Carol’s Heart

Posted on December 22, 2019


First, for any close friends who are just now learning that the title of this post is literal and not metaphorical, I hope you will understand that we have been otherwise occupied.  Consequently, if you are not in the family or on the prayer chain, this may be news to you.  Please don’t take any lack of communication personally.  (If you don’t find out about this until next month, it’s your own fault for not reading my blog.)

To the friend who asked me last week if I had any prayer needs and I only asked for prayers for good health for our trip to Kauai, “What’s the deal? I give you one job to do and this is what happens?”

For any clients that I canceled on, this is what was up.

For those on the grapevine who got different versions of this story.  Here is the official version.  Since I am the one telling this tale, it is, of course, told from my perspective.  If you want to know what it was like from Carol’s perspective, you would need to read her blog, of which she has none.

The short version (spoiler alert) is that my wife, Carol, had a heart attack on Wednesday morning, was taken to the hospital where they put a stent in one of her arteries, and (as of this writing on Sunday) is now resting up at home.


Wednesday morning, Carol bailed on her morning walk with her friend who lives across the street because she (Carol) was not feeling well.  Shortly thereafter she told me that she felt like an elephant was sitting on her chest.  I figured it was probably nothing, but to be on the safe side, I called 911.

My lack of immediate alarm was for two reasons.  First, my default setting tends to be that everything is okay.  I tend to do the opposite of catastrophizing.  Second, over the last decade there have been at least two previous incidents where Carol felt ill and thought there was something wrong with her heart.  In both of those instances, the hospital did their EKG thing and had her do a stress test and everything checked out normally.  Additionally, Carol gets exercise most every day.  A heart attack seems unlikely.

The paramedics came promptly, asked their questions, and took her by ambulance to Palomar Medical Center.  I gathered up the things she would probably want during her long wait while they monitored her: her tablet, her cellphone, her purse, and a charger for when she ran out of juice.  I collected my usual stuff.  I sent texts to my clients cancelling my morning appointments.  Since I expect everyone to give me 24 hour notice if they cancel, I hate doing that to anyone else.  My day had been booked solid, particularly in as much as I was two days away from a two week vacation.

My arrival at the hospital was the first moment I realized this was serious.  The staff was waiting for me.  They brought me to Carol and told me that they were ready to take her to the cath lab to determine what they needed to do for her.  Carol and I spoke for a moment and they wheeled her off.  I was told where to go for the waiting room.

The nurse in the waiting area told me where I could wait, and that the doctor would be out to talk to me after he was done with whatever they were doing.  I texted our daughters and let them know what was going on.  They asked if they should come.  I told them I would get back to them as soon as I knew something.

In hindsight, I should have told them to come.  Not so much for their mother, as for myself.  As Ben Gibbard sang, “There’s no comfort in a waiting room.”[1]  It was a very lonely, anxious, tearful couple of hours of not knowing what was happening with my mate of 36 years.  Being alone in that situation was miserable.  I should have availed myself of more support.

After a couple of hours, I saw a couple of staff members in the hall who were surprised that the doctor had not come out to speak with me.  Apart from that lapse, the hospital staff was very attentive throughout the whole process.  Carol was out of surgery and in her room.  They took me to her.  She was conscious and her color was good.

The physician came in a short time later and explained that one artery had been 80% blocked.  He had put in a stent for that artery.  One other artery was 50% blocked but they would treat that with medication.  Carol was out of any immediate danger.  The expectation was that she would be able to go home in two days and could probably travel in a week if she took it easy.

Our daughters both arrived shortly thereafter.  We all talked it over, and Elisabeth and I went back to our afternoon gigs and Laura stayed with Carol.  I took care of my afternoon appointments, went by the house to pick up some other things Carol wanted, and returned to the hospital.

Carol’s sister had offered to come be with her on Thursday.  We talked it over and decided I should keep my Thursday morning appointments while Carol’s sister was there, and cancel my afternoon appointments.  Laura came back at lunch time.  I got back in the afternoon.  By that time, the hospital had determined that Carol was ready to go home.  We had a visit from Pastor Mofid (whom we discovered was friends with Carol’s cardiologist) while we were waiting for Carol to be discharged.

