12:30 Sunday Morning, and I was laying down to read and then go to sleep. But when I lay down, my breathing got shallow.
1 AM, I was sitting up to get my breath back, but then some chest tightness started.
After trying a couple of different ways to get things under control, it became obvious something was wrong.
I woke up Wife Sublime, and said “I think I need to go to the hospital. I can’t catch my breath, and have chest pain”…
I hate to say I was lucky that two friends had had heart attacks in recent weeks, because having that weighing on my mind made me pull the trigger quicker than I might have otherwise. For DAMN sure, I am fucking lucky that we live five minutes from a world-class hospital…
I walked into the ER. I was still having trouble, but it wasn’t strenuous. And when they did an EKG, they thought it didn’t show classic heart attack; what the ER doctor thought was that I had a blood pressure spike (my BP was something 2,000,000/500,000). that was straining the heart, which was causing my lungs to operate like a Soda Stream machine and fill up with liquid. But at this point I didn’t care, because even with an oxygen mask or a biPAP machine on, I couldn’t even breathe anymore. Later, the cardiologist said the ER doc wrote an unusual paragraph in his report, saying he could see me losing my ability to breathe.
Eventually, they got it under control, the biPAP was helping me to breath and get oxygen, and the BP was down. So they moved me up to the ICU, where they kept working on the vitals, and I just luxuriated in breathing.
Until they did an echocardiogram, to see how the heart looked. When the cardiologist looked at it, he hit the big red button calling available team members to get the hell in and scrub up; remember this is about 9AM on Father’s Day…. They didn’t even worry if I had anything in my stomach. The RN on the team told me brusquely “you’re having a heart attack. If you weren’t, I wouldn’t be here”. twenty minutes later, I was receiving a stent for my LAD, which was blocked 100%
The procedure was remarkable. I was fully conscious, and they kept TALKING to me. They went in through my right wrist, and plumbed a wire up to my heart. They actually installed two stent pieces, because the blockage was long enough that one wouldn’t cover. After it was over, they even had me stand up to transfer to the mobile bed.
Later, I found out that my heart had been either ‘stunned’ or damaged so function was at about 25% (normal is about 50%). There was no way of telling whether that would improve or not, because no one knew how the heart was in shutdown. This is a problem, because that level makes arrhythmia a distinct possibility; The discussion was that I would be using a defibrillator vest until they could see if the heart recovered in 90 days or so, and if it didn’t, a permanent defibrillator would need to be installed.
Meanwhile, lab work indicated that I now have a diagnosis of diabetes.
The cardiologist then came in and read me the riot act, saying if I didn’t change my lifestyle and immediately, it was likely I would wind up back here, or maybe not; maybe just going directly to the coffin, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
The thing I still have trouble wrapping my mind around is that all of this happened in about 20 hours.
They spent the next day getting my vitals under control. Insulin, blood thinners, BP meds, oxygen, constant monitoring. Nurses and doctors constantly asked, over and over, if I knew my name, what day it was, and where I was (amusingly, all of this was printed on the status board in front of my bed). Then they would ask me to squeeze their hands, and then would grab my feet and ankles. It was like the world’s weirdest specialty fetish movie.
I had stabilized, and they started talking about moving me to a general room, or even discharging me. But the cardiologist decided that he wanted to go back in and deal with a second occlusion which was at 90%, but in a much less hazardous location. So on Tuesday afternoon, I was rolled back down for an encore. It went almost exactly the same. It is remarkable how low-impact this procedure is; they told me it is often done as an outpatient procedure. One more night in the ICU!
On Tuesday, I was first told that I would be going home as soon as the doctors signed the discharge. However the cardiologist decided that he wanted to have another echocardiogram done, to see if the heart had recovered at all. I think he wanted to know if he needed to worry about me. Riot act aside, he was concerned. AND…heart operation back up to 35-40%!!!! Not only does that make it more likely that I might get most or all of my normal operation back, but that I wouldn’t need the defibrillator. I can’t tell you how excited I was about that; the doctors were too. I think they raced each other back to the room to tell me
Came home tonight with an armful of meds, a whole bunch of diet outlines, appointments for cardiac rehab, and no activity restrictions. Which means I will be going into the office tomorrow, then to Summerfest tomorrow afternoon! I intend to become famous as the guy who survived a heart attack nicknamed “the widowmaker” because he needed to attend Summerfest.
Modern medicine is goddam amazing.