See books written by Paul Pakusch at https://www.amazon.com/author/paulpakusch

Monday, December 28, 2015

Statement About the 10th Anniversary of Mary's Sudden Cardiac Arrest

July 15, 2016 will mark the 10th anniversary that my wife, Mary, suffered but survived a Sudden Cardiac Arrest. (I always like to remark that a Sudden Cardiac Arrest is not a heart attack. They can happen at the same time, but they are two separate cardiac events.)

Some people are aware that I was planning to host a "Celebration of Mary's Life" to commemorate the 10th anniversary of her survival.  We recently discussed the whole situation and, for reasons of our own, decided to cancel it.

In this blog, I want to touch on some of the points I wanted to bring up at the celebration:

1) Mary is in the "5% Club."  Only 5% of people survive a Sudden Cardiac Arrest and go on to live a normal life.

2) My thoughts at the time included, "She has to survive!  She has too much of a positive impact on too many people's lives!"  She has more than proven how right I was about that observation.  Since then, she has helped our daughters in ways that I know I could never have done by myself. She has reached out to friends and other family members and had a positive influence in their lives; I believe she has indirectly saved some of their lives too. She communicates through Inspire.com with other victims, survivors and family members of people who have had a SCA.  She has had a  major influence on the lives of some of her students at school.  She is having a huge impact on a family friend who now has a severe, debilitating condition.  I am reminded of the  movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" when I think about how much better so many of these people are just by the fact that Mary is in their lives.  And of course, I am so much better off that she is my wife.

3) I want to recognize, once again, the Emergency Responders that were a part of saving Mary's life, and all Emergency Responders in general.  These are the real heroes in our society.

4) I want to especially recognize the 911 Dispatcher, Julie, who took my call when Mary first collapsed.  While sending help on its way, Julie took control of the situation, calmed me down, and helped me begin rescue efforts until the first firemen arrived.  Julie became a special person in our lives. We were able to meet her on several occasions, and she was a surprise guest at Mary's 50th birthday party.  Sad to say, we learned later on that she suffered her own health problems and passed away not long after we saw her at Mary's party.

5) I want to recognize all the medical personnel at Park Ridge Hospital (as it was called then), and all the personnel at the various medical facilities she has visited since then.

6) And nearly ten years later, I am still thankful for all the people who camped out in Park Ridge's waiting room outside the Intensive Care Unit.  I wish Mary could have seen that.

7) Summarizing where Mary is at today, we still don't know the cause of her Sudden Cardiac Arrests. (She had another one in December, 2007)  She has been tested for all known medical reasons and nothing is conclusive.  This is why we support donations to the American Heart Association and other organizations that help fund medical research.

So, although the event I was planning is cancelled, my thoughts are still about the circumstances surrounding Mary's Sudden Cardiac Arrest, her miraculous survival, the special people in our lives, and the efforts to continue medical research.  We intend to mark the 10th anniversary on July 15, 2016 without much fanfare.

I'll leave this blog with a video of Mary in 2007, addressing Emergency Responders and other attendees of the Emergency Responders Appreciation Day.  (You will see Julie on the right side)




Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Most Profound, Impulsive Decision I Ever Made

This is something I think about from time to time and it still boggles my mind.  In November of 1971, my mother signed me up to join the Greece Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps.  She had seen a clip in the newspaper that they were looking for new members.  The day she took me in the first time, I met the director, Dale Bond.  I didn’t play a music instrument at that time so he asked me if I wanted to learn drums or horns.  Without giving it any thought, I blurted out, “Drums.”

That single, impulsive decision has been the catalyst for just about everything I’ve done in my life since then, and it has affected untold numbers of other people.

In 1975, to further my drum education, my mother signed me up for lessons on a drum set.  That led to my forming a band in 1978 with a group of Athena students.  I went to Arcadia at the time.  Most of our rehearsals were in my basement, which meant my sisters and their friends got to meet these Athena students.  Who knows if they would have met otherwise?  Friendships, relationships and families formed and many of these people still socialize on a regular basis.

Because of my drumming, I’ve joined other bands through my life, met more people, and have formed friendships with many of them.  I’ve introduced some of these people who have met other people and formed more friendships.


It’s just really interesting for me to think about.  I hope you think about this, too.  How have you impacted other people’s lives?

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Time I Got Burned Out of My Home

While at work on a late afternoon in February, 2008, I got a call from Melissa. She told me she had just arrived home from school and that there was a lot of smoke in our townhouse. Not sensing anything urgent, I asked her if she could tell where it was coming from. She said she had walked around and couldn't tell. While we were on the phone, a maintenance worker came to the door and told her to get out, that the townhouse next door to ours was on fire. She asked me about the pets; I asked her if she could get them out. She said they were both right there, so yes. I told her to put them in the car.

At that point, I made arrangements to leave work early, pick up Mary, and then go home. Melissa called me a second time and said she had been moved to the apartment complex's community center and had the animals with her. She said there were a lot of fire trucks there.

While driving to pick up Mary, I felt strangely calm about all this. I seriously wondered if we had a home anymore and how much of our possessions were lost. But I didn't feel stressed at all. At least we knew to expect a parking lot full of fire trucks when we arrived.

