phil’s heart, my ass: the things we do for love

Phil had a scheduled appointment with his cardiologist the other day, routine, a checkup. But the news wasn’t routine; it was news.

"Well, you’re now officially 100% in a-fib (atrial fibrillation), which isn’t good. The pacemaker hasn’t been able to pace you out of it and knock you into sinus rhythm. At all."

Refresher course: Phil’s father died at age 32 of a cardiomyopathy. Phil now has a cardiomyopathy. And a pacemaker. And a built in defibrillator, to combat against "sudden death," a very real symptom of his condition. The a-fib is battering his heart, creating more scar tissue, which, over time, causes his heart to grow larger and larger. That’s not always bad, but, each doctor has said, "If it were me, or my son, I’d do whatever it took to get out of a-fib." We tried once. Phil had an ablation, where they go in and burn parts of the heart, hoping to kill the electric current that’s going all willy nilly, but they have to be very careful, because the tissue is highly diseased, they don’t know how thick it is, and if they sever it, that’s that. You’re done. But when you’re conservative like that, going in, trying to get what you can, you can miss things. And the A-fib can come back. In Phil’s case, it’s back, 100%. So now what?

the family cooks
Today they want to put him under and cardiovert him.
Yes, that’s when the doc says, CLEAR, then hits him with the paddles. Not to be an asshole or anything, but last time they did it, they got him into sinus rhythm (normal), and it lasted, not even 7 hours. He was back in a-fib the next day.

The scariest thing in all this is that Phil is asymptomatic. He has no idea when he’s in a-fib, no idea when his ejection fraction is at 10! He’ll know his ejection fraction (a percentage of blood pumped into the heart, then pumped out) on April 1, but we’re expecting it to be good. Last we checked it was close to normal again.

His electrophysiologist, Dr. Natale, did Phil’s last ablation. And he’s used to going in and doing up to 6-7 ablations on patients until he finally stops the a-fib. But Phil can’t imagine going through that. The last time he had an ablation, he took it hard. We all did. He was in bad shape. He needs another one, and the bitch of it is, even with all that suffering, we don’t know if it will even work.

Then there’s my excellent luck. Last night I got a case of food poisoning. Not a half case, a full on double decker that hit me on the top and bottom. I spent the night on the loo, bucket and bags in hand. It feels like someone has squeezed me, really hard in the middle.

Because Phil and I have date night on Thursdays, our love Norma put the sprouts to bed. In the middle of the night, pre-flush, I hear a piercing skwak. I felt like Miss Clavel. Something is not right! I wipe and run, vomit adventure bag in hand.

Abigail’s sitting up in the dark, sobbing. "What, baby girl, what is it?"

"I went pee-pee," she says. And I feel her, feel the bed. Everything’s soaked. I try to run, but I can’t quite make it. Vomitando. More crying. I clean, change pjs, put a diaper on Little Miss (Norma forgot), change sheets. Then Abigail screams because she wants her stuffed whale, the one I gave her earlier that night to reward her 10 poops in the potty star system. Except she’s peed on Senor Whale. I try to explain that he’s wet, but she tells me I need to go wash him. She won’t hear the word "tomorrow," won’t stand for any replacement talk: "Here, take Talullah, for now." She whales for the whale. And I feel the rage of ‘rhea. I dash out, and tag team Phil in.

"You’ve got to take over," I say, racing for the bathroom. (I just threw up now, writing this). I should be at the hospital with him. He’s being put under. And no one is there with him. I can’t make it to the hospital without sharting. It’s times like these that I wish we had family here (especially my massage therapist of a sister. I know this is very wrong, but every part of me hurts, my back feels like it’s on fire, my shoulders boulders. I need a massage like you read about in textbooks). No one should wait alone in a hospital, and no one should go in alone. I hope this passes soon, so I can get over there. Maybe I’ll ask Norma to diaper me, too.



