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What's behind triggers isn't always obvious
But sometimes it is
I work with people to release their triggers. We know that they were triggered somehow, but usually my client doesn’t know exactly what event(s) and feelings were behind the trigger. By the end of each session, we know what the trigger was and released it so my client will no longer be triggered by it.
Over the past week, I’ve become reacquainted with a trigger of mine I didn’t realize I was still carrying.
A week ago today, my husband told me he felt uncomfortable. He couldn’t describe the feeling other than his shoulders hurt like they do after a good workout and that they felt tingly. He went on to add that sometimes his lower jaw was uncomfortable, too. It was the second day in a row he mentioned this. We decided that we would rather be safe than sorry, so we headed to the nearest emergency room.
I’m so grateful he shared his discomfort and was willing to go to the ER (without me, even). I’m even more grateful I recognized a pattern I’ve lived before with my dad.
When I was going to community college, I happened to be home one afternoon when my dad asked me to take him to the ER was feeling “uncomfortable.” Turned out he had his second heart attack that day, but didn’t want to upset me. I was the first family member at the hospital when he had his third.
Last week, I knew the signs and had a pretty good idea of what to expect. Since we went into the ER triage together, I was able to connect a few other dots for the medical team — like the fatigue he’s had for months and that maybe we should just call what was going on “chest pain” as the area he described went from his lower jaw down to the bottom of his ribs and across his shoulders encompassing his entire chest area.
While he wasn’t having a heart attack when we arrived, my husband did have have a STEMI heart attack in the ER. If you’re going to have a heart attack, the ER is the place to do it. My husband’s medical team caught it as it was happening and were able to push the right drugs early, reducing the amount of damage to his heart and keeping his pain at manageable levels. There was no CPR or defibrillation. He was transferred across town via ambulance complete with sirens, flashing lights and running red lights to a hospital with a cardiac Cath lab awaiting his arrival to place stents in the blocked arteries of his heart. It all happened in the space of less than two hours.
While I was reliving circumstances I never wanted to revisit, I didn’t expect the breakdown I had about 36 hours into the situation after my husband had the third stent placed and his cardiologist spent approximately three whole minutes with me. In those 36 hours, my husband underwent a complete battery of cardiac tests. I was ready for some answers about how much damage his heart sustained, how long recovery might be, how much time would he need off work and how soon he could return to his normal activities. All I got were a couple of before and after scans of his heart, that he would need cardiac rehab and he should be discharged from the hospital the next day. Oh, and that he should be back in his medical/surgical ICU room.
That’s where the breakdown started for me. While placing stents in hearts is an interventional cardiologist’s day, this was a MAJOR life event for me and my husband. I figured more info would be quickly forthcoming, so I returned to my husband’s room. He wasn’t there. So, I returned to the cardiac Cath lab waiting room. Empty — it was after five on a Friday. I returned to his room again. Nope, still not there. I returned to the Cath lab pre-op/recovery ward, where I had to knock on the door. The team there was surprised to see me as he was supposed to be on his way back to his ICU room. They looked in his recovery room, yes, he was on his way back to his ICU room. Third time is the charm. He was there.
Not fully realizing that he was in a medical/surgical ICU, I started asking his nurse all of the questions that had been on my mind. She listened patiently, but was unable to answer any of them. It was almost time for her shift change, too. No one had explained that my husband would spend some time in the medical/surgical ICU after his stent placement to ensure where they threaded the ballon and stent through were stable, then in the cardiac ICU to ensure he was stable and then in a regular room before being discharged. The night shift nurse pulled out a brochure on cardiac rehab for me and I added all of our questions to the communication white board in my husband’s room.
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By then, I was triggered by enormity of what we had been through and by the uncertainty of what to expect from the rest of this hospital stay and of how extensive his heart damage was. While anyone in our shoes would likely have been triggered by some aspect of it, part of me returned to the 14-year-old whose mom wanted shield her from the enormity of her dad’s a triple-bypass operation. The 14-year-old who spent most of a summer at the hospital where they kept my dad for six weeks after his surgery. A summer where my grandparents reminded us daily of how lucky we were that he didn’t die from his heart attack. And of the 40-something-year-old me when my dad did die from a heart attack in his sleep. In that moment, what was behind my trigger was obvious to me, but may not have been to those who witnessed my exhaustion, frustration, anger and tears.
The following day after my husband was transferred to the cardiac ICU, the on-duty cardiologist paid us a visit and answered our long list of questions, even using that room’s communication white board to draw out what happened to the heart, how they place stents and how the blood flow was restored. But, he didn’t have the answer to my biggest question. How much damage was there to my husband’s heart?
Due to a miscommunication between the on-duty cardiologist and the on-duty internist and the lack of an open regular hospital bed, he stayed another night in the cardiac ICU. While we were awaiting his discharge Sunday morning, the on-duty cardiologist returned and let us know that the heart attack didn’t damage his heart.
My husband’s heart attack was a wake-up call for us both to get serious about eating more healthfully, exercising and paying attention to our health. It also was an opportunity for me to heal my inner 14 and 40+ year olds as I recognized my trigger. Rather than be crippled by it, I used the knowledge gained from my experiences to a fearless advocate for my husband and to be grateful that he is still with me and will likely be for many years to come.
Time is muscle! If you or someone you love is having a heart attack, call 9-1-1. The paramedics can alert the ER that you’re on your way and take you there with sirens and lights blaring the entire way. They can administer CPR or defibrillate your heart. Read one paramedic’s take on responding to heart attacks.
Heart attacks don’t always present as crushing chest pain. They symptoms can be different for men and women. If you’re having pain in your jaw, shoulders, arms or chest you can’t describe or can’t figure out why, call 9-1-1 or get to the ER. Better safe than sorry.
Don’t wait for a cardiac event to take steps to improve your health. Even small steps matter — schedule a physical with your doctor to see where your numbers are, choose a fruit or vegtable instead of a bag of chips or a candy bar, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. These small steps can become habits over time.
If you want to know what is behind your triggers, I can help you figure that out and help you defuse them - permanently.