We parked at the community center and I walked to our townhouse. The smoke and flames were gone by this point and the firemen were cleaning up. The front window of the townhouse next to ours was smashed out from firefighting efforts. Inside, the kitchen was completely destroyed. It had been an empty townhouse; maintenance workers were preparing it for the next tenant. One had left something sitting on a hot stove and gone to lunch. That's what started the fire. There was smoke damage to the rest of the townhouse, with black soot all over the place. Firemen threw the charred kitchen cabinets and stove to the lawn out front.

The firefighting effforts involved our own townhouse, since it had been full of smoke, as well as the townhouse on the other side of the burned one. Once my entry was cleared by the fire chief, a fireman escorted me into my townhouse so we could inspect it. The first thing that struck me was the smell; it was a HORRIBLE odor, unlike anything I've ever smelled before. In retrospect, it's amazing to think of how many everyday items are loaded with various chemicals; paint, cabinetry, construction materials, electrical wire insulation, flooring material, glues, etc. All of these chemicals are released when burned. The composite of all that is what we smelled.

The inspection of our home showed no fire damage. There were a couple spots where a little bit of water and soot had come through the wall, but it was easily cleaned up. Thank God for firewalls!

The real issue for us was the horrible odor. Red Cross showed up and asked us if we needed any assistance. We mistakenly believed we could air the place out for a few hours and all would be fine. But after a few hours had passed, we knew this wouldn't be the case. The apartment complex put us up in a hotel for a few nights and then gave us an empty corporate (furnished) apartment, as they did for the other family affected by this. For the next three weeks, the effort centered on getting rid of the smell in our place. I threw out a carpet from our basement. The carpets on the main and second floors were shampooed and all the surfaces were washed down. A chemical fogger was used to eliminate the smell from everything else. All of our clothes were washed. Since there was a coin-operated laundry in the basement of our corporate apartment, Mary's co-workers even took up a collection of quarters for us! That was very handy and very-much appreciated!

After all this, the odor was mostly gone, but we were still keenly aware of a minute lingering smell when we moved back in. Even after we moved to a differently apartment complex the following July, we could still smell the odor a bit on coats in our front closet.

Having a fire in my home is something I used to worry about a lot. I've never been comfortable with anyone using open flames or candles, although I have been OK with a fireplace because I feel like it's a contained situation. When we decided in 2006 to sell our "dream home" and go back to renting, the concern I had was whether our apartment would ever be affected by a neighbor's fire. With more than 100 units in the complex, I figured the odds were pretty slim. Who would have thought that of all those units, OURS would be next door to the one that burned! I HOPE this means statisically it shouldn't happpen again!

As I said at the beginning, I felt strangely calm through this whole incident. When I had the opportunity to enter the burned townhouse and look around, I was not freaked out, like I used to imagine I would be under this circumstance. My thoughts were of relief that Melissa and the pets got out safely and that no one was hurt.

As a footnote, the day of the fire was a reunion of sorts with some of the firemen. A few of these guys were the same guys that came to our townhouse 19 months earlier when Mary had her first Sudden Cardiac Arrest! 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me

Today I am the "double-nickel" 55.  I spent days trying to think of something witty, charming, or profound to mark the occasion.  I've already passed a bunch of milestone birthdays so I couldn't think of anything new to say.

And then Dear Abby came along.  Yes, I am still a fan of Dear Abby, a column I've been reading as long as I've been old enough to go beyond the comic section of newspapers.  Her message today is a message that goes beyond what the writer was looking for.  What I got out of this was, "You are as happy as you allow yourself to be, no matter what the situation.  You can't control life, but you can control how you react to it."  This can apply to ANY  situation you find yourself in.  At 55, I don't have as much time left as I once did.  I have regrets as well as proud accomplishments.  But I figure I still have a lot of time left to enjoy life, I can keep my regrets in the past (and recognize what I learned from them), and look forward to new accomplishments.

Here's today's Dear Abby column.  I really like this:

DEAR ABBY: I have been married to my amazing husband for two years. He has worked his butt off to put me through school, and I am appreciative and thankful.
He has recently been offered a promotion, which means we will have to move from the South to the Midwest. Though I'm not a fan of the idea, I agreed it would be best for us. I grew up in the North, and took the chance to move down south at 18 because I was miserable there. I hate the possibility that I'll be miserable again, and I'm afraid I may end up resenting my husband.
If he passes up this opportunity, he may not get another. How can I curb my resentment for having to move to another state I'm pretty sure I won't be happy in? -- FLORIDA GIRL, FOR NOW
DEAR FLORIDA GIRL: One way would be to recognize that you are no longer the miserable 18-year-old girl you were when you moved down south. You have matured, you have a successful marriage and you won't be returning alone. Once you relocate, involve yourself in the community so you can make new friends. And last (but not least), because people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be, decide to make the best of this opportunity and ALLOW yourself to be happy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

First Solo - August 1990

This was written by me in August of 1990

On the morning my instructor, Bob, and I were scheduled for another round of touch and goes, I noticed that the air was very calm. The forecast did not show much change for the rest of the day.
Believing that my first solo would happen on this day, I prepared myself by wearing a sacrificial shirt.

Bob and I took off. The air was as smooth as glass! Just a slight bump or two at 500 feet AGL. This would be my first lesson in two weeks that did not have convective air currents feeding cumulus clouds overhead.

Making the turn to crosswind, I became convinced that the solo flight would happen at the end of this flight. My confidence was soaring at the thought of it.

I turned downwind, got clearance to touch and go, and went through the landing checklist. Bob wasn't saying anything, which I took as a good sign.

