Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's Significant to me

Five years and two days ago, I had the two longest nights of my life.  Lisa woke me up at 3:00 in the morning, and told me that she was having trouble breathing.  I had been working 60+ hours a week between my full time job and teaching part time at the College.  The weeks leading up to that night had been high stress and had taken a high toll on me, and at 3:00 a.m., I wasn’t in a clear state of mind.  In a moment that I will regret for the rest of my life, I told Lisa that she was having an anxiety attack, to just slow her breathing, and get some sleep.  I then said that we already had an appointment at the hospital at 7:00 a.m. for another reason, and if she was still having issues, they could help her then.  And then, I rolled over on my side and went back to sleep.

At 6:00 a.m. I woke up to find Lisa silently crying, and I asked if she had gotten any sleep at all.  She gently shook her head and whispered “no.”  I asked if she was feeling any better and she gently shook her head and whispered “no.”  She slowly lifted her head, looked me in the eye and asked me if she was going to die. Lisa is a strong woman, and in that moment, I had never seen her so hurt, so frail and so scared.  In that moment, I was paralyzed with my own fear, my own insecurities, and my own guilt that I hadn’t sought help for her sooner.

We got to the hospital, and she told the doctor about her problems getting enough air.  The doctor immediately ordered some tests, and came back to us with the news we were dreading.  The clot that had been in her leg the last 43 days, had indeed broken free, and shot to her lungs. It was no longer a deep vein thrombrosis, it was now a pulmonary embolism.  The doctor called it a “Significant” clot, and that it was straddling the major blood vessel that leads to her lungs right by her heart.  Currently, it was straddling both lungs like a saddlebag on the back of a horse, but she was in terrible danger.  At any moment, it could slide off and go to her lungs, her heart, or her brain. With the clot being as big as it was, there was a very "significant" chance that if it moved further, it would be fatal.

The hospital didn’t have the ability to treat her, so they called an ambulance and she would be transferred to the University of Utah hospital, about 15 miles away in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I was told to get her some items from home, call our loved ones, and then meet her at the U hospital.  In a whirlwind of activity, the doctors swiftly moved Lisa to a gurney, started her on oxygen, and began to hook up wires from Lisa’s body to their machines.  Shortly after, Lisa was being loaded into the back of the ambulance, and she began to cry since I couldn’t ride with her.  I told her to be strong, that I would be there as soon as I could, and that I was jealous she got to ride in an ambulance I didn’t.  We made a few stupid jokes to try and lighten each other’s spirits, and then they closed the doors and she was gone.

I stood in the parking lot in shock for about 5 minutes, and then said a quick and silent prayer that the love of my life would be safely transported to the U, and that the clot wouldn’t be shaken loose on the way to the hospital, and would be alive when I arrived.

I called family members and tried to quickly give them the details of what had occurred.  I didn’t have many answers to their questions, as they were the same questions I had.  How “significant” was the clot?  What were the chances of her making a full recovery?  What would we do if she didn’t make it?  I had to call my work and the College and explain why I wouldn’t be there that day, and I didn’t know when I would be back at all. 

I gathered a few personal belongings and rushed to the University.  There, I found Lisa with IV’s running, wires connected to her chest, oxygen tubes in her nose, and a very scared young woman.  The doctor came in and told us the clot was “significant”, and that they would begin giving her very large amounts of blood thinners.  Currently, her blood/oxygen ratio was 60%, which is the equivalent of being in the death zone at the summit of Mount Everest.  There is a reason that few climbers attempt the summit without oxygen tanks strapped to their backs.  He told us that we very blessed, as the clot was barely small enough to allow some blood to continue to her lungs.  Any larger, and it would have blocked the blood vessel completely, and chances of death were “significant.” 

He then told us, we were extremely blessed that the clot was barely large enough to have lodged exactly where it did, because if it was any smaller, it would have shot to a lung, her heart or her brain.  He said there was a “significant” probability that she would not have survived any of those scenarios. 

They would work to dissolve the clot, and then monitor her for any other small clots that may still be in her body.  There was a chance that debris from the first clot breaking free could be floating around, as well as the chance that as the clot dissolved with the blood thinners, it could break free again.  All of these things were a “significant” risk to her.  There was that word again, and from a different doctor.  I was quickly realizing that the word “significant” was a very bad and scary word.

