What Lee Will Do To Ride In A Helicopter

Let me start by saying that Lee had a mild heart attack but is OK.  As of this writing he is home and doing fine. I decided to write about the incident because I think it is really important to share what happened.  As you probably know, Lee smokes, is a little overweight, and has a terrible family history of heart problems. His risk factors for a cardiac event were really high and the choices he made led directly to it happening.  It’s OK if you judge us for that, hell I do, but please keep in mind that people have heart attacks all the time who don’t have these risk factors.  I personally know four different people who have had heart attacks since we started full timing four years ago.  Two of them never smoked and one of the four was a woman.  This truly could happen to anyone and I think walking you through the incident may help someone if it happens to them.  That is why I am sharing this story.  I will ask in advance that you keep any post comments positive.  I am quite aware that there are many things we could have done differently and I am going to talk about those as I go through it.

To set the stage, we have been working on a gate about 2 hours south of San Antonio.  The gate has been pretty mellow and the day was just like any other day.  Around 10am, Lee ate some lunch and almost immediately started to feel bad.  He was nauseated, his left fingers were tingling, and he has sweat on his upper lip.  At first he thought it was food poisoning and then maybe the flu. When he woke me up at 11am (my regular time) he really was feeling bad.  When he mentioned the numbness I had him take a baby aspirin and go lay down.  I’m not even sure why I did that.  I have had baby aspirin in my RV since a friend of mine had a heart attack but we have never used it.  I didn’t really think he was having heart issues at that point, but thought just in case it couldn’t hurt. Turns out that one baby aspirin could have saved his life, or at least mitigated the damage.  The first thing the Squad personnel did was give him more baby aspirin.

He was laying down for less than 10 minutes when he said I needed to call 911 because his chest was hurting.  In 30 years of marriage, Lee has never asked me to call an ambulance, and I did it immediately.  The problem was the closest small town was 20 miles away and all they had was a rural health clinic.  I briefly thought about driving him there instead of calling, but because we were working the gate and I wasn’t 100% sure where to go I just called.  Again, this was a split moment decision and it turned out to be the right one.  During this vehicles were continuing to go through the gate and I was running back and forth and waving them through.  I stopped one and asked if anyone back in the oilfield had medical experience, and he said no and I should drive Lee into town.

That felt wrong to me and since at this point the chest pains were much worse, I wasn’t even sure I could get him in the truck.  I sat there holding his hand watching him writhe in pain and was sure he was going to die.  That feeling of helplessness will stay with me the rest of my life.  I need to do something, so I called my brother (who is a doctor) and he immediately took my call.  I asked him if there was anything else I could do and he said no, just baby aspirin, and felt I should wait for the squad.  That calmed me down enough to call 911 back and they said they were less than 5 minutes away.  The fire department did call me because they couldn’t find our gate and as I was outside trying to get my bearings a truck pulled in and said he had seen them down the road and immediately turned around and went and got them and led them to the gate. There were three vehicles that arrived and it was all less than 20 minutes from when I called, which is amazingly good response time considering how rural it is.

They used a portable EKG to verify he was having a heart attack and gave him some nitro which provided some relief.  They also determined he needed flown to a hospital and had a helicopter en route.  I cannot say enough about the professionalism and expertise of these young people. Our RV bedroom is very small but somehow they managed to fit four people in there and be extremely effective.  The unusual circumstances didn’t bother them in the slightest and they had the situation well in hand. While they were with him I couldn’t fit in the room and took that opportunity to call my boss.  He was on a conference call with all of the supervisors and they had someone there to cover before the squad left.  This was important because it was a one lane gate and at this point it was completely blocked by the squad vehicles.  The oil company and the gate guard company managed traffic somehow and made sure there wasn’t an accident.

I am not sure how this happened because I kept running into the bedroom to check on Lee. He was extremely upset.  He kept saying he couldn’t leave me, that he had to take care of me, and I had to keep assuring him I would be OK.  At one point when I was out of the room I heard him say he didn’t want to die and I almost lost it. My falling apart wasn’t going to help anything and I was ruthless with myself as I started putting a plan in place.  I had the dog, I was 2 hours away from the hospital, and I couldn’t go with him on the helicopter regardless.  The thought of him being alone until I got there was awful so I called my friend Cori.  Cori was staying north of San Antonio and as soon as I told her what was happening she and Greg got into the car.  They didn’t even have a location yet because I wasn’t sure what hospital but she brushed that aside and said she was on her way towards town.  She said to meet them at the hospital and bring the dog and they would make sure Jack was taken care of. Since I had no idea how long I was going to be gone, I knew I couldn’t just leave him.

