January 22, 2011

DETOUR.

"life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans" – john lennon

i can't think of a single phrase that sums up our past few weeks more perfectly. if you've noticed it's been quiet 'round these parts for some time you would be correct. our las vegas christmas adventure started pleasantly enough; we won $100 on a $1 slot machine, we had some great eats at mon ami gabi in the paris casino; we even saw an old school classic vegas-showgirl-esque show called "jubilee" – and boy, did it deliver, with glittered and bejeweled bodies everywhere complete with campy dance numbers. ahhh yes...vegas.

the grand adventure we did not expect was a trip to the ER on christmas day. the day started well enough – opening christmas goodies via video on skype (god bless skype) with family back in atlanta. about mid-afternoon, richard started complaining of shortness of breath and some odd heart palpitations. once we got to the hospital and ran through some tests, it was determined that he would be admitted for some follow-up tests the next day. ugh. great. merry christmas! the next three days ran pretty much like this:

test 1: EKG - a few odd findings, but not in panic mode.

test 2: echocardiogram - no real significant findings. whew! when do we go home?

test 3: chemical stress test - a few more odd findings. starting to get in panic mode. not going home.

test 4: cardiac catheter/angiogram - major blockages found – some 100% – in multiple heart arteries. the bottom drops out.

the news that followed from the cardiologist was that richard would need to have a quadruple bypass. like, pretty much immediately. QUADRUPLE. as in four bypasses. i cannot truly express the shock that i felt standing in that hospital atrium, by myself, in las vegas, with no family or friends around to soften that blow. all i could do in that very moment was find a quiet corner away from the strangers in the lobby chairs and quietly fall apart. one day you're exploring the vegas strip, free as a bird, and the next you are in a hospital with your 41-year-old husband who's about to undergo major heart surgery. it wasn't fair. our young marriage wasn't supposed to endure this sort of thing. i was scared. he was scared. despite this, it wasn't a time for me to express fear; it was a time to pull myself together, wipe the tears and walk into the cardiac testing unit and confidently tell my husband that it was all going to be OK. the tears could wait until i was in the car, in the airstream, somewhere. anywhere. but not in that hospital room.

after some phone calls to atlanta, my sweet mom went into "supermom" status and left on a jet plane to vegas almost immediately. anyone that knows my mom well knows that woman can pack a suitcase like no other. and i don't mean in an efficient, minimalist way. more like a "ma'am, you have overweight baggage" kind of way. i digress. as my dear aunt bec says, "when the ox is in the ditch, you gotta pull him out." {say what? i know. it took me a minute, too. but now i love it and it's one of my favorite southernisms.} it simply means that you do what must be done when it's got to be done. and i needed some emotional back-up out here STAT. that's right...you guessed it. i was the ox. and i was most definitely in the ditch.

later that evening, i returned home alone to the airstream for a few hours of much-needed sleep. when i walked in, i was met at the door by our dog, trixie {aka miss pickles}. hmm. that's odd. trixie always stays in her crate when we're away and OH MY GAAAAAAAA heyyyy waaaaiit a minuuute whhhaatttt??? there were chocolate wrappers everywhere! not only had she hound-ini'ed {that's right, she's the canine houdini} out of her crate {that little $%#*&! stinker} but she had also gorged herself on the e-n-t-i-r-e contents of my chocolate bar-filled santa stocking that was sent from atlanta. any of you that have dogs know what this means. chocolate is extremely toxic (even lethal) to dogs and she had plowed through about five various chocolate bars. i completely lost it. LOST. IT. it was just too much for one day. not only was my sweet husband in the hospital about to have heart surgery, but our 11 year-old dog had just ingested a potentially lethal amount of chocolate and needed to get to an animal ER immediately, and i was in a completely foreign city with no knowledge of vets or animal resources. {sidebar: big thanks to ashley and giles - with animal ER experience - who really helped me get through that ordeal with 3AM pet ER googling.} luckily, a 24-hour pet ER was just three minutes down the road. a blessing amidst chaos.

of course, i couldn't burden richard with the stress that our dog was in the pet hospital with vomiting, diarrhea and on IV fluids. it turned into the lie that was okay to tell. in fact, he didn't know about the entire ordeal until the day he was discharged almost a week and a half later. again, when the ox is in the ditch, you pull that sucker out.

the bypass surgery was on december 30. happy new year! mom and i arrived at the hospital at 6AM. surgery started at 7:30AM. he was out four hours later. those were the longest four hours. ever. again, major blessings amidst chaos: we landed at the best hospital in vegas and the head of the cardiac dept was his surgeon – we were told by many nurses that he was the best heart surgeon in the hospital. the surgery was successful and richard made it through with no complications. when they allowed me into the ICU just after the surgery, i have never felt such a flood of relief in my life. yes, he had tubes coming and going every which way. he had a ventilator down his throat to help him breathe. he was connected to a million IVs and wires. there were machines beeping and sucking and whirring and he had an incision in his chest eight and a half inches long. but he was out of the OR and alive and was going to be OK...ohh thanks beeee to god! although he was still under anesthesia, i squeezed his hand and asked if he could hear me. he wiggled his eyebrows groucho marx style up and down {no doubt, trying to open his eyes} and softly squeezed my hand. a small and utterly sweet victory. tears of joy.

the next few days were a blur of hospital visits, phone calls to the vet to check on ol' sweet-toothed hound-ini, cold, crappy fast food meals eaten on the go and a new complication – acute bronchitis for me, and then an upper respiratory infection for my mom. WOW. really, universe? really. this kept me away from the hospital for about two days, because frankly, i was sick as a dog and just could not go. more importantly, i also could not risk spreading any germs to richard post-surgery. that was pretty tough. although he was on some serious pain med cocktails, he no doubt felt alone and scared in the hospital by himself for those few days. ugh. heartbreaking.

