An update on my summer crises

Bryan Alexander 2023-09-24

Last month I shared with you all the story of two awful things which happened this summer: my father’s death and my wife having a heart attack.  People responded with a lot of concern and care, which helped things here immensely.  I’m very grateful. Now I’d like to update you all.

My wife, Ceredwyn, how is she doing?  Ah, this is good and bad news.  The good is that she’s recovering.  The bad is that she had a second heart attack.  Oh yes.

A couple of weeks after the first she felt increasing pain in her chest.  She’d been monitoring chest pain closely, unsurprisingly, and observed this carefully.  It got worse. We discussed it, decided not to risk anything, and I drove her to the emergency room.  She spent the next few days in the hospital with me and we experienced repetitions of the procedures she’d just gone through: cardio tests, EKGs, horrendous attempts at blood draws, another catheterization, and more tests.  This time her troponin level was higher than the last, indicating more extensive damage to the heart tissues.  So going to the hospital was exactly the right thing to do.

The staff were terrific, from awesome nurses to the astonishing cath team. They dove into her body again and found a tiny artery which seems to have been the culprit. Gradually her heart stabilized and, after several days, they let me take her home.

Ceredwyn is now the survivor of two (2) heart attacks.  Which is not a sentence I ever expected to write.

Ever since she’s continued healing.  That involves more of what I wrote about last time: a bag of new medications, lots of resting, carefully monitored exercise, frequent at-home tests (blood pressure, O2 levels). She saw a cardiologist and is set up for cardio therapy starting soon.

She’s better in some ways.  The many puncture wounds have healed up, as have the awful, extensive bruises.  But she gets pummeled by exhaustion daily, sadly after tasks which she used to do without a second thought.

Ceredwyn walking the Manassas battlefield green tunnel path

Some of that exercise.

Last time I mentioned some American health care details for my non-American readers, so I’ll continue now with a big one.  We’ve been waiting anxiously for the medical bills to arrive.  This is a ritual we do in the United States, because health care costs can obliterate family budgets.  So much depends on what the medical providers charge (this is invisible to us at point of care) and what insurance companies decided to pay for (similarly opaque, and subject to a series of possible denials).

Yesterday the charges appeared.  The total for two hospital stays was over $75,000.

The insurance company absorbed most of this, leaving us on the hook for around $7,100.

This won’t bankrupt us.  My years of overwork mean that we can fit it into our finances. We’re going to pay it in installments, which are miraculously not subject to interest charges. Yet I think of how when we were younger we could not have paid for this.  Many people can’t pay for this kind of charge. The amount would be devastating.

I think as well about people who, unlike my wife, don’t have a lot of knowledge about the health care system, and how confusing and terrifying this can be.  Or who don’t have my bull-headed, extrovert’s shamelessness about asking basic questions and pressing formidable strangers for better treatment.

On a different personal level I have to add that Ceredwyn having two heart attacks at times feels simply bizarre, at least when I tell people about it.  It feels incredible and part of me dreads not being believed.  At home we joke about it with our usual black humor.

To sum up: now is about paying the bills, taking the medications, getting into the cardio therapy, carefully exercising.  And her resting.

Last week would have been my father’s 92nd birthday. He wasn’t much for birthdays after he retired, and so the emotional kick wasn’t too painful.  And yet.  Recognizing the link and thinking it through is a step in mourning, a formal event reminding us of death.

I haven’t been doing that mourning work over the past month.  Instead my days have been blurs, mostly, combining a lot of work (back to 65- and 70-hour weeks) and caring for Ceredwyn. Few reminders of my father’s passing have hit me, which suggests a substantial distance existed between us for a long time.  In contrast, friends I’ve lost over the past couple of years repeatedly appear in my mind, based in triggers as disparate as pull-ups, certain books, some music, and even parts of our house.

The hospice service my father engaged has a mourning specialist whom I can speak to on the phone.  We had one talk, which was mostly me trying to figure out what a mourning specialist did. She told me it would take time to grieve, and that it would surprise me at times.  I haven’t called her back so far.

I think I went through some of this grieving process when he was still alive, in his last year, declining steeply. I thought about things I wanted to say to him, and things I wanted to hear from him. There wasn’t much.

I think more about the logistics and material nature of the event. How we cleaned up his rooms and wrapped things up with the facility. How my lawyer brother is doing heroic work on paperwork.

What happens next?  Perhaps a memory will ambush me.  That’s what the grief experts describe.  Maybe he’ll appear in dreams.  I don’t know.  I do know that I just feel… tired.