At this point they had Lee stable and were moving him into the ambulance and driving him down to the helicopter, which they had landed in a patch of the oilfield.  Again the team they sent was amazing, because they figured out the logistics of where it would land very quickly.  The only thing they didn’t know was which hospital he was going to so I had to sit and wait until the helicopter took off.  That was the worst part and seemed to take forever.  It was just the logistics of moving him into the copter, but it felt like forever and I was sure the worst had happened.  During this period my sister called me and said all of the right things.  She is a nurse, and reassured me I had done the right things and then asked if she could pray for me. I said I would appreciate that and she said if it was okay she wanted to say a prayer with me right then and there.  More than anything else that act calmed me down and right after we finished the prayer the helicopter took off. I even had the presence of mind to take a picture of it taking off through the window, more out of amazement than anything else.

Helicopter taking off from oil field

Although I was calm I really wasn’t thinking very clearly at this point.  I felt like I was on autopilot and in retrospect what helped me was the fact that I had thought about this scenario in advance.  Because we were in a remote location, I had thought through the basic logistics of a medical emergency.  Turns out there were lots of details I didn’t take into account but at least the basics were covered.  I spoke to the medical team as they were leaving and got the name of the hospital and then immediately texted Cori.  She was able to get there right before the helicopter landed and was in the ER with Lee ten minutes after he arrived.  That was a huge blessing and knowing she was there I was able to not be so frantic.  I talked briefly to the relief supervisor and then packed some things for the dog and jumped in the truck.  Here’s what I didn’t take.  No coat for Lee (it was very cold) or any other clothes.  Nothing for myself in case I wanted to spend the night.  I grabbed the book he was reading and then left it on the table and he could really have used that.  I was fixated on the dog and got his leash, bed, and dog food, but nothing for myself or Lee.  I did make sure I had a medical card, my purse, Lee’s wallet, and some cash, all of which was important.  The emergency squad got his insurance information before he even got on the helicopter, so I knew I would need that.

Helicopter coming into hospital (courtesy of Cori).  we think it was same one could be wrong about that.

At this point I got in the truck and started driving.  The hospital was on the north end of San Antonio and with traffic was roughly 2-1/2 hours away.  I really focused on staying calm while I was driving and even drove through a McDonald’s to get a quick sandwich because I hadn’t eaten anything.  It helped that Cori was with him and I knew he was stable.  They were running tests and the worst thing I could do was get in an accident.  We knew it couldn’t be that bad or they would have rushed him to surgery and what I learned later was his enzymes were very high indicating something was wrong, but the EKG results were inconclusive.  I spent the time thinking and calling some people.  I called Lee’s mom first and then I spoke to his Dad, and my Dad.  My Mom is on a worldwide cruise and in Australia so I didn’t reach out to her, but I did follow up with my brother.  I also called Bill and Bryan, two of Lee’s best friends.  I tried to think of the people that absolutely needed to know, and when I was almost at the hospital I called Linda.  She was on my mind and I knew she loved us and wanted to give her a call.  Everyone was really great, but I want to give out a piece of advice here.  Anyone you notify, you will need to get up to date throughout the event and that can get a little overwhelming.  Texts were better and group texts were the most efficient, but some people I needed to speak to one on one. Just think about that when you start notifying people, because once they know and are involved you have to keep them up to date.

I intentionally didn’t call my girls because I wanted information before I did that, and I knew those were all individual phone calls.  When I arrived at the hospital, Cori sent Greg out and he took the dog and got the truck parked in a safe spot.  I went back to the ER and it took forever (it seemed) to get back to him.  Three hours had gone by at this point and I desperately needed to see my husband. He was doing OK, but he was in some pain.  Nowhere near the level of pain he was in during the event itself but it wasn’t going away and his enzymes weren’t going down. Not long after I got there the ER cardiologist came in and asked a series of detailed questions.  Based on that conversation she determined she wanted him to have a catheter that evening and left to get it scheduled.  Cori was amazing during all of this because she asked all the right questions.  I come from a medical family, I know what to ask, but seeing him laying there my brain totally froze up.  She took notes and made sure we had all kinds of information and never left my side.

