So your ride-or-die keeps veering towards the latter and it’s starting to get a little ridiculous. Don’t worry, I got you. I’ve compiled this handy guide to answer your burning questions.
It’s simple, really. In August, my husband stepped on a bee/wasp/stingy thing nest while on a hike with our two kids and dog, lumbered home a mile, collapsed in the driveway, and went into anaphylactic shock. One ambulance ride, several days in the hospital and multiple tests later, the doctors realized he also had something going on with his heart. Many more tests later, he was diagnosed with Coronary Artery Disease and had to undergo a triple bypass. During this bypass, his surgeon did an additional “15-second procedure” to remove a small flap to help prevent atrial fibrillation, which may cause strokes. I only mention this seemingly irrelevant bit of information because 4 weeks later, my husband had a small stroke. So, basically, your classic anaphylactic shock/triple bypass/mini stroke story. If I had a nickel, right?
What the acutal fudge? (Only you didn’t say “fudge.” You said the word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the F— word.)
I know, right?
What was worst – the anaphylactic shock, the triple bypass, or the mini stroke?
Well, it’s hard to choose a least favorite. Each one seemed like the Worst Thing Ever at the time. One moment you’re enjoying your late morning cheese plate, considering whether it’s too cliché to post a photo on Instagram (it is but that’s never stopped you before) and the next you’re asking your husband whether he means the ER or a walk-in clinic and whether he knows what’s closer because you get flustered in an emergency and, let’s be honest, you use GPS to find your own ass, but he falls into a heap on the rock-filled driveway before he can answer. Guess you’re not so good in an emergency now, huh, Matty? Too soon? Too soon. But hey, the good news is now you don’t have to figure out where to drive, you can just follow the ambulance. And sure, the 30-minute drive to the hospital is 0-stars, mostly because you’re trying to pretend everything is fine for your two children who just stopped crying while imagining life without your husband and it is NOT GOOD. Fewer farts, sure, but also fewer of all the countless good things. You tell yourself he’s in good hands. Keith the EMT seems really good. And Brian, the police chief from the fire station across the street, may have been wearing a sleeveless Guns ‘n Roses shirt but you love GNR. Welcome to the Jungle, you know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby, you’re going to…SHUT UP, SUBCONSCIOUS! No one’s going to die! When you get to the hospital, you can’t go in to see him. While you wait in line to talk to the ER intake lady and take your Covid-19 screener, which the old couple in front of you take approximately 19 hours to answer (“WHAT?!” “SHE ASKED IF YOU’VE HAD A COUGH IN THE LAST 14 DAYS!”), you hear, “CODE BLUE IN ROOM 1, I REPEAT, CODE BLUE!” You can see various ER personnel sprinting through the small glass circle in the doorway to the ER. You are simultaneously having your own code blue, but it seems like bad parenting to curl up in the fetal position in front of your children, so you remain standing. It takes what feels like 800 hours while you die slowly inside for the ER administrator to tell you, “don’t worry, that’s not your husband.” Oh, did I look worried? No, kids, everything’s fine, this is fine. (Cue flames around cartoon dog in hat with coffee mug.)
Then there comes the heart stuff. It’s his heart, but it might as well be yours. It feels like a gradual build up…something irregular…need more tests…there’s some blockage there, but because it goes step by step, it feels manageable. Then he goes in to get an angiogram, where they might put a stent in. Jesus, he’s only in his mid-40’s, and he might need a stent? This feels like the worst thing possible, but oh ho ho, dummy, this is nowhere near the worst. Buckle up, because we’re just starting to bake this cake, and that’s just the base layer. The surgeon calls to tell you how it went with the angiogram. You’d thought the worst-case scenario was that there was such significant blockage they’d need to put in multiple stents. But like a bad game of telephone where the first person whispers, “Blame the soup” and the last person says “Jamie ate poop?!” and everyone laughs hysterically, you’d seriously misunderstood the situation, except in this case no laughter occurred. Instead, the surgeon calls and says that the blockage was so severe that it could not be fixed with stents, but instead would require triple bypass open heart surgery. “Do you have any questions?” Yes, WTF? Why God why? Seriously WTF? But you’re too in shock, so you just choke out, “No, not right now.” To which she replies, “I’m sorry, I can’t understand you because you’re crying too hard.” Your tender bedside manner was a balm in these difficult times, doc. Thanks for adding another layer to the cake.
You spend 5 1/2 of the worst hours of your life waiting to get the call that your husband survived surgery. Meanwhile, well-meaning friends and family are texting and calling non-stop, “Have you heard anything?” “Do you know what time he’ll be out?” “Do you know the name of the anesthesiologist?” “Have you researched the average time of a triple bypass following a catastrophic bee sting attack?” No, no I don’t know any of these things. I am a failure. Meanwhile, I’m trying to write an article for work; it’s about, no joke, how to calculate how much life insurance you need. Good one, universe. (The answer is “more.”) Hazel’s teacher sends a reminder that she will be taking an important assessment test this afternoon, and how parents should make themselves available to de-stress their child and help them stay focused. I once read that they play Barney’s “I Love You” song to maximize the stress of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. MAP Assessment Test, you are my millionth playing of “I Love You.” Finally, you get the call and you sob tears of relief. The worst is over. You’ve made it through.
