She fell down in stages, not so much as a falling down but more a crumpling down or maybe a slow motion folding down, like when you fold more flour into your dough mixture. Not a faint because she was conscious. It was, after all, a heart attack.
It had really started out with the strange feeling in her stomach - like she needed to go, needed to go, but couldn't. That's why she ran upstairs at Jonathan's house to the bathroom on the second floor having being given the choice of that or the basement. Upstairs, the one they probably used the most. Maybe she could find some Maalox or something to help her go.
She poked through the medicine cabinet hoping there would be something to relieve this feeling and that no one would catch her snooping. Ah, yes, there was some Walgreen's stuff - how much could she take without anyone knowing? She shook the bottle and held it above her mouth so that she wouldn't touch the rim and swallowed a few tablespoonsful. How long would the damn stuff take to work? She needed it now. She sat on the stool and pushed and pushed but nothing happened. How long could she sit there? She began to feel kinda faint, but attributed it to the pushing.
The stomach symptoms just got worse. And now, ohmigod, her left arm began to hurt - grow numb. What was happening? She felt even more woozy. Well, she should go downstairs and get the tea she wanted. By the time she pulled up her slacks and buttoned them, it had become obvious to her that the real problem was a heart attack. She was having a heart attack.
Now her focus was on getting down the narrow dark and cluttered stairs so the paramedics would not have to struggle to get her to the ambulance. If they actually came. It was only a few feet, maybe five from the bathroom to the top of the staircase. Please, please, let me get downstairs.
Not gonna make it.
Nonetheless, at the time, she felt she was fully conscious. She’d had enough composure to call out as loudly as she could with the constriction in her lower belly and the pain in her left arm and hand and the growing feeling of unreality, languor, of being off in some other realm. Something like waking from a dream rapidly receding out of reach, even with all that, she had the presence of mind to call out “Jonathan, Jonathan, call 911, I’m having a heart attack.” Trying to think positively, that someone had heard her from upstairs, that her voice was loud enough.
Things got cloudy – someone surely must have come upstairs to investigate. Surely, if they had heard her someone would have walked up those narrow cluttered stairs; there were eight or ten people downstairs. And Jonathan must have bounded up the staircase and been there when the paramedics came.
Although she knew exactly how the rescue crew set up the stretcher and strapped her into it, and how the five men carried her down bouncing and slipping and afraid she’d fall off and how very cold it was outside and the dangers in bringing her down snow-covered stairs, she really couldn’t remember other than bits and snatches of the talk between the men in the ambulance.
As they wrangled her down the stairs, feet first, she could only think "Omigod, I've just drunk the Walgreen's stuff." She began to wail "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." They seemed to think that she was apologizing for having a heart attack but no, the laxative had begun to work and she couldn't control it. She would stink and make a mess. That, and she would slide off the stretcher and then where would she be?
They cut her clothes off her in the ambulance. But she could smell nothing and the men said nothing. Were there any women there? No recollection. None whatsoever of how they undoubtedly gave her oxygen, inserted a needle for an intravenous line. Checked her blood glucose. Were in constant contact with the emergency cardiac team at the nearest hospital.
No recall of being lifted out of the ambulance and rushed to the emergency room or to the cardiac catherization lab. All that she could reconstruct from TV shows, but no actual memory of it.
She does remember the machinery and the x-ray pictures of the dissolving clots – dozens of them it seemed. Something happy and joyful about the process – she thinks of fireworks on the 4th of July, bombs bursting in air, no, in her veins and arteries. Colorful.
She remembers the cardiac team talking but she can see no one. Just the screen. Then cloudiness again and she is in a narrow bed in a white room and there is Jonathan and someone else, a man she saw for the first time that evening at the meeting. Thank God she was at the meeting, otherwise, she’d mostly likely be dead. And they’re standing near the door talking to her but what are they saying – no memory. They do look uncomfortable – if they’d been wearing hats they would have doffed them and kept them at their sides.
Later, Teresa. Oh my God, Teresa. Thank you for coming. For being there. For responding.
Afterward, she finds Teresa has come by way of circuitous phone calls. Her daughter in a city over 2000 miles away has been called because she was the last caller on the cell phone left behind in her purse and Jonathan’s wife was clever enough to use redial and lucky enough to get the organized daughter with the cool head in a crisis. And the only person whose phone number she had of her mother’s friends in her phone book was Teresa.
They’ve inserted a balloon catheter and a stent. Surreal, first the 4th of July, and now, a circus. She’s still alive. And breathing. In pain. Her shoulder aches (when they remove the balloon, she realizes it was pushing against her shoulder and causing the pain). And awake for most of all the next six days she’s kept in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
And then home, thank God. Her organized daughter arranged for her oldest daughter to come stay with her and take care of her – she can hardly walk or get out of bed for weeks, but every day, she has a little more energy, a little less pain. And she’s alive. And grateful for the help.
Her friends brought her mementoes - a heart shaped book marker, a red plastic heart that wound up and moved on tiny white feet, an intricate wooden puzzle shaped like a heart. They were all very nice.
But it should have been fireworks and balloons.