Amen, Amen, Amen

An exploration of how obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a gift

Captain Tube to the Rescue

My heart stopped but I didn't.

Captain Tube came into our lives when we needed him most. It was just after the New Year. The snow was falling fast and my kids were already bored with their holiday presents. My 3-year-old son found a cardboard roll left over from the wrapping paper and started swinging it around the house with a loud superhero theme song.

Captain Tube to the rescue! he yelled. With this repurposed tube he could “fix” anything broken and charge through the apartment with incredible speed. He didn't want any fancy capes or decorations for his new friend, and I didn’t ask what kind of super powers the good Captain had. All I knew was that during the frigid gray days of winter, Captain Tube kept my kid happy.

And then, on March 7th, Captain Tube saved my life.

I was feeling a little off after my run that morning. Got some work done and picked the kids up from school. My mother-in-law came that night to help out so I took the baby out for a café writing date and stopped at the bodega for veggie sushi. Maybe the avocado wasn’t fresh though. After the first bite my chest started to burn and the chaser of Tums and seltzer didn’t help.

By the next morning, my husband was driving me to the emergency room.

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Me: You’re overreacting. I really don’t like that we’re doing this.

Husband: You can hate me later, but we’re still going.

Three hours later, I was in the cardiac unit, watching the doctors thread a camera into my body. I saw my heart on screen as they pushed open a blocked coronary artery with a balloon, followed by a stent. I couldn’t believe this was my body. I had no control over these organs on the video monitor. I was lying on a metal table, trying to smile for my cute Italian cardiologist. Staring at that stent – my miniature Captain Tube.

This is how my husband told my kids that Mommy would be at the doctor’s for a few days. He got out Captain Tube and had them look through one end while he was on the other. He told them I had a vein that looked like Captain Tube except it got something stuck inside it and the doctors had to open it up for me.

What got stuck in there?

Why did it get stuck?

How did they stick the stuck part?

Will it get stuck again?

All good questions that I couldn’t answer. Neither could my husband, really. He just kept peering through one end of Captain Tube yelling,

Hooray for Captain Tube! and I love you!

My five-year-old daughter marched over to our recycle bin and pulled out a toilet paper tube. She made me a card with the tube and some cotton ball flowers to show her understanding of what was going on. It was pretty darn close to what I knew too. I showed it to all the nurses proudly and told them I needed to get home a.s.a.p.

It’s been a very surreal month since then. Lots of stethoscopes and pictures taken of my organs. I’ve watched the video of my coronary artery being ballooned and stented more times than my favorite scenes from When Harry Met Sally. All the doctors I’ve seen have been incredibly kind and encouraging. They are sure I had a heart attack. They are not sure why. Most likely it was an artery dissection caused by post-partum hormones, and not any progressive disease. I am forty years old, with low blood pressure and good cholesterol levels. Not the typical heart attack candidate.

This is what I have to remind myself, each time I get a little indigestion or start overanalyzing a crick in my neck. I’ve searched for metaphorical reasons too – I’m not open enough with my feelings. I shut down during heartfelt talks and have trouble showing emotional outpourings of love. I’ve taken my heart and my family for granted. (These are always fun ideas to explore while I’m waiting for lab results or needing a good crying session on the subway.)

Ultimately, I have to come back to Captain Tube. I admit, I did throw him out recently. All the king’s horses and all the king’s packing tape couldn’t keep his seams together after my son whacked him against the wall repeatedly. But his legacy and descendants – the toilet paper tubes and paper towel tubes of our world – keep me vigilant. They remind me to peer through their cardboard bodies. To see that the greatest super power is openness. There are so many unknowns and roller coaster rides of uncertainty. The only thing I have control over is saying out loud,

Hooray for Captain Tube! and I love you!

My heart is strong and it loves fully.

 

Abby Sher is a writer and performer in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying.

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