Because of these fears, the doctor wanted to place a piece of flexible metal, shaped like an umbrella, into her blood vessel above the clot. It would act as a filter, and allow blood to flow through, but catch any larger clots before it could reach her heart or brain.  She also still had to have the procedure we were already scheduled for, and they determined that the risk of not having it in place was greater than the potential issues of the surgery.

So, once again, Lisa was taken away from me, and I had to just wait in the room for her return.  With no smart phone, no internet, no magazines, and a TV that had only a handful of channels of either soap operas or news, it was a very long time to wait. It felt like there wasn’t going to be a bottom to this day, but we would just keep on falling. Every time a doctor or nurse would walk by the door, my heart would skip a beat and I was afraid they were returning to tell me the worst.

After what seemed an eternity, Lisa was wheeled back into the room.  As I leaned over to hug her, she grasped me with all her strength and sobbed.  Tears flowed down her cheeks, as she struggled to breathe deep.  She had to be awake for the entire procedure.  They had given her a general anesthetic to keep her from moving and to relax her, but she was aware of the entire thing.  The made an incision in her groin, and slowly maneuvered a camera in a tube through her body.  They could then move the metal umbrella through the tube and put it into place.  They had to be careful to embed the piece into the artery wall to hold it in place, but not to punch through the lining and cause major bleeding issues.

The surgery was a success and the umbrella mesh was in place.  The FDA had just approved a new instrument that could be removed after a few days when the danger from the clots had passed.  If we had come a week before, Lisa would have had a permanent metal umbrella in her chest and would never be able to go through a metal detector without a doctor’s note again.  Later that afternoon, the doctors returned and Lisa had the procedure we had originally been scheduled for.  That also, went off without a hitch, but we were not out of danger yet, and all we could do was just stay in the hospital several days to make sure the blood clot was dissolved.  I only left her side to get food at the cafeteria or make a call to family and work, and to use the restroom. 

That whole day, I was screaming inside, but I couldn’t show that to Lisa.  I was trying to crack some jokes, to give encouragement, to be strong for her.  But that afternoon, as Lisa finally, blessedly, fell asleep, I stepped out of the room.  I walked like a zombie down the hallway, and found a bathroom with a locking door.  After turning the lock, I leaned against the door and slowly slid to the floor.  I sobbed like a baby, and rolled into the fetal position, thinking about how close I was to losing my wife that day.  I don’t know how long I was there, but I finally pulled myself together, washed my face, and composed myself the best I could.  I couldn’t go back and let Lisa know I had lost it.  I was probably there a few hours, but it was at the end of a back hallway, and no one bothered me.

That night, the doctors let me sleep in her room, as there wasn’t a second patient staying there.  I couldn’t sleep in the other bed due to hospital procedures, but a nurse brought me a floor mat. I lay down on the hard floor and listened to Lisa snoring softly and around 2:00 a.m., I finally drifted off.  The nurses came every 2 hours to draw her blood and test it, and at 3:00, a new nurse was on shift.  He didn’t know I was staying with her, and as he came around the corner of her bed, he stepped on my head.  Luckily, he didn’t fall, and other than being startled and having a ringing ear, I was ok.  I wasn’t able to go back to sleep that night.  The University hospital has done major renovations since we were there, and now each room has a bed for a loved one to use for overnight stays.  There are desks and high speed internet, so people can be with a loved one and still work.  But that night, all I needed was a mat and a chair, I wasn’t leaving for the world.

A few days later, Lisa was declared safe, and she underwent another procedure to remove the umbrella.  The doctor made a small incision in the jugular in her neck, and snaked the camera down to the umbrella, detached it from the walls of her artery, and slowly removed it, and stitched up the wound.  Once again, Lisa was awake for the procedure and she distinctly remembers hearing the head doctor said “We’re doing great, but I need everyone paying very close attention, as we are nearing the aorta, and we need to be very careful here.”  Lisa had to listen to this, while not moving and just waiting for it all to end.  A few hours later, we were able to go home. 

