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ambulance chasing

June 26, 2015 was an important day for Stevie Wonder. Due for the first checkup since nearly dying in April when his pacemaker had to be replaced after an epic failure to pace his heart (read about it here), he was understandably nervous because he had developed atrial fibrillation after the new pacemaker was placed in his chest.  His recovery from the second surgery was a bit rough compared to the first time.  I tried to reassure him that he was doing ok, and just had to give himself time to heal.  He was a bit whiny about the whole thing in my opinion, but I think that was because my patience was thin from dealing with my own breast cancer and surgery, which was taking place almost simultaneously to what Steve was enduring.

The twins were staying with us for a few days, so they went with us to the clinic. We were going to wait for Gramps to get all his tests finished, then go eat a late breakfast. We left at the crack of dawn for an hour long drive to the clinic. Duncan used the seat belt as a hammock for his head so he could sleep.

Duncan in a head sling

As we walked into the clinic (it was attached to the main hospital), I was explaining to Maddie what an echocardiogram was and the way I watched Gramps heart beating on the monitor when he was in ICU, before his pacemaker was put in. Her response to what I felt was a brilliant description was: “Disgusting!”.

the long wait

 As we sat waiting, we talked, and I played a few games of checkers with the kids. Time passed…one hour, then two. As we began our third hour of waiting the kids were about to mutiny from hunger and thirst.  So I took them to another part of the clinic to get some juice and a snack.  As I was digging money out of my purse to buy juice for the kids, Maddie (who was standing near the hall) uttered the fateful words: “There goes Gramps”.

I figured she meant he had walked past and was headed to the waiting room looking for us.  I said as much, and that was when she lowered the boom: “No, he wasn’t walking, he was on one of those rolling tables.”

“WHAT?” I said.
“He was on a rolling table Grammy.”
At this point I looked a little panicky because I was caught between putting a $1 bill in a machine for a snack for Maddie, and taking off after the gurney. Maddie made my mind up quickly when she said: “I don’t need a snack Grammy!”
So we took off down the hall. The hall took several turns, like a snake. Maddie had run ahead to scout Steve’s location as I brought the rear up with a still sluggish Duncan. She would get to one turn, I would shout at her “CAN YOU SEE HIM?”, she would shout back “YES I CAN”, and then we would advance to the next bend in the hall.

In my mind the whole time was that SW had collapsed during the stress test, and they had come looking for me to tell me they were transporting him to wherever they needed to go to fix him, and couldn’t find me because I WAS BUYING EFFING SNACKS FOR STARVING GRANDKIDS.

After what felt like a mile of scouting, reporting and running, I ran out of steam as I made it to the last bend and saw the end of the gurney and a nurse waaaaaaaaaaaay down the hall just going out of sight. I decided we would go back to the waiting room and wait until someone found us and told us the bad news.

So we sat there, they split Duncan’s honeybun and drank their juice and I fidgeted like I had ants in my pants. About an hour later, Steve walked in the door of the waiting room.

bubba gramps

WALKED.  I jumped up and almost shouted at him “ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?”
He looked at me like I had lost my mind and said “yes”.
I said “did you go by on a gurney about an hour ago?”
“No” he said.

Then it hit me.

I had been chasing a stranger down the halls of the hospital. I asked Maddie how she knew it was Gramps on the gurney. She said: “because he had white hair and was wearing a mask like Gramps does when he is sleeping.”  Steve saw my face and knew something was up, so I had no choice but to tell him what had happened.

He started laughing.

He was still laughing 4 hours later every time someone called to check on him and he got to tell the story again.

an anticlimactic end to the morning, at Waffle House

I thought I had finally lived it down until Steve said a few hours later:

I would have loved to see what happened if you’d caught that gurney and saw you’d been chasing a stranger down the hall.

Steam started coming out of my ears at this point.

I am now the victim of another Steve story, which grows with “embellishments” every time he tells it.

…life is like chasing gurneys, you never know where you are going or what lies ahead. ~cath
i am @jonesbabie on twitter

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sex, drugs, and rock & roll

#Friday Reflection prompt: Reflect on how it’s important to make the most out of life.

Several weeks ago Wretch noticed the Steve Miller Band was going to be performing  in concert  in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in June. I told her to book three tickets and we would drag Stevie Wonder along to it. We’d missed the Magic City Art Connection and Corks and Chefs on April 26 because SW decided to break his pacemaker that weekend. We gave away three tickets so that Wretch and I could spend the weekend watching SW lie in a hospital bed in ICU waiting for a new ticker on Monday.

