What’s It Like Having A Heart Attack When Your Wife’s Visiting Her Boyfriend? One Of The Most Polyamorous Stories I Know.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

When I had my heart attack five years ago, my wife was out of town visiting her boyfriend. Which led to an interesting dilemma:

When do I tell her what’s going on?

Because my heart attack was a subtle heart attack. It was not clutching my chest and shouting, “THIS IS THE BIG ONE!” It was lying in bed with a dull ache that kept me from falling back to sleep. I almost ignored it, but then I thought: “You know, the last time you ignored a chronic pain, it turned out you’d been walking around with a burst appendix for four days.”

(True story. I also likely burst said appendix in a mosh pit at a Rise Against concert with my daughter, but that’s another tale for another time.)

So I went into the ER, convinced I was wasting my cash. And the ER wasn’t sure, either; my EKG was fine, my blood levels were normal.

Do I ruin my wife’s weekend – she only gets out there every couple of months – for what might be a false alarm and some annoyingly large bills? I mean, if I’m in no actual danger, then there’s no sense making her worry. But if there’s a risk and something bad does happen, shouldn’t she deserve to know?

I finally texted her around 3:00 in the afternoon, when they said they were thinking about keeping me overnight, and it had become obvious that this was at least serious enough to discuss. I told her that this was a precautionary measure, everyone was just being super-careful – despite two rounds of blood exams and a battery of tests, nobody had found anything yet. Our daughter was here looking after me and so was our friend Heather, and I was fine.

(Which I was. Because I grew up with my Uncle Tommy, who was a hemophiliac who had regular hospital stays thanks to his condition, I find hospitals to be comforting. If I was scared, things would have been very different.)

She opted not to drive back. I was probably fine, and in good hands.

It wasn’t until my eleventh (!) hour cooling my heels in a spare bed that they finally, finally, confirmed the enzymes in my blood that my heart was in trauma. I was indeed having a minor heart attack, and sure enough the pain tolerance that let me walk through a burst appendix was shrugging off the cries of thrashing cardiac muscle.

But by then it was 11:00 at night. And she was three hours away.

“Don’t drive down now,” I told her. “You’ll put yourself in danger, driving sleepy and scared, and all you’ll do is sit in an uncomfortable chair next to me while I doze. I need you tomorrow morning, so get rest, get up early, and come to see me before I go in for my catheterization.”

“You sure?”

I pondered it. “I’m sure,” I told her. “I’d rather you get here rested and without a car wreck.”

And here’s where the polyamory kicks in.

She snuggled into bed with her sweetie, anxious and concerned. And her boyfriend said, “You know, I was thinking of putting the moves on you, but it feels a little disrespectful.”

“Are you kidding?” she shot back. “I guarantee you he told me to stay here because he knew sex with you would be the best kind of distraction for me. If you don’t sleep with me now, he’s gonna be pissed.”

And she was right. Because polyamory, for us at least, is about priorities. There wasn’t much I could do for her in that hospital bed except make her life worse, and though I wanted her – I always do – I didn’t need her then.

Whereas what she needed was an intimacy that I, at the moment, could not provide, and someone I personally trusted was there to deliver that. Because while Gini would return to dote upon me while I had a triple bypass and a hellish recovery, on that particular night my needs could be banked and hers prioritized to help bolster her against what was sure to be more stressful days to come.

We joke about it. Because yeah. On the night of my heart attack, she was with her boyfriend. And that was where I wanted her to be. Because I loved her.

That’s hard to understand if you’re not polyamorous – or if you’re more terrified of hospitals than I am. But it’s real. And it was good, and continues to be. Because for us, the dating isn’t something we do when we’ve got spare time – the dating is rooted deeply in our lives, with partners who are friends and support methods, and when we’re in trouble they’re not jettisoned aside but drawn closer.

It’s not always easy, mind you. Sometimes poly’s hard as a heart attack. But when it works, it makes all the other crises so much easier.

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