Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Did He Really Ask That?

The news this morning for anyone following the health situation of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who collapsed on the field following a tackle, suffering cardiac arrest, having to be actually revived on the field, is GREAT! After being treated in the intensive care unit, sedated while in critical condition, this 24 year-old “kid”, is awake, and communicating. In fact, as of yesterday, he spoke with his teammates via Facetime, after the breathing tube had been removed, a truly astonishing moment, something both fans of sports and non-fans had been hoping to see for this young man.

Two days ago however, while Hamlin was still intubated (connected to a breathing machine), Hamlin was still able to communicate, via writing, and it is what he “asked” that left some scratching their heads as to his priorities, others thinking “that’s who he is,” and others wondering if there was anything wrong. You see, the last thing Hamlin remembers is playing a football game. No one has mentioned if he remembers the play that almost killed him. But he does remember he was playing a game. Though I am sure it is gently being explained to him, where he is, and why, I am certain, there was a lot of mass confusion for him when his eyes opened.

“Did we win the game?” That is reportedly one of the first things Hamlin was able to communicate with assistance. While all of us watching, are worried if he would even recover, Hamlin was worried about the game result. But again, there are factors here to understand. Sure, the game mattered to Hamlin, and he likely had no idea how serious the situation was. But his brain has likely not processed everything either as to what has happened.

The truth is, we have likely seen a situation ourselves like this before, though hopefully not as severe.

Both of my daughters required tubes placed in their ears as infants/toddlers for relief of chronic ear infections. My older daughter woke up with no issues from the anesthesia. But my younger daughter came to with a confusion that left her confused and hysterical, not waking up where she last knew she was (the recovery room as opposed to the hospital bay where she fell asleep). Her reaction could not have been any more terrifying to her.

I have my own experience as well, and a bit more detailed. In general, I handle anesthesia fairly well. But when I had my emergency double bypass for my LAD blockage, caused by the damage from my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma treatments decades earlier, that was a different story, and somewhat similar to Hamlin’s situation.

I was just coming out of anesthesia that was for a simpler procedure, a catheterization, that was just going to place some stents where the blockage was. The surgeon was explaining it could not be done after all, that instead, I was set up for emergency bypass the next morning at 6:30am. Though my head was foggy, I remember most of the conversation. In fact, I remember much of the activity the rest of the evening as all kinds of tests were being done on me to prepare for the early morning surgery. I remember the large, burly orderly sent to “clean me up,” and take me downstairs. He was the size of Michael Clark Duncan in The Green Mile, definitely not getting any struggle from me.

My last memory of that morning, was laying on a table, completely naked with a blanket covering me. My arms were being secured in a position to allow the surgeon to perform the bypass. I saw so many people walking around, preparing all kinds of materials and equipment I assumed was for me. Then the last thing I remember, and it was a comment made, “he’s so young, too young for this,” referring to me being 42 years of age at the time, but nearly 20 years after my treatments. And then I was out.

I awoke temporarily, evidently panicking, unaware of what all had been done to me, which I recall barely, and was put back out again. The medical staff could not risk anything with my newly repaired heart. After a time, I came to again, this time, a nurse was standing in front of me. I could not see around her. I also could not move. I could not talk. But I could hear her.

“My name is Jackie. I am your nurse. You are doing great Mr. Edelman. I want you to remain calm, and I will tell you everything you need to know. Your surgery is over. Everything went well. You have a tube down your throat which is helping you breath, so you are not able to talk. That tube will come out sometime soon. You will hear a lot of machines, they are all monitoring you. For now, you can communicate with me by blinking your eyes, once for “yes” and twice for “no” as I will only ask you “yes or no” questions. Do you understand me?

I blinked one time. I made it. I survived the surgery. I have no idea what happened, as nothing was explained to me prior. Actually there was no time. I nodded back off to sleep. Obviously, I had been given more pain medication, as it is likely my heartrate was getting to high again.

When I woke again, Jackie had been standing by my bed, performing her care tasks for me. I reached her with my right hand, giving a slight tug on her nursing uniform. She smiled and told me again, everything was okay. I was doing great, as expected. This time, however, I was able to motion, back and forth with that same right hand, finger pointing, as if something was of concern to me. Very much reminiscent of Hamlin. Like him, I had something on my mind prior to my cardiac event.

If you go back to my story “CABG, Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable,” I had a “priority” of a wedding I was to DJ for. I never had the chance to notify the bride what was going on, and that she would need to find another DJ, just days before her wedding.

I began to make a motion with my right pointer finger, it should be noted I am left handed. I started drawing on my bed with that finger, Jackie realizing I was trying to communicate with her. She soon realized I was trying to write numbers. And then, she recognized I was giving her a phone number. My “then” wife, was nowhere to be found, at least by my bedside, Jackie wrote down the numbers she believes I wrote, and asked “is this a phone number?” I blinked “yes.” “Would you like me to call the number?” Again, I blinked “yes.”

And so, Jackie dialed the number into her phone. Someone on the other end of the line answered. Jackie asked the other person on the end, “do you know a ‘Paul Edelman’?” The person clearly answered as I could see the shock on Jackie’s face, and then she repeated what was said to her, “he is your DJ for your wedding this Saturday? (just two days away)”. I gave the “ok” sign with my hand to tell her it was okay for her to tell the person on the phone, I was not sure if it was the bride or the groom she was talking to, what had happened to me.

As Jackie was doing this, I tugged again at her, and again began to “draw” with my pointer finger. Jackie asked the other person to hold as she tried to interpret what I was writing. I actually wrote another phone number, this one for a competitor DJ who I felt might be able to bail me/us out. Jackie asked if I wanted them to call the number, and I blinked “yes.”

Once the tube had been removed, and I had been moved out of the ICU, I reached out to the newlyweds, apologized profusely for the inconvenience, which they were totally understanding about. They were shocked I had the wherewithall, to reach out to them, evening having the phone number of a competitor in my memory, given what I was going through.

So for me, it came as no surprise, that the first thing that Damar Hamlin was concerned about, and when able to convey, was “did we win the game?” This was definitely a huge sign that he was hopefully on the road to a full recovery. Though there are no details about what he actually remembers, from the tackle, to the collapse on the field, to finally coming to in the ICU, he clearly is able to recall what he was doing, playing a football game. And depending on what had been explained to him since his awakening, he is focused on getting back onto the field. Which for the fans, his teammates, the teammates of the team he was playing against, and the NFL, the game was the furthest thing from everyone’s mind, except for Hamlin.

We do not know yet, what Hamlin’s recovery will be, nor, any lingering effects from the event. As a cardiac patient and survivor myself, the days ahead are crucial to be careful, and to pay attention to every detail. Some are beginning to ask if he can ever play again, much like Chris Pronger of the NHL continued to play for years after he took a puck in the chest, dropping him, much like the way Hamlin went down. Who knows Hamlin’s future? But what we do know, that the preparations by the team medical staff made a life and death difference that day, resuscitating Hamlin on the field. His chances of survival and recovery are so much more better because of the Bill’s trainer.

Many of us have been on the other ending when it comes to the failure of the heart, especially with someone so young. And we wish there definitely could have been a different ending, and would do anything to bring back that loved one. That pain we feel is all the more reason, we need to find comfort and joy, that Hamlin’s story appears to be going in the right direction. 42 years was “too young” for what I went through? 24 year-old Hamlin was too young for a cardiac event like this. But it happened.

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