In July, it will have been 8 years since my husband’s sudden death from cardiac arrest bulldozed into my life.
There are so many days when I trick myself into thinking that Im really okay now and maybe this wont affect me anymore.
And then I get knocked over by something such as this …….
On Wednesday, I went to the gym (YMCA), where I have been exercising with a pool workout routine, 4 to 5 times per week. On Wednesday, I did my workout routine with my water weights and laps and such, then went out to the adjoining room for my favorite part – the post-workout hot tub sit. While sitting there with the water jets on my sore joints, one of the older ladies walked in from the pool area. She had left the class early because her chest felt tight, she was really hot, and she “didn’t feel right.” That’s pretty much the only “warning” my husband gave , according to the staff at Pet-smart , where he collapsed that day while working his part-time job and his volunteer work with animal adoption, almost 8 years ago now. He told his manager casually, after coming out of the restroom: “I dunno, I just don’t feel right.” The manager asked if he wanted to go home. Apparently, Don being Don, said “Nah, I”m fine. Ill stay until my relief comes.” Half-hour later, he was lying on the floor, in cardiac arrest.
Back to Wednesday. I got out of the hot tub and walked over to the locker room area with this woman who I say hello to all the time and take pool classes with but of course, I dont even know her name and now I feel terrible for not knowing as I approach her. Another woman brought her water. We called the staff to please come down, and they called EMS. But that 5 minutes or so of sitting with her in the meantime, trying to keep her calm and not scared, while I was silently in the midst of a massive anxiety attack myself, was not easy.
I thought about all the times my husband, while working EMS, did this with people. How everyone said he was so good at keeping people calm and making them feel safe. I told her I would wait with her until the paramedics came or until staff came downstairs. I dont know if she was having a heart attack or not, and she didnt know, but she was scared. And all I kept thinking about was how my husband must have been scared, and how I couldnt be by his side after he collapsed, even though with his, there was zero time between “normalcy” and “on the floor, unconscious.”
My thoughts didnt make much sense in that moment – all I knew is that I needed to stay with this woman until EMS came. Because when my husband was lying there collapsed on the floor, he was alone. I will never know if he was alone for 5 minutes or 10 or longer or shorter. But he was alone until someone walked around that corner of the store and noticed him lying there. That haunts me to this day, and I was not going to let this woman whose name I didnt know, be there alone, in this moment. So I stayed.
And then they arrived, and the staff thanked me for waiting with her, and then I walked around the corner of the locker room and walked out into the hallway, and suddenly I couldnt stand up anymore. I was sobbing. Another woman on the staff sat with me – and asked me what was wrong. I said: “My husband died of a heart attack, and I wasn’t there when it happened. Seeing that woman in there just brought it all back. Everything about that horrible day. Picturing what he went through, what those moments were like for him before collapsing, in the ambulance, and in the ER. Wondering if he was aware or scared, and thinking about what I went through that day. Just the pure hell of it all. “
She sat with me on the staircase in the hallway and rubbed my back a bit and just let me cry. After a few minutes, I was okay enough to leave the building. She walked me out to the front , and as I left, I saw the two ambulances parked with sirens running. I thought about my husband, and how he loved being a part of the EMS team, and how he saved so many – yet nobody could save him on that day. Not even me, even though he had spent all our time together, saving me.
Trauma is awful. No matter how much time has passed, everything comes back crystal clear , when you are suddenly faced with a scenario that is similar to your own. I hope with all my heart that the woman from the gym is going to be okay, and I will never understand why my husband had to be one of the people who didn’t get to be okay, and had to die instead.
UPDATE: She stayed overnight for observation and tests, and now she is home with her husband, and doing better. She did have a mild heart attack, they think, and they are looking into heart issues in general, more testing. Oh, and her name is Cathy.