Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Challenge of Caregiving: Rob Harris (Part 1/2)

Today, Rob concludes his first person account of caregiving under crisis. Good news is his wife is strong and well and they are still happily married.

Welcome back, Rob.

The cardiac room was cramped, even without the medical team working over her. I was relegated to the hallway with a nurse that had accompanied us from our oncology floor. She had been on break and was friendly with my wife and me. She was there to make sure I was okay – or was she there to ensure I would not get in the way?

A nurse who was unknown to me walked past with a large syringe.

“Atropine?” I asked as I turned to the nurse who escorted me to the cardiac floor. She nodded in affirmation.

“Just precautionary,” she advised.

In the room, I heard my wife state to the doctors, “I can’t see. Everything is getting dark.”

That’s when I stuck my head into the room and saw it.  By the way in which her head fell to her chest, there was no doubt in my mind that her heart had stopped beating.

For the first time, a doctor acknowledged my presence. “Nurse, please remove him from the room.”

A tug on my elbow instructed me to follow. I comprehended the message.

Though I had no intention of getting in their way or interfering with their efforts to restart my wife’s heart, I was her husband. I had to give it one try.

I pulled away from the nurse’s grasp. “CINDY, WAKE UP!” I screamed at her.

And that is exactly what she did! She came back to life. That is when I agreed to leave the room. Second later, the syringe was dispensed and, after careful and extended monitoring, my wife was relocated to her new home, the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital.

It was 24-hours later before I was spoken to by a cardiologist. Terms that had up to that point been foreign to me were introduced, soon to become a regular part of my ever-expanding medical vocabulary. “Your wife had an episode of what’s known as QT prolongation.   Her electrocardiogram indicated she had a rather unusual occurrence, known as ventricular tachycardia, more formally called Torsades de pointes.”

He then turned to my wife. “You’re very lucky,” he began. “Not many people survive an event of this nature. I’m curious. What did you see, what did you feel when your heart stopped beating?”

My wife smiled, though still extremely groggy. “I was shopping in a mall. I was buying all the purses I wanted and I didn’t need a credit card to pay for them. They were free. I loved it there.”

“What brought you back?” he asked.

“I heard my husband shout my name. It sounded like he needed me badly.”

The cardiologist turned to me and smiled.

In hindsight, I understand why I had been ignored. There was no way I wanted to distract or interfere with the doctors whose mission it was to keep my wife alive.

That said, I would have liked the doctors and nurses who had been working all around me to understand that although I appeared composed, mentally, I was in critical condition. If my wife was dying, so was I. If she was suffering, I was in distress right alongside her.

Keep in mind; we are all human beings, with all-too-real emotions. Any form of communication, even if it’s a nanosecond of recognition is invaluable to someone whose most valuable gift, the life of a loved one, is in life-threatening distress.


Rob Harris is a seasoned/accredited Human Resources professional. He is the author of two books. The first, “We’re In This Together, A Caregiver’s Story” is scheduled for release in the Spring of 2012. The sequel, “We’re In This Together, A Caregiver’s Guide” will follow shortly thereafter. More importantly, he is a seasoned Caregiver. His wife is a two-time cancer survivor (Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and a radiation-induced leiomyosarcoma).  He and his wife are the proud parents of two U.S. Army officers. Presently, his youngest son is protecting our country's freedom in Afghanistan after previously being stationed in Iraq. His brother recently returned from his first deployment in Afghanistan.  


  1. Communication is so very vital to those we care for. I'm so glad to you stayed long enough to shout her name!!

    1. Thanks again for your comment, Donna. I agree with you, it's always important to keep talking. I do believe hearing is the last sense to go.