As many folks who read my blog/Facebook/Twitter posts are aware, I had a heart attack on April 14, 2010. To be specific, I had an Acute Myocardial Infarction of the Left Arterial Descending Coronary Artery resulting in an Angioplasty and placement of two stents in the said artery. As a related sidebar, I was also diagnosed with diabetes, with a blood sugar level of 383 upon my hospital admission.
Needless to say, my life has taken many changes in the last few weeks as I come to grips with a mending ticker, drastic changes to my diet, thrice-weekly appointments with cardiac rehab, morning and evening medications of powerful meds that are quite literally keeping me alive.
The affair began on April 13. It was Tuesday and I had just returned to work after a week’s vacation. Monday evening around 2 a.m. I woke up with heartburn and a belly ache. I took some Prilosec and returned to bed, tossing and turning, but eventually, it subsided. I have always had heartburn, since I was a nervous wreck of a child and didn’t think anything of it, especially reviewing the beer/vodka/junk funk/spicy/fast food meals I ate during the previous day.
Monday at work, I noticed the heartburn returned. An unusually tough case of heartburn. Prilosec, Tums, and another remedy wasn’t working but I roughed it out. I had just gotten promoted at work and just returned from vacation, so I figured the stress of my new world was taking its toll on my tummy. At lunch, I bought some Mylanta, chugged it like it was a cold beer and the heartburn seemed to subside. I didn’t notice any arm pain, no dizziness, no tiredness. All-day at work I was up and down the stairs, even a few times taking them two at a time to celebrate my weight loss and the improving physical shape that I felt was in.
Tuesday evening, at home watching television with my sister, I again had no real symptoms and was feeling fine. I went to bed early, very tired, but I chalked that up to my first day back from vacation.
Then, at 4:24 am (I will remember the time because I was angry because I usually don’t get up until 5:30), anyway I digress. At 4:24 I was woken up with tremendous pain on the right-hand side and moving to my side and my right underarm. I got up – tried the Mylanta again, took a Tylenol, went to the bathroom but nothing was working. I went to the kitchen, swallowed a couple of baby aspirin (which probably saved my life), and then paced around a bit in a daze trying to figure out what to do. Then I punted and did what is always best – I went to Julie, asleep in her room. I woke her up and asked her to take me to the hospital as my chest pain was getting worse and I was certain I was having a heart attack.
I arrived at Aurora South emergency room at 5:20 and in very short order I was rushed to the ER and then to the Cath Lab and immediately underwent emergency heart surgery with catheterization, angioplasty, and the stint procedures quickly completed. From the entrance to the hospital to recovery in ICU, the entire event took 90 minutes.
I spent the next 12 hours immobile as the nursing staff worked to stop the bleeding in the femoral artery entrance site of the cath â€“ eventually resulting in the placement of what is called a Fem Stop â€“ a fancy plastic device that is not unlike a tourniquet with a tennis ball placing pressure on my wound to stop any bleeding. I am told this all routine â€“ but letâ€™s just say it was Royâ€™s first tourniquet. I served in the Army â€“ I have been trained on emergency tourniquet placement and gushing wounds and the life expectancy of all that – and even though I was in the good hands of an amazingly competent staff of nurses and doctors, I was a bit keyed up at this aspect â€“ the only painful part of this event short of the actual heart attack itself.
It is now a week later. I am home, recovering, and doing well. With medication and diet, diabetes blood sugars are coming down quickly. I have met with my doctors to set up a lifelong treatment plan and I am working out insurance, rehab, medication schedules, and all that stuff. Thankfully, I have my family â€“ mom and my sister are on hand to assist in my life changes and to ensure I donâ€™t overdo things this first week. I am taking walks each day and doing light chores around the house, resting each hour to ensure I donâ€™t end up back in the ER.
I have an amazing support and love network that have reached out to me â€“ sharing, praying, and supporting me during this week.
I want to take a moment and pay that forward with this: learn the signs of a heart attack and quickly take action. I was told several times last week at the hospital that I am lucky to be alive. That I got to the hospital at just the right time. Had I waited 15 more minutes, or simply ignored the pain and rolled back over and gone back to sleep, I would be dead today.
Maintain a long term relationship with your doctor. In 2008, while I was working on losing weight, my doctor tested me for diabetes. I had a blood test and what is called an A1C test and all results showed me as not diabetic but on the fence, called pre-diabetic and I took that news and ran with it. I neglected to follow up every three months with my doctor and that could have helped prevent or lessened the severity of my incident.
Watch your diet. I used to eat out lot. I mean a lot, like 10 to 12 times a week.
And be sure and accept the changes that an event like this requires. I am willing to give up booze, pie, pizza, cookies, junk food, nachos and the like because if I do that I get to keep my feet, I get to keep my vision and I get to live another 40 years.
In America 1 out of every 2.9 deaths are due to heart disease (as of 2006). Think about that for a second. Thirty percent of all deaths. That means you can die of AIDS, cancer, Alzheimers, can be killed by getting hit by a bus, by running through the desert chasing a bird when an anvil falls on you all of those specific kinds of deaths equal 66 percent. Heart attack and stroke account for 33 percent. Wow. And as bad as 33 percent sounds, in 1986, it was one in two deaths were due to heart disease.
Every second, 1,400 people are diagnosed with diabetes. Type II adult-onset diabetes is now the number one disease among children â€“ raised on the American diet of fast food, enormous portions, and high fructose corn syrup enriched foods.
I have had a data dump of a tremendous amount of information in recent days. I am still processing much of it. But one conclusion remains â€“ I much change many things in my life as the current way of doing business obviously isnâ€™t working.
If you are obese, if you are sedentary, if you have a poor diet, if you have a family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes in your family or symptoms yourself â€“ get thee to a doctor, take steps to save your life.
Giving up ice cream, donuts, and beer versus losing your feet is a fair trade-off.
Edit: From Greg’s comments below. Greg is an EMT and spends his day in the ambulance with this kind of life-changing events. Follow his advice:
Glad to hear that you are doing well. and are making the needed changes to be around for a lot longer. I commend you for documenting this event. I do however have a word of advice for anyone in this situation.
DON’T DRIVE YOURSELF TO THE HOSPITAL! CALL 911 this is one of the few times in my line of work where I may be able to save precious muscle and perform some of the treatment prior to getting to the hospital. In addition, I will notify the hospital of what is coming so they can be ahead of the game and begin the correct treatment almost before you are transferred to their bed. And in the event that you may wait just a little too long I have much better resources and equipment than Julie’s car does( I know Julie’s car is sweet but!). Again I am ecstatic that Roy is well but there is a reason an ambulance costs 200-250K and it is not the old throw ’em in the back and drive fast. Please do not risk rushing and crashing on the way and do not toy with your health.
Roy, I hope to see you soon and keep your eye on the prize don’t get discouraged and keep kicking ass!