One thing did occur to me after the cardiologist left and I realized this was the point where I was supposed to be my own financial advocate.  Thankfully, we have insurance, but like many others it has a huge $7200 individual deductible.  I told Cori I know I am supposed to bargain shop around at this point on procedures, and even decide whether or not to get it done, but in an emergency situation like this how the heck was I supposed to do that? I get how that works in an outpatient situation (in theory), but if these doctors weren’t in plan or the procedure wasn’t covered for some reason it didn’t matter.  Nothing mattered other than Lee not being in pain anymore.  We both knew the helicopter ride would have been expensive, Lee even said in the midst of the heart attack in the RV “we can’t afford that”, but what should I had done?  Said, “No, don’t send the helicopter, we will drive the two and a half hours and see what happens.”?  No way.  Those thoughts briefly crossed my mind and were immediately set aside.  I would deal with the bills when they came, and I was so thankful that despite the occasional urge to get rid of insurance and roll the dice we never did that. It is likely because we made so little last year they will forgive some of the debt, but even if they don’t there is a big difference between $10K and $100K.  I’m guessing here, and we will see how it all plays out long term but the idea of my trying to manage the financial aspects in that moment was just ridiculous.

One other thing I want to mention here is I truly believe that at this point they could have released him.  If he had downplayed his pain, if we all weren’t so engaged, or if we weren’t honest about his risk factors, they may have sent him home.  The EKG wasn’t showing a heart attack and for some reason they didn’t see the EKG from the oilfield.  The doctor made sure he got in though, and they kept a doctor late to do the procedure.  We stayed with him in shifts, taking turns eating and during all of this Cori had her sister come and pick up both dogs.  That was incredibly nice of Sherry because she drove an extra hour round trip to make that happen. I though at this point Cori and Greg might take off but they made it clear that wasn’t happening. They were absolutely amazing, and I can’t say enough how lucky we didn’t have to go through it alone.  Without them I would have had to try and find a boarder for Jack and probably would have left the hospital to do that.  Best case I would have been running outside periodically to check on him which would have been more pressure. Not to mention how much the moral support mattered and not feeling alone in a strange city with no family nearby.

Greg fixing Lee’s oxygen. He kept all of us in good spirits.

 

He got ripped off on dinner though and had to eat this vending machine sandwich.

 

It’s tense being in an emergency room and the fact that we didn’t know if they were going to do the procedure didn’t help.  Lee did decide to call each of his daughters individually just in case something happened during the procedure.  They were thankfully all available and they all handled it very well.  They took the time to make sure I was OK as well, which I thought was incredibly sweet of them.  Finally a couple of nurses came in and started his prep.  They took him upstairs and put us in a waiting room and told me it would be about an hour.  That wait was incredibly long, because we had no idea what they would find when they went in.  At the hour and a half mark I was really starting to get jumpy when the doctor finally came out. Up until this point, every single person was nice and professional but this guy really rubbed me the wrong way.  He acted as if he was annoyed he had to stay late to complete the procedure and explained that one very small artery was entirely blocked.  He stated it was too small to stent or bypass so they used a balloon to open it, but he shrugged and said it may not last.  Some other arteries were 40% blocked, but they don’t stent until a vessel is 75%.  They were just going to treat it with medication and lifestyle changes.  Finally he said, “He needs to stop smoking.”  and wandered off.

At that point I was enraged.  The procedure may have been routine for him but it certainly wasn’t for us, and only the fact that Cori and Greg were there with me kept me from going off.  I went and called Lee’s Mom immediately to give her an update that he was OK and just as I was finishing the nurse came out.  She was wonderful. she took us back to see him even though he was still in the operating room, and then showed us before and after pictures.  Her explanation made sense and she was very caring and Lee was alert and largely pain free.

The area point to the very small artery that was clogged shut.  You can see where the blood is flowing down and to the right, and then just stops.

 

And the after picture shows blood flowing again past the tiny branch and continuin down to the right.

I found out later after talking to my Dad, who is also a doctor, that the heart often does a natural bypass in situations like this.  Blood over time will flow to different areas, which probably happened in this case which minimized the damage to the heart.  Without a stent there was no way of knowing if the plaque would continue to move and another event could have happened at any time. They actually kept Lee in the hospital for two days to observe him, which my Dad felt was a good thing, and administered medicine and monitored his enzymes while he was there.

We all waited until Lee was settled into his ICU room and made sure he got something to eat.  He was starving, which I thought was a good sign and since it was late they fed him jello and turkey sandwiches.  I offered to stay, but he said I didn’t need to, and Cori offered to get me a hotel room with points she had.  At that point I had no clothes or toothbrush and just wanted to go home.  Greg was coming down first thing in the morning to help me move the rig and I just wanted to go home.  I made the very long drive home and ended up arriving at 1am.  I talked briefly with one of the gate guard supervisors (four of them covered our gate in shifts until they could get a permanent replacement) and then started to clean the house.  It was absolutely trashed and I couldn’t even start buttoning things up until I at least did the dishes and picked some things up.  At 2am I went to sleep and set my alarm to get up at 8am to start the move process.

