My broken heart
In the hours after a heart attack, Jennifer Crocker has to keep it together for her kids.
If I have said it to my children once I have said it to them countless times, ‘You’re going to give me a heart attack.’

I don’t know why I picked a heart attack as a suitable ailment to threaten them with, perhaps because it sounds classier than, ‘You’re going to give me a spastic colon.’

When I woke up in the early hours of a Sunday morning with a staggeringly painful version of what I had thought was a world-class case of heartburn, my first thought was to drag myself off to my local health care centre and get pain relief. Maybe I just needed some antacids from the pharmacy before buying some sugary doughnuts for breakfast.

I left behind me two sleeping children. Alex, my 15-year-old son who is highly trained in first aid I let sleep, and his 11-year-old sister Grace was cosy in her bed. Third sibling Hannah was on a sleepover.

I didn’t wake them up and say, ‘Oh, by the way that heart attack I’m always on about, well I think it’s here.’ I just went out into the still, cold morning and drove to the doctor.

I had indeed had a heart attack. Calls were made to cardiologists and to a friend who is a surgeon for her advice. She took things in hand medically by recommending who I should see and where, and offered to wake up the kids and tell them what had happened, corral Hannah and generally take charge of offspring.

For a single mother intent on doing her own thing as often as possible it was an interesting, albeit terrifying, position to be in. I couldn’t get up and drive my car to the hospital because they had pumped me full of drugs, stuck a drip in my arm, and poked an oxygen tube up my nose.

I chatted away happily to the paramedic who rode in the ambulance with me about all the things I had to do that week for work, until she wryly told me that she was at least relieved I hadn’t brought along my laptop and 3G card.

In the Cardiac Care Unit I was still feisty, my hair was dirty, and I was still in my PJs more or less. I wanted treatment fast. It was all about me, my stuff, my commitments, and my fear of letting people down. And damn it I wanted to go to the loo and not use a bedpan. It took the whispered voice of a sister saying that my blood work had come back positive for a heart attack to jolt my heart into some semblance of sense.

Suddenly all I wanted was my children. But I didn’t want them to see me with dirty hair. My excellent doctor friend reminded me that my children didn’t want to see me heartbroken, that they needed me to be in one piece on the surface.

With the help of a little white pill and a metaphorical slap to the side of the head I got it together so that when they walked in I could smile through the greasy locks, focus on them and tell them that they were the most important thing. I promised that I would behave and do my best not to leave them on that Sunday. And I’m still here.

Have you faced a health crisis? How did you cope?

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