This feels surreal to say, but last week my husband suffered a heart attack during which he flat-lined four times. Which means I watched him die.
This was my greatest nightmare realized, one that I had been warning him about and attempting to help him avoid for years. But even my deepest fears didn’t prepare me for the heart attack itself, which was more violent and more horrific than anything I had even imagined.
Today I am so grateful that he is alive and getting healthier everyday and I know that he will probably live a much longer and more present life because of it.
I, however, am struggling.
Heart attack survivors often struggle with anxiety and depression, but I am coming to realize that their spouses may bear an even larger emotional burden.
One reason is that health-care support often focuses almost exclusively on survivors. The situation is compounded by the fact that spouses often are forced to assume the roles the patient had, at least for a while.
Duties are multiplied even more by the tragedy itself, such as keeping family and friends in the loop with phone calls, emails and texts, time spent reassuring family members, readying the house for the return of the patient, combined with a lack of sleep and exercise, all while the patient is getting excellent care.
The emotional turmoil that pulls at the spouse is a tornado of guilt, gratitude, sadness, anger, relief, and even resentment.
The patient is feeling loved and cared for and is appreciating the miracle of being alive. The spouse is still getting caught up on laundry, attempting to sleep, cleaning up the aftermath of the tragedy, doing heart-healthy grocery shopping, and trying to cope with the constant flashback images of watching our partners die.
Don’t get me wrong. As a spouse, we too are surrounded with love from family and friends and many others who offer to help. I personally had ten dinner meals delivered for a week and half from dear friends. The cards and phone calls often moved me to tears and filled me with wonder and gratitude.
I am also deeply grateful that my best friend is alive and didn’t leave this family. He is dearly loved, valued and needed. One minute, I comfort myself to sleep by putting my hand over his gently beating heart and then in the next minute I want to jump up and slap him for not taking my concerns seriously.
We now have a new normal. The snoring that once kept me awake now lulls me to sleep because I know my husband is breathing.
It is now up to me, the spouse of a heart attack survivor, who must now (as my husband begins taking back part of his daily routine) begin refilling my own reservoir.
Yes, being surrounded with all of this love helps. So does really easy, quick, heart-healthy recipes such as…
Bon Appetit and Namaste!
*Shadow photo above of my son Carter and I holding hands. Carter is my hero. At one point when Stephen’s heart stopped for the second time and the firemen were yelling his name for him to come back… Carter grabbed my face and looked into my eyes and said “You hold me, hold me tight. Don’t you let go.”
Here is to your precious heart. Take care of it. Someone is counting on it that you do.