Turning to base leg and then final, I lined up with the runway centerline. Absolutely no wind correction needed! I was thrilled! What a perfect day for a first solo flight!

I greased my first landing and went around the pattern again to grease my second landing, all the while glancing expectantly at Bob. As I climbed through the little bump at 500 feet for the third time, Bob turned to me and said, "Do you feel ready?"

"Sure!"

"OK, then make the next one full stop."

Finally!

I don't know if it was overconfidence or too much excitement, but I managed to bounce a bit on the third landing.

Bob gave me final words of encouragement along with the advice to go around if I had any doubts about a landing. After endorsing my medical for solo flight, he wished me well and unplugged his headset. He left it on the seat next to me. I suppose that's how he was with me in spirit.

I called clearance and told them I would be doing two touch and goes followed by a full stop, and that this would be a first solo.

"Understand request. Contact ground when you're ready," he said.

I went through the checklist, started the engine, and contacted ground for taxi.

All the way to the runway, my exhilaration was interrupted by occasional moments of, "What the hell am I doing here?" It's something I had often asked myself when climbing into an airplane, but this morning just talking out loud seemed to have a soothing effect. I had this weird image of the microphone switch being stuck open and that everyone could hear my comments.

I stopped short of the runway to do the run-up, again reading the checklist out loud. When I finished the run-up, I glanced at the headset in the seat beside me and then scanned outside around the airfield.
Talk about feeling lonely! Rochester airport usually had something going on but I could detect no movement other than my own. Even the radio was quiet.

I broke the silence and got permission to take off. I taxied out to the runway centerline and advanced the throttle to full power. I let out a war whoop! Now I really hoped that the microphone wasn't stuck open!

At 56 knots, I gently tugged at the yoke and the Beech Skipper lifted off the ground. Without Bob on board, the plane leaped for the sky. Amazing what this Skipper could do! At 500 feet AGL, there it was again: Bump!

I turned crosswind, then downwind. The tower game me clearance for the first touch and go and I went through the landing checklist. I turned base, then final. There in front of me, not moving left or right, was the familiar sight of runway 25. I thought, "This ought to be a piece of cake!"

It was! I set the plane down on the runway as if I had set a glass on the table. With the flaps up and the carb heat on cold again, I throttled to full power for round number two. At 56 knots, I lifted the plane up again and let out another war whoop.

My old visions of ending up on the 6:00 news had vanished and I felt the utmost confidence in my ability to complete this first solo flight and continue my flight training successfully.

I wasn't feeling so lonely anymore. Tower advised me to watch for another aircraft that was on final. And were they watching this poor soul making his first solo flight? I thought I could make out three figures in the tower that seemed to be leaning towards the window in my direction.

I knew Bob was watching and listening with his hand-held radio, but how many other instructors from the flight school were also watching? Maybe it was stage fright or self-conciousness, but my second and third landings were progressively worse. They weren't bad; just not as good as the first one.

I was only being critical of myself. The whole solo flight was over in 15 minutes.

I taxied back to the flight school and saw Bob waiting by the tie-down spot. I pulled up next to him and before I had the plane completely shut down, he had the door open and was offering his congratulations with a handshake.

Yes, there had been other instructors watching with him, and they all offered congratulations. Asked by several how it was, I could only grin and say, "Too short!"

Bob took out the ceremonial scissors and snipped the tail from my T-shirt. There wasn't much to review about this lesson. All I had left to do was pay for it and schedule my next lesson. After calling my wife and my mother, I headed out.

Having soared like a lone eagle for the first time, it seemed rather anti-climactic to walk out to my car with a hole in my shift and drive to work that day.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Global Warming

I've listened to a lot of arguments about global warming and have come to my own conclusion: Global warming, whether it exists or not, is a SCIENCE and should never be about politics.

Politics means you have taken a position that fits an organization's agenda and that your position is unlikely to change, unless the organization itself changes its position. The fact is there are WAY too many variables in the earth's atmosphere, its seas, various landscapes, and ever-changing climate and water patterns around the world to be able to say that humankind is causing the earth's temperature to rise. It's also a fact that the earth historically has gone through cold and warm cycles. It's also a fact that ocean levels have risen and fallen through the centuries. It's also a fact that there have been some massive volcanic eruptions through the ages that have had a major effect on the earth's atmosphere; probably more of an effect than humans could ever achieve.

Maybe humans have an effect, maybe they don't. The earth has the capability to wipe out all of us in an instant if some cataclysmic event were to occur. The earth, therefore, has much more control over us than we have of the earth. Anyone seen some crazy weather lately? Oh sure, some of you are going to say that global warming is causing an increase in severe weather conditions. My answer to that is, prove it. Prove to me that humankind is single-handedly causing more intense storms, and that el nino, el nina, climate cycles, ocean cycles, the jet stream, natural warming or cooling cycles, and two massive volcanic eruptions in Iceland a few years ago have had no effect on the formation of severe weather. And leave political agendas out of your argument.

That doesn't, however, mean we should abandon efforts to use our natural resources wisely.  We should continue to conserve, and to create conditions that allow us to live in a clean environment.

