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A Heart Attack Story: Part 1

One week ago, I suffered a heart attack, and suffer is definitely the right word. I woke up in the middle of the night with some severe chest pain. Initially I thought it might just be stomach acids and tried drinking water, taking some Tums, and drinking some milk, but none of them helped even a tiny bit, and so I cried tears of pain as I woke my wife.

Within minutes we headed out the door. I left behind my jacket, cell phone, and glasses. Luckily I put on my pants while she let her dad know we were leaving and letting him know not to worry about getting the kids to school in the morning if we weren’t back.

I don’t really remember a lot of the ride to the hospital. I remember Elizabeth telling me to breathe slowly, and that I didn’t need to be doing any breathing like we’d learned for the delivery of our children. By the time we reached the hospital, the pain had subsided slightly, but not enough to change my mind about needing the trip to the hospital.

Elizabeth dropped me right at the doors to the emergency room while she went and parked the car. I stood near the door waiting for her to walk from the car. She of corse gave me a hard time saying that I wasn’t supposed to wait for her. Inside they took me into triage, asked what was going on, and I told the story of what happened and how I was feeling for the first time…well the 2nd time I guess, since I’d told Elizabeth when I woke her up, but that seemed different somehow.
After checking my vital signs, which were of course not very good, they moved me into a treatment area where I took off my shirt so they could hook me up to an EKG machine to look at my heartbeat, and they also started an IV, though I don’t remember if they actually hooked it up to anything at this time. In fact, some of what went on in the ER is a bit confused, and probably out of order.

The doctor came in. It was someone we go to church with, so he knew me, and my daughter had been to sleep overs with his daughter. This made it a little weird to be telling him all about what has happening.

Before long they gave me two kinds of nitroglycerine, one under my tongue, and one as a paste on my chest meant to be absorbed through my skin. This quickly got rid of most of the chest pain, but also dropped my blood pressure so quickly I started feeling hot and clammy. I’d been sitting up in the bed, but apparently I got very pale, and they laid the bed back a bit to keep me from passing out.

A cardiac doctor got involved as well, but I’m fairly sure I didn’t see him until after I left the ER.

Once I was stable, they moved me into a regular hospital room. They wanted to observe me, and as a follow-up to what they thought might be a heart attack they take a series of blood tests to check a particular enzyme put out by the heart when it is damaged. The first one, which they took while I was in the ER came back as ‘high normal’ and so I don’t think they were feeling certain that my pain was truly a heart attack.

A different doctor came to check on me in the hospital room, and I got to tell my tale again. After the initial decrease in my level of pain from the nitroglycerine, it seemed like every visit and talk with a doctor would lead to increased chest pain, and at some point morphine became involved. The morphine would take me out of it for a couple of hours, but usually when I woke up I’d have a low level of pain again.

Next visit from the doctor they reported that the enzyme levels were higher, into true heart attack range, though on a test where they had seen levels of 500, I was below a 2, so the heart attack was considered minor. Things moved fairly rapidly at this point, the cardiac doctor showed up, we talked about steps now that they were far more certain I’d had a heart attack. They moved me to ICU because they wanted me on a medicine that they can’t administer in the regular rooms, and they were planning on transferring me to a different hospital where I could get a cardiac catheterization.

My wife, Elizabeth, used to be a nurse in the hospital we were transferring to, and in fact used to work on the floor that handled patients recovering after cardiac catheterization. This meant we had long time friends at the other end of this transfer, and before I could be transferred from a regular room to the ICU within the same hospital, the larger hospital had already been in touch with the ICU to get report on my condition.

They were trying to get me moved quickly, hoping to do the cardiac catheterization the same day, but because I am a big guy, they had to make sure they used a certain ambulance, so there was a delay, during which I mostly zoned out and slept from a dose of morphine, and then I took my first ambulance ride.

They sent a 4 person crew, a couple of them were in training, though I suspect the number had more to do with needing to lift me than any need for that many on the trip. I got to tell my story again, though with them I think it was more a way of killing time on the long ride than from any serious medical need. While we road we also talked about my work with computers, and I got to listen to them as they discussed a lot of EMT related topics. One of the crew had been through the catheterization procedure and told me how it was relatively pain-free and very effective.

Some time during the ride they received a call, and we found out that I wouldn’t be getting the procedure that day, and so when we arrived, I went to a regular room. Elizabeth was following behind, and so they had me settled into my room by the time she arrived. There may have been a doctor visit in here, but I honestly don’t recall, but later in the evening, after dark there was definitely another doctor, who deserves special mention for two reasons.

First, and most obviously is that he bore a strong resemblance to Chris Kattan. Second, he was a self-described nerd, and his topic of choice was medicines. Though I was just getting to the hospital, he was discussing the various medications I would likely be taking after I went home. Not only did he tell me what I would be taking, but he explained why, and informed me about a lot of the statistics from studies about the medicines. ie: Medicine A would tend to cut risk of future events by 80 percent, while medicine B, which they might put me on only had about a 2% improvement in survival rates and only if taken for 7 years. Perhaps a bit too much information, but her really felt it was important that I understand all the logic behind the medicines I would be taking, and could make informed decisions if I decided ‘No, I don’t want to take that one’.

I planned on telling the story of my heart attack all in one post, but it seems we’ve barely reached the end of day 1 and I’ve already rambled on far too long. Perhaps I’m adding information that isn’t exciting, but while I am writing this to let everyone know what went on, I’m also writing it so I will remember things and have this to look back on in the future.

As I read back over this, there are a couple of important points that I want to make that I don’t feel like I’ve been expressing.

1) I spent this entire day in a great deal of pain. They would give me morphine, and it would kind of take me out of it, and I would sleep for a while, but the pain never really seemed to leave me, though it was sometimes stronger than others.

2) I also was very worried and stressed out most of this time. Looking back, I’ve been wishing maybe I’d been using my phone a bit, taking pictures of the doctors and nurses so I would remember them, but at the time my thoughts were focused on pain and stress when I was actually awake and thinking.

3) My wife stayed by my side nearly 24 hours a day. She did many things nurses would normally do, and so I didn’t always have to wait for help with things like getting up to pee the way the average patient might. Also the fact that she knew all about the cardiac medicine and procedures meant she could usually help answer questions that came to mind after the doctors left the room.

I’m going to keep writing, and you’ll probably see part 2 of my tale early next week.

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