It’s 2 AM and I’m sleeping next to my wife. I awaken to a pain in the lowest part of my sternum. It is uncomfortable enough to make me get up and head out to the couch. I try to lay down on the couch for a few minutes and the pain won’t cease. I try sitting up on the couch and immediately become nauseous. I go into the bathroom and vomit. This awakens my wife and she asks what is wrong.
I’m back in the living room sitting in a recliner. I’m getting sweaty. I explain to my wife what I’m feeling which is this incessant part in the lowest part of my sternum. Of course the thought of a heart attack crossed my mind but I had pretty much ruled it out. I was a cop and I’ve literally seen people die of heart attacks. I was an EMT and was trained related to the symptoms of a heart attack but this seemed different. There was no pain mid-chest, no crushing pain, shortness of breath or pain in the jaw or arms. Certainly this pain was different. I thought to myself that it was too low to be a heart attack. It also seemed to be too high for any stomach issues. It was just different!
I sent my wife back to bed and told her I would be ok which is a classic guy move- a potentially fatal guy move. After about an hour of this pain not getting any better I found myself torn between not wanting to make big deal out of nothing or seeking treatment. I’ve experienced a lot in my life from a medical/injury perspective. What bothered me the most was that this was a pain unlike anything I had ever experienced. Don’t get me wrong in that I’ve experienced much greater pain but again this was different.
I went back to my wife and let her know that I thought I should go to the hospital. We were out the door quickly and drove about five miles to the hospital. The pain did not lessen or increase but was a constant. Walking into the ER reception/intake area about 3AM I saw that there the waiting room was pretty busy but as it turns out when an overweight 55 year old man walks in clutching his chest you get to cut the line!
A wheel chair was quickly brought to me and I was whisked into a trauma bay. My wife was with me the whole time and even at this point I was convinced this was going to be a waste of time. Surely at some point the pain was going to go away and I would be sent home.
There were two nurses there who hooked me up to an EKG. Immediately one nurse said “That doesn’t look right!” Her reaction was so quick that I thought that there was a problem with the EKG machine. Within a second or so of her saying that the other nurse rips off the paper coming out of the machine and literally ran out of the trauma bay with it. That was indeed my “uh-oh” moment!
A Doctor immediately came rushing into the room with other nurses and said “You’re having a heart attack and it’s about to get really busy in here!” I was told the Cardiac Cath team was being called in from home. I looked over at my wife and she reflected a look that I no doubt had. A look of shock, confusion and fear. I told her that she should probably call my kids and my sister.
The sequence of what happened next is a blur but two IV’s were started on my left arm. I was given what seemed like a handful of aspirin. A tab of Nitro was placed under my tongue. I was constantly asked if the pain was better and it wasn’t. I had two more doses of Nitro with very minimal relief. I was then given IV morphine which did not touch my pain.
Within what seemed like just a few minutes a Cardiac Surgeon and his two cardiac nurses came into the room. They definitely looked like they just woken up. There was a lack of normal niceties. The surgeon affirmed that I was having a heart attack and that they needed to get me right up to the Cath Lab to save me! It was so quick that Deb and I weren’t even afforded the opportunity so say goodbye to each other. I was moved at a high rate of speed to the Cath Lab. More and more it was clear to me that like my pain- this reaction was different. This was clearly life and death!
As soon as we were in the lab I was told that I would be awake during the procedure. I was put onto a table and was not able to see much because of large pieces of equipment that were literally in my face. The procedure took an hour and a half. They created a small opening in my wrist and went into my radial artery. A line was snaked from that artery and into my heart. What was determined was that I had a 100% blockage of the heart’s artery that feeds the back of my heart. Simply put my heart was dying and so was I.
In a miracle of science the Surgeon was able to feed two mesh stents into my wrist and all the way into the exact spot where my artery was not working. The artery was opened back up and those two medical mesh stents were implanted into that area to let the blood flow once again. Once that was done I felt an instant relief to my pain. The surgeon and nurses had just saved my life- as simple as that. I was brought to the Intensive Care Unit and spent two days there. I was released from the hospital on day three.
Now there is so much more I can say about this experience and how my personal faith played into this experience but I don’t want you as the reader to be turned off by that. What I want is for the reader- especially men- to learn from this. I especially ask that men pay attention because as we all know they are in most circumstances less smart than females!
Please, please do not try to be the macho cool guy and ignore symptoms- even if they aren’t what you would expect them to be. Many men are found dead in their recliners with a Tums bottle next to them. Pay attention and react to what you feel. If not for you then for your loved ones that you may leave behind.
As for me the story is still being written. I am just four days post heart attack. Early on I am told that there was “hardly noticeable damage” to my heart. This is because we took action quickly. Within about an hour and a half of the onset of symptoms I was in the Cath Lab. The quicker action is taken the more likely you will fare well.
In hindsight and after discussions with the medical staff the only thing we should have changed was using an ambulance for transport. In an ambulance they can do an EKG and have the Cath Team activated even before your arrival at the hospital.
The story of my outcome is still being written. When I woke up this morning I decided I could make my heart attack be one of the worst days of my life or one of the best. I choose to make it the best.