My Heart Attack: Joyce’s Story

Graphic of a heart angiogram and the words "Joyce's Story" overlaid in pink letters.

Below is Joyce’s account of what happened the morning I had my heart attack. She was a rock for me that day and I did not know she had all this turmoil going on inside until she told me a few days later. And this doesn’t even cover the story of how she went all mama bear when they tried to send me home less than 24 hours after the heart attack–not sure that one will get told.

The day started out well with me being able to pick up my granddaughter and take her to school. I cherish the time I get to spend with any of my grand kids… so I will jump at any opportunity to see them.

I pulled into the driveway about 9:00 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 16th. John was snow blowing. We had gotten another 3-4 inches of snow. The day before, we had gotten about 8 inches of heavy wet snow. A neighbor boy came by and shoveled some of the driveway – John and I finished it. I then went over to my son’s house and helped shovel his driveway out. I remember thinking that the snow was so heavy that if I was going to have a heart attack, it would happen right there!

John was just finishing up the front of the house so I went to the back and shoveled off the deck and started working on the Luna trails (yes, our small puppy can get lost in the snow and we want paths for her to run on in the backyard- so very cute to watch!). John came to the back to help with the trails and we laughed as Luna enjoyed the new snow paths with both of us out there to chase her.

We hadn’t eaten breakfast yet… at that point it was about 9:30. So we headed into the house. Sat for a bit, playing with our puppy and talking. John stated his arms and chest were sore from shoveling. I have to say I wasn’t too empathetic, as I was struggling from shoveling the night before. Yea, I told him, “the snow is heavy and wet, no wonder you hurt.” As we sat there a few more minutes, he said that he
didn’t feel good. He went in the sunroom and checked his blood pressure with the electric blood pressure cuff. It was normal. I walked into the sunroom from the front room and walked around to the front of his chair and was shocked with how pale John was. I touched his forehead, and he was cool and clammy; certainly not good signs.

I started freaking out inside.. is he having a heart attack? I started asking questions about his pain, his arms, his chest.. and then he said “I have to throw up now”! He started getting up to go to the bathroom and I wouldn’t let him and grabbed a bowl out of the kitchen. He stood up and headed to the bathroom and all I could do was help him to the bathroom. He knelt over the toilet bowl and tried to throw up- dry heaves mostly as we had not eaten breakfast yet.

At that moment I said you are going in… I did ask him if I should drive him in (that would have been a BIG mistake) or if we should call 911. My whole body was shaking at that point-didn’t really believe this was really happening and still not wanting to believe it was a heart attack. I called 911. Of course they want all this information over the phone like address (it is crazy how you have to think what it is when in a situation like this), symptoms, when it started and so forth.. and all I wanted to do was to be by his side reassuring him- but inside just dying of fear.. and so very scared.

I remember thinking- this isn’t really happening right? And then it was the bargaining with God… don’t let him die… After I called 911, he was able to get up and we walked together (of course he was hanging onto me) to the front room as we knew the ambulance would come through the main door. He sat on the couch – I had grabbed a cool wet cloth to wipe his forehead off – kept talking to him (but not sure if it was reassuring as I was pretty shook up) – truthfully I don’t remember what I said to him… As a nurse, some of my training came into play – I knew what symptoms to look for and worse – I knew what the outcome
could be. He was so pale sitting on the couch – he was slumped back, not really sitting, more like half lying on the couch… not comfortable at all… I didn’t know what to do to help him- I felt so very helpless and totally incompetent to take care of the situation.

During this time, our puppy Luna was all over John. Earlier, before we got out of bed Luna seemed very tuned into John – more than usual – smelling his breath more than I have seen her before… she stuck pretty close to his side. And when he was vomiting, she was right underneath him. When we went to the couch, she was sitting right by him, making noises – that’s all I remember.

A young woman from the fire department arrived first (around 9:50 a.m.). It took about 5-8 minutes for the ambulance to show up. Of course, I really don’t know how long- it felt like forever-and yet it felt like it was really fast. She came in and took his blood pressure-assured us that the ambulance was on the way. It was so good to have someone else there. I was very eager to turn him over to someone who knew what they were doing and I didn’t have to pretend to be strong when inside I was just dying…

The ambulance crew came in. A young woman and 2 other men. There were a total of 4 of them helping out. They proceeded to place a 12 point lead heart monitor on John. Within a few minutes the one guy who was running the machine stated “you are having a heart attack”. It wasn’t “we think you are having
a heart attack”, or “you might be having a heart attack” – it was “You ARE having a heart attack”. All 4 of them came across as confident and competent. I remember in my nursing training that no matter how uncomfortable you are in a situation- you need to come across as calm and confident as that makes your patient feel safe.. that ran through my mind as they were working with him.. certainly a weird
thought….but it was so reassuring. There was one point that John looked up at me and said “I’m scared”… my heart broke.. I just wanted to cry… but just tried to reassure him that he was going to be okay…

I felt like a stranger in my own home watching the scene- not sure what I could do as there was no room for me to hold his hand or be next to him. I felt so sad that I couldn’t touch him… and tried to reach for him.. it all happened so fast. I remember them talking about how they were going to get him out to the ambulance. Our driveway is steep and they couldn’t back the rig up so they were parked at the end of our driveway. They couldn’t get the gurney through the door so they brought in a chair (I think one like they use in the airplanes). It looked so uncomfortable- and John looked so big sitting on it. I remember thinking that they needed to carry him out.. but again, it all happened so fast. I was able to kiss him before they took him out the door. I remember his look at me.. and a thought went through my mind of ‘this could be the last time I see him’- oh God no, please no….

I asked the ambulance what hospital they were taking him to… they asked what insurance he had – Health Partners which sent him to Regions Hospital. One of guys told me to follow the ambulance to the hospital- but don’t really follow us as we will be going fast. When you get to the hospital, he said, go through the emergency room, however, John would probably already be in the cath lab. Our neighbor called as they saw the ambulance in our driveway.. I gave a quick response, crying and she offered to drive me to the hospital.. I wanted to drive myself (probably not the bet decision)…

After the ambulance crew and John went out the door I started making phone calls- I called my daughter-in-law to come over and watch Luna (Luna was shut in the sunroom as she was in the way- and crying at this point). John said he even remembers hearing her cry from the sunroom while the ambulance crew was here. I called John’s sister, and his daughter, and my sister. I ran to the bedroom and grabbed a phone charger and John’s phone… a bag- don’t even know what I threw in it and ran out the door to the garage to drive to the hospital.

I thought the ambulance had left.. but they were still sitting at the end of the driveway… one of the guys was coming around the rig and I asked him if everything was okay… I was so afraid of the answer- he said he was stable and then he got in and took off. The sirens and lights were going. I got in the car and
followed- although I never saw the ambulance once it turned the corner. I called my daughter and tried to reach my son.. not even sure who else I tried.. they are the only ones on speed dial in the car…. I prayed, cried and screamed… I bargained with God… I have to say I am not sure how I got to the hospital.

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