Contrary to pop media, heart attacks are not the result of some romantic endeavor gone awry. Sorry to break the news to you Demi Lovato, One Direction, and Olly Murs. But don’t worry; I was under that impression too until one day last year when I learned what really causes a heart attack. And sorry to disappoint, but there was no catchy pop tune playing in the background.
I cautiously walked up my street, glancing left and right to make sure it was safe to proceed. Prowling through the streets of my neighborhood was a tiger that had escaped from the zoo. My neighbors were locked inside their homes. Being the brave soul that I am, I of course was roaming the streets trying to capture the six hundred pound feline. Suddenly, I caught glimpse of it heading toward my neighbors house. I immediately began running towards it, until it turned its head and headed straight toward me. I stopped in my tracks and began running in the complete OPPOSITE direction only to look over my shoulder to see it leaping towards me, it’s jaw wide open to flash all its pearly whites right before it chomped down on my—
I rolled over in bed and groaned. What…? Who’s calling me?
My grandparents never woke me up in the middle of the night so I was extremely confused and totally disoriented from my nightmare. Luckily, my head was still rightfully in place.
It was my grandma’s voice. I groaned again.
She opened the door.
“Abigail…Abigail…Wake up. I think Grandpa’s having a heart attack.”
Well, if I wasn’t awake before, I surely was now.
I immediately sat up, put my glasses on and rushed out of bed to my grandparent’s bedroom. My grandma was already downstairs calling an ambulance.
Laying on his back, my grandpa lay in bed, his blue eyes staring right up at the ceiling. Completely unsure of what to do, I asked him what was going on. Just like when he got hit by the tree (https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods/) I knew he would be the one to remain calm and instruct me on what to do.
“Feel my forehead.”
Tentatively, I rested my palm on his head.
“What does it feel like?” he asked. Now is not the time to wonder if you have a fever, but alright.
Nervously, as if I was about to give the wrong answer on a test, I replied, “Uhh…cool…damp.”
“Okay,” he pointed toward his closet, “See that box? It’s an oxygen tank. Get it.”
Who in the world keeps an oxygen tank in their bedroom? But I didn’t verbalize my confusion and just followed orders.
Pulling the box down, I quickly unpackaged the oxygen tank (that looked like it had been sitting in the closet for more years than I was alive), fit the mask on his face and twisted a valve to get the oxygen to flow. Then, I sat on the edge of the bed and held his hand.
A moment later, my grandma entered the bedroom and told us that the ambulance was on its way. Within minutes, the EMTs had arrived and I left the room to stay out of the way. I put my shoes on, getting ready to leave for the hospital. My Auntie Barbara (my aunt on my mother’s side), had arrived as well and was pacing back and forth when I heard EMTs questioning my grandma about my grandpa’s medical history and what exactly happened. I could hear her struggling to answer, stumbling over words and getting confused. She was overwhelmed and flustered. After all, it was the middle of the night and this was an extremely stressful situation. I came out of my room and went to her side, answering to the best of my ability all of their questions. Being able to stay focused during an emergency is something I’m extremely proud of; there’s a sense of accomplishment I feel in remaining calm and following exact orders. And being acutely observant my whole life really came in handy to give the EMTs all the information they needed to know.
I watched as my grandpa was carried down the stairs in a specially stabilized chair since he couldn’t walk down the stairs himself. My grandma, my aunt, and I followed the whole team outside to see the ambulance lighting up the entire street against the pitch-black sky and a fire truck parked in the light’s glow. While my grandpa was loaded into the back of the ambulance, my grandma climbed in the front. One EMT told me to get in as well and then another yelled at me to get out. Excuse me, but when someone’s grandfather has just had a heart attack it is most likely NOT the ideal moment to YELL at them. I immediately jumped out and explained that I was going in the ambulance to the hospital. Or would he prefer I walk?
Turns out, he preferred I walk. And so, as my aunt returned to her home around the corner (she couldn’t come with us to the hospital immediately because of work obligations), I got in my Jeep and followed the ambulance at a heinous speed into Manhattan. Somewhere I’d never driven before, and certainly hadn’t planned on driving there alone for the first time at three o’clock in the morning.
Luckily, no one was on the road and following an ambulance really makes it easy to get to your destination. I watched the ambulance pull into the ambulance bay as I parked on the side of the street, hoping I wasn’t too far from the curb but not caring enough to check. I briskly walked into the Emergency Room (I’ve learned that running in a hospital is not recommended) and found my grandma standing at the edge of a curtain hung in the middle of the ER looking tired and scared. My grandpa was on a gurney, sitting up with wires already covering his forearms. He already looked a million times better than when I found him in bed less than an hour before. He was even joking around. Alright, so when can he go home?
But first, the most prominent question on everyone’s mind was Did he have a heart attack? Because he wasn’t even sure he had. When the ER doctor came over, he didn’t even have the answer. He said they had to run tests and that my grandma and I could wait in another building until they were done. And so, as they wheeled my grandpa away, I led my grandma along the Manhattan sidewalk in the middle of the night to another building of the hospital where my grandpa was getting his tests done. We took seats in the waiting area that was eerily quiet since it was still the night and slowly watched the sun start to rise and the hospital wake up as I called family members to tell them what happened. Finally, we were called upstairs. A female doctor came out and spoke with us.
Yes, he had had a heart attack. And if he was going to survive, he needed a triple bypass. This can’t be happening. The last time I was in the hospital with someone, they died. The thought of possibly losing another person so close to me was something I could not bear.
For the next two weeks, my grandma, aunt, and I went to the hospital every day to be with my grandpa. I learned how to maintain my role as “granddaughter” and did my best to stay out of the way. I stopped trying to be the leader of the situation and let my grandma and aunt take the reins even when they didn’t always understand. I knew that no matter what, my grandpa was still going to get the care that he deserved whether the rest of my family knew what was going on or not. And best of all, I was certain he would be coming home.
He had his surgery and went to a rehabilitation center afterward to regain his strength. After a month that felt like a year, he finally returned home to us in one healthy piece. Now, when people ask me how my grandpa’s doing I almost forget he even had a heart attack because he’s back to his old cranky—yet funny and lovable—self. Yet again, my grandpa had a close brush with death, but—did I mention, he has nine lives?