Due to a genetic disorder that causes her blood to clot very easily, Lisa was now going to have to take blood thinners and wear compression stockings daily.  It was unusual for us at first, but we became accustomed to it, as it was better than the alternative.  She gets her blood drawn every six weeks at the University and they give her blood a number that says if her blood is too thin, (which Lisa says means she is sloshy), if the blood is too thick, or if the blood is just right.  99% of the time, it’s just right, but if it’s too sloshy, she misses a dose for a day or two.  If it’s too thick, she gets to eat some broccoli.  We adapt. 

Lisa's the most amazing woman, and I am so lucky to have her in my life.  It was the longest 2 days/nights of my life, and I learned a lot about myself in those dark hours.  What it meant to love someone, what it would be like to lose them.  Every day, I strive to be a better person, a better husband a better friend to her.  I don’t always succeed, but I try.  She saved my life on more than one occasion, and I am so very grateful to the doctors, nurses and staff at the University Hospital that were able to save hers.  But, I am most grateful for her spirit, for her laughter and her love and the chance to share that every day.

Since that time, Lisa has written and published 4 novels, and is working on a fifth.  Her writing has won "Book of the Year" twice from Foreword Reviews, and the Benjamin Franklin award from the Independent Book Publishers Association.  We have traveled to New York City, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Seattle.  We have eaten delicious food like beignets at the Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter, the world's best hot chocolate at the Napa Rose in Anaheim, authentic New York Cheesecake in Little Italy, New York.  We have attended live concerts in SLC, road tripped to see others out of state.  We got to meet artists like Dilana and Chad Gracey and Danielle Barbe.  We road The Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island, and fed alligators in the swamps of New Orleans.  We attended the largest Hindu "Color Festival" in the United States, and we have taken numerous silly pictures with our nieces and nephew. She took a picture of me pretending to lick the gum wall in Seattle, and I took her picture with copyright infringement Spider Man. We started a charity and raised over $2,500 for a friend in need and are gearing up for our next fundraiser. We made and met friends like James and Laurie, we attended University of Utah football and basketball games, we still have the most spoiled cat in the world. We went on vacation with family, and with friends like James, Cindi, Jen, Siobhan, Stacey and Steve. We attended the taping of two episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" and you can distinctly hear my laugh in both episodes. We toured Warner Brothers Studios and watched "Wreck it Ralph" in the El Capitan Theater - the same place Citizen Kane had it's Hollywood debut.  In short, we have lived and we have laughed and we have loved.  Sometimes I wish we could do it all again, but then I realize that I can through memories and pictures.  Even better, I get to go make new memories with her every day.  Adventure is out there, and we are going to Carpe the crap out of every diem we've got.

Those few days five years ago changed us both forever.  But, I’m grateful for the experience.  It brought us closer and made me reflect on our relationship.  I realize more than ever how fragile this thing called life is.  I realize how quickly our worlds can change.  I realize how vital her love is to me.  I realize that it’s my duty and responsibility to be worthy of that love.  I don’t always succeed, but I strive daily to achieve it.  To some, it may seem small, but it's "significant" to me.


Kaylee said...

I read Lisa's part when she posted it, but I was super happy to hear your side of the story as well. Thank you for sharing your experience with us and for sharing how it has changed you. :)

"Adventure is out there, and we are going to Carpe the crap out of every diem we've got."


Laurie said...

Ahhhh, Tracy.

I love you!

I am so (SO!) sorry that you and Lisa had to go through this. (I am shuddering, literally, that she was AWAKE through her procedures. You are married to the strongest woman in the world. No way could I have EVER heard that someone was near my aorta and not had a total freakout on the table.)

My goodness.

What an incredible experience. Incredibly difficult. Incredibly scary. Incredibly bonding. Incredibly meaningful. Incredibly, well... "Significant."

I'm so, so sorry that you two had to have that day/week/month/year - but I'm SO glad that you were able to have it together. What a blessing, to have something bring you together in such a way.

You two are my favorites. I love you. I mean, I loved you before I read your tandem stories of January 2008, but having read them, I can honestly say that I love you both even more!

You're both so great at reaching out to people (I should know, I am one of them!), at making sure that people know they are thought about and cared for. You two DO Carpe the crap out of every diem you get, and it's a beautiful thing to see!

Much, much love... And wishes for many, many more happy and joy-fille years with the love of your life!