JUST KIDDING, we haven’t even frosted the Wait-It-Gets-Worse-Cake yet. Four weeks post heart surgery, we’re starting to feel pretty good. Matty’s walking twice a day, eating regularly, seems more like his normal self. DID YOU FORGET ABOUT THE CAKE WE’RE MAKING, IDIOT? One night he walks the dog with Hazy and as we’re sitting down for dinner, he says he feels weird. After the Bee Incident and the Triple Bypass, “weird” is not a welcome thing. You know it’s not gonna be a funny-weird thing like it was just a big fart coming on and it’s gonna ramp up into an O’Rourke family farting contest (not that that’s happened, we’re classy people). Turns out it’s weird like call-the-Chans-to-take-the-kids-so-we-can-go-to-the-ER weird. At this point, you should have your own parking space at Mass General Hospital. (Actually, can we make this happen? There have been 2-3 parking garage “incidents” that resulted in body work.) Did you know they don’t let you wait for your spouse at the ER these days? Yes, even if you’re worried that you’re recreating UP, except you’re the old guy and Matty’s the cute old lady and you didn’t even get to grow old together and goddamnit you forgot the balloon. And then I’m crying too hard (again) when I go to pay for parking and the attendant asks me if I was at the hospital and I whimper, “the ER,” and he says, “no charge.” They should make him an advisor to the Cardiology Department at Mass Gen because he gets it.
Did I answer the question? If pressed, I’d go with door #3.
How are you?
To quote one of my favorite podcasts, I’m terrible, thanks for asking. (Season 1 is by far the best season.) I thought I had a foolproof system of continually shoving my feelings deep down inside, but I’m only 5′ 6″ and I’m running out of space to stuff my feelings. It turns out that feelings, like the accompanying back pain I have from shoving them deep down, don’t go away just because you ignore them. I’m “functioning,” in the sense that I still eat (every day, multiple times, and we’re not just counting meals, thank you very much), sleep, parent and watch the Bachelorette regularly, but I’m still significantly less than fine.
I think he’s a GD hero. He’s made great strides physically and psychologically and endured so very much crap with dignity and humor. But I don’t want to speak for him, so in a rare, marital blog crossover, I’ll let him speak for himself.
How are the kids?
The kids are seriously fine. You’d think they’d be freaking the F out but I think I’ve covered that for all of us. Shortly after Matty’s heart surgery, the kids and I were hiking in the woods and underwent a minor bee attack. Despite my lifelong fear of bees (recently amplified, as you might imagine), I seriously downplayed my reaction because I didn’t want to re-traumatize them after their dad’s bee attack and subsequent hospitalization. But meanwhile, they were the ones who were surprisingly cool about it. They were like, “that was crazy!” That was indeed crazy, guys.
Anyway, they don’t seem traumatized by any of it. I think it’s partly because they don’t understand the severity and partly because they are self-absorbed. I don’t mean that in a dissing way, that’s just the way kids are. We were filling my cousin in on all that happened yesterday and George was like, “Not this dumb story again!” I’m sorry to bore you with the “dumb” story of your Dad’s near-death, kid. Do you know how many times George Chris Farleys us with his recapping of unmemorable scenes from various Marvel movies? “Do you remember that time in Iron Man III when Tony Stark was like, ‘uh, yeah, right’?” No, George, no we don’t.
How are you still doing all the things?
The short answer is I do them because I have to. No one else is going to homeschool my kids, order all the cheese on Instacart, make my family dinner every night, or clean the house. (Just kidding about that last one, no one is cleaning the house period.) But the longer answer is, I have a lot of help. We have the Chans supporting us in a million ways, an incredible network of friends for emotional support, and a whole bunch of GrubHub cards to use in a pinch. Plus, I don’t like to admit this too often because it’ll give him a big head, but normal Matty is Super Dad/Husband, so even bypass/stroke-recovery patient Matty is a pretty awesome partner. He walks the dog, does the dishes, and even does the most dreaded of parental chores, the Supervising of The Flossing and Brushing. It was his idea to do the Blind Melon homage to the bees for our holiday card and I think it was actually the earliest we’ve ever sent out our cards.
Two days before Christmas, I got hit with a bout of vertigo, because hey, why not? I couldn’t really risk driving because I was worried about having a dizzy spell while behind the wheel, so Matty did all the special Chinatown grocery shopping for our Christmas Eve hot pot dinner plus all the last minute Christmas shopping, and by Christmas Eve, he was exhausted. He went to bed with the kids at around 8:30 pm. (Keep in mind he had a stroke like a month ago.) Ever hear those stories about “hysterical strength,” like people lifting cars in a life-or-death situation? That was me until 1:30 am Christmas eve, and the car I lifted was creating Christmas magic.
Also, I watched the Holidate completely sober and I survived. I guess what I’m saying is, we can do hard things, guys.
How can I help?
You can send prayers, good juju or good vibes. You can talk to God or any connections you have to a higher power to ask them to please take it easy on us. You can send Matty a Cameo of a washed-up 80’s star that makes him laugh. You can wear a mask and avoid restaurants and parties so we can someday beat Covid and my husband can go visit his cardiologist/neurosurgeon/doctor and I can see a g-d chiropractor or a massage therapist without risking my family’s lives. You can help save the bees. You can just keep being you, you wonderful, sweet thing.
If you have any additional questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.
Wishing you all a much happier, healthier New Year!