It's all about science! I believe that when it comes to global warming, people need to stop listening to political groups that have an agenda. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

How Mary Survived Multiple Cardiac Arrests, Part 1

by Paul and Mary Pakusch
November 24, 2012


Paul: As you can see, Mary looks quite healthy today. You would never guess that there was a time when she was lying on the floor, blue as can be, eyes in a fixated stare, no heartbeat for at least eight minutes, beyond “unconscious” to the point where she was basically dead. When you have a Cardiac Arrest, your chance of survival drops 10% for every minute that passes.

Sometimes I feel the need to give this graphic description because looking at her today, it's hard to imagine what she really went through. Statistically, she shouldn’t be here. Or at best, living with permanent brain damage. It was a cardiologist who told me this about 6 hours after Mary collapsed on July 15, 2006. He told me to be prepared to make a decision about pulling the plug.

They were basically telling me it was hopeless. Maybe she would survive with brain damage. I pictured pushing her around in a wheelchair for the rest of our lives together. The chance of her surviving altogether was around 10% and the chance of her ever living a normal life again was 5%. As you can see, she beat both of those odds. But back then, how could we face going forward with odds like that?

Mary doesn't remember anything about the morning of July 15, 2006. To her, it's a story that's been told to her by other people and me. She doesn't remember most of the week prior to that and she doesn't remember most of the week after that. But that morning, we were standing in our kitchen, talking. She suddenly turned towards the sink, braced her hands on the edge of the counter, and leaned into the sink. It looked really weird, so I said to her, “Mary, what are you doing?” Then she fell backwards, hit her head on the refrigerator, and landed face up on the floor. This all happened over a period of a few seconds.

I didn't know it at the time, but she had just suffered a Sudden Cardiac Arrest. That's different from a heart attack. With a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is stopped and usually causes damage. With a Sudden Cardiac Arrest, the heart simply stops. We are both passionate about the subject and we want people to understand what a Sudden Cardiac Arrest is. There is NO warning. Many people mistakenly believe a cardiac arrest is a heart attack, and that maybe you will feel chest pains or get other heart attack symptoms to warn you to get help. Not gonna happen. It’s NOT a heart attack. With no warning, a Sudden Cardiac Arrest will happen as quickly as it takes to get to the end of this sentence.

When blood flow to the brain is cut off, you have about 10 seconds of consciousness. And that's what had just happened. Mary’s heart had stopped. She was very dizzy and was starting to pass out. She was trying to steady herself by grasping the edge of the counter. Then she completely lost consciousness and collapsed.

Of course, I had no way of knowing all this. All I knew was that something horrible had just happened to her and she needed help immediately. I can still hear the sound of my quivering voice calling out her name in shock and disbelief. As luck would have it, she had fallen in front of the telephone. I immediately dialed 911. We have since received a copy of that 911 call; the first thing you hear on the tape is me screaming her name as I waited for someone to answer the call. The 911 communicator spoke to me in a firm voice, got the necessary information, and told me help was on the way. While waiting, she gave me a job to do: Save Mary’s life.

I had never before had any CPR instruction but she gave it to me on the spot. For anyone who has ever resisted the idea of learning CPR, let me tell you this: You have NO IDEA what a helpless feeling it is to see your loved one lying there and not breathing. Your choice is simple. Learn CPR and maybe save a life, or don’t learn CPR and just leave everything to fate. I was scared as hell to do CPR, but with my wife lying there practically dead, following the 911 Communicator’s instructions was my only option. I knew the nearest firehouse was over 2 miles away and that precious minutes would be lost before they arrived. Remember, the chance of survival goes down 10% for every minute that passes.

Based on the length of the recorded 911 phone call, we can estimate that her heart had been stopped for at least 8 minutes. Once the first firemen arrived, it still was whatever time it took for them to get the external defibrillator in place and administer the first shock. Then the second shock, which finally got her heart started again. But she never regained consciousness until about 42 hours later.

Mary was brought to the hospital non-responsive. Since blood flow to her brain had been cut off, now the question was how much brain damage was there? She went through a battery of tests and two CAT-scans and then was put on a cooling therapy. Maybe you’ve heard of people who have been submerged in icy water and then survived. This is the same concept. While in an induced coma, her body temperature was brought down to around 92 degrees and kept there for about 24 hours. The idea is to decrease blood flow to the extremities so that more blood will go to the brain. This can’t be done fast. Once the cooling therapy is over, the body is slowly warmed over an 8-hour period back to a normal temperature. Then the coma-inducing drugs are stopped and we pray and hope that she will wake up. If she didn’t awake within 72 hours, the prospects would be grim.

This was a Sunday evening. Her body temperature was to be back to normal by midnight and then they would stop the drugs that kept her in an induced coma. I went home for the night with the intent of returning the next morning with a boombox, CD's of Mary's favorite music, and some pictures to put on the wall. These were to stimulate her brain and hopefully help her recover from any brain damage.

At midnight they stopped the drugs that kept her in an induced coma. Imagine my thrill when I received a call at 1:15 in the morning to tell me she was awake--only an hour and a quarter later! The nurse told me she was responding to yes and no questions. She asked me if I wanted to come in. Hell, yes! Our youngest daughter came with me, and my two sisters, a nephew and my aunt all met me at the hospital. I'll never forget the big smile on the nurse when she greeted us in the ICU and led us into Mary's room. Mary was lying there, looking dazed but awake. She still had an oxygen tube, so she couldn't talk, but she responded to my questions by nodding or shaking her head. It had to be one of the most emotional moments of my life, to sit down next to her and be able to talk to her when we pretty much thought she was gone forever.

