faith · joshua · marriage

When You’re Thinking Your Husband is Having a Heart Attack

I have received so many calls and texts and facebook messages that I can’t keep up with who knows what and what’s been said, so I’m turning here to give you an account of our past few days and hopefully, put to rest some of the rumors.

Joshua called me around 5 Tuesday evening on his way home from work.  He was fine, we chatted a bit, and I sent him to get the girls from dance.  Sometime over the next 45 minutes, he began to feel intense chest pain, so much so, that by the time he got home with Madelynne and Annabelle, it was obvious something was wrong.  However, because he had worked in the yard all day Saturday, cutting trees and hauling mulch, we chalked it up to a pulled muscle and went on with our evening.  We went to Amelia’s preschool graduation, talked with friends, and came back home.  He still wasn’t feeling great, but he took two ibuprofen (as he had been doing since Saturday anyway because he was sore), rocked the baby, helped with the girls, and we went to bed.  I figured he was just worn out.

We got up and had a normal Wednesday morning; he said he felt a little better.  He did take two tylenol because his chest still hurt some, and then he went on to work.  I went off for a busy morning that involved jazzercise, an appointment, and Madelynne’s Honors Day.  About 10:30 as I was just being ushered back to see the nurse at the health department, and while Gus was shrieking and Amelia was spilling cereal everywhere, he called and through the gasping for breath told me he thought he needed to go to the hospital.  Though alarmed, I was determined to keep a cool head.  A heart attack in a 32 year old seemed ludicrous, so I was still convincing myself he was having an intense muscle spasm, even though he had told me the pain was constricting and radiating down his left arm.  He had a co-worker drive him to our local hospital because I could meet him there more quickly, so the nurse rushed me through, and I was out the door in literally about five minutes.  I rushed over to his mom’s, dropped the two little ones, and then headed back to the hospital, figuring I would get there just as he did or only a few minutes after.  I called my mom along the way and told her what was happening, mainly so she could talk down my crazy.  Rationally, I couldn’t fathom that this could be the worst case scenerio; it still seemed so ridiculous.  But as I described his pain, she calmly said, “Lindsey, I hate to tell you this, but that’s not a pulled muscle.  You need to be prepared.” I dashed into the ER and they let me back because he was already there.  I came in his room just as the nurse was hooking on the wires for an EKG.  I remember sometime during the blur of that moment realizing from his hospital bracelet that the doctor on call was the father of some of my former students and being so relieved.  He would be straight with me, I knew.  I held his hand and kissed his forehead, and then the nurse told me to move so they could start the EKG.

That’s when everything changed.  Until then the staff had been fairly calm.  They’d been asking his questions, even joking a bit, but the moment the EKG started, that was all over.  I remember hearing a few beeps and then the nurse said (and this is by far the best part of the story), “Boom!  Game on!”  I remember thinking, what is that supposed to even mean?  But suddenly the room was full and there were lots of syringes and hands and I was nearly shoved out the door to stand trembling in the hallway.  His doctor told me it looked like he was indeed having a heart attack and he was going to be transferred immediately to Northeast Georgia Medical Center, and he said, as so many did over the next few days, “That’s the best place for him. They will figure this out.”

There is no way to be prepared for a situation like this, for that sudden emergency.  I couldn’t figure out what to do first.  So I just plowed through with the first thoughts that came to my racing mind and somehow surfaced among the constant repertoire of “heart attack….heart attack…how can this be happening…heart attack…”  I had his co-worker, Candace, who was still there (and wow, she was a rock) call his mom because I just didn’t think I could handle delivering that news and answering questions.  I called MaryLynn and basically ordered her to go get my children.  My mom texted me in the midst of that and I texted back for her to meet me in Gainesville. (As an aside, I am now so grateful for texting because it made communicating with multiple people so much simpler.)  They were asking me to sign papers and I was holding his hand again and telling him it would be okay.  At some point someone gave me back his insurance card and driver’s license, and in one of those random moments that make no sense, I was so grateful I’d already showered and put on a skirt with pockets.  Then I texted our friend Laura, and asked her to tell her husband, who is my doctor and our friend, that Joshua was actually having a heart attack.  She texted me back almost immediately and in that way friends do when there’s a crisis, she immediately began to take care of other details for me.  She called our church, and when MaryLynn called me back to tell me that she would go get my kids but hers were vomiting, I said something along the lines of, “Call Laura and work it out.  I don’t care, just someone get them from his parents.”  Then I started crying about how, of all days, it was Honor’s Day and Madelynne was going to be so upset, so MaryLynn went to Honor’s Day and at some point Laura wound up with my little ones.

