January 13th, 2015
I wrote this memoir three years ago. Back then I was still a nursing student about to finish my first year of study, and although it was only a few years back now, it could easily be confused as having been an entire lifetime ago. This is a little memory of mine from the day my Dad had a heart attack, and I thought it would be fitting after mentioning it in the previous entry (see ‘the other side’). So without further adieu…
Walking the Heartland – A Memoir
I was out at breakfast when it happened. I’d spent the morning resuscitating CPR mannequins in the university’s real-life replica of a hospital and felt that after having saved ten or so plastic lives, I deserved a hearty breakfast.
One bacon, egg and hollandaise bagel later, I was feeling far more upbeat about my day. I remember hearing a muffled ringing from the depths of my bag and mentally scolded myself for not putting it in an easier place of rescue. I frantically searched to find my phone before voicemail beat me to the answer.
‘Mum’ flashed up on the screen and I answered with a smile that soon disappeared. The words ‘Hi Sweetheart’ sounded far heavier than usual and I was instantly aware that something wasn’t right. The next words that followed echoed loudly through the tiny speakers and resonated in my ears as I struggled to comprehend, “Sweetheart, Dad has had a heart attack”.
A warm sensation welled in the corner of my eyes and before I could respond, tears had already found their way down my cheeks, leaving damp pathways of sickening worry in my foundation. My stomach complying with its associated cliché was sitting in my throat causing an impossible lump, and I could feel my insides writhe in an uneasiness.
I don’t remember much after that, except for a non-relenting fear that enveloped every cell in my body. The paramedics had flown Dad to the Royal Brisbane Hospital before I had even had the chance to reach his side. A sense of helplessness had never felt so prominent, as I was forced to simply wait for a phone call. My mind played havoc with the worse possible outcome and I collapsed at the thought that he may never return home.
However despite such terrifying thoughts, I knew there was no benefit in falling apart over the unknown. I had a little brother and a mother who I needed to be stronger for than I felt. So I collected myself and tried my best to see out the rest of the day. I had one last class at university and silently hoped I could hold my concentration for it. I had spent the better part of the last week writing an essay for this class on the cause and effect of heart attacks, and it felt nothing less than ironic to be submitting it to my lecturer the same day my Dad had experienced one.
When I got home, Mum and my little brother were already there. Mum’s tear-stained face and reddened nose gave her worry-stricken state away no matter how she tried to convince us that she was okay. I could see the fear reflected in her eyes and I wrapped my arms around her to show her I felt it too. The phone never stopped ringing. Call after call, family and close friends rung to pass on their best wishes and offer comfort. Word seemed to spread quickly and it was heartening to know just how many people held the four of us in their thoughts that night.
The clock hand fell swiftly on nine and the phone returned to its usual silent existence. The television had been on the whole night, and I had sat in front of it for much of that time – but if you were to ask me what was on, I couldn’t tell you. My mind had been elsewhere. I remember looking over to the couch next to me and seeing Mum fast asleep, nestled in the surrounding cushions. It was only then that I noticed she hadn’t changed since that morning, her black ballet flats were still on her feet. With my brother’s help, we took her shoes off and helped her into bed. As I tucked her in, moving the blankets firmly around her shoulders, she whispered, “Where’s your father?”
Not knowing what else to say, I kissed her on her cheek whispered back, “Get some sleep Mum, he’ll be home soon”.
A few days later, the hospital called to let us know that Dad was being transported to our local hospital. They advised us that he would be in the Cardiac Unit within the next hour and we were welcome to come see him. I remember mum wanting to leave straight away, like a child on Christmas morning impatient to open presents. I had to convince her to wait at least half an hour more. She unhappily agreed. I suggested that she should have a shower and by the time she was done, it would be time to leave. Ten minutes later, I was entirely sure that she had simply stepped in and then out of the shower, as she came racing out asking whether it was time to leave yet.
It’s been a couple of years now since Dad has his heart attack, and I couldn’t be more thankful that he’s still around to tell his Dad jokes – no matter how bad they might be. It was an experience that has taught me the true strength a heart can have, not only physically to survive an almost total infarction, but to emotionally power the love a family shares and a bond that gives one another reassurance in the hardest of times.