Her memory was very screwed up at that point. Anything you told her would be forgotten within a minute. It was like this for the next several days. If you've ever seen the movie "50 First Dates," it was like that. Drew Barrymore's character suffers some kind of amnesia from an accident where she wakes up every morning and doesn't remember what happened in her life after the date of her accident. So, Adam Sandler's character, who is in love with her, finds ways to deal with that.

We had to do the same thing with Mary. We wrote notes and left a journal at her hospital bedside so that anytime she woke up, she would see the notes and know why she was there. Gradually, her memory began to improve.

Her hospital stay lasted 10 days and she received an implanted defibrillator. She came home to recover from the surgery, and to regain her strength. Brain-testing was done on an out-patient basis. Loss of oxygen to the brain is called anoxia. The result of that test was this: We were told that her recovery from anoxia was the best they had ever seen!

Mary still had some minor short-term memory issues, but she came up with methods to help herself. And that’s how she lives her life today. She relies on writing things down. Her desk at work is covered with Post-it notes!

Mary had a second Sudden Cardiac Arrest on December 22, 2007. Again, it was a full-blown Sudden Cardiac Arrest, but since the circumstances around it were different, she does remember this one! Here's the story of both Sudden Cardiac Arrests from her point of view:



Mary: I think the first thing I remember for real is waking up in the morning and realizing I was in the hospital. I don’t really remember if anyone was there with me, but I do remember a notebook sitting next to me that I had already written in about my experiences so far. My handwriting was very child-like, and I had only written a sentence or two on each page. But somehow I knew I was in the hospital. I don’t remember being scared, or even confused. Maybe I don’t remember my feelings because my memory was still very foggy for a few days after that.

I remember Thursday morning, having to say good-bye to my sister and her husband as they were getting ready to leave. I think they said they were going to Buffalo and would be back in a few days. All of that is still confusing to me.

My next real memory is from Saturday, one full week after my SCA. That was the evening my kids, my nephew, and I think one of my kids’ friends, who was like a member of our family, came to visit. I remember having a really good time. We were teaching Keith how to spell “spaghetti” (spag – hetti), we were taking quizzes from a woman’s magazine, and just generally laughing a lot.

I don’t really remember Sunday, but nothing particularly interesting happened that day. Then Monday, they took me into surgery for the 2nd time to place the ICD. They had tried on Friday, but there was a problem with the wire not being long enough or something like that. The weird thing is that when they took me into the operating room, I suddenly had memories of what it had been like on Friday. I had memories of “clowns” and music. But it turned out the doctors were wearing bright colored clothes and head coverings. The general atmosphere was almost festive. I remember not feeling scared. It was almost “fun.”

I got to go home on Tuesday, 11 days after the SCA. I had been in the ICU the entire time. This is the story as I remember it being told to me:

On Saturday, July 15, 2006, I woke up and was checking on the weather. Apparently it was raining that morning. It was my oldest daughter’s wedding shower that day, and rain had not been in the forecast. My husband, Paul, says we were in the kitchen discussing who would take the dog out in the rain, when I suddenly leaned forward over the sink. His first reaction was that I was fooling around for some reason. Then I fell backward, hitting my head, and then landing halfway into the living room right next to the phone. He immediately knew something was horribly wrong, so he dialed 911, screaming my name until the dispatcher answered. We have listened to the 911 tape, and you can hear her getting very firm with Paul to calm him down. Then she had him check for a pulse and breathing and then begin CPR. It took about 8 minutes for the first responders to get there. It was firemen from the closest fire department. Meanwhile I was turning blue, and my hands were starting to curl up from lack of oxygen. The firemen used an external defibrillator and it took two shocks to get my heart started again. Paul woke up our two daughters who were living at home, ages 15 and 17. A second group of firefighters arrived, and then paramedics. They got me into the ambulance and Paul was told they would do everything they could. He knew it was very grim.

At the hospital, again, Paul was told I was not likely to survive. If I did, I would be in a vegetative state. But they put me into an induced coma and used a fairly new strategy for cardiac arrest victims. A “cooling therapy” where they lowered my body temperature to the point the blood would go to my brain to give me as much oxygen as possible. This was Saturday morning. They kept me in the coma and cooled off until Sunday evening. Paul left the hospital late that evening, shortly after they started to take me off the meds and warm me up. He was told the next 72 hours would be crucial. If I didn’t wake up by then, it was very bad. But then 1 ½ hours later, I woke up! Paul got a phone call to come back to the hospital.

I don’t remember any of this, except for one thing: I remember Paul reaching his hand out to me and asking if it was OK if he held my hand. I said yes. I honestly thought this must have been a dream until he confirmed it later. Throughout the next few days my short term memory was pretty much non-existent. I kept asking the same questions over and over minute by minute. I don’t remember any of that at all. Paul says it got a little better each day, though. My family was told they should keep a journal that is written in by everyone that comes to visit me. That proved to be very helpful later. Even now, I like to read it on occasion. During those first days, I apparently was convinced I was in the hospital because I had cancer, or had some kind of surgery. I could not grasp at all what happened to me. During that time, I also had a lot of dreams that I was going home at night and coming back during the day. I guess I thought sometimes that I was there to visit someone else. I had a huge argument with one of the nurses over this. It’s funny to me, because that is one of my real memories. I remember giving her the finger as she walked out of the room. That is not typical of me, so I figured that was one of my dreams. But then my family confirmed that part really happened!