At the end of May, after a couple months of testing and retesting with mammograms, ultrasound and needle biopsy, I got the verdict. Breast cancer, caught early, and was told the recommendation. Surgery (lumpectomy), radiation, and oral medication for a few years. Not a problem. I was ready.

Then it hit me.

The concert I had waited patiently for was in a couple weeks.

Oh hell no, I thought to myself. I am not missing this concert, or dodging elbows with a boob that is in a sling. I talked to the surgeon, and although my oldest daughter wasn’t keen on it (neither was middle sister when she found out later on), Wretch understood where my brain and heart were. With the music. The surgeon assured us I that I would not drop dead if I put my surgery off for 3 weeks.

So I did.

Sunday my ass was sitting in a pool of sweat in a plastic stadium seat heated to oven temps by the 90F setting sun at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. I sipped a glass of red wine in a plastic cup, groped SW a bit, and enjoyed some of the best music from the 70’s played by a couple of great bands, now old farts like me. (Steve Miller is 71.)

And damn, they can still play.

Some things just get better with age.

…rockin the good life… ~cath
i am @jonesbabie on twitter

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the week of living dangerously

The past week has been beyond weird for my family.  Specifically, for Stevie Wonder, Wretched Daughter and Grumpy Grammy.  It started out normal enough last Monday, April 20th.  But by Thursday it began to go downhill.  I’m going to share my week since then so that if you experience anything remotely like it, you will realize you aren’t alone.

Thursday SW (Steve) told me he had another dizzy spell.  This had been occurring more frequently the past few weeks, but I remembered that he first complained of some dizziness months ago (I tend to file information like that for future reference).  I got really insistent (the kids say I am overbearing when I am like this and they are right) that he call his cardiologist on Friday and tell them what was going on.

Friday he did just that.  Fridays are my off days now, and so I listened as he dealt with it.  The doctor’s nurse left a note with the doctor, and Steve paced waiting for the call back, which came late morning.  He was told to call the pacemaker clinic, who tried to access his pacemaker via the wireless machine that sits on his bedside table.  Only today, for some reason they didn’t receive any data…so next call was to St Jude’s to talk to the tech, who told him the transmission had gone through.  More phone calls followed, and finally the nurse asked Steve if he needed to go to the ER, and of course he said no, he was fine right then.

Saturday, SW went with Wretch  to Wal Mart, and he had a spell so bad he grabbed Wretch’s arm in the parking lot and bent over, which freaked her out.  He insisted on going in and shopping, leaning on a shopping cart (something he had never ever done before).  When they left, she called me even though he didn’t want her to.  My response was simple:

Take him to the nearest after hours clinic or ER NOW.

Princeton Hospital lobby

Steve agreed and Wretch carried him to the nearest clinic to have his vital signs checked and be triaged.  The staff at the After Hours Clinic told him that since he was a heart patient with a pacemaker, he should to go straight to the ER.  Steve, being the cooperative person he was, said he would, but to Princeton Baptist ER in Birmingham, an hour away.  Deb was totally wretched now about what to do, and I told her that if his vitals were ok (blood pressure was somewhat elevated but he was not symptomatic) then to come home on their way and get me.  (This decision would be a pivotal one later that day).

I had been putting some color on my hair (of all days to do it!) and by the time they got to the house I was almost ready to go.  I was giving orders about medications, clothes, etc to pack, because I KNEW they would keep him.  Don’t ask me how, I just knew what I felt the problem was after spending the time waiting on them reviewing all the odd signs and symptoms over the past several months.

Off we went to the ER, Steve quiet most of the way, until he said:

I feel worse today than I did the day they put the pacemaker in.

He could not put his finger on it, just a general feeling of unease.  I kept asking him different questions about how he felt, pain, etc.  Nothing but the feeling of just “feeling bad”.  This hardened my resolve as we got to ER.  Within a short period of time Steve was on a bedside monitor that showed a normal rhythm being paced.  The physician’s assistant came in shortly after that and had multiple tests run on Steve.  All were ok,  No odd findings and Steve was still feeling ok at this point.

Watching Steve, I still felt in my gut that something was not right.  Steve suddenly said:

I’m getting really dizzy now.  It’s bad.

