I have a dear friend whose husband died right after having a cardiac stress test. He left the doctor’s office, had a massive heart attack and died in the street he was crossing.
While we were talking the other day she asked me why I have never written about the guilt that follows us after someone dies without warning. One minute they are here, the next they are gone. Did we miss something?
After this phone call I thought back and reminded myself hindsight is 20/20. We see everything much more clearly after an event. All those little things we may have pushed aside stare us in the face now and we catch ourselves wondering why we did not see them as bigger things.
My husband asked me one day in late 2018 if I had noticed he was acting differently or doing strange things. I had to stop and think about his questions because he was always a creature of habit, and what I saw as strange was normal for him.
I told him maybe there were some things but I couldn’t put my finger directly on what they were. I promised though to make note of anything and talk to him about it.
In December of that year we attended a family wedding, and several people commented later he had been acting differently. He was quiet and being quiet is the opposite of his nature. I wonder now if he was having trouble putting his thoughts into words.
Yes, when I look back I did see some confusion, but it wasn’t until he died and I took his office apart that I really saw what he had been asking about.
He was a stubborn man. If he had chest pain he would mention it as if it was no big deal. Those no big deal moments landed him in the ER and in the Cardiac ICU after having stents placed twice.
When the last stent procedure happened we were told open heart surgery was probably in the near future, and he found a cardiovascular surgeon and made the appointment.
He recovered like a beast. In fact I gave him that nickname because on Day 2 after 2 surgeries he was off all pain medications and never took another one.
I watched him like a hawk, but I saw nothing really unusual during his recovery.
What I did see two years later was that he started to put off physical work. I didn’t question it, we lived in Florida, year round hot and humid weather happens there. I figured he was just waiting for those months when the weather was actually lovely which happens at the beginning of the new year.
Every doctor visit brought us good news. He was recovering well for someone who had been through two big surgeries in less than 24 hours.
February of 2019 brought us sadness as one of our pet birds died of kidney failure, and he buried it out with the other 2 we had owned. I had follow up care with a doctor over a procedure I had, and he had his annual echocardiogram and Cardiologist visit. Everything was fine until it wasn’t.
When the paramedics arrived at our house they found his Nitroglycerine on the floor, he had evidently pulled it out of his pocket when he knew something was wrong. He assumed it was his heart, but it wasn’t. I dug deep into research after he died looking to see if people who have massive strokes are in pain. Pain is not likely yet I needed to know because he became unconscious immediately.
Fast forward to late March and early April when I began to go through his office, and found many things that surprised me. I had married an engineer, a focused engineer, one who had his fingers on the pulse of everything he did.
I found so much that puzzled me. Stacks of articles, magazines, and pieces of paper all with something written on them. This was not the man I knew, but we did not share an office and I didn’t wander in there much where I might have seen these before his stroke and questioned him about it all. I considered he might have been having transischemic attacks.
In looking back any guilt I feel is because I did not ask him more questions, I did not press him to tell me more, I did not prod him to call the doctor.
Two years later after talking to many different doctors and doing volumes of research I remembered what the interventional neurosurgeon had told us after he performed a thrombectomy to remove the clot and that is when I knew this stroke could not have been prevented. That was when any guilt that remained dissolved because I realized what was at the root cause of his stroke and no one was aware of this issue until it was too late.
Yes, many times we shrug off things we are asked about, or we don’t nag enough to get something taken care of, or we just don’t want to believe something could possibly be very wrong.
Guilt and regret are two things I try to leave at the curb mostly because I cannot change anything and neither can anyone else.