An update on my summer crises

Last month I shared with you all the story of two awful things which happened this summer: my father’s death and my wife having a heart attack.  People responded with a lot of concern and care, which helped things here immensely.  I’m very grateful. Now I’d like to update you all.

My wife, Ceredwyn, how is she doing?  Ah, this is good and bad news.  The good is that she’s recovering.  The bad is that she had a second heart attack.  Oh yes.

A couple of weeks after the first she felt increasing pain in her chest.  She’d been monitoring chest pain closely, unsurprisingly, and observed this carefully.  It got worse. We discussed it, decided not to risk anything, and I drove her to the emergency room.  She spent the next few days in the hospital with me and we experienced repetitions of the procedures she’d just gone through: cardio tests, EKGs, horrendous attempts at blood draws, another catheterization, and more tests.  This time her troponin level was higher than the last, indicating more extensive damage to the heart tissues.  So going to the hospital was exactly the right thing to do.

The staff were terrific, from awesome nurses to the astonishing cath team. They dove into her body again and found a tiny artery which seems to have been the culprit. Gradually her heart stabilized and, after several days, they let me take her home.

Ceredwyn is now the survivor of two (2) heart attacks.  Which is not a sentence I ever expected to write.

Ever since she’s continued healing.  That involves more of what I wrote about last time: a bag of new medications, lots of resting, carefully monitored exercise, frequent at-home tests (blood pressure, O2 levels). She saw a cardiologist and is set up for cardio therapy starting soon.

She’s better in some ways.  The many puncture wounds have healed up, as have the awful, extensive bruises.  But she gets pummeled by exhaustion daily, sadly after tasks which she used to do without a second thought.

Ceredwyn walking the Manassas battlefield green tunnel path

Some of that exercise.

Last time I mentioned some American health care details for my non-American readers, so I’ll continue now with a big one.  We’ve been waiting anxiously for the medical bills to arrive.  This is a ritual we do in the United States, because health care costs can obliterate family budgets.  So much depends on what the medical providers charge (this is invisible to us at point of care) and what insurance companies decided to pay for (similarly opaque, and subject to a series of possible denials).

Yesterday the charges appeared.  The total for two hospital stays was over $75,000.

The insurance company absorbed most of this, leaving us on the hook for around $7,100.

This won’t bankrupt us.  My years of overwork mean that we can fit it into our finances. We’re going to pay it in installments, which are miraculously not subject to interest charges. Yet I think of how when we were younger we could not have paid for this.  Many people can’t pay for this kind of charge. The amount would be devastating.

I think as well about people who, unlike my wife, don’t have a lot of knowledge about the health care system, and how confusing and terrifying this can be.  Or who don’t have my bull-headed, extrovert’s shamelessness about asking basic questions and pressing formidable strangers for better treatment.

On a different personal level I have to add that Ceredwyn having two heart attacks at times feels simply bizarre, at least when I tell people about it.  It feels incredible and part of me dreads not being believed.  At home we joke about it with our usual black humor.

To sum up: now is about paying the bills, taking the medications, getting into the cardio therapy, carefully exercising.  And her resting.

Last week would have been my father’s 92nd birthday. He wasn’t much for birthdays after he retired, and so the emotional kick wasn’t too painful.  And yet.  Recognizing the link and thinking it through is a step in mourning, a formal event reminding us of death.

I haven’t been doing that mourning work over the past month.  Instead my days have been blurs, mostly, combining a lot of work (back to 65- and 70-hour weeks) and caring for Ceredwyn. Few reminders of my father’s passing have hit me, which suggests a substantial distance existed between us for a long time.  In contrast, friends I’ve lost over the past couple of years repeatedly appear in my mind, based in triggers as disparate as pull-ups, certain books, some music, and even parts of our house.

The hospice service my father engaged has a mourning specialist whom I can speak to on the phone.  We had one talk, which was mostly me trying to figure out what a mourning specialist did. She told me it would take time to grieve, and that it would surprise me at times.  I haven’t called her back so far.

I think I went through some of this grieving process when he was still alive, in his last year, declining steeply. I thought about things I wanted to say to him, and things I wanted to hear from him. There wasn’t much.

I think more about the logistics and material nature of the event. How we cleaned up his rooms and wrapped things up with the facility. How my lawyer brother is doing heroic work on paperwork.

What happens next?  Perhaps a memory will ambush me.  That’s what the grief experts describe.  Maybe he’ll appear in dreams.  I don’t know.  I do know that I just feel… tired.

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29 Responses to An update on my summer crises

  1. Deborah R Penner says:

    Thank your for this sharing. We have had a divorce for one son and two family members with heart afib incidents my husband and son in the past several months. Our faith community has something called Grief Share, a weekly meeting for those who have lost anything spouse, death, job, retirement, health event and so on. Not just for widows. Good to hear that your hospice has a mourning coach. I am considering doing the grief share for my self as family supporter and caregiver.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Oh no, Deborah. That sounds like an enormously hard time. I’m so sorry. Please take care.

      Grief Share sounds very powerful.

  2. Dahn Shaulis says:

    Take care of yourself Bryan. The world needs you.