As I mentioned before, the cardiac arrest happened on a Saturday, the day of my daughter’s wedding shower. My family was in town for the shower, and then my other daughter’s graduation party the next day. Obviously Kristi’s shower was postponed, but Sunday Paul told Tracy to decide whether or not to hold the graduation party. I was in the coma and there was nothing anyone could do. Tracy chose to have the party. I am glad she did. When Kristi got engaged, I told Tracy I didn’t want her wedding plans to overshadow Tracy’s senior year and graduation. To this day, I am sad I wasn’t there, but still glad she had her party. The pictures that were taken that day reflect a seriousness underlying the celebration, but I still think Tracy enjoyed her day.

When it was time to come home from the hospital, I was happy, but also scared. I was just beginning to have a better understanding of what happened to me. I left the hospital with specific directions about the care of the surgical incision and my arm, but not really what to do about the cardiac arrest. Since I am a teacher, I was on summer break, so I didn’t need to worry about going back to work for a little over a month.

During that month, I was afraid to exert myself at all. The doctors were not able to tell me why I had the SCA, so I spent my time curled up on my favorite chair sleeping a lot. When I went for my check up with the cardiologist later in August, she approved me to go back to work. I could hardly shower by myself, let alone get a classroom ready and teach full–time. I left the doctor’s office crying all the way home. I had been seeing a therapist for anxiety, so I made an appointment with her. She agreed I was not ready to go back to work and that when I was ready to go back it should only be part time. She worked with my primary doctor to write me out from work. I went back part time at the end of October, and then full-time in January. Even then, I was tired all the time. By October I had my cardiologist on board as far as me not going back to work full-time.

I was very lucky when I went to work. The staff in my school was extremely helpful and welcoming. Everyone was making sure I didn’t have too much stress, and any extra work that came along, someone else would take care of it for me. Although more than 6 years have passed, some of the teachers I work with are still sensitive about making sure I am not too stressed.

So, once I had permission to stay home and the knowledge that I needed to build up my stamina, Paul and I started walking every day. First I could only make it to the end of our apartment complex driveway and then down the street to the corner. Finally, the whole 15 minute walk to the beach. It was a special time for us. We hadn’t had that kind of time together since we were first married. I think it was good for both of us. But Paul was still extremely jumpy. On one of our walks to the beach, we sadly witnessed a seagull getting hit by a car. Paul’s eyes got very teary and he talked about how it reminded him of how I looked when I had my SCA. It was almost humorous to me that I was being compared to a bird, but it also hit home for me how badly Paul was affected by what happened to me. I honestly believe he suffered more than me in so many ways.

Once I was back to work full-time and driving again after my 6 months off, things felt pretty normal. Paul and I still talked about the SCA every single day. Our children were upset with us for bringing it up all the time. They were tired of hearing about it. We never got tired of talking about it, even now after 6 years. We are just careful not to drive our family crazy with it.

Then, on Saturday, December 22, 2007 it happened again. I had invited the whole family and my best friend over for a Christmas dinner. It went very well, and everyone had a good time. When everyone was gone, late afternoon, I sat in my chair and rested. My daughter’s boyfriend was still there, and he needed a ride home that evening. I gladly drove him home. When Melissa and I got home, I decided to take the dog outside and then get ready for bed. It was after 11:00 and I was exhausted. Melissa went upstairs where her older sister was. I took the dog outside. When we got back in, I headed for the kitchen. I looked at the clock because I was going to leave a note for Paul with the time I had let the dog out. Paul would be getting home from work around 11:50. Suddenly I felt dizzier than I ever remember feeling. I reached out to the counter to catch myself, and I don’t even remember getting there in time. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor and had no idea at all where I was. My kitchen looked VERY different from that perspective! I had been dreaming when I passed out that I was drifting down like a feather. Then, when I first opened my eyes things looked crazy. I don’t remember the details now, but it took a minute for the real objects to come into focus. Then a little more time to realize it was my kitchen.

At that point I felt absolutely fine. I got up carefully because I was worried I would still be dizzy. I wasn’t. I walked upstairs, called out to my two daughters so I could lie down right away. Kristi came in to check on me. I told her what happened. I called the doctor. He told me I may have had a cardiac arrest, but since I felt fine, I could wait until the next morning to transmit my ICD info over a phone line. It wouldn’t be seen until Monday anyway, since the next day was a Sunday. On Monday we called the doctor’s office to see if they got the transmission. That’s when we found out it was closed because it was Christmas Eve. No one was going to see it until Wednesday at the earliest. The doctor on call suggested we go to the emergency room. We did. My cardiologist told me it was a full cardiac arrest. It took 8 seconds from the time my heart stopped to the time my ICD shocked me and got my heart going again. Since I had checked the time just before it happened, I was surprised it was about 3 minutes from the time I got dizzy to the time I got upstairs to my bed.

Anyway, I wanted to mention that when I found out it was definitely a 2nd SCA, I started crying. My doctor was very kind. Soon after, I learned that she had already gone all the way to Pennsylvania with her family (about 5 hours away) when she got the call about my SCA. She left the kids there and came back to see me. I will never forget her for that. It meant the world to me.