After Carol was discharged, we made a stop by CVS to pick up a myriad of prescriptions and then went home.  I got Carol situated and then began the task of changing our travel arrangements.  Laura offered to pick up some dinner for us.  It was fortunate that she did in as much as changing the travel arrangements was a three hour ordeal.  I am a perfectly capable homemaker, but I am only one person.

Today is day 3 since Carol has been home, and she has been getting progressively stronger each day.  Our niece brought us lunch on Friday and stayed with Carol while I made a grocery run.  We have mostly just been kicking around the house.  Reading, watching TV, playing games.  So far, this has turned into a forced stay-cation.  Our instructions were that Carol should take 5 minute walks, twice a day.  She is getting further with each walk.


The Vacation and A Confession.

We had plans to fly to Kauai on Friday for a 17 day trip.  Our children were supposed to join us on Saturday.  This was supposed to be the BIG trip.  We did a 9 day trip to Kauai 2 years ago.  Normally, when we go on vacation, by the end of the trip, I am ready to get home.  If it is a longer trip, I might spend the end of the trip counting down the days until I can go home.  In Kauai, at the end of the trip, I didn’t want to go home.  So I wondered how it would be if we took a longer trip and maxed out the time we could be there.[2]  Discovering how that will be may have to wait.

With Carol having a heart attack two days before the trip, we had to rethink our plans.  As an aside, we are very blessed that Carol’s heart attack did not occur two days later on our flight over.  That could have been life threatening.  But I digress.  We decided that the kids should keep their plans in tact and that we would follow on Christmas (when Carol would be cleared to travel).

Logistically, this required a couple of things. 1) Changing the flight with the airline, 2) changing the date for picking up the rental car, and 3) alerting the owner of the house we were renting to the change in our arrival date.  The first of those was easy.  Alaska Airlines was great.  After I explained the situation, they changed our itinerary and waived the change fee.  The agent repeatedly expressed a wish for my wife’s recovery.

Fixing the car situation was a different story.  On the surface, it would seem like a pretty straightforward situation.  We were going to pick up the car on Friday.  Now we are going to pick up the car on Saturday.  Only instead of me picking it up, it will be my daughter picking it up.  Changing the name was pretty easy.  The rental agency was Budget, but I had booked it through Travelocity.  Here’s the short version of this story (which will lead you wondering what the long version was).  1) I called Budget (the number on the email confirmation).  I worked my way through the auto attendant menu until I could get to a human.  I explained my situation.  That person asked to put me on hold and disconnected the call.  2) I called Budget again, worked my way through the auto attendant and got to a human.  This human changed the name on the reservation, but explained that to change the pick up date, I would have to go through Travelocity since I booked with a third party.  3) I asked to speak to a supervisor who gave me the same story.  4) I called Travelocity.  The original story I got was that they would have to cancel the reservation and book another.  This would involve a substantial increase in rental fee as the rates had gone up.  After I expressed my dismay about this answer, the person put me on extended hold.  After some time, this person got back to me and indicated that he had called a supervisor at Budget and they made a change to the date of the reservation without an increase in cost.  An email would be forthcoming from Budget.  I thanked him and apologized for being upset with him earlier.  5) I received the email from Budget to discover that they had misspelled my daughter’s last name and that the car was no longer the SUV we had reserved, but was now a sedan.  I called back Budget (since they sent me the email) and got the same story as earlier that I needed to call Travelocity.  (Why do they put their number on the email if they can’t/won’t help when you call?)  6) I called Travelocity.  Gave the new person my case #.  This person put me on an even longer hold (I decided to have my dinner while I was on hold).  Eventually this person came back and explained that Budget no longer had an SUV available for pick up Saturday.  I pointed out that all they needed to do was hang onto the car I had planned on picking up on Friday as I had already paid for the rental for Friday anyway.  He again put me on extended hold to go talk to a supervisor.  He eventually got back to me repeating the earlier position.  At this point, I told him that one of us is crazy here, and I don’t think it is me.  He put me on hold again.  However, I had not paid enough attention to my cellphone battery and the battery died before he got back to me.  Having invested over 3 hours in the process, I decided to call it a night.  I sent an email to the owner of the rental house advising him of the situation and went to bed.