  3. I couldn’t bring myself to “like” this post. I have to say I appreciate it profoundly, and I meet it with sadness and admiration, with horror and wonder. Thank you for having the courage and determination to write it and its predecessor. May the wonder prevail. Let us rejoice that Ceredwyn lives!

  4. Rachel Rigolino says:

    Agreed Bryan. Peace.

  5. I am so sorry that Ceredwyn had a second heart attack. This has indeed been a terrible summer for both of you — but she has survived and you are together looking forward too.
    My strongest wishes for her full recovery.

  6. Gayle Greene says:

    you must be totally exhausted, Bryan. I’m so sorry to hear all this.
    The grieving process was so complicated for me I had to write a whole book about it, after my mother died… it’s called Missing Persons. There’s a lot about clearing out the house, dealing with things, the detritus of a lifetime. But to have your wife’s heart attacks on top of it all. Take care of yourself; you’re vulnerable.
    (awhile back you asked onFB a question I never answered, at what age does one start caring? i never answered because the more I thought of it, the more complicated it became. I think the book I’m writing now addresses that)

  7. Arin Basu says:

    Prayers and love with you Bryan. The keyword is she survived. That’s most precious.
    As we say here in Aotearoa New Zealand, Kia Kaha! Stay strong my friend!

  8. Sheila Aird says:

    How difficult this must be! Am sending healing energy and positive thoughts to you and family! Thank you for sharing your journey. Many parts resonated with me as well as the medical bills coming in after this traumatic journey!!

    It is overtime that the system be overhauled. Many of us pay into our various insurances hoping that if needed, we will be ok. Not the case. It is again overtime that we push hard for a much improved system that will cover all. We know it can be done. There are many countries that have it. More now than ever IMHO it is time for a serious movement to pass and implement a universal medical plan.

    Doc, wishing your wife a speedy yet careful recovery!! Take care.
    Sheila A

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Thank you, Sheila.

      I agree on overhauling the medical system. I’ve seen Americans get more and more frustrated by it over the years. Yet we won’t touch the thing.

  9. Barbara says:

    Wishing your wife a quick recovery.

  10. Matthew Riddle says:

    So sorry to hear this Bryan. All the very best, and I hope Ceredwyn recovers speedily.

  11. Winslow Colwell says:

    It’s good to be caught up, Bryan. Grief is complex and personal. It’s wise to be open to the unexpected turn (or not) it could take. And health insurance, I can say from recent experience, is so needlessly fraught. How we let the system continue as is I can’t possibly understand. Good wishes to you both, esp. Ceredwyn.

  12. I hope writing these updates helps you cope.
    Unsolicited advice: if you’re worried about a possible heart attack (or stroke, or …), consider calling an ambulance rather than driving to an ER. Treatment and diagnosis begin when the drivers come to your home and continue all the way to a hospital. Delaying this process can, for some attacks, make a significant difference. (Origin story: my wife had what seemed like either a stroke or transient ischemic attack – TIA); I drove her to the ER. Medical experts were united: if anything like this happens again, call an ambulance. So, when something like this happened a second time, I did call 911, and I’m quite happy I did.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      I think writing helps a little, Steve. Hearing from you all helps more.

      I agree on the ambulance, actually. That’s what we did for her first, which was far worse at the moment.

  13. Sarah says:

    Sending love to you and your wife and your family. Here’s to hoping the medications and therapies help.
    Don’t apologize for or second guess how you are grieving. It’s a weird bedfellow, and has ebbs and flows, and every single person does it differently. Sending good thoughts re: the money part of healthcare. I’m with you on all of it. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop with some of Danny’s outstanding bills, while I still figure out my grief journey. And dark gallows humor is sometimes the way you survive…

  14. Roxann says:

    My mind wanders to Ships don’t sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down. (The quote is attributed to a person named Goi Nasu, but nobody seems to know who he or she is)
    We are all boats in a turbulent ocean waters, the good part is the boat will never sink unless lots of water gets inside… I think of us as boats and at times we are all weathering challenging life crises aka storms of life … and that a little water gets in our boats every now and then, but we have strong sails, grit, resilience, courage and love of family and friends that helps us survive these turbulences.

    Ceredwyn and you both have incredibly strong sails and support. Now a song comes to mind by the Beach Boys… sail on sail on ! I’m still bailing out some water from my boat… but still sailing! Stay strong!

  15. Elena says:

    I am very glad Ceredwyn is recovering, and the costs associated with her care are manageable.

    “Mourning work” – now, there’s a phrase. I know you were referring to “[r]ecognizing the link and thinking it through,” but it struck me. Mourning can feel like work, at times. And sometimes it’s just part of tired – sucking energy along with a thousand other things coming at us. I’m currently getting on in the midst of it, too, and know from experience that it’ll let me know when it needs more of my attention. May it be kind to you when your mourning work needs your full attention.

    If it gives you any energy, I really liked your writing on why webinars suck, and your kind suggestions to conveners to thoughtfully consider the format before proceeding. Perhaps some wise soul can figure out how to make mourning suck less, too. 🙂

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