Two weeks ago, Teddy had gone on a road trip to the Texas-Mexico border and I was taking the opportunity to frenetically clean the house in his absence. The phone rang when I was scrubbing baseboards. Knowing it was Teddy calling, I said laughingly, “Guess what I am doing?” He answered, “I am in the Emergency Room in McAllen”. My heart stopped, metaphorically, and I screeched, “What?” At first, I thought it might be one of his allergic reactions to insect bites but then he told me that his heart rate was very fast and irregular. They were struggling to get it stabilized and he was being admitted to McAllen Cardiac Hospital as soon as a bed was available.
As soon as I put down the phone, I went into triage mode. I phoned his hotel and explained the situation then booked a flight for the next day. He had driven down in his own car but it is almost 700 miles from our home in south east Texas. When he was transferred to the Cardiac Hospital he was put into ICU. If his heart rate, rhythm and pressure improved, they intended to put him in a regular room, possibly for another night or more. Teddy has a long history of cardiac issues – first, a tachycardia as a young man, then high cholesterol and blood pressure in his 40s. All have been managed very well with medication over the years and no hospitalizations or events.
I have chronic anxiety with some depression and the news about Ukraine was beginning to bring me down. As I pondered how I was going to deal with this, my heart went out to all those refugees who were going on journeys with no end in sight. This was the time to put on a stiff upper lip and just be brave. What I was most worried about was the journey back in his Challenger sports car. We would have to do it in two days, as originally planned, and I would have to reschedule the booked hotels.
Like many of us, I had no wish to go on an airplane right now. I arrived at the airport and it was jam packed with people. My flight was delayed by a couple of hours – it was flying inbound from San Francisco and had a mechanical problem. There was a bar close to the gate, so I decided to have a glass of wine. I had a nice chat with a pretty lady travelling back to Monterrey, just over the border in Mexico. Finally, our plane boarded and I settled in the back. The mechanical problem was non-functioning air conditioning, so we were all a bit hot and bothered. A couple, from the north, sat across the aisle. They had obviously been drinking and their previous flight had also been delayed. They borrowed the phone from the guy behind them and the mask-less woman proceeded to loudly berate their travel agent about a missed hotel reservation – all while the plane was speedily rattling down the runway. The flight attendant tried to intervene but just gave up.
I was silently furious. It was a 50-minute flight – couldn’t she could have waited to phone until we landed? Had she not been watching the news with people boarding trains from Ukraine with no accommodation booked? Teddy’s phone had been running out of battery with no charger so our communication was getting brief. Luckily, Speedy Gonzales was flying the plane so it was a bumpy takeoff and landing with brakes screeching. I raced off, got my luggage and went out to get an Uber. A young man outside told me that there was a 35-minute wait for an Uber so I jumped in a taxi. Immediately I was transported back to Egypt. There was a candlewick bedspread on the back seat, it smelled like goats had been the last guests and he spoke no English. My Spanish is not good enough behind a mask and Scottish accent, so he dropped me at the wrong hospital and I had to get an Uber to the right one…
By the time I got there, I was utterly exhausted, but Teddy was looking good in a regular hospital room. It was such a relief for both of us to hug each other. McAllen is not a rich town but serendipitously Teddy had his heart incident treated in one of the 50 best cardiac hospitals in the USA. The hospital was very clean but utilitarian. The doctors changed his medication and monitored him until his heart rate was completely stable. It was an isolated event triggered by goodness knows what but age, a long trip, red wine, dodgy shrimp and too much caffeine may have triggered the inevitable. As he was discharged, the cardiologist looked at me and said, “You know the warning signs of stroke, don’t you?” With trepidation, I assured her that I did with a family history of cardiac ill health.
The staff were fantastic from the Cardiac hospital to the little ER and we thanked them all. The receptionist at the hotel was ecstatic to see the ‘Irishman’ who had become ill. She had a bit of a crush on that accent… We stayed one more night in the hotel and slept the sleep of the dead. Then we set off on our very long journey travelling from scrubland with cactus all the way to rolling hill country. We were made to pull over at a border patrol about 30 miles from McAllen, as was everyone else. It is advisable to carry your passport when so close to the border. They were looking for a fugitive but one look at the older white couple and they waved us on. It was very exciting!
I had no intention on going on vacation but my soul was soothed by the bucolic vista complete with goats, sheep and cattle. We stopped for coffee breaks at little towns until we reached Cuera. By then we had come out of deep oil country and it was truly agricultural. It was such a treat to idle behind a tractor full of hay bales. Most of the towns had magnificent central courthouses in the square and each had a different feel depending on the ancestry. McAllen was almost entirely Hispanic but then we reached German and Czech towns. Although I had a nutritional/exercise plan worked out in my head, I relaxed the rules a little for our involuntary vacation together.
Finally, we arrived home and it was such a relief to sleep in our own house. After a week he had another AFIB incident in the middle of the night and we went to ER. It was a short visit and they treated him with IV medication. His GP is now in control until he sees a cardiologist in April so fingers crossed that this was a timely warning.
Teddy doesn’t look bad, two days after ICU – all beer and Band-Aids. May he enjoy the last beer he will ever have…😊