Sunday, April 15, 2012

Flashing Lights and a Rock

I'm writing this blog while waiting for a phone call.  My brother was rushed to the hospital this afternoon in an ambulance.  It's not the first time this has happened, but it was the first time I was there to see it.

This is not a sight you want to see in front of your house when you drive up.

My brother is prone to atrial fibrulation, just like our dad.  However, his heart condition is exacerbated by a thyroid condition which turns atrial fibrulation into atrial flutter.  In plain English, his heart is already prone to an above average rapid heart rate.  When his thyroid acts up, that rapid rate spikes up into the stratosphere. 

He had a similar problem a few months ago right before Squirt's fourth birthday party, but that time I was at home, sick with the flu, and banned from bringing my cooties over to the house for fear of someone else catching it.  I didn't even know anything was going on until I called my mom's house in hopes of hearing everybody sing happy birthday to the world's cutest nephew.  My grandfather had answered the phone and relayed the day's events to me.  This time, I was bringing Mom home from church and we turned onto her street to be greeted by the sight of flashing lights.

My brother waved to my mother and I from inside the ambulance and gave us an "okay" sign to let us know he was alright as we raced up to the house.  I was relieved to see him alert and sitting up.  Things couldn't be that bad if he was sitting up and no one was pounding on his chest.  After that thought penetrated my shock, I noticed that the whole neighborhood had come out to see what was going on.  Mom went to talk to the paramedics and my brother, and I headed toward the house and my sister-in-law. 

My sister-in-law was standing with Mary B., a neighbor we've known for over thirty years, a member of the extended friendamily so to speak.  Mary B. was in full maternal-hover mode, keeping my sister-in-law calm until my mom arrived.  Mary's a great neighbor, although incredibly nosy.  I wasn't surprised to see her on our doorstep, right in the thick of things.  Other neighbors were hovering near the fringes of the front lawn.  A new neighbor, who had moved in several houses down over a year ago, came over to introduce herself and let us know that we were in her prayers.  I'm not sure that while the paramedics were working on my brother in the ambulance while it was still in front of the house was the best time for this new neighbor to come over and make an introduction, but my sister-in-law and mother smiled appreciatively.  I just stared at her and shook her hand when my mother introduced me.

Today's visit from emergency medical personnel brought back some unhappy memories for me. It's been a long time (11 years), but seeing the ambulances and fire truck parked in front of my mother's house instantly reminded me of when my father died.  I was at my parents' house when that happened.  In fact, I was the one on the phone with 9-1-1 relaying instructions to my mother for how to give CPR.  Ever since then, I've had a phobia about 9-1-1. Gertie and I witnessed a car accident years ago while coming out of the movies and I couldn't make the call to 9-1-1.  I froze and she had to do it.  The flashing lights and emergency personnel scrambling around in front of my mother's house brought old, unpleasant memories to the front of my mind.

My sister-in-law told me that when the paramedics arrived my brother's heart rate was 238 beats per minute.  I'm not a doctor and had no idea what a normal heart rate might be, so I nodded with a concerned expression on my face and made a mental note to look it up when I got home.  My honey helped give me some perspective on my brother's heart rate.  He told me that, during his presidency, George W. Bush had an average heart rate of 60 beats per minute, which was amazingly healthy and at the low end of the normal range.  My brother's heart was going four times as fast.  By the time the ambulance left to take him to the hospital, my brother's heart had settled down to 150 beats per minute.  Still fast, but going back to normal - or at least normal for my brother.

Once the paramedics had my brother settled and ready to leave for the hospital, my mother sent me home and told me she would call me as soon as she knew anything.  My sister-in-law's father had already come over and taken Squirt back to his house for a "sleepover".  Squirt thought this was awesome as he had spent the previous night having a sleepover at my mom's house.  His parents may never be able to get him to go home after all these sleepovers, but at least he wasn't scared or worried about his dad.  He was excited to see the fire truck and ambulances with their lights on.  Ah, the innocence and obliviousness of the young!

I came home to find my honey playing on his laptop.  He was surprised to see me, as I had told him I probably wouldn't be home for at least four more hours.  I was still pretty worried about my brother and haunted by memories of calling the ambulance for my father.  I don't know what I looked like when I walked into the house, but it must have been interesting enough to alert him that something was up because he jumped up and asked me what was wrong.  He hugged me while I croaked out the story, held me while I told him about the memories the day had brought to the surface, and gently kissed me when I was done sharing.  He kept me calm by sharing stories about his own experiences with calling the paramedics for his father and then turned the conversation to lighter things, like our favorite show on BBC America, in order to make me smile.  He was a rock.  A solid, comforting presence while my world was tilting a little off kilter.

Getting a hug from my honey was just what I needed

I just got the call from my mom.  My brother's heart rate returned to normal without medication and they are going to release him soon.  He'll have to go see a cardiologist and his primary care physician tomorrow, but he'll be home tonight.  I am going to get another hug from my honey and be thankful that everything worked out.


  1. I'm glad that it did. Sounds scary.

  2. Glad that the brother is ok. I know that brings up emotion filled memories and scary times.