After My Father's Heart Attack, This Was My Biggest Fear

Weddings By Two (left photo) Kristen Heelon (right photo)

The whole day has gone wrong. The one blessing is the fact that it is finally a Friday of what has seemed like an endless week. Although I know that I should be doing house chores, I decide to lay around, watching movies and relaxing with my boyfriend for the evening. Without any real conviction, I tell myself, “I’ll do the chores later”.

Then my parents come home, and I realize the mistake I have made. The exhaustion from stressful days at work is plainly painted across both of their faces. I can immediately sense a brewing disagreement over the upkeep of the house and the lack of work on my part. I know that after working 9 hour days, they would much rather enjoy relaxing and spending time with one another than cleaning up messes that should have been addressed by me.

An hour later, the door slams behind me as I run out to my car in the rain, my boyfriend following after me. Tears are streaming down my face and sobs are gagging my throat as I remember all the words and even more harmful, the looks, that were just exchanged between my parents and me. As I drive to my boyfriend’s house, I relive the fight that just ensued and I have a horrible feeling that it will somehow change my relationship with my parents forever.

Finally arriving at my boyfriend’s house, my cell phone rings. Checking the caller I.D., I see the name “Katie,” my older sister, displayed on the screen. I figure she is calling to tell me how angry mom and dad are, to urge me to come home and make up, so I answer, and before I even have a chance to utter a “Hello,” my sister is telling me, “Kristen, you have to come home. Dad’s having a heart attack, the ambulance came, they’re bringing him to Strong. Hurry home.”

It is hard enough deciphering through my sister’s sobs, but what is even harder to comprehend is the information that she has just given me. My dad, the man who never goes to a doctor because he is always healthy, is having a heart attack? Suddenly I panic, the night’s events settle in around me and I realize that this is my fault.

How is it possible that I could cause someone so much pain, that they have a heart attack? How is it possible that I have risked my father’s life over something as petty as household chores?

I drive back to our house to get my sister, and then we head toward the hospital. The drive is a blur. Every second I am reliving the fight that we have just had and thinking the worst. What if the last thing I said to my dad was the last thing I would ever be able to say to him? “I hate you, I’m not staying here.”

How could I live with myself knowing that instead of saying “I love you,” I told him the exact opposite?

“Kristen,” he would joke, “One of these days you’re gonna give me a heart attack.” Well, I guess I finally had.

As we walk into the waiting room, we find a complete stranger. The woman stooped over in a chair in front of us is not our mother. This woman is the most heartbroken person I have ever seen. She is not strong or confident; she is weak and worried. I distance myself from her and my sister, knowing that I am the one to blame for this tragedy. I am the one that has caused the tears rolling down my mom’s face. I have caused my sister’s hands to shake.

I cannot account for the amount of time that we have been in the waiting room, but finally a man comes up to us in green scrubs and my heart drops. My feelings of both guilt and blame do not cease as this man speaks to us, shooting out words that might as well be spears, “He suffered a massive heart attack. Only one-third of his heart is working properly, and that might be the case for the rest of his life.”

We sit in silence as we listen to what this man is telling us, not truly understanding any of it. Then one single question comes out of his mouth and my vision becomes blank.

My whole body has suddenly gone numb and I find that I am unable to breathe. For a few seconds, which seem like years, all of my senses have been frozen. Then finally it comes, oxygen rushing into my lungs, taking me off guard. I can breathe, but I still feel my throat constricting with every inhale. I feel tears running down my face, and I suddenly realize that I am on the floor shaking.

After a few seconds, my vision comes back and I can finally see around me. I glance down the hall and see that I am a few feet from the doctor and my family. I did not even get to hear my mother’s response to the doctor’s question. Without realizing, in the midst of a panic attack, I must have run away from them.

Did that man really just ask us a question so horrible? “If anything happens, do you want us to resuscitate?” Does he not know that this is my father? My mother’s husband? I do not care if the surgeon had to cut off his own arm, as long as he keeps my father alive. I force myself to stand and slowly walk over to my family and the doctor. He tells us we will just have to wait a few more minutes and then he will be able to take us to my dad.

We begin walking down the hall and, in the distance, I can see a bed with a man in it. He is only a few feet away, but it seems like a mile. I look at my mom and see the anticipation and love spread across her face. Once again, I loom in the back as both my mother and sister greet my dad with kisses. I am scared to approach him because the fact that I am the reason why he is laying on that bed lingers over everyone.

And then he reaches for me and, with tears streaming down my face, I grab onto his hand. I can not hold back all of the feeling inside of me, I put my head down to kiss him on the forehead, and he opens his mouth, still groggy from anesthesia, and tells me the truth that I will never believe.

My dad tells me that it is not my fault. I am not the reason that my mother just moments ago had to tell a doctor to do whatever possible to keep her husband alive. I am not the reason that my father is now laying in this bed. And with that, more tears stream down my face because I know that I will never accept what he has just said to me, but I still nod my head in agreement.

I look into his eyes as I back away so they can wheel him into his room, and I see it, he truly does believe what he has just told me and that is enough for me. I will always blame myself for causing my father’s heart attack, and for my mother going through the scariest moment in her life, but I can accept that, as long as I know that somewhere inside of him, my father does not blame me.

Kristen Heelon