I’m going to stop this post here and I’ll talk more about what happened in the next post.  Again, Lee, is doing well, and we are putting a plan in place for lifestyle changes that I will cover in more detail during the next post.  I am incredibly grateful for all the love and support we have gotten from the people in our lives, and from strangers.  Once again I will ask that you limit your post comments to items that are constructive and/or positive.  It was difficult reliving this again to write this post, but I really felt that it was important to share.  I also recommend that you read a post  written by Les and Sue about their experience. He was very healthy, had regular exams, ate well, had excellent blood pressure, good cholesterol,  and didn’t smoke and he had a major heart attack while living in his RV.  When I was going through our experience, I remembered some of what she had written months before and I found it very helpful.

 


Supporting our Blog

We very much appreciate your support of our blog. You can help by doing any or all the following:

  • Make purchases via our Amazon website links.  There is no additional cost to you, and a portion of the proceeds help support our blog.  Search Amazon.com here.
  • Purchase the ebook telling the story of how we became full time RVers.
  • Purchase our recipe book filled with 80 recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. You can purchase the kindle or paperback version on Amazon or buy the Apple version on Itunes.

66 thoughts on “What Lee Will Do To Ride In A Helicopter

  1. I’m glad Lee is okay, wishing you both the best as he continues to recover and you work your way through the changes that are coming your way. Hugs to both of you.

  2. I am so glad to hear that Lee is okay. I just can’t imagine how scared the two of you were. I am so glad that you had friends that were close and able to help you out. I am sure that was a big relief to you. Hugs and prayers to you both. I hope Lee continues to get better everyday.

  3. Hi. Very sorry to hear what is going on with you guys. We are in pearsall awaiting a gate. If we can help you ANYWAY please call. mike &maureen. 830-213-1808

    • Mike I really appreciate that. The gate guarding community has been fantastic. We are ok, we have friends who helped us and I am going to talk more about that in the next post but you offer is MUCH appreciated.

  4. I read your post with tears in my eyes. I can’t even imagine what you are going through. I am so happy that Lee is recovering and you are by his side. Situations like this make us realize how important we are to each other. I am sending prayers for you and your family.

  5. I am so glad to hear that Lee is doing better and I hope you are as well. This is something that can happen to any of us and reading through your experience reinforces that we should all have a plan in place in case of an emergency. We have a magnetic white board on our refrigerator and I write the campground address and site number each time we pull in to a new place just in case we need to call 911. But now I think we should take it a step further and have info on the closest hospital or urgent care center in the area. I am looking forward to your next post and any recommendations on what to do to prepare or better handle an emergency situation.

  6. You and Lee continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. Thank you for sharing your story. As hard as it is to relive those scary moments you are helping us fellow full timers out tremendously, something you always do so well. We hope Lee continues to improve. He has a great “nurse” and I hope she remembers to take care of herself, too. Love and hugs to both of you,
    Julie and Casey

    PS: CORI AND GREG FOR PRESIDENT!!!!!

  7. So much to say but mostly so very glad Lee is OK. Life has a way of smacking us in the head, telling us to pay attention and not take anything for granted. Like the others, your post was heart wrenching (grossly understating this) and has me considering additional planning for our future travels. Thank you for sharing. Hoping for a speedy recovery.

  8. God Bless…we have been following you since you started your wonderful journey. Sending warm thoughts and tons of prayers for both you and Lee… you are one amazing women!
    💕 19thholeonwheels

  9. Wow! It seems like you reacted very well to a high pressure. It seems you did all the right stuff. I’m glad Lee is doing well. We will certainly keep you all in our prayers.

  10. Prayers that everything will be okay – just reading this brought tears to my eyes and I don’t know either of you. All I could think was things can happen so fast. God bless and speedy recovery

  11. First things first…so glad to know Lee is on the mend!!!! Next, you need to reach around and pat yourself on the back for being so present in such a stressful situation!!! Next comes a big thank you for writing about this and giving others information that may help them some day. As you have said, this can happen to anyone!! I also can’t help but think how fortunate many of us have been to be part of the RV-Dreams Family. Such wonder people have come into our lives and are ready to lend their help when needed. Thanks Cori & Greg for being such good friends!!! Now, we want to encourage you & Lee to take time to recover before planning your new future. Give yourself time & grace to develop your new normal:o)) We wish you both the very best!!!

  12. So glad everything is working out. You are an incredible lady. Thanks for sharing, and we pray for continued improvement.

  13. For a stressful situation you stayed pretty calm! Good for you. I’m glad Lee is doing well! Wishing a speedy full recovery! You guys are great -keep doing what you are doing.

