Two years ago tonight i had a heart attack. I was 35. I had been ignoring warning signs for weeks writing them off as chest pains brought on by being lazy and horribly out of shape. One week, the pains started while just laying in bed…still i did nothing. Bad genes, bad diet and chain smoking had come to enact their master plan.
Over at my girlfriends (at the time) for the night we were laying in bed together after dinner and a vigorous mattress workout when in the chest pains hit. This was a new sensation and i knew within a few minutes something bad was happening.
When the blood had left my face and the sweat stated to pour she put me on her mom’s blood pressure monitor. Her mom, a former nurse and a current Italian Mother saw the results. looked past me to her daughter and said “go start the car, get him to the ER. Run the red lights. Now.”
I went outside and tried to smoke what would turn out to be my last cigarette while the car was being prepared only to be able to take a few half-assed drags when the order came to get my backside in the car. The decision was made to just drive to the ER as it was literally 3 blocks away and if i was going to survive this i wasn’t going to pay $1000 a block and have to wait 10min for the privilege.
Had i not had Stephanie and her mom that night i might have waited too long or possibly would have waited until the episode passed. I would have then died in my sleep. (Just like my uncle who also ignored warning signs. He went to bed one night and had a massive heart attack in his sleep.)
Though her mom probably now curses my name i’m forever grateful for them for not only that night but the days and weeks that followed when they both went out of their way to make sure i had what i needed, i was looked after and was being kept on the path to healing. I miss both of them sometimes, despite what happened.
I don’t remember much of the car ride. Stephanie drove fiercely and i had the window down; i was still pale white and sweating.
My heart was beating; it never stopped. This is good. This is what kept me out of panic mode…more of a very high state of worry – Like broken bone or totaled car; this is bad, something bad is happening but i don’t think it’s going to kill me
By the time i had the car door open Steph was already at the front desk of the emergency room. The intern-driven wheelchair met me as i was coming into the ER and took me in back so fast i barely had time to register the faces of all the other patients in the waiting room watching me skip to the front of the line. At the time i felt guilty for going right in when others have been waiting for who knows how long but that was reflex. Guilt has always been a close friend of mine, always ready to help.
The pain was the feeling of every muscle in my chest and some in the back and stomach helping out for good measure, trying to constrict me from the inside. It was an ache of a strenuous workout but over-exaggerated and turned up to 11. Not painful; that threw off the ER staff at first. It was more worrisome. Unnerving. My body sending a singular signal *SOMETHINGS WRONG*.
The unfounded and undeserved belief that i was going to be just fine kept me in “This is Bad” territory as opposed to “Sheer Panic” or thoughts of not making it long enough to see my parents or brother ever again. At this point i was just focusing on external stuff. I imagined the call mom and dad was getting from Stephanie. I told her to call my boss and tell them i wasn’t going to be opening the store in the morning. I wondered who they would call to do it and i felt bad they were going to get a call in the middle of the night. I reminded myself to get a note or something i could show them when this turned out to be nothing so the opener wouldn’t be too mad.
Aspirin and nitroglycerine tabs were given to me every few minutes until the majority of the pain was gone. I was told to anticipate a nasty headache when the glycerin wore off that thankfully never materialized; but i have a natural in-born tolerance for most drugs. it’s almost a mutant power. Tho ive been told its a crappy one. X-Men ‘b’ team territory here people.
It bears mentioning at this point: if you are allowed to wear what amount to pajamas at work – im jealous.
if you are allowed to wear what amount to pajamas at work and happen to be a cute girl – i will smile at you unconsciously and uncontrollably.
I’ve been known to offer nurses with glasses promises of marriage, riches and the swift dispatching of any enemies she may have.
When i was stabilized and they were convinced i wasn’t going to die on them they told me how the next few hours would play out:
It was time to take some pictures! These however would be after shooting me up with some dye they could trace thru my circulatory system to see how everything was flowing and if there were any kinks in the hoses as it were. If it came back i was clear I could go home and sleep in my own bed…or rather Stephanie’s as she would not have let me out of her sight that night. She was very protective of me as this was before i broke her heart.
That was the best case for the way things could go down.
