All my life I have been living in a reasonably protective bubble. I have never been very ill myself and I’ve never had the need to go to the hospital. My family has seen the odd case of hospitalization due to cancer, and the illness has also taken its toll, but with cancer you just don’t die all of a sudden. So I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never had to deal with anything acute.
That was until last Sunday.
On last Sunday morning my father woke up with chest pains. My mother drove him to the hospital and on the way there he got worse. His heart gave up and stopped as they drove into the hospital parking lot. That was probably one of the best places they could have been at the time. A medical team was on the spot right away and started the necessary first aid. A minute later, and ambulance arrived as well with the proper equipment. After 22 minutes, they had his heart going again. Had he been alone at home when it happened, it’s likely that his heart had never started again, and I don’t dare speculate in the what might have happened if he had been out driving when he had the heart attack.
When his heart was finally pumping again they cooled him down to about 31 degrees centigrade and pumped him full of medication to keep the brain activity and his metabolism as low as possible to minimize the damage to his brain and internal organs. A medical helicopter was called for to take him to Oslo where they could perform heart surgery. When he arrived at the hospital they performed peek hole surgery (not sure if that is the correct English term) where they don’t open his chest, instead go in through the groin and look directly inside the blood veins connected to the heart to see if any of them are blocked.
The surgical team identified a blocked vein. It was a very small but when blocked it still interrupted the natural heart rhythm enough for the heart to stop beating. The team removed the blockage and inserted a small metal tube to keep it from blocking again. Even though his heart was working and had taken very little damage, the big question was how much of a beating his brain had taken. Without a constant supply of fresh oxygen, brain cells just die, taking vital functionality with them as they go.
About a day later they started to warm him up again and slowly take him off the medications to see if he would wake up. About two thirds of people suffering a heart attack like my father wake up. The remaining one third do not. If they don’t wake up three days after they are warm and off the medications, the doctors will terminate the treatment, which basically means that the patient is brain dead and will die shortly after. Lucky my father started to wake up about a day later. It was good times.
Now we knew that he was not completely brain dead, he moved his arms, legs, opened his eyes, shook his head when the nurses asked if he was in pain. As the days passed, we slowly saw him recovering, being able to focus when he looked at something, breathing without the help of the machine, trying to talk. He is still recovering, but is as much back to his good old self as we could have hoped for and it looks like he’ll suffer no permanent injuries from the heart attack. He has been walking about a bit and it looks and sounds like his spirits are high.
People are born, people die. Everything else just happens in between. Death is natural, I accept that. But in today’s modern world, you’re not supposed to go at 59, the last thing you see being the hospital parking lot. You’re supposed to die with a smile, thankful for the ride. I’m very happy that my father’s now got the chance to do just that.
The hospital in the town where my parents live is not that large and they don’t have the equipment or the specialist expertise necessary to perform complicated heart surgery. But they sure as hell know what to do when they get people like my father literally crashing down on their door step. I can’t tell how thankful and impressed I am with everyone that has been involved from when it all started on Sunday. They are extremely professional in every way, in every little thing they do. It’s hard to describe exactly what creates this atmosphere of pure professionalism, it’s just there.
That was my week. Not recommended on any level.
2008-02-03 12:12 CET