During all of this Joshua was being strapped to the gurney for transport; he was still shaking and in a lot of pain, and they were hitting him with the gamut of drugs: morphine, nitro, aspirin, zofran, and I have no idea what else.  I asked to ride with him, but was told it would have to be in the front and I absolutely could not get upset if something happened.  When the paramedic said that, Joshua looked at me and said, “Go with Candace.”  So I did.  As we were leaving, his doctor hugged me and reassured me that he was in the best hands possible.  He named the top cardio doctor in Gainesville and said, “He’s going to him for the cath. They’ll have on that table twenty minutes after the ambulance leaves here.”  Since we live a normal thirty minute drive from this hospital, I knew they weren’t messing around.  Later, Joshua said he thought the ride was only about fifteen minutes, and it was super fast and super bumpy.

Candace drove me to the hospital and along the way I tried to stop shaking long enough to be coherent.  I kept telling myself to be calm and not freak out, but that was a lot to ask for with the pervasive thought that he was having a heart attack and I might be left alone to raise four kids who need their daddy because he’s the calm one who doesn’t freak out.  I tried to figure out who to call and what was the rational course.  I knew my big girls were taken care of from school to after care at church to Awana and there were plenty of people who would look out for them, but I was afraid that this could be the worst and who would be there with them?  So I called their school and talked to their counselor, who is also a friend and fellow church member.  At some point during this I was so grateful for that network of folks who seemed to just pop up everywhere I needed them.  I talked to my mom who told me she and my dad were on their way, and my sister would meet me at the hospital.  I tried to think of who Joshua might want there, so I called our friend Derek, whose wife takes all our beautiful pictures and who is Joshua’s men’s group leader.  He works in the medical field so I knew he would understand the jargon and could help me and I knew, somehow beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he would be calm and would pray with us and for us. I left a message, and  later when I got a text from his wife saying he was leaving Marietta and would meet me at the hospital, I cried in relief.

Once at the hospital, Candace put me out at the ER because the paramedics told her to have me go in there. She went to park and I stumbled inside.  I must have looked terribly frightened because everyone I talked to was super gentle and kind.  I was directed upstairs and when I got off on the wrong floor, the nurse walked me straight down to where I needed to be.  At some point as I was heading up a hall by myself, I had to stop so I could get it together, and I uttered what is definitely not the most profound prayer, but the most needy: God, please don’t let this be my story.  Please don’t take him from me and leave me to do this by myself.  The day before I had been working on the SheReadsTruth study in Nehemiah, and we were memorizing the verse: Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength (Neh. 8:10).  I clung to that promise as best I could.  Once I was in the cath lab waiting room, I lost it a bit and began to sob hysterically.  Some sweet stranger came and prayed over me, and then I was able to reassure the concerned nurses that I didn’t need a quiet room; I would make it now.

My phone was blowing up at this point and it was also dying.  I could just hear Joshua saying, “Seriously, you didn’t charge your phone last night?” So that was kind of comical.  The nurses found me a charger to borrow and when Candace made it upstairs, she called her assistant (who is also a Candace) and had her drive an extra charger down to me.  Joshua’s office staff is truly incredible.  It died just as my friend Andrea was trying to tell me something about her husband, and it was so dead, I couldn’t even get it back on when I plugged it in.  Which turned out not to matter, because what she was saying was that James was at the hospital with his grandmother and was coming over to where I was, and about that time, he got off the elevator and I cried all over him, too.