The other way was i would be in need of an emergency angioplasty. They would have to prep me for surgery and then snake their way into my coronary arteries from an incision in my inner thigh so they can inflate a small balloon to clear the plaque that would be theoretically impeding any blood flow. That was the worst case though. That was at least a few tests and a few hours away. Steph was near, parents were aware and on their way and I was going to make it through this. Ill skate by this like i do everything else. Ill be home in a few hours. I’m teflon. Im certain it’s nothing serious.
Alone, cold and half blind from no glasses, laying on the operating table waiting for the cardiologist to arrive to preform the emergency angioplasty was the first time i felt real fear that night.
That was the first time i really thought there was a chance that this room might be the last blurry thing i ever ‘see’ after they start the gas and i drift off into nothingness. This might be it and id never know any different. I wouldn’t see the Dr’s as they try to restart my failed heart. I wouldn’t see my loved ones in the waiting room. No pinin’ for the fjords. Id just cease to be – an ex-jeffro.
As it turns out…i wasn’t far off.
The de-brief the next day went like this. They got in there and saw that my all 4 of my coronary arteries were almost 100% ‘clogged’ and how ANY blood was getting thru was a small miracle. The Dr went in and had to inflate balloons and leave behind drug-coated metal stents in 3 of my 4 arteries. They needed to do all 4 but i was told i was too weak and probably wouldn’t have survived it; that last one would have to wait until i was recovered from the first 3.
as an aside, I cant tell you how thankful i was to get this information AFTER the fact. I didn’t need THAT rattling around in my head for the 30 minutes i was waiting on the operating table the night before.
At some point (the events after the operation and into day 1 are fuzzy at best) a new form of discomfort came up that made the heart attack seem like a minor annoyance; with all the blood thinners and anti-coagulants in my system, there was the matter of the open wound on my inner thigh that had to be encouraged to close up and that involved an under-paid orderly who had to apply pressure to the area for hours. When his ‘shift’ was up, they strapped some crazy looking plastic thing onto my leg to apply the pressure of the tired dude in scrubs. I’m not sure how he managed to stand still for so long. The real torture though…the real difficultly and in my memory the worst part of the entire 3 days was the fact that i had to lie still, on my back, not being allowed to turn on my side in the SLIGHTEST or move really at all for the entire night. As a chronic tosser-and-turner it was a long, dark night. By the end i was almost in tears begging to be allowed to move in some way, to shift my weight in the slightest to either the left or right. Anything. Failing that, i said, you have to pump me full of something to knock me out because it was unbearable. They finally realized i wasn’t just uncomfortable and being a bad patient; i really needed to move. They let me shift, ever so slightly, on my side.
it. was. glorious.
it was also good for only about 10 minutes and i needed to move again. This went on for another hour or so (blurry) until i convinced the nurse to put something good and strong into my IV to make me go night night so everyone involved would have a more pleasant night. I made a convincing argument and she gave me a healthy dose of liquid Ambien and i was quickly, and thankfully carried into my specific brand of dreamless slumber. This would also be the last time Ambien would help me sleep.
Eventually the space torture device got to come off and they kept checking the wound throughout the day to make sure i was bleeding in or out; both were equally possible and equally bad.
The first thing i remember after waking up the day after is my old friend Josh, a nurse in the ER at the hospital standing at the foot of my bed looking at me like i forgot to lock the gate after bringing the trash cans in. He jokingly scolded me for being in his ‘competitors’ hospital. He was my best friend and i had not heard from him in more than a year. It was nice to see a familiar face. It was good to have my eyes open to see the morning light. At that moment, for a little while, it was good to be alive.
Then i got a ride to another hospital by a very surprised dear friend of an EMT who told me she did at least a triple take when seeing my name come across her medical pager. I didn’t get to see that face but i did see a very professional woman hide from everyone but me the fact that she was personally worried about the patient in the back of her van. I asked her if we could hit the Starbucks drive thru on the way. I didn’t get my cafe mocha. Or a laugh for that matter.
Soon after that i was able to see the rest of my friends and family. Everyone had talked to the doctor i never even saw. Stephanie and her mom had become an expert on my condition and had my rehab plans were already figured out. I had the next month off of work. The bag that contained my possessions i came to the hospital with were waiting for me but they were missing a half a pack of Marlboros and a lighter…
This was day 1 of me as a non-smoker.