Part I: “The What”
The bruises have mostly faded, save a few (stubborn, like me.)
Last night made three weeks since my heart attack, which I prefer to call my heart opening. The hip to knee bruising was from the angioplasty’s aftermath, when the site where they entered my femoral artery leaked for a while until they went back in and sealed it up. As painful (and colorful!) as the aftermath to that was, I am grateful that it happened, for it slowed me down and gave me time to reflect and savor the experience I had been given, and honestly, compared to the pain of the actual heart opening/attack, it was nothing.
You know how there are particular events in your life which alter your thinking to “Before” and “After?” Those things that happen to you which days, weeks, and years later you are able to recall exactly where you were and what you were doing? “Three weeks ago tonight at this time I was watching The Voice when all of a sudden I thought the top of my head was going to explode.”
This, for me, has been one of those experiences. And, it began with a headache, which, according to my cardiologist, doesn’t happen.
But it did. Many of you have asked me questions such as “What did it feel like?” and “How did you know?” So, I am here, doing what I have previously resisted so mightily, writing my story to share with those who wish to know. Maybe it will help someone…I know it will help me.
I don’t want to forget the pain, but even as I type that, I realize that it is already fading. I suppose it is similar to the pain of childbirth which, once your baby is in your arms, recedes in your mind to a dull memory of secondary importance. I want the experience in whole to stay fresh in my consciousness so I don’t ever begin to minimize its impact on my heart and mind, and writing it down is an excellent tool to do just that. Perhaps someday I will read this again and think to myself “Wow! I don’t remember it as that excruciating,” but I don’t think so.
One doesn’t easily forget one’s crucifixion…or one’s resurrection. Which is exactly what it felt like, or, at least, what I would imagine it to feel like. Nor does one lose the gratitude which surviving such an experience births.
So, here’s what happened, what it felt like, how I made it through and what it all possibly means…the “why.”
I really was laying in bed enjoying watching The Voice when all of a sudden, out of no-where, it felt like the top of my head was going to either ex- or implode. The pressure was incredible, and unlike any headache I’ve had in my life and I have had some doozies, although these past many years since I began practicing meditation and Reiki, I have only had very mild ones and those only very infrequently.
For some reason, instead of treating it with Reiki like I normally would any physical (or mental or emotional) pain, I got out of bed and took a dose of ibuprofen (my regular go-to for more than minor pain) and a 325 mg (not baby sized) aspirin (kept on hand “just in case” but not routinely taken.) I told Bob I was going to just get ready and go to bed, thinking I would sleep the headache off. I scooped the litter boxes, brushed my teeth (I was already in my pajamas) and laid back down to relax.
That’s when it started. The