I jumped up and stood looking at the monitor while this happened.  AND I SAW IT.  What had been causing my gut feeling.  Steve’s pacemaker was firing, but the ventricular lead was not causing a ventricular contraction as it should be doing.  So what I saw was several pacer spikes, with no heartbeat.  Then SW’s heart kicked back in and he said:

Ok, I feel better now.

I stood there watching him and saw 4 more episodes happen.  A few seconds each, it caused Steve to become extremely dizzy lying perfectly still on the exam table.The PA came in, and when he indicated they would probably send Steve home because they couldn’t find anything, I told him I didn’t think so.  I described what I had seen.  The PA  told us he was going to talk to the ER doctor.  In a couple minutes the doc came in.  He was very kind (as all the staff had been) and listened to me.  I explained what I saw and he said he had looked through the last hour’s strips and couldn’t see anything like that.  I told him in a firm but polite voice that I didn’t know what time it had happened, but that I was a nurse and  knew how a pacemaker was supposed to function, and THIS ONE WASN’T.  He smiled at me (a real smile, not a condescending one) and said he believed me, and that he would go look some more.  He said the tech from St. Jude’s was coming to interrogate the pacemaker just to be safe, at which time I relaxed just a bit.  The doc left to chase the elusive pacemaker strip, and while I waited, Steve had the worst episode he’d had, his heart rate dropping to 28 and getting very anxious and dizzy.  I stepped to the door and hollered for the first staff member I saw (turned out to be another ER doc but I didn’t know that) and I explained again, in a slightly less polite tone of voice, and thank god, this time I had a witness!  He listened to me explain briefly what had been happening, and I told him the episodes were getting more frequent and I was not taking him home until this was addressed.  He told me he would go talk to the doctor, and I waited again.

In just a minute or so the ER doc came in waving a paper and said “I found it!  You were right, and I also saw this last episode happen while I was finding this.”  At this point I looked at him and said “I knew I was right, I’ve been reading monitors for 20 years, and the ER doc said they were moving Steve immediately to the ICU part of the ER and were going to externally pace him.

More tests, external pacing (don’t let anyone ever tell you having your heart paced externally isn’t painful), and an injection of Morphine and Versed into Steve’s IV to calm him and help him rest. THAT lasted about 15 minutes, at which time he woke up, said he needed a shot of Scotch, and then made a ribald comment about me, at which the nurses at the desk laughed and asked if we needed the curtains drawn.  I told Steve sternly to BEHAVE or I would fix his pacemaker permanently myself.  He laughed and we waited….

He went to the CICU (Cardiac Intensive Care Unit) after the St. Jude’s tech told me he thought the wire was fractured.  To test this theory, while SW was in the ER ICU, the tech turned Steve’s pacemaker off briefly twice, and during those few seconds, Steve thought he was dreaming, but to us he looked like a dead person, skin waxy, eyes and mouth open and body jerking.  Wretch got through the first episode, but the second time I told her to get some fresh air and she left in tears.  I knew what was happening and the technology around me, and felt secure with the situation.  She just saw her daddy die in front of her.  Twice.

To cut things short, the pacemaker was defective for some reason, although Steve had been too vigorous with his activities and was told to take it easy on his left arm from now on by the surgeon who replaced the whole system on Monday.  Yep, Stevie Wonder had worn a 7 year pacemaker out in 2 years.  Not something the cardiology department saw every day.

By Monday I had also caught some bug and had a sore throat, ears that felt like they would explode every time I swallowed, and a cough that made me feel like I was coughing my lungs up.  But SW had a new lease on life, hopefully more than two years this time, and it was all ok.

I came away from this whole week feeling two things so deep in my gut that it was hard to deal with.

1. On Sunday, while we spent a long day together passing time, Steve took my hand during a moment alone, looked into my eyes and said “thank you for saving my life”.
2. If I had not been a nurse, I would not have known what to say to the doctors.  They were good doctors, willing to listen, but my training helped me identify the solution and communicate it to them. If I were not a nurse, I would not have been able to put all the pieces together in my mind and realize what was happening.

You see, the heart can’t be resuscitated with no electrical activity to sustain the beats.  That is what
fires the beats.  We live so far in the country that he would have died. even with CPR, long before any ambulance could have arrived.

