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November 12th, 2019

The Oddness Of Life After Heart Attack…

It’s an odd frame of mind you find yourself in this modern world, after having a medical event that would have killed you in any other day and age, knowing as you walk through your day that you have pieces of metal in your beating heart, and yet you’re still alive.

by Bruce | Link | React!

October 18th, 2019

My Little Heart Attack Diary

As they were wheeling me into the elevator to take me to the room where they put the heart stents in, the doctor told me I looked very calm for someone who’d just been told they’re having a heart attack. But until the moment I got the diagnosis I was full of all kinds of dire imaginings over what was happening. It just didn’t feel like I was told a heart attack was supposed to feel. It felt more like a massive heartburn, or damage to my throat because of all the wheezing and coughing I did after the flu I’d just had, or worse…damage from throat cancer maybe, from the cigars I like to smoke. But now I knew…I was having a heart attack. It wasn’t the fearful unknown anymore. And I was in the ER, surrounded by one of the best hospitals to be having a heart attack in on the east coast. I felt myself to be in good hands. And I was.

It sorta started on my Walt Disney World vacation last month. I’d taken two weeks this time because it was a milestone birthday. I would be old enough now to draw full Social Security benefits if I wanted to. Which I didn’t…my plan is to keep working at Space Telescope at least through launch of James Webb. If I can keep working until age 70 I’ll have a very good retirement package, and since my job isn’t very physical I reckoned that was possible. But in the second week of it I came down with a flu. After that I started feeling my age more than I’d expected. I had a really bad cough for weeks afterward, and I was fatigued beyond anything I had known before. In retrospect, that fatigue was probably a symptom of what was to come.

Back home, I checked in twice to a local walk-in clinic for the cough, which just wasn’t going away. They diagnosed me as having bronchitis, which so I’m told is basically you have a cough. They gave me some meds which took care of the cough, but then I started feeling heartburn, every night, in the middle of the night.

It would wake me up, and I would sit it out. At first it all seemed pretty routine. Sometimes I’d take a Tums for it, and it would go away. Daytimes I felt fine. But at night the heartburn kept coming back. And it was getting worse. I began to worry there was damage to my throat from all the coughing I’d done. Then I began to worry about something else. I am an occasional cigar smoker. And by “occasional” I mean I can go for months without smoking one, or I can get on a jag about it…usually because of some life stress…and smoke one every day for a while, usually at night after dinner. First week of my Walt Disney World vacation I was smoking them every night a the Sosa Cigar Company in Disney Springs. They have a nice little cigar lounge were you can smoke a nice one and watch the people go by. But while cigars aren’t likely to give you lung cancer (you don’t inhale the smoke), they can give you cancer of the esophagus. They also stress the heart and blood vessels, but I was more worried now about cancer.

For several days the night heartburn just kept getting worse and worse. Daytime was fine…except now I was getting severely out of breath walking to and from work. I figured it was an after effect of the bronchitis. Maybe I’d damaged my lungs in some way. Maybe the cigars Had given me a lung cancer. One of my coworkers recently died of it. Suddenly. She was a pretty heavy cigarette smoker, but I was stunned at how fast it took her from us. I’d run into her on The Avenue just the previous week and she looked fine. Then she was gone. I was starting to get a bit scared, but not of my heart. The stabbing chest pains I’d been told to expect in every Hollywood movie or TV show when somebody had a heart attack weren’t happening. It just felt like heartburn. Really really bad heartburn, and slightly above my heart, and just below my throat, in the center of my chest. But there was another factor, that caused me not to rule out the heart attack entirely: When the pain came on, I got noticeably numb at the tips of my fingers. In retrospect I should have paid closer attention to that.

Last Monday morning, in the wee hours. It woke me up again and it was really bad. I think I might have snarfed down half a bottle of Tums. It came and went…something else I didn’t think a heart attack did. When it was gone I felt fine. Great even. Then it would come on me again, a bit worse than before. What I failed to fully appreciate then was there is a stage before the actual heart attack comes on, when the blockage in one or more blood vessels is starting to cut off the flow of blood in a significant way and a patch of your heart stops getting enough blood. That’s when you need to take action to prevent the damage from happening. But I was 4/5ths certain it was damage to my throat I was feeling.

By the time morning came, I’d decided I needed to go to the ER to get it looked at. The pain was getting scary. I figured I’d get a ride to Union Memorial, which is nearby, in my network, and one of the best. I was trying to avoid the ambulance ride because of the possible expense. It’s the abysmal way we have healthcare set up in this country. Is the provider “in network” or not? How can I tell? It’s not like they wear their insurance company credentials on their lab coats or the ambulance doors like race cars wear their advertisers. I was sitting down composing an email to my coworkers and manager, telling them I was taking a sick day, when the pain came back pretty forcefully. It was now officially scary enough that I called 911.