  14. What else can I say that hasn’t been said? I am so happy Lee is on the mend and that as bad as the whole ordeal was – that it wasn’t worse. You kept your cool and did all the right things, which isn’t easy to do under such stress! I’m sure (as Sue said) the whole thing probably hasn’t hit you yet – be ready for that eventuality. Bill and I are here for you – anytime! We love you and are glad you are both in our lives! Hugs! ♥️

  15. What a terrifying experience for you both. So nice to have Greg and Cori on hand to help out. We’re hoping for a speedy recovery for you Lee. Take care!

  16. I was really shook up after reading this post; I can only imagine how stressful it was to live through it! I think you did a great job handling the entire situation and we will be praying for both of you.

  17. So glad Lee is doing well and is back home. How scary that must have been, out in the middle of nowhere. Well done on handling the situation. Thanks for telling us about it, so we can all try and prepare as much as we can. My thoughts are with you.

  18. So glad to hear that Lee is doing well. We went through a similar experience 4 years before we set out on the road. We saw it as a wake-up call and only positive things came from it. Thank you so much for sharing this to put it in our faces to make sure we all plan for such emergencies. Stay strong. There may be some depression in the aftermath, keep positive for him.

  19. Steven and I are very happy to know that Lee is on the mend and that the worst of the ordeal is over. You both were very brave to tell your story honestly, and in the process have really made some folks think. Last night we did some research about how to contact emergency authorities and learned that all have English-speaking personnel. It was something that had been on my mind, but I didn’t take steps to learn about it until now. So thank you for prompting me. I am happy to know that you were not on your own for this, it really does take a village. Well done Cori and Greg!

    • Oh that’s wonderful. That wouldn’t have occurred to me either. As you travel maybe have something written out in the native language? That way you can hand it to someone and fill in the blank on the condition itself. Love you guys and enjoying your travels.

  20. Lee, I’m so glad everything turned out ok. I know from experience that your life will never be the same after this. I’m much more aware of things I do, eat and how I feel, but, and this is a big but, I now dance six days a week and feel great!

  21. Thank goodness Lee is alright! There is absolutely no judgement here, you did everything right! I’m so glad you had such great support and please know, there is alot of us out here following you who have you and Lee in our thoughts! Take care of yourself and Lee and thank you for all your thorough information and open honesty!

  22. I am very glad Lee is ok. It sounds like you basically did everything right. The things like not taking your clothes in case of an overnight stay are little things. I would consider myself lucky to handle it as well as you did. And if something like this has to happen, it sure is nice to have friends around. Does Lee know it would be cheaper overall to just rent a helicopter for an hour? He would also see a lot more that way. Good luck – looking forward to the future.

  23. Oh my goodness. I will be keeping you all.in my thoughts. I love following your blog and I am so glad you were able to get help! Thank you for sharing- I will be purchasing baby aspirin tomorrow.

  24. Never a dull moment! Whew! We recently met Cori and Greg when we all went to Mexico! I’m not a bit surprised how big of a help they were to you and Lee, they are a fun couple!! Hope you get some down time to adjust to your new normal!

  25. Thinking of you both and hoping for the best in the days ahead. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you both sharing.

    • I had a Heart Attack 10 years ago so I can understand how scared you both were. I am an RN and I knew this could go either way. I t It’s really a life changing experience. Like you, my husband stayed calm.. at least on the outside…and that was very reassuring. Waiting for the EMS to arrive was the longest 10 minutes of my life. I can’t say enough good things about the fire department personnel. They were wonderful. Stay positive and thank you for sharing your experiences, good and bad.
      Blessings to you both.

  26. I am so glad Lee is doing so well – and so glad you started this post of with that first sentence…and still, my heart pounded as I read through your ordeal! As a Christian, I feel the Holy Spirit led you to give him that baby aspirin! What a wonderful group of family and friends you have supporting you! Can your mom and dad adopt me? Also, I want Cori and Greg to be our friends, too! The immense gratitude you have, Tracy, is touching! As your March calendar art says, “Good vibes only!” David and I will keep you both in our daily prayers!

  27. Dang girl! We just had a minor health scare on on the road and it really got my attention. You handled it like a champ and I’m so glad you had Corey and Greg with you! We’ve made changes as well, and I’m thrilled to say that Bill no longer smokes. If hugs to you both!!

  28. I have been following this since the first post. So happy that Lee is on the mend and that you two have shown the strength and resilience you have. Wishing and hoping for the best. Andy

  29. Pingback: Dealing with PTSD – Camper Chronicles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.