How Did I Know Something Was Wrong?
We have all heard variations of survival of heart attacks. The symptoms range anywhere from severe heartburn to the most excruciating pain. My father and father-out-law both had very different symptoms with their heart attacks.
I had not had a heart attack, yet. But according to the cardiologist, to emphasize just how lucky I was, stated “it wasn’t a question of ‘if’ you were going to have a fatal heart attack, but ‘when’.” It was going to be a moment that could not be recovered from.
Wendy had a friend who was out pulling tomatoes in his garden. His wife had just looked out her kitchen window. She stepped away from the window to answer the telephone, and it was for John. As she exited the back door to the garden, she was horrified to see John face down in the tomato patch. He was gone.
While John’s health almost made it expected, as opposed to acceptable (overweight, smoker, drinker, high stressed), a heart attack came as no surprise. On the other hand, I have a fairly youthful appearance, hide my gut pretty well, and internalize my stress. I do not smoke and am not a big drinker. Of course my diet is horrible. But to look at me, no one could have any idea that I was a candidate for a major coronary event. So, given my procrastinating nature, how did I know it was time to finally do something and how close did I cut it?
I didn’t. It was just dumb luck on so many levels. I had one main symptom for four months, but because of the way it appeared and resolved, and the lack of severity, I thought nothing of it.
January 2nd of 2008, I made the resolution I have made every stinking year, and broken, to get into shape and drop some serious weight. There was nothing in particular that led me to believe that 2008 would be any different in commitment, but nonetheless, I signed up in another gym, one that had not seen me yet, paid my enrollment fee and got to work right away.
It was only going to be a little bit of cardiac work and some weights. I do not like to run, and exercise bikes are boring. I found myself liking a machine called an eliptical. What made it better, is it had all kinds of meters on it from measure calories burned to heart beat. It was real easy to set goals. However, right from the first day, something did not feel right. I clearly had no idea what I was doing as I watched my heartrate escalate rapidly and hold around 150, which amazingly I did not realize was not good. The coding on the console stated that to properly burn calories and lose weight, I was in the correct heartrate zone. If you have ever tried to go jogging or running in the cold, and you ever got that “tight” feeling in your body, well, that’s how I felt, only I was indoors in a climate control environment. Within a minute, the tightness would disappear. The difference between the feeling that I had, and the “jogging in the cold”, is that after a certain period of jogging, the body would normally aclimate. After two months, this tightness did not go away. But I started to notice this tightness in other activities. I had a very physical job that required me to move half ton equipment. And I got that tightness moving that equipment. As daylight increased, I began to do outdoor work and experienced that tightness outdoors. Each time, as if it were an introduction or an announcement, this tightness came on almost immediately by the third month, and also increased in intensity. The tightness still only lasted approximately one minute, then disappeared. At the gym, I simply went crazy on the eliptical for another fifty-nine minutes, and then it was off to the weight room. At work, I continued to put out the amount of work as I always had. Outside in the yard, I would find myself frequently doubled over in discomfort.
By the second week of April, I had enough. I have seasonal allergies and Spring hayfever season was about to come on, so I figured why not give my doctor a call to set up an appointment for my allergy shot, but then also to address this tightness issue. My health file after 42 years was ridiculously thin. With the exception of the period that I battled Hodgkin’s Disease, I only saw my doctor once a year to get that shot, and that was it.
But as I asked for advice from Dr. P for any tips to get rid of this feeling, she made a decision that would be the absolute difference in my life. On a hunch, based on my health history of cancer, she ordered a nuclear stress test. A nuclear stress test is the same as a standard treadmill stress test, only the patient is injected with a dye, and then a special x-ray is taken before getting on the treadmill, and then with the heart under stress and getting off of the treadmill. The entire time, I was connected to an EKG machine monitoring my heart.
I took my turn on the table, and the first set of photos were taken in a relaxed state. Then I got on the treadmill. Within two minutes, the incline and speed had been increased, and it was obvious that my heart rate had also increased. Into just the third minute, something had shown up on the EKG, and the test had been stopped. Back to the x-ray machine, and the stress photos were done.
I honestly believe that as my cardiologist put it, that it was not a question of if I was going to die, but when. And had it not been for my family doctor making the phone call to schedule the appointment for the nuclear stress test, and had I made the appointment on my own, that test most likely would not have occurred until weeks later, and then it most likely would have been too late.
On April 16th, I had a catheterization done, because the cardiologist thought he could fix me right up, with just a couple of stints as the pictures had shown there was definitely a blockage as blood flow had been cut off from the heart. But catheterization would not correct my blockage. On April 17th, I had life saving emergency bypass surgery. So no, I do not know what it is like to have a heart attack, and I am grateful that I do not. But I need to learn to listen to my body when it gives me a fair amount of warning. I am currently on my second folder of medical records as the first folder grew past its seams just since I finally dealt with that annoyance over four years ago.