Achey Breaky Heart

Both of my kids were absolute terrors when they were little. From Matt barrelling down our street straight towards a busy intersection when he was 10 to Aubrey climbing anything and everything, they constantly made my heart stop. Aubrey was actually worse, because she loves bugs and has no fear of creepy crawly things. Kids don’t understand that most of the reason why we scream, yell, and punish them is purely out of fear. Fear for their safety, future success, happiness, security…It’s why we push and hover.

I’ve always feared for my kids, especially Aubrey. When she was about a year old, she drank Era (laundry detergent) from the lid that Matt had left on the bathroom counter. At 18 months, she swallowed a penny. I’d never felt time halt before, but from the moment she started to choke, time screeched to frame by frame. I grabbed her and threw her onto my knee with enough pressure to dislodge it so she could sort of breathe. I raced her to the hospital where they took her into an operating room. They wanted her in a sterile field in case they needed to cut her open if it fell in her windpipe while they were pulling it out. She was fine, but I was ever more vigilant after that.

Matt was my easy one. Not to say he never did anything, but his death defying idiocies were fewer and farther between. I never worried about him walking alone, living alone, driving alone. Now all I do is worry.

He had a MUGA scan on Wednesday to see if his ejection fraction has improved in the month that he has been on his medications. The echocardiogram on the day he was diagnosed showed his EF at 30%. That means 70% of the blood in his left ventricle was just pooling there and not being pumped out. A normal EF is anything above 50%. His cardiologist had warned us that if his EF was below 35%, he would need to wear a LifeVest, which is a type of external defibrillator and heart monitor.

The nuclear tech that did his scan was lovely. She explained everything that she would do before she started, then explained again as she went. A MUGA scan involves taking a rather large amount of blood, separating out the red blood cells, tagging them with a radioactive agent, then injecting them back in. Then a large “camera” takes pictures of the heart, allowing the tech to see how much blood stays pooled in the heart while it pumps.

She let me watch while she measured the blood pool frame by frame, so we knew the results immediately. Matt’s EF was 33%. MY heart stopped for a moment, and I wanted to cry. Instead, I pulled on my hair to keep the tears away. Without a LifeVest, Matt could quite literally drop dead. If his heart went into V-Tach (beating too fast) or V-Fib (beating erratically), he likely wouldn’t know it. His heart would just stop and he would die. He would be fine until he wasn’t fine.

Fortunately, the LifeVest is 98% effective. While I do worry about that 2%, I can sleep with those odds. His cardiologist ordered that he be fitted for the vest immediately. A visiting nurse came out to his apartment to show him how it worked, what to do when it went off, and how to arrange all the wires and pads. Aubrey, Amanda, and I were all there so we would know what to do if it went off and Matt was unconscious.

Watching my son’s heart beat was an emotional thing for me. No one understands how different a mother feels about her child except for other mothers. This person on the table grew inside me, was birthed by me, nursed at my breast for 11 months. His heart is a piece of my heart. Knowing he is ill and could possibly cease to exist terrifies me in a way that I’ve only felt once before, and that was when I thought Aubrey might cease to exist. I cannot imagine living in a world that does not have Matt in it.

Our family had already discussed Matt moving back home if he needed the LifeVest. We decided it would be best. Since his lease is up, he can move without ruining his rental history. Being home will give him the option of not working so many hours and will relieve a lot of his financial stress. He knows I’ll make sure he’s eating right, and he won’t have to exert himself to clean his apartment. He can focus 100% on resting and allowing his heart to heal.

Of course, that decision threw life into a tizzy. Aubrey refuses to share a bathroom with Matt, so she’s looking for an apartment. While it’s about time for her to move, she was waiting until she turns 21 in June before moving out, because then she’d be eligible for a management position at her work. That would possibly mean she’d end up in a different city. At the very least, she’d be making enough to afford a nice place versus whatever dive she could afford right now.

Because Matt has asthma and is allergic to animals (although he loves them), I am going to have to clear as much dust collecting crap out of my house as possible. I will need to dust and sweep every day to keep the pet hair under control, and that will be much easier if we have less stuff. We plan for Matt to take over Aubrey’s room. We will install a window AC and block off the central AC vent to keep his room as dander free as possible.

As Matt said, he hates to be a, “woe is me” kind of person, but right now, he gets to be, “woe is me.” We agree. For at least the next six months, the world will revolve around Matt. It is all about him. It really is only fair after all the times Aubrey was the center of the world while we took care of her medical issues. She’s been great about giving up her room and is completely supportive of Matt moving home. As much as my kids fight and pick at each other, they love each other. She’s worried, but she is a rock.

Once again, life is one day at a time. I cannot think about tomorrow, I cannot think about “what if.” I am focused on what has to be done right now, this moment, today. I will not whine about being cramped together in this house. I am grateful that being cramped means we are all still here. More than usual, I have an attitude of gratitude. All these changes we must make are because Matt is still alive. To me, that is worth it.


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