Friday, December 06, 2013

I Had a Heart Attack at 44

Three weeks ago I had a heart attack. It wasn't the big, dramatic heart attack like you see on TV or the movies. We were moving that November Saturday morning and I was running around the house unhooking the washer and dryer and then had taken my two youngest kids beds apart. As I was sitting on my son's bedroom floor, unscrewing his bed, I realized that I was out of breath, had some discomfort in my chest and had sweat through my t-shirt by 8:30 a.m. Something wasn't quite right.

My wife had already loaded our mini-van with boxes and had taken the load to the new house when all of this was happening. When she got home, I was headed out to the moving van to see if there was a dolly in it or if we needed to go borrow one from my office. As she pulled up into the drive way, I told her that "I just didn't feel very good," and that I wasn't sure why...  We got in the van to head to my office to borrow the dolly for the weekend and I still had the discomfort in my chest and it wasn't going away. I had caught my breath and was no longer sweating, but this lingering feeling on the left side of my chest was still there, nagging me.

Like I said earlier, it wasn't a tragic, sharp pain that makes you fall to the ground. This was just a little nagging discomfort. Have you ever had a potato chip stuck in your throat? That little nagging discomfort that drives you crazy? Yes, that one. That's the feeling I had, except it wasn't in my throat - it was on the left side of my chest.

Back to the trip to the office...

After leaving my office, we were driving by the local grocery store and I asked my wife to pull in there and we would check my blood pressure at the pharmacy (our blood pressure cuff was packed away in some box at the house). The numbers weren't good: 142/104 the first time and then 140/98 the second time. We stopped and talked to a friend of ours for a few minutes and then got back into the van. My wife and I talked about what we thought we should do. Being a typical man, I thought I would just be OK and I would "take it easy" during the moving process - yeah right.

As we were headed back to our house, my wife didn't turn down our street. "Where are you going?" I asked as she went right on down the street. "I'm taking you to the ER," she said matter-of-factly. Really? The ER? It was 9:45 a.m. and we had college students lined up to head to the house at 10 a.m. to help move and we didn't want to lose this valuable help. So I convinced my wife to just drop me off at the ER and to head back home. I would give her a call in about an hour when they had checked me out.

When you walk into the ER on a Saturday morning and the waiting room is full, you think "Oh joy, I'll be waiting for at least until SNL comes on tonight..." But a magic thing happens when you put "chest discomfort" on the slip of paper that has your symptoms on it and had it to the receptionist. You move straight to the top of the list! I hadn't been sitting down for a minute when they called my name and took me directly to a room. I guess they meant business.

The intake nurse was awesome. After listening to me talk a few minutes about my symptoms and the fact that I've had diabetes for 30 years, he got things rolling with an EKG and blood tests AND I actually got to see the ER doctor in a relatively short amount of time. The nurse told me that I definitely made the right decision on coming to the hospital. He said there are three categories of people who don't have the typical heart attack symptoms: women, the elderly and diabetics. Well, I am definitely not a woman and don't think I'm elderly, but I have been dealing with the Big D since I was in high school (that was just a few years ago, right?) and although many of these past 30 years I've been in good control of my blood sugars, there were many years when I felt I was bullet-proof and didn't give a damn about blood sugar control (but that's a whole 'nother blog post in itself).

The EKG came back normal (whew!) and then we just had to wait for the blood tests to come back. After about an hour (and some children's chewable aspirin) my blood pressure came back down and I was pretty relaxed. Just waiting on those blood tests. After about an hour, the ER doctor came back in and said that with my family history, my diabetes history and various other factors, he wanted to check me in for 24 hours of test and observations. Ok, I thought. Better safe than sorry. You know, I've been wanting to have that stress test, but just kept forgetting to schedule it - yeah, right!

Well, the blood tests finally came back and they said that my heart enzymes that show up after a heart attack were within the normal range. Whew! I didn't have a heart attack... but they still wanted to observe and do tests. Ok, I thought.

I put out a Facebook call for help to our friends to help out with the moving process, since I was going to be sitting in a hospital bed for the next day. Thankfully, they came in droves and helped get that job done. My wife called several times through these two hours checking on my status and when I told her I was going to spend the night, she took it like a trooper...

Upon checking into the Debakey Heart Instuite at HaysMed, I got to have more blood drawn and another EKG. No biggie - except I have HORRIBLE veins and am a phlebotomist's WORST nightmare. They dug and dug and dug some more throughout the day and took several vials of blood for more and more tests. Well guess what, the second and third blood tests revealed the enzymes that indicated a heart attack.

Heart attack? I had a heart attack?

There's no way in hell that I could have a heart attack. I'm only 44! I have three kids under the age of 13 and I don't plan on leaving this world before they give me grandchildren (and I definitely don't need grandkids at this age).

After the cardiologist left my room, I kind of set in a stupor for awhile, but then realized that I was definitely in the right place. My wife and our friends were wrapping up the moving for the day and when my wife came to visit that evening I had to tell her the news. Yes, I had a minor heart attack, but the doctors all felt I would be fine.

I told myself that this hospital bed was way more comfortable than the cold marble slab at the mortician's office... and that's how I got myself get though the first few hours of realizing my life would be forever changed.

I had a heart attack at 44.

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