When the EMT truck came the pain had gone away again. The EMTs gave me an EKG and saw nothing. But I’d told them about the numbness and they strongly suggested I go to the hospital. I agreed…I was going there anyway…and they strapped me in and away we went, sans lights since this didn’t seem to be an emergency.

By the time they wheeled me into the ER the pain was coming back. The ER techs took another EKG. The doctor sent back a request for another, but by then the pain had gone away way. He asked for a third and the pain was back. He came into the room and told me I was having a heart attack. Not had…having. And that I was going right away to get it taken care of. Stents, not a bypass, though I wouldn’t have been surprised about a bypass: two of my high school classmates have already had major bypass surgery. 

But for me it was the stents. Union Memorial is state of the art…I was to get them inserted through a major artery in my right arm, not the groin. The procedure was completely painless. I was laid out on a table, drugged up, oxygenated, my right arm strapped to a board flat and straight out, some sort of device hovering over me that I assume was a scanner that could see into my chest. It moved about here and there over me like a curious large bird, while the doctor and the technicians and nurses chatted. Occasionally they’d call out numbers which might have been related to the position of the device they were moving up my artery, or heart and blood data points. I felt very calm. That might have been the sedatives. And curious. But I played rag doll the entire time so they could do their jobs. It was over in just a few minutes. Or seemed to be anyway…that might also have been the sedatives. The chest pain was gone.

They moved me to the Cardio Unit, and kept me overnight for observation. Two stents had been put in, and a third was staged for insert, but determined to be unnecessary. I was wired up to an EKG machine and an automatic blood pressure tester. Eventually they hooked the wires up to a portable EKG device that talked wirelessly to the big one in my room, so I could take short walks around the unit, so they could see how my heart behaved. The next morning they gave my heart a sonogram. It was…interesting…to see it beating there on the screen. Sixty-six years and a few weeks it’s been beating without stop. It’s the one muscle in the body that never rests. Now mine had damage, because I’d let the chest pain go and tried to tough it out and maybe it’ll go away and it wasn’t what I thought it was. It was my heart telling me to take action.

But I was unreasonably, fantastically lucky all the same. I’d had the actual heart attack in the hospital, where I was surrounded by a first rate cardio care facility. Within minutes I’d had the blockage causing the attack cleared. When the head cardiologist talked to me before I was discharged, he was almost bubbling over with satisfaction at how little actual damage to my heart there was, because they were able to get me into care so quickly. He had a small group of intern trainees there with him, and I was his case study for them, probing me with his stethoscope, telling them here’s where you look for this sort of damage…but he doesn’t have it…and here’s where you look for this other sort of damage…but he doesn’t have it…

But I have damage. It’s the minimum amount of possible damage that could have happened, given the sort of heart attack I had. But now my heart has damage. I have heart disease. Now I have to deal with that fact.

But here’s one amazing thing about all of this. I have better blood flow now, because the blockage is gone. The fatigue is gone. Mostly. I’m feeling the after effects of the heart attack and that’s to be expected. For the next several weeks I will be on strict orders to take it easy. I won’t be allowed to walk to work like I normally do, possibly for months. No road trips for months probably, although I’ll be able to drive locally, and in fact driving is what they would prefer I do. I will have to be careful and not stress my body and heart. But I can see that if I follow doctor’s orders and get into a regular exercise routine I will end up feeling Much more energetic than before I had the heart attack. Much more. This is wonderful! And I think, one reason why so many people don’t follow instructions and stick to the plan after a heart attack. You have better blood flow, and the effect of it is really Really noticable. Hey…I’m feeling great…and that eggs Benedict is looking so very nice… But energy is the least amazing part of what I am now experiencing.

I haven’t had this level of mental alertness since I was a young man. It’s hard to describe it, and I never really noticed much how fuzzy the world around me was getting because it happened so gradually. When I did notice I just put it down to getting old. But when I take my brief morning walks around my block now, and moving about inside Casa del Garrett, the world around me just seems so much more…there…than before the heart attack. It’s a really striking difference. Like the difference between watching something on an old analog TV set and a new 4k digital. Really. Seriously. It is like that.

I Never want that to go away again if I can help it. Plus…I got lucky. Unreasonably, fantastically lucky, having the attack in the hospital where I could get immediate and high quality care. It would be churlish, disrespectful, not just tempting of fate, but laughing in its face, to just go on as before. It’s hilarious, but while I was waiting at the drugstore for my meds, the in house music system was playing Second Chance by 38 Special…

This heart needs a second chance…

Okay…I get the message. Really. I take pride in my common sense. 

One other thing. I was hearing that song in that drugstore because a coworker graciously picked me up from the hospital and took me straight to the drugstore to get my meds, and then to home. She also organized an email chain at work to get a group of my coworkers together to help me out with groceries and moving things while I was confined to quarters during recovery. That, and all the expressions of care and support I got this week from family and friends, online and off, really touched me deeply. I have never felt so loved.

 

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

Visit The Woodward Class of '72 Reunion Website For Fun And Memories, WoodwardClassOf72.com


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