What a week I had. Surely, I had guardian angels watching over me this past week and weekend. The short story is that I had a heart attack at some point during the week (or throughout the week), spent three nights in the hospital, discharged on Monday and back to work on Tuesday. Does that sound nuts? Read on.
Last Tuesday evening, I finally acknowledged that something was physically not right with me. I realized that after slight exertion I could hardly breath. It felt like when I had Covid pneumonia except my lungs did not feel water-logged. I confessed to my wife that I was not feeling good. She asked if we needed to go to the ER and I assured her that it was probably indigestion, given that I finished some spicy (very delicious) Louisiana style seafood earlier in the evening. She made me promise to call the doctor, adding a sticky note to my workstation so I would not forget to do so. The incident seemed to pass with some rest and relaxation.
The next day, reminded by my sticky note from my wife, I called my doctor’s office and scheduled an appointment for Friday at 2 pm. I then continued through my week, avoiding too much exertion, and trying to stay calm and relaxed. I managed to muster through a week filled with Zoom meetings, numerous emails, a variety of tasks, choir rehearsal and other home activities. In addition to cleaning, laundry, shopping I also managed to cook a delicious corned beef and cabbage meal on St. Patrick’s Day.
Friday afternoon finally arrived. I made it to my doctor appointment at 1:45pm. After completing the usual office paperwork, they called me in for an exam where I explained my short-breath episodes and what I noticed about my pulse rate on my Fitbit when walking. They placed an oximeter on my finger and lead me around the office a couple times and observed the data. Based on that test and a physical exam (listening to my lungs, checking blood pressure and pulse), my doctor sent me directly to the ER with clear instructions that my condition could be serious. He told me there could be several different causes for these symptoms, all of which are critical issues.
I called my wife as I was driving to the ER at Oaklawn Hospital and briefed her on what my doctor said. She met me in the ER parking lot, and we walked in together. They were busy on a Friday around 2:30PM. They immediately called me to register, as my doctor had called ahead and shared his findings with them. First was the Covid test, then back to the waiting room. Then an EKG and back to the waiting room. Next, a blood draw and back to the waiting room. It seemed like a pattern was emerging.
A little after the blood draw they called me back again. This time they gave me four baby aspirin and explained the cause of my shortness of breath was my heart. The enzyme Troponin was highly elevated, indicating that I was suffering a heart attack. Mind blown! I didn’t think you could have a heart attack without feeling pain. I seriously did not feel any pain at all. I wondered if maybe the diagnosis could be wrong.
This time, they led me to an ER room (no more back to the waiting room). The doctor met me in the room and explained that the next test would be a CT exam, to see if there were any blood clots. After the CT scan was complete, she reported back that I had clear lungs / no blood clots. She proceeded to explain that I needed to be transferred to a cardiac unit. After some discussion with my wife, we agreed to go to Ascension Borgess. I naively asked if we would be driving to the hospital. They explained that I needed to be transferred by medics so they can monitor my condition.
The ambulance finally arrived around 9pm and the paramedics quickly strapped me into a stretcher. I kissed my wife goodbye and as she was going to follow to the hospital. The paramedics loaded me into the ambulance, and we were off.
It was a bit of a bumpy ride on a rainy evening. The young paramedic accompanying me in the ambulance was very nice to talk to. We discussed our families, she had two daughters (a newborn and a seven-year-old). She also teased me that I’d better not code because it was a lot of work. The ride to the hospital seemed to go by quickly. We were soon rolling through the halls of the hospital on our way to the cardiac short stay ward.
Two nurses met the paramedics as we rolled up to room 25 (our destination). The nurses and paramedics exchanged signatures on paperwork as the paramedics officially passed me into the care of Borges Hospital.
The two nurses receiving me into the cardiac unit were cheerful and joking with me as they proceeded through their process. They introduced themselves as good cop (Kathy) and bad cop (Pam). As they were asking questions my wife called. I answered the phone on speaker and my wife explained that the ER was not letting her come up since it was past visiting hours. The good cop Kathy, jumped into the conversation and told my wife that they would be down to escort her up as soon as they finished the intake procedure (in about 15 minutes).
After we finished intake, my wife arrived at my room. Shortly after the attending doctor came in to meet with us. The doctor explained in no uncertain terms that I was having a heart attack and proceeded to summarize the process. First, I was to have an ultrasound. Based on the ultrasound results, the team would most likely do a cardiac catheterization procedure. And if all went well, the issue might be addressed in the procedure using stents. She also reviewed my blog during my past cancer episode and she was impressed with the chart showing all the chemo I was given. After reviewing the different chemo drugs, she reported that these types of treatments correlate with calcium buildup in the coronary arteries.
My wife left the hospital around midnight, and I attempted to rest up for the next days challenges. I don’t know if I slept much at all as I was worried about what was next to come.
Just as the attending doctor described, I underwent an ultrasound first thing Saturday morning, around 7am. Some time after the ultrasound I was scheduled for the cardiac catheterization procedure. There was a bit of confusion on exactly when I would be taken in as there was a potential emergency case that might have been taken ahead of me. As it worked out, I was sent to the lab around 11am and the procedure was completed a little before 1pm.
The report-back from the cardiologist was the very best news we were praying for. They found the issue. My right coronary artery was 100% blocked. And they were able to address the issue during the procedure, implementing three stents. My heart was fixed; however, there were long-term care impacts as well. I must take a variety of pills (blood thinners, cholesterol medication, etc.). Additionally, I am now committed to diet adjustments and more physical activity.
I had to stay in the hospital through Monday. They wanted to monitor me for heart arrhythmia. Monday morning came and it was time to go home. The only restriction given was to not lift/pull/push over ten pounds with my right hand/arm as the right wrist is where the catheter was inserted. They explained that I may have fatigue for a while, however, I was cleared to work (desk job) as long as I could take rest breaks if required.
I will have a follow-up meeting with my cardiologist in a couple weeks. After that I will likely start cardio rehab. I’m sure there is a long road ahead as I need to change my diet and exercise to better battle the coronary artery disease.
A few key take-aways from my experience.
- You can have a heart attack without pain. In my case a “slight” tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing (shortness of breath), mainly with minimal exertion was the only symptom. No pain in left arm, back, etc.
- Sometimes a heart attack (stoppage of blood flow to the heart) happens in an instant. Other times it can come on slow and gradually (like in my case).
- A blood test for the Enzyme Troponin is a clear indicator for heart attacks.
- Modern cardiac catheterization procedures are miraculous – to say the least. I literally went into a procedure on Saturday and returned to work the following Tuesday. That is Amazing!
I am once again very blessed and need to embrace this new day and the new normal! Thank you to family and friends who sent prayers and positive thoughts throughout this ordeal. And thank you to all who will keep me and my family in your prayers as we navigate a full recovery over the years ahead. I hope to do some more blog updates throughout this new journey.