Again I was left with deep feelings of gratitude, and of feeling that the reason I became a nurse goes much deeper than even I realized.

No, SW is alive and waiting for his first post op bite of real food

 …life is sweet; savor every moment. ~cath
find me @jonesbabie on Twitter


the long road home

Yesterday Stevie Wonder had a potentially lethal dysryhthmia caused by a problem with the electrical conduction system in his heart.  In other words, he had a total heart block, and instead of the normal 60-100 beats per minute, his heart was beating at 30 beats or less every minute.

This had been gradually coming on for a long time, but had worsened in the past few days.  SW was lucky though, because his yearly stress test was scheduled for yesterday.  Scheduled a year ago after his last stress test.

He lasted 4 minutes on the treadmill.  He was ready to go on, but the cardiologist stopped it, and put an envelope in his hand and told him to go to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at the hospital next door.  We went straight over.

At 5PM yesterday, the cardiac surgeon spent an hour putting in a pacemaker.  Stevie Wonder came to on the operating table and told him he felt better already.  While the surgeon was closing the incision.  When Steve told me this, I felt like I had married Ironman for sure.

After bringing him home today, I feel like I am married to the Energizer Bunny.

We headed home around 1PM, and intended to stop and drop off some paperwork at my workplace, and get his prescriptions filled.  (He had not taken anything for pain since the surgery, because he said he wasn’t hurting.)

On the way he decided he HAD to have a cup of coffee from Starbucks.  Of course he didn’t say it like that.  In fact, our whole conversation home was a little bit tense on the weird side.  Driven by the fact that he was wired like a jackrabbit on speed.  (At this point, after two nights with little sleep, I felt like a walking zombie straight out of Night of the Living Dead.  And I looked like one too.)  Our trip home went something like this:

SW: You need a Starbucks Tazo Chai.  Go to Target and I will get you one.  And get a coffee for me.
Me: Ok.  There is a McDonald’s too.  I can stop and get something to eat.
SW: I’m not hungry since I ate lunch before we left the hospital.
Me: I KNOW you AREN’T, but since I HAVEN’T EATEN since YESTERDAY, is there any reason I can’t stop?
SW: Well no, I didn’t mean it that way.  I didn’t mean you couldn’t eat.
Me: It sure sounded like it to me
Me: I thought I was! (I was in the middle lane.)
SW: Your driving scares the s**t out of me!
Me: I haven’t wrecked us yet!  (I was ready to throw him out of the car at this point and drive across the pacemaker in his chest.)
SW: Ok I am sorry I hollered.  Turn here.
Me: I am.  I know where I am now.

He went in to Target and came back with the largest hot chai and coffee they make.  Which was probably a mistake.  We went through the drive through at McDonald’s and I got something to eat.

A few minutes later he said:
I am sweating.  I’m hot.
Me: I’m not.  My feet are cold.
SW: Well I am hot.  Do you think it is the pacemaker?
Me: (I was thinking it might be frying his chest, but didn’t say that.  I made concerned wife noises.)  No, that’s not it.  Take your jacket off.
SW: I can’t.  Because I can’t lift my left arm.
Me: Then tough it out.  (My sympathy was fading fast at this point.)

A few minutes later, he said:
“Well I think it was the caffeine rush from the coffee.  Now that my heart is beating right I think it circulated faster through my system than it used to.  I must have been bad off for a long time and didn’t realize it.”

Me: Better cut that caffeine intake in half then, or you’ll be sweating a lot.

The trip home took forever.  We stopped several times, because he would think of something that we HAD to have.  We finally made it home, and I dragged myself to the shower and put my pajamas on.  It was 4 PM.  By the time I got out of the shower, he had washed off, shaved, and fixed a full dinner for himself.  I dragged to the couch and collapsed.

He is still going strong as I write this.  I told him I was going to ask the doctor where the switch was on the pacemaker, so I could flip it off once in a while to slow him down.

…life is good. ~cath
find me @jonesbabie on Twitter


ironman moment

 {this moment} – A weekly ritual.  A few photos – no words – capturing a moment from the week.  A moment in time I want to capture, to savor and remember.

“This Moment” is a ritual I found on Pamanner’s Blog, via Life inspired by the Wee Man adopted from SouleMama.  Check out their blogs, and if you are moved too, please leave a link to your Moment in the comment box below.

life is good…
Twitter @jonesbabie