast more," Clara said. 

In my children's minds, Tuesday was the day when their friend, Kathy, came over for a surprise breakfast and ice cream after school and their father went to an unexpected doctor's appointment. That was what they will remember most, and I'm so glad. While Elysha and I were under incredible pressure and feeling more frightened than ever before, they were happily enjoying breakfast with their friend. 

Later, Charlie asked me what it was like to ride in an ambulance for the first time. Clara took a ride in an ambulance years ago after a peanut allergy scare, and although Charlie was riding alongside his sister that day, he was still an infant and has no recollection of the incident. 

I laughed at his question. "It wasn't my first time in an ambulance, buddy," I said. "That was at least my ninth ride in the back of an ambulance."

Charlie shook his head in disgust. "You should really be more careful, Dad. Also, did you take pictures of the machines for me?"

I had not, of course. "I was a little busy," I told Charlie, but he was disappointed. A little annoyed, even. But if that was the thing that upset him the most on our frightening, painful, stress-filled day, I'll take it.  

Not a heart attack after all, but an eventful day nonetheless.

I woke up yesterday morning with terrible chest pains and struggling to breathe. I fed the cats, sat down at my computer to write, and tried to pretend that I wasn't in pain. 

About 15 minutes later, at 5:45 AM, I decided that I might be in trouble. I was starting to sweat and the pain was getting worse. I couldn't catch my breath. Just as I was debating what to do, I received a text message from Elysha asking me to come upstairs. It was 5:49 AM.

It was the first time in my life that Elysha texted me before 6:00 AM. Maybe before 7:00 AM. 

How did she know I was in trouble? Has she installed cameras that I don't know about? Are we so psychically connected that she can feel my pain?

No. She had heard a strange sound for the second day in a row and wanted to know what it was. We pushed that question aside for another day and finally called for help and I took my sixth ride to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.

I spent most of the day at Hartford Hospital, undergoing every possible heart test you can imagine. X-ray, EKG, an ultrasound of my heart, and a stress test to name a few. In the end, the doctors determined that my heart was not the problem. In fact, it turns out that my heart is in outstanding shape.

Instead, I had either pulled or slightly torn a chest muscle while hiking The Freedom Trail with students the previous day. I was carrying a backpack loaded with water, food, medications, and the like, and the weight of the backpack and the length of the walk had apparently done the damage. The damaged muscles tightened overnight, and when I awoke and started moving, the pain began.

The doctor explained that pulled or torn chest muscles and acid reflux are commonly mistaken for heart attacks, even by medical personnel, so although they, too, suspected a heart attack for a while, it wasn't surprising when they realized the true cause of my pain. 

Frightening possibility averted. My chest still hurts like hell this morning, and it's still a struggle to breathe, but muscle pain is nothing compared with the alternatives.  

As I went through an emotional, painful, and interesting day, I made several observations:

  1. A total of 22 medical professionals helped me over the course of the day, including a dispatcher, an EMT over the phone, 3 EMT's onboard the ambulance, 2 police officers, 4 nurses, a physician's assistant, a phlebotomist, 4 doctors, an X-ray technician, 2 medical transport personnel, and 2 unidentified hospital personnel. It makes you realize how impressive and extensive our healthcare system is. There are a lot of people just standing by at the hospital, waiting to help us in a moment's notice.  
  2. There is no authenticity in the back of an ambulance. EMT's speak like they are high on valium. Overly calm and syrupy sweet. They communicate with one another other in non-specific pronouns and silent signals. One of them said, "okey dokey" three times. They are persistently positive, even when they have failed twice to get an IV into a patient who is terrified of needles and is now bleeding down his forearm.
  3. I always find it strange how a person can spend 30 minutes making sure you aren't dying or 15 minutes carefully shaving your chest and assuring you that everything will be fine and then step out of your life forever like they were never there. Brief moments of intense intimacy followed by an instantaneous and permanent departures.  
  4. Two of my doctors were Speak Up fans and recognized Elysha and me. One of them said, "Don't worry. I like your stories too much to let anything happen to you." 
  5. Whether or not chest pain awakens a patient from sleep or begins after the patient has awakened naturally is apparently a very big deal. It was my most frequently asked question yesterday, followed by "Is your heart rate always so low?"
  6. I apparently have the heart rate of a world class athlete. 48 BPM when I was discharged,  but it went as low as 28 BPM at one point. When I asked if this was a good thing, my favorite nurse of the day said, "You're not exactly a world class athlete, so maybe not."
  7. I have been meditating every morning for more than five years. That allows me to calm my body and mind when things around me are hectic, terrifying, and even painful. Credit Plato Karafelis for encouraging this years ago. It's made an enormous difference in my life, especially on days like yesterday. 
  8. If the gym had doctors and nurses standing beside the treadmills offering encouragement like they did during my stress test, the world would be a lot healthier and a lot thinner. 
  9. The constant beeping of the cardiac unit surely drives those doctors and nurses to drink.
  10. I purposely changed into a loose fitting tee shirt and shorts while waiting for the ambulance to alive. I also grabbed a phone charger and my headphones. Even in the midst of what I thought might be a heart attack, I'm still a Boy Scout.  

I'll have some more meaningful and in depth comments about the day as the week goes on. As one of the doctors who knew me said, "I bet today is giving you some great new material."