Chapter 9: After Cardiac Arrest, Part 1

The next morning my family walked into my hospital room at 7:15am. Expecting me to still be asleep, they were amazed to find me sitting up in the sunshine. I was watching TV while eating ice chips and apple sauce. Such a contrast to 24 hours ago when I was still intubated.

“Good morning!” I greeted them with a big smile, my voice still hoarse but a little stronger.

Good morning, Tini!! Their smiles were the biggest I’d ever seen. My sisters rushed to hug me. My mom took a picture. My dad had tears in his eyes. It was then that I realized how horrific this must have all been for them. Their strength and hope were unbreakable, but the pain they went through was palpable. It was far worse than anything I experienced.

At that moment I resolved to make everything easier for them. For everybody around me really, but especially for my family. I wanted desperately to erase all the fear and suffering I gave them. I had to. I was determined to show them how good I felt, how strong I was, and most important, how I was going to be okay – no matter what.

The next six days were a total whirlwind of medical tests, visitors, gifts upon gifts, friends, family, coworkers, more testing, laughter, smiles, serious conversations, hugs, more gifts, a few answers but mostly a lot of questions.

I remember my dad asking if he could bring me food from outside the hospital, and the doctors giving him permission. Every mealtime he’d come into my room with a new delicious dish – my favorite pasta with broccoli and parmesan, a turkey burger with extra ketchup, frozen yogurt, toast with peanut butter and banana, spaghetti with tomato sauce, pad Thai, strawberry smoothies – he was so happy to see that my appetite hadn’t changed.

I remember asking the nurses if I could wear scrubs instead of a hospital gown, that way I could move, look and feel like a real person rather than a patient. They happily brought me a pair of green scrubs to change into.

I remember my friends having dinner in the hospital room with me, laughing uncontrollably as we re-lived college stories, having such a good time that I didn’t care how much it hurt my chest to laugh.

I remember asking, why does my chest hurt so much? And I remember the answer, It’s from Lizzie’s CPR, she was pushing down so hard that she bruised your ribs – she did everything right.

I remember my mom sneaking my cell phone into my room so that I could read all of the hundreds of Facebook messages I received. I remember feeling overwhelmed with love.

I remember the wonderful Resident who took care of me from the initial cardiac arrest in the emergency room coming to visit, often. I remember her hanging around to chat. I remember her bringing me nail polish, magazines, lip gloss and a card.

I remember celebrating Easter. All our friends and family came to the hospital to spend their Easters with us. There were bunnies and baskets and candy everywhere! My aunt and uncle brought an Easter feast and more Champagne, we had a toast in my hospital room this time.

I remember feeling comfortable in the hospital, I had my routine every morning and every night, I loved all the doctors and nurses, I was always with my friends and family.

I remember a doctor explaining that it’s incredibly rare for a person my age to have plaque in her arteries, but they believed that’s what had caused my heart attack. They couldn’t be 100% sure though.

I remember my sweet sisters bringing me a stuffed puppy that never left my side.

I remember getting my hair washed for the first time. The hospital “stylist” came in with shampoos and conditioners and rinsed my hair in a bucket at the end of my hospital bed.

I remember walking for the first time. My feet felt tingly and my legs were wobbly, but it wasn’t too bad. I got a little dizzy. My dad took me with a nurse and we walked down the hallway, my monitor and  IV lines in tow. I remember finally getting to see the family room, and thinking it looked so homey. I remember feeling tired by the time I got back to my bed.

I remember at some point the doctors thought I had suffered a small stroke, but it was quickly confirmed that I hadn’t. I remember the sigh of relief.

I remember staying up late with my mom in my hospital room, watching reality TV – our favorite show was called Pregnant in Heels. I remember having the best time watching that show. It felt like a girl’s night sleepover.

Throughout everything, I remember feeling happy and lucky. So incredibly lucky.

On April 26th, eight days after being admitted for cardiac arrest, I walked out of the hospital. I was holding my stuffed puppy in one hand and a cup of Pinkberry in the other. We hugged all the doctors and nurses, and my mom took pictures. They had become like family over the past week, and I was really going to miss them.

When I left, the head of the CCU told me I that I recovered from cardiac arrest faster than anybody he had ever seen. And just like I did with the first heart attack, I thought, Ok, now they know what’s going on with my heart, I’ll get the right medicine and be back to normal in no time. Four months later I was back in the hospital, and I almost didn’t make it.

xo Cristina