The confession part is that I wasn’t very nice to persons #4 and #6.  In general, I try to never run roughshod over anyone.  Most people are doing the best they can and they deserve to be treated as the precious people they are no matter what my frustration level.  These would have been a couple of entry level customer service representatives doing the best they could in a seriously flawed system.  I always want anyone with whom I interact to be better off for the experience, not worse.  It wasn’t a good witness on my part.  I repent.

The happy ending to the story is that my daughter was able to get Budget in Lihue to fix her up with the SUV after all.  The lesson learned is not to go through a third party like Travelocity.  It’s great as long as nothing goes wrong.  It is wretched if you have a problem you need to resolve.  You can never talk to someone who is actually a decision maker.


Our Support System.

The outpouring of support from family, friends, neighbors, and the church has been a tremendous blessing.  If you have called, the likelihood of me answering the phone has been lower than usual.  If you have texted, my replies have been brief.  Despite my less-than-usual responsiveness, we are extremely grateful for the number of people who have been praying for Carol, for me, and for our family as we have gone through this.  I also appreciate the offers of practical support as well, despite my not taking almost all of you up on your offers.  We feel very loved and cared for through this whole process.


A Little Theology

I was talking with a friend of mine at the gym and explaining my fears during the time Carol was in surgery.  My friend assured me that doubts are a normal part of faith.  Though I agree with the statement, I didn’t feel like this was a moment of doubt for me.  I never doubted that God was with Carol and with me throughout this.  It is just that it wasn’t a given that God was going to keep Carol here with me.  We are told to pray without ceasing, but experience says that we don’t always get what we ask for.  If it were a quid pro quo that you pray for healing and you get it, there would be 2000 year old Christians still walking around this planet.  Paul prayed for healing and the answer was “My grace is sufficient for you.”  Jesus prayed to be spared the cross and the answer was “no.”

How this whole prayer thing works is above my pay grade.  I have to rely on what I know about God that he is good, kind, merciful, all powerful, all knowing, omnipresent, gracious, loving, faithful, etc.  I suspect that for one who is eternal, the difference between what we consider a long or a short life is not a big amount of time.  As the hymn goes, “A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone.”  Or as George Burns said in Oh God, “when I woke up this morning, Sigmund Freud was still in med school.”

In our first moments together after Carol was out of surgery, Carol told me she would have missed me had she died.  I had to tell her, “No, you wouldn’t.  In the presence of perfect love, you won’t be missing me.”  She considered that and agreed that she would be with Jesus and that she would be happy.  At the same time, we both were very glad she was still here.

I think about and talk about death from time to time.  This is not in a morbid or morose sense, but just in a recognition that like every generation before me, I will probably have to go through it.  I think the fact that we will die helps to keep life in perspective.  Life has been wonderful to me, but eventually, I will have to lose it.

I had always assumed that the likely turn of events would be that Carol would outlive me.  There have always been a lot of little old ladies in her family.  My family has largely been devoid of little old men.  From a functional standpoint, either of us could function without the other.  There isn’t anything either of us does that the other is not capable of doing.  From an attachment standpoint, it would be a very hard adjustment to go on without the companion with whom you have spent your whole adult life.

If God were to call me home sooner than the actuarial tables indicate that he should (base upon my lifestyle and health history), I can’t complain.  I love my life and I will take all of the time He gives me.  In the time I have had so far, He has already ridiculously blessed me.  At every turn, life has exceeded my expectations.  When my girls were young, we went to Disneyland as a family to celebrate one of their birthdays.  I had been shelling out money continually throughout the day (which is hard for me).  At the end of the day, one of them threw a tantrum in the parking lot at Disneyland.  At what time God takes me, getting mad at Him about it feels like throwing a tantrum in the parking lot at Disneyland.  “I gave you this great life, and when it is time to go home, you get mad at me because it is time to go home?”


I have been rambling here longer than anyone probably has the patience to read.  If you got this far, thanks for your interest.  The bottom line is Carol is going to be okay.  We are thankful.  God has been and continues to be good to us.

Wishing you a merry Christmas.    Still looking forward to a Mele Kalikimaka.


[1] “What Sarah Said” isn’t the song you want going through your head at that moment.

[2] As an aside, my chief complaint with living in San Diego is that the winters are too long and cold.  Most people laugh when I tell them that.  I would move to Kauai if it weren’t that my life is here.