My betablocker was increased. I was told to take 6 weeks off from work, and my doctor told me not to drive, indefinitely. She still doesn’t know the cause of my SCA’s and believes driving would be unsafe. I agree, given I had been driving my daughter and her boyfriend just 20 minutes before this happened. Since the whole event only took 8 seconds, there would be no time to react and pull over if I was driving. It was after this cardiac arrest that the doctor started to believe the cause could be stress related. There is a possible genetic cause that is being studied in Albany, NY. It would involve a simple blood test, but my insurance company would have to be convinced to cover it. It cost over $4000. Now I was truly worried; this was not a “fluke” and there is a chance it is genetic, which puts my daughters at risk. They are all terrified about that. All three girls have been checked and followed by the cardiologist. She hasn’t found any problems, but I never expected her to. There is still nothing obviously wrong with me.

For the next year or so, my doctors and I battled the insurance company. Paul and I couldn’t afford to pay for the blood test outright, so we needed the insurance company to help. It literally took a year of phone calls and letters (mostly from the doctor’s office) before the insurance company agreed to cover the cost. I made an appointment with the doctor, had the blood drawn, and then waited. I had been told it could take up to 6 weeks, but within two weeks I got a call. The doctor explained to me the results were “inconclusive.” That was the last thing I expected! If the results had been definitely negative, we wouldn’t have an answer, but at least we would have discounted another possibility. If it had been positive, the girls would have been tested and if any of them showed the genetic predisposition, they would get an implanted ICD. We were all rooting for positive results, actually. But, it was “inconclusive.” The reason for that is because not all the genes believed to be involved with this problem have been isolated. The ones that were checked on me were not positive, but there are other genes that can’t be tested yet. It will probably take years of more research to be able to isolate those genes to get definitive results. I was devastated. Recently a new genetic test has been developed. The doctor wanted to find out if this was a possible cause. I am still waiting on results for this.

My family is pretty used to the effects of my SCA. I have some very minor short term memory issues. These are not very obvious most of the time, but I am very aware of them. My family had to get used to driving me places. For four years I had to rely on other people. Two summers ago I finally got permission to drive again. It is an amazing feeling of freedom we all take for granted! I am tired all the time, from my medication. Paul knows that when we go out in the evening, it isn’t going to be a long night like it used to be. He is wonderfully patient about that.

I think about the SCA daily. It may not help that I read the daily updates on the Inspire site. But I don’t think that’s the only reason. I think it’s just such a part of my life that I can’t not think of it. I literally walk through life wondering when it’s going to happen again. If I am climbing up on the counter to hang a poster at school, I wonder if I’m going to have an SCA and fall. If I’m walking through a crowded mall by myself (after being dropped off there!), I wonder if I’m going to go down and freak out a bunch of strangers. When I’m standing in front of my class, I wonder what the kids would do if I suddenly collapsed in front of them. One time Paul and I were leaving a funeral home after a wake. I suddenly became very dizzy. I grabbed Paul, thinking I was going down, but then it passed. I cried all the way home and it took me an hour to stop shaking. I had to find a way to transmit my ICD data, because we had gotten rid of our landline (cell phones have taken over our lives!). I had to wait until the next day and have a friend bring me to her house only to find out it had nothing to do with my heart at all. The doctor said I may have gotten dehydrated. I know my heart meds do cause my blood pressure to drop too low once in awhile. Dehydration can contribute to that. I carry a water bottle with me wherever I go now. I panic a lot when I get the least bit dizzy.

Paul keeps saying he is glad I had the 2nd SCA, because it proved to him that the ICD really works. I know he means this, but I also know he worries all the time. One night I needed his help with something in the bedroom after I went to bed. Since he is hard of hearing and he also doesn’t always hear his cell phone, I texted my daughter to ask her to get him right away. He and my daughter immediately jumped to the conclusion that I had another SCA. They came running into the room very panicked. I felt terrible for scaring them. It never occurred to me they would think that way. Luckily we were able to laugh about the whole thing once everyone calmed down.



Paul: As we indicated earlier, what happened on July 15, 2006 is a story that Mary heard. She doesn't remember anything about it, so she wanted to hear a tape of the 911 call. The 911 call was about 7 and a half minutes long, so it's a record of what was happening during those precious minutes when we were trying to save her life. When we listened to the tape for the first time, it was pretty emotional for both of us. I was reliving the whole experience, and Mary was hearing for the first time an audio recording that made the whole thing more than just a story to her. I told her I felt like I was listening to a tape of her dying. She said, "No, that's a tape of you saving my life!" That's when I realized for the first time that it helps to have a positive attitude about things you can't control.

Click here to read part 2, written in September, 2019  
http://www.sunnysideof50.com/2019/10/how-mary-survived-multiple-cardiac.html

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Jury Duty (With a Surprise Ending)

I served on a jury approximately 15 years ago, give or take a couple. The day I reported for jury duty was a Friday. I brought a book with me and expected to go back to work the following Monday. Upon entering the courtroom, however, I "won" this lottery by being the second person to have his name pulled out of the box! I sat with the other "lottery winners" in the jury box as the lawyers from both sides questioned us. I was not one who was dismissed. My fate for the next week was sealed! Judge Andrew V. Siracuse announced that the trial would begin on Monday and would wrap up the following Friday.

On Monday, I was seated as juror #4, a position given to me because I am hard of hearing and they put me in the spot closest to the witness stand. We had 8 jurors altogether, two of whom were alternates. Six were needed for this case.