  1. Oh Stephanie – what a mess. So sorry on all fronts…or ends…as it were. An old family quote… “This poo shall tass.” Wish I were closer and could come help in some way, but suffice it to say, I’ll be sending courage and strength from here.

  2. Stephanie,

    I’m so sorry about what you’re going through.

    As the founder of a non-profit resource for families living with atrial fibrillation, and an afib survivor myself, I may be able to help you and Phil. Please e-mail me (or contact me via with how I can get in touch with you.

    Mellanie True Hills

  3. So sorry Stephanie. Your family is awesomely beautiful even when Phil’s heart is sick, you’ve got the ‘rhea and the babes wet the bed. Best of luck!

  4. you’re in my thoughts today <3

    hope you feel better soon and that phil has an easy time with this.

  5. What a terrible day & night. I hope you feel better very soon Stephanie, and that Phil’s procedure goes well.

  6. Stephanie,
    Goodness, I’m sorry to hear that you’e been so sick. You know, there are lots of us here in Austin that would drop everything to help, at a moment’s notice. Keeping you and Phil in my thoughts – erica

  7. I hope you both feel better SOON. I want to echo Erica – there are a lot of us here that would be more than happy to help – it’s so hard to be away from family at times like these, been there & done that myself. Phil has an excellent cardiac team – you are both in my prayers.

  8. Humor helps us through the worst of times. Not so sure that’s true of diarrhea.

    I echo Erica’s comment…let us Austin girls know when and how we can help.

  9. Here’s another mother in Austin who would help if she could – we’re without family here too and I really understand. I hope you stock up on Immodium if this ever hits you again! Don’t know if you had any, but I would have brought some to you :D

    And prayers sent for Phil’s rapid recovery. You are both incredibly strong. XO

  10. Oh, Stephanie… I feel so silly/FB now giving you a FB message that was so trivial, given your state of affairs. My thoughts are with you and your family. Please take care of yourselves as best you can!

  11. I hope that things are better today and Phil’s procedure went well. Keeping both of you in my thoughts and prayers.

  12. Stephanie,
    You’ve been through so much and you chronicled it all. My prayers are with you and your family and please take care of yourself.

  13. Stephanie and Phil, sending some good, warm, sunny thoughts your way from California!
    I am so sorry to hear about the state of Phil’s heart, and hoping for good news for you. I know there is no miracle going to happen, at least not overnight, but… at least a small step into the right direction.
    You guys, stay strong, take it one day at a time, one breath at a time.

  14. Oh, man. I am so sorry. How you manage to be funny in a mess like this is amazing.

    Food poisoning is the absolute pits.

    Wishing you and Phil both complete recovery. And, your daughter too. Sounds like she got what you got.

    From personal experience, went through laser ablation recovery with my dad. It really is no fun for the patient or caretaker.

  15. Stephanie – So sorry that you, Phil and the family are going through all of this. Thoughts and prayers with all of you!

  16. I’m sorry Stephanie. Prayers for your family as always, and I’ll have the 3 am shift covered for sure.

  17. This is back from Friday so I’m sure you’re feeling better but if this happens again (here’s hoping it doesnt) call your doctor and ask him to call in Phenergan for you. That stuff will make you sleepy but it stops the vomiting and feeling so sick to your stomach. It helped with my runs too when I got this nasty virus that is going around down here (projectile vomiting, the runs, feeling sick as hell). If it’s not food poisoning and this same virus that is running rampant everywhere, forewarning, it’s highly contagious and the little ones will probably get it.

    My thoughts are with you and Phil.

  18. If you or Poppa pay for a ticket and to put Linus up at the vet, I am on a plane… I miss you and love you…and want to be there to wash the whale and get you more toilet paper…and a new bag to puke in…and a good massage to work out those knots…meh…sad…

  19. Oh no! I’ve had this same kind of night, just mix up the particulars. My little family is also without anyone here and we rely on our nanny to help out. I thank the universe that we at least have each other. Hope it all works out well, sending positive thoughts your way.

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