after about a week here with me, my mom flew back to atlanta even though she was not totally well {what a trooper}, but richard was going to be discharged and needed to be able to rest and recover without a crowd in the airstream and exposure to her cold. i went into "airstream sick ward" detox mode. lysol, anti-bac wipes on every surface, all linens to the fluff-n-fold laundry, air purifiers, you name it. i stole a box of surgical masks from the hospital {that's right, i stole them and i ain't apologizing for it either} because i was terrified i would spread my coughy-coughy germs. he was discharged two weeks ago and we are continuing the recovery process day-by-day. i am so, so proud of him. while we still have some recovery ahead of us, his physical healing has been fast and he's doing what it takes to get better. i guess that's the advantage of heart surgery at 41 – the body heals faster than it does at 71. what you don't probably expect is the emotional and mental toll that a surgery like this brings. all very new and scary territory. we'll be staying in vegas for about 4-6 weeks while he gets back to a better version of his normal self {now improved with all-new heart plumbing! yay!} and we'll be enrolling into a cardiac physical rehab and this will be really helpful on so many levels. the plans are to continue our airstream adventure once he's up for it. we have nowhere we need to be, and can stay here as long as we need to.

we certainly never saw this coming, and most definitely not while we were on the road, away from everything that would have been familiar and comforting. it's been an incredibly challenging few weeks and not the beginnings of 2011 we would have hoped for. i suppose the moral to the story is that you never know what life has in store, and for this reason, we feel even more strongly about picking up where we left off. there are still many places to see and we intend on seeing them. we've found the silver lining to this black cloud and that lining is filled with thankfulness.

thankful for being a city with top-notch medical care {believe me, we have traveled through some podunk towns along the way}.

thankful for a talented, easy-going surgeon who made us feel confident about such a scary surgery.

thankful for every ICU nurse that made me feel like my husband was in the best hands possible.

thankful for a mom who flew across the country to offer love, support and a warm body to sit next to in the hospital waiting room.

thankful for family and friends who have offered continued support and well-wishes from afar.

thankful that those blockages were caught early in life before any heart damage was done or a heart attack occurred. i feel sure this outcome would have happened if not for this life-changing surgery.

and one more...on a personal note...thankful for a husband with a heart of gold {really! the surgeon confirmed it! amazing!} that is the best friend and partner that every woman deserves.

everyone wants to get lucky when they come to vegas, and as odd and counter-intuitive as it sounds...we were. while we'd prefer the winning-thousands-of-dollars variety, we were blessed nonetheless. life isn't so much about what happens to you, but how you handle those circumstances and what you make of it. we debated about keeping this off of the airstream blog because, well, it's incredibly personal and even talking about it is kind of like reliving it again. but this blog is supposed to be a chronicle of our life on the road, and we felt like not including this would somehow rob authenticity from this experience.

we'll be off exploring again in just a few weeks, and until then, we'll use this time to get caught up on all of the great places we've been and just haven't had the time to blog about. until then...happy trails to you, friends. take care of yourselves and hug your loved ones. really. go do it. now!

xo
jen

p.s. miss pickles is fine. $700 later. little stinker.

8 comments:

Lani said...

Oh. My. Goodness. I'm so so so sorry for all that has happened. I'm so thankful that the surgery was a success and especially thankful you were not in a podunk town--I've seen my share! I'm in Florida so this may seem a bit ridiculous, but please let me know if we can do anything! Thanks for keeping us updated. Take care!

Anonymous said...

This blog touched me so much, Jen and Richard for many reasons. I just happen to be "that Mom" who didn't give a second thought to hopping on that flight (you say tomorrow???) and being there for you. Jen certainly showed her "True Grit" during this time and Richard was a great patient and was so appreciative of kindness shown to him. So happy that "the ox was pulled out of the ditch" on this one!!! Love to both of you and look forward to reading future blogs on your new adventures!

Mom

Vintage Grace said...

Goooood Lordy! I'm so happy that your Richard is repaired and recovering. Such a scary thing you two have had to endure. You've obviously already found much good in all the bad stuff you've been through the last few weeks and that alone speaks volumes about the type of girl you are (tough, cute, & super smart!). Much love to you both!

Kaci said...

Holy moly. I'm so relieved everyone is recovering and well! I'm not sure I would have had your strength amidst all that!

I wish you and yours the absolute very best!

—Kaci (from Austin)

Wormfood33 said...

wow, what a story. not the adventure you were looking for in your airstream, but i'm glad you were able to see the silver lining. i'm so glad that the whole family is doing well and recovering. there's a lot of love in your family and when you've got that-- you can make your own luck.

dcowart said...

WOW, I am glad my friend Richard is OK. I never thought I would be reading an e-mail about him having a surgery like this. He is a strong man and you are an even stronger woman Jen. Richard is lucky to have you by his side. Tell him is old friend Don is thinking of him.

Jenny said...

I'm so glad your husband is ok and I'm so sorry you had to go through that alone, during the holidays. How terrifying! You are such a strong person and I'm glad your adventure gets to continue b/c I still think it's a completely amazing thing that you're doing. I wish Richard the best of luck for a speedy, complete recovery and I hope you get the chance to relax and de-stress. If you need anything, I'm here for ya girl!

Steve Clark said...

Rich,

Your nephew, who also works at EMC, tild me about your by-pass ordeal. I just read the entry this morning. Please drop me a line when you can I'd like to catch up properly. You can email Stephen.Clark@EMC.com.

Steve