This was a civil trial for a medical malpractice case. A doctor and a hospital were being sued by the family of a severely obese man who died following complications of gastric bypass surgery. From the opening statements, we learned that the man had been unsuccessful in prior attempts to lose weight and turned to this doctor for gastric bypass surgery. After he had been home for recovery, he had a pulmonary embolism and died. The plaintiff was claiming that the doctor used an older, outdated method of gastric bypass surgery. The defendants were claiming that yes, the method was older, but there was nothing wrong with that method and it didn't cause death. A pulmonary embolism is a risk of any surgery.

Over the next couple of days, the plaintiff called witnesses to the stand, including the man's widow and step-daughter. They told the story of how he came home from the hospital and had trouble with the liquid diet that he had been put on. Other witnesses included other medical experts who testified as to why this bypass procedure was the wrong one.

One witness, another doctor, had brought with him a poster-sized graphic representing the man's innards, which he had intended to use for his testimony. But the defense objected to this piece of artwork; the judge asked him if he had produced the graphic. The doctor said no, he'd had it professionally done. The judge threw out the evidence and told the doctor to make the drawings himself with a marker on a large flipboard. I was actually amused when I saw how flustered this doctor became at being told to do that, when he obviously wasn't mentally prepared for it. I figured he must have been a paid witness.

There were other times during the trial when the lawyers approached the bench over procedures. The judge always turned to the jury and told us to disregard those arguments, as they were about court procedures and had nothing to do with the testimony we were listening to.

It was about halfway through the week when we came into the courtroom and were told that the hospital and the family had reached some kind of a settlement. We never found out what the terms were. It was just to let us know that the hospital representative and its lawyer would no longer be there.

During the defense testimony, the doctor was called to the stand. While giving his testimony, one argument stood out to me was over the dead man's liquid diet. The doctor had said that the amount of liquid the widow was feeding her husband was way more than it should have been and here in court was the first he had heard that. He seemed very agitated about this and wondered why she never told him of the problems he was having. It sounded to me that neither party had made a very good effort at communicating with the other during the home recovery.

During the week, I had opportunity to have lunch with all of the other jurors at one time or another. I remember two of their names: Gil, the owner of a Convenient Store, and Beverly, an elderly woman. Gil couldn't really take time off from work for this. He was going in at 4:30 in the morning to take care of the books and then coming to court. Beverly was concerned about her dog; she said her dog missed her while she was gone and she couldn't wait for the week to end so she could get back into her regular routine. We also had a jeweler and a downtown business man. The downtown business man worked a few blocks away, so he also put in some time in the morning before coming to court. It turns out that the businessman began escorting Beverly to her bus stop each day after court. I'll tell you why these details matter shortly.

On Friday morning, both sides gave their closing arguments. Judge Siracuse charged the jury with deciding whether the doctor was negligent, leading to the man's death. If we did find him negligent, we were to come up with an amount of money to be awarded. The two alternate jurors were thanked for their service and dismissed.

I believe we entered the jury room around 11:30 or so. Lunch was brought in for us, which we enjoyed before we got down to business. We had to choose a foreman. Since there is no science to choosing a foreman, we chose the downtown business man simply because he was the last to arrive each day! Then we set about asking for a few pieces of evidence that we would be allowed to study. I don't remember what anyone else asked for, but I wanted to see some of the medical records and a photo of the man. I was already quite convinced I was going to vote in favor of the doctor, so I wanted the family to know that at least someone on the jury had enough heart to want to see his picture up close.

So then it came time to go around the table and give our first impressions. It wasn't even official, as we had hardly discussed the case yet, but it was unanimously in favor of the doctor. Then for the next hour or so, we reviewed the evidence that was in front of us and discussed the case. Being that this was the first time we were allowed to talk about it, it was interesting to see that we were all thinking the same thing. Yes, some of the doctor's follow-up care was a bit lacking, yes it was sad this man had died, but no, the doctor's medical procedure did not cause his death. It was the risk that any surgery brings, a pulmonary embolism, that caused his death. So, our verdict was unanimous, even though we only needed a majority.

I believe it was around 1:30 or so that we told the court deputy that we had a verdict. It took a little while longer to get everyone back in the courtroom again, so we had to wait in the jury room until we were told they were ready. Our foreman, Mr. Downtown Businessman, had the duty of standing up to give the verdict. Since he was right next to me, I actually was able to hide my face from the widow behind his body a bit. I felt bad for her that this was the verdict we brought, so I felt like I couldn't face her. But the law is the law and that's what we decided. The jury was not asked to be polled, but the judge did ask if it was unanimous and we all nodded while the foreman answer, "Yes."

We were thanked and sent back to the jury room. A short time later, Judge Siracuse came in and sat with us to chat about the trial. Someone asked him if we made the right decision. He said, "What you decided was the right decision. I know some facts about this case that we couldn't tell you."

By the time we left, all parties of the court had left. I went home and finally told my wife what the case was about.

A couple of years later, I met Gil again at a party. Gil told me that he had stayed in touch with the jeweler and Mr. Downtown Businessman. And now, "The Rest of the Story." Mr. Downtown Businessman was walking Beverly back to her bus stop. She obviously was happy this was over and was looking forward to getting back home. As they walked, Beverly suddenly collapsed and died on the sidewalk! Mr. Downtown was able to summon help from an ambulance that happened to be standing around the corner, but it was too late. She was gone. He went back upstairs to tell courtroom personnel what had happened so they could call her husband. Her beloved dog never saw her again.