the heart attack (part one: Camden)

As many of you probably already know, while we were in New York for Matt’s sister Denya’s funeral, Matt actually had a heart attack. I’m still not entirely certain how to write about this event in our lives – it’s still pretty raw, and I think it’s something that we’re going to be continuing to process for months and years to come. I’m going to share just a glimpse into how I’m currently thinking about it now, and I’m sure I’ll revisit it in the future, as well.

We’d all gone as a family to the calling hours for Denya on that Wednesday afternoon and then went to Matt’s mom’s house for a quick dinner. Knowing that it would be even more crowded that evening and that it had already been a long day for our kids, we decided that the kids and I would go back to the hotel and hang out there while just Matt went to the evening calling hours. The kids and I read books and played, and I set them up with a movie, and I texted with Matt intermittently.

I almost can't even look at this picture. It was so soon afterwards that everything changed. Every minute matters.
I almost can’t even look at this picture. It was so soon afterwards that everything changed. Every minute matters.

At one point Matt told me that his chest was hurting, and he got an aspirin from someone. I was concerned, but he’d had chest pain in the past and had even gone to the ER to get it checked out about a year ago, and the doctors had said they believed it to be more related to his chest muscles than his heart, so I think both of us assumed it was more of that.

Matt came back to the hotel after the calling hours ended. The girls were still watching their movie on their bed, so Matt and I sat with Atticus on our bed and chatted a bit and just relaxed. Matt was laughing at their cheesy kids’ movie, and at one point his laugh turned into a funny sort of wheeze-laugh. I asked him why he was laughing that way, and he just looked at me. I even asked him if he was having a heart attack, but he couldn’t respond. I started to become alarmed, and I remember thinking that it might seem silly if he came back to normal in 30 seconds, but I really thought I needed to call 911.

I told the dispatcher that I thought my husband might be having a heart attack and told him where we were. And I told him that I’d taken CPR classes but couldn’t remember right at that moment exactly what I was supposed to do first, but if he’d tell me what to do, I could do it. He told me I needed to get Matt off the bed and onto the floor. I really wasn’t sure I could do that – the hotel room was tiny, and there wasn’t much space between the beds, and Matt is a lot bigger than I am. I remembered seeing other cars in the parking lot that night, so I ran out into the hallway and yelled that we were having a medical emergency and was anyone else there. Fortunately for us, a couple, whom I later found out were Matt’s cousin Mechell and her husband, were staying right across the hall. They came over to our room and helped me get Matt onto the floor, and Mechell – a nurse – started performing CPR while her husband and I held Matt’s legs up. He was pretty blue by this point. Every once in a while he’d take a gaspy breath on his own, but he wasn’t breathing at all normally. I yelled to him to stay with me. All of our kids were upset by this point, and Mechell’s husband told me he could hold Matt’s legs, and I could grab the baby. Holding Atticus, I called Matt’s mom and told her that Matt had stopped breathing, and I needed her to come. In true mom fashion – doing what needs to be done no matter what – she said she’d be there.

An older woman also poked her head in the room, and as the 911 operator asked me if the doors were unlocked, I asked her if she’d go down and unlock the back door to get into the hotel. She also volunteered to stay down there and tell the EMTs where to go once they arrived.

At that point things seemed to be in something of a holding pattern, and the 911 operator told me that help would be there soon. I asked if he knew when they’d get there, because we really needed them, and right after that the first man ran into the room. Immediately they shooed us out, telling us to go across the hall to Mechell’s room.

I sat down on the floor with the kids and prayed. And I called my friend Brooke and told her that Matt had stopped breathing and I needed her to pray. Matt’s mom and his step-dad, Dan, arrived then, too. It wasn’t long before the EMTs – who, by now, had crowded into our hotel room, the hallway, and Mechell’s room – all let out a cheer – they’d shocked Matt’s heart, and he had a pulse, and they were hopeful that he’d be okay.

Mechell told me that someone would come and talk to me, and she asked if I was going to ride along in the ambulance. I didn’t know what I should do – I wanted to be with Matt, but I also wanted to and needed to take care of our kids. Matt’s mom said she would take care of the kids, and Mechell nodded. I had enough time and was able to get back into our hotel room just enough to grab my sweater, my phone charger, and my wallet. I wasn’t able to get to my coat, but I told Matt’s mom where to find our car keys in its pocket, and I said a quick goodbye to our kids, and Mechell gave me her coat as I walked out the door.

Next installment to come in a day or two…

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