Sometime right after that, they came to get me and take me back to see him and the doctor.  Everyone was smiling, and I didn’t get until later that it was because they were relieved not to have a 32 year old heart attack victim on their table.  When his doctor first began to explain the official diagnosis of pericarditis, I had trouble comprehending it.  All I could think was that’s the thing they say on Grey’s Anatomy before Christina plunges a syringe into someone’s heart.  Lucky for us, no syringe was needed.  Later that evening, after a heart echo had been done and he was stable and on lots of drugs, he was diagnosed with perimyocarditis, which means his heart and the sac around it were inflamed and swollen.  There’s no way to determine what causes this, the likely cause is viral.

My friend Josh, our doctor, called me once he found out the diagnosis and told me it was the best case scenario for this situation.  That was reassuring to hear.  He actually said that in a case like Joshua’s, where the EKG showed a classic heart attack taking place, the news that it was inflammation was worth jumping for joy, especially in light of what it could have been.

The rest of the day felt like I was sleepwalking.  My mom said I was in the “fog of battle”.  Somehow my friends and family helped me figure out what to do with the children so I could stay the night with Joshua. He was being kept in the critical care unit overnight for observation.  My sister, Katy, took Amelia, and my sister, Audrey, came to stay at my house with the others.  Another friend picked them up for school, and on Thursday, all of my sisters gathered at Katy’s to play with Amelia and Gus in the pool.  I’m pretty sure they thought we were having a party.

He was moved to regular room on Thursday morning and so many people came by or called or sent messages.  Trust me, there’s nothing like that love.  I even had a friend, who is a cardiac nurse at the hospital but who was off duty, talk me through what was really happening and reassure me that it was serious and we should take it seriously because it will be awhile before he’s back to himself.

We came home late Friday and I know he was relieved to sleep in his own bed without beeping monitors and lab techs who draw blood at 3 a.m.  I was just relieved to be able to lie down beside him and listen to him breathe.  Like any situation of this caliber makes you do, we’re now taking stock of life and how to better live it.  Today I learned all about our bills and online accounts, and we played UNO for an hour before bedtime with the girls.  An earlier tragedy this month already had me being ever so grateful for normal days and everyday blessings, and this is only exemplifying that desire to appreciate the ordinary.

Tell your husband you love him tonight. Then tell him again.  We’re only gifted one day at a time.

6 thoughts on “When You’re Thinking Your Husband is Having a Heart Attack

  1. I'm nearly in tears here because I can't imagine what I would do if anything like this happened to my Joshua. It's like you said–“Please don't let this be my story.” Things like this only happen to other people, till they happen to you.

    Thank you for sharing this story, Lindsey. What's most amazing to me is how God has obviously been working through everything, as horrible as it is–sending just the right people to you right when you needed them, providing for the care of your children, and sending people to comfort you and explain things to you.

    My father-in-law had a stroke about a year and a half ago, just before his sixtieth birthday. It was one of those things you just don't expect to happen, and it was scary, but our whole family was so blessed through everything. And now he's doing great with no lasting effects at all.

    I'll be keeping you all in my prayers–for healing, peace, comfort and strength.



  2. Lindsey, thanks again for bearing your heart. I am sorry your family is going through this trial, but I know that God has a reason for everything, so I am going to trust along with you that His Word is true.

    We love you all and we are praying that Joshua recovers very soon!


  3. Lindsey, Bless your heart! I am so glad to hear that Joshua is going to be okay!!! We had a similar scary situation three years ago and even when you think you appreciate all you have been blessed with, something like this really puts life into perspective. We learn to savor the little moments and praise God during the storms. It is so wonderful to hear how God has worked in this situation and how you could feel His presence through it all! He is so good!

    We will keep Joshua (and you) in our prayers!

    Kelly Allen


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