I couldn’t ignore it any longer – that pain in my chest. Each breath felt like a knife stabbing right in the center of my back. Perhaps most disconcerting of all was the slow thrum of my heart – as if giant hands were holding it tight and each beat was trying desperately to break free. It felt like it would drop out of my chest at any moment. Just feeling that slow, pounding drop of my heart beat after beat sent a wave of nausea over me. I don’t do well when I think about blood.
The pain had been my companion since just after the birth, but it had gradually worsened over the two short days since coming home. I felt for my pulse. Could it really be ticking this slow? Lightheaded as I stood up, I carried my baby into my husband and told him my symptoms. I asked him to check my pulse. He’s a physical therapist – I knew he’d know what to do.
The concern in his eyes betrayed his voice as he told me my heart rate was only 37 beats per minute.
Just the thought that my heart was not working properly sent me into a wave of panic. I remembered how the hospital monitors beeped a warning every time my vitals were checked. My heart rate was low then, but now it was even lower and physically palpable. I couldn’t get my mind to think of anything else except the pain. And the ever-present nagging that something wasn’t quite right.
So I tried to rest as the hours ticked by. But the pain persisted. By 11:00 that night, Patrick started worrying that my symptoms were pointing towards a possible blood clot in my lung. He consulted with his uncle, a PA, and then made a decision. “We’re taking you to the Emergency Room,” he said with urgent soberness.
But how could we leave when our little ones were asleep in their beds? What would we do with our baby? I thought about calling my sweet friend, but knew she has four little children of her own and I didn’t want to wake her. We tried calling several kind neighbors, but to no avail. Everyone was either asleep or out of town. I contemplated calling my parents, but I knew they would have a long drive ahead of them. We were getting frantic. I mustered the courage and called my dear friend. I prayed she would answer.
Hearing her sweet voice made me choke up with relief and gratitude and all the worry spilled out as I asked her if she could come sit with our children while we were gone. There have been few times in my life when I have ever been so grateful for true friendship.
Patrick had called ahead to the hospital so they were waiting for us. I was poked and hooked up to all kinds of machines and for a few minutes I was calm knowing everything would be all right. I would soon be taken care of. But then the waiting began…waiting for blood results which came back too astronomical to be accurate…waiting for the cat scan…waiting for the second set of blood results…and the cat scan results…It was amidst all this waiting in that cold, sterile room that I think my panic attack began. Tears poured uncontrollably down my cheeks. You could have cut through the silence with a knife. The clock wouldn’t move and I couldn’t stop hyperventilating. And why was I so cold? They brought me a blanket but the shivering continued. Why could I not get warm? If it was a blood clot, it could be fatal. I wondered if I was going to die.
The white board on the wall, displaying the care team and treatment measures had not been erased from the previous patient. I couldn’t stop staring at the words on the bottom of the board: “Going Home.” I assumed this section was meant to be filled with a time of discharge, but I couldn’t help wondering which “home” I would be returning to that night.
Thoughts like that only made my blood pressure skyrocket. If my health condition didn’t kill me, my anxiety surely could. I tried to think of my sweet family to get my mind off the stress, but each memory was haunting. Flashes of my children played before my eyes like scenes on a movie screen. I saw them playing and dancing, their laughter echoing through the corridors of my mind. Would I ever get to see them again? My heart sunk – in the rush of getting to the ER, I hadn’t kissed their sleeping faces. What if I never had the chance to say goodbye? I called my husband over and squeezed his hand. “If something happens, will you please tell the children that I love them? I didn’t get to say goodbye.” We were both crying at this point.
“Everything is going to be okay. You will be fine,” but his voice was shaky.
He placed his hands on my head and gave me a blessing. I felt the peace enter the room, but my heart just wouldn’t accept it. Every single thought would lead me to remember my children and each memory broke my heart in pieces wondering if I would be granted the opportunity to continue to raise them. All I wanted was to go home and play with them once more – to wrap my arms around them and hold them tighter than I ever had before.
Finally, when I felt I couldn’t take it anymore, my mind caught hold of one glimmer of hope – my mother’s example. I remembered back to when she had her thoracotomy – those long agonizing nights in the hospital when she nearly died. But instead of giving in to the despair, she reached over with the little strength she had, picked up her cell phone, and called her sister. She could barely talk, but she managed to ask her if she could read to her from the Book of Mormon. It was the middle of the night, but my aunt stayed up for hours, reading chapter after chapter of the scriptures. I remembered when my mom later told me this, how I felt her faith, and the power of the word of God.
With tears blurring my vision and threatening to overtake me, I looked to Patrick: “Would you read to me from the Book of Mormon?”
He read from 3 Nephi – when our Savior, Jesus Christ ministers to the Nephites, heals their afflictions, and blesses the children.
As I listened, I could feel the tension leave and my body relax. The beautiful words drifted through my mind and I clung to each one like a lifeline tossed out to a drowning sailor. I silently prayed that my life would be spared and that I might have the opportunity to continue to raise my three precious children and my new baby boy. I pleaded that the Lord would allow me to stay. I just wasn’t ready to go Home yet.
As I prayed, I felt angels nearby and I pleaded that they would surround my sweet children as I could not be with them at this time. The calm washed over me like a gentle summer wave. I finally felt a semblance of peace. It was going to be okay.
Finally the doctor came in with the news – there was no blood clot and everything looked good. He didn’t know why my heart rate was so slow or why it was hurting so badly, so he ordered a Holter monitor for me to pick up the next day – one that would track my heart.
With tears of gratitude swelling in my eyes, we walked out of the hospital that night with assuaged fears, but nagging doubts. I was ever so grateful my life had been spared, but still I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. The ache was still there, the heartbeat still slow and thrumming so painfully. My body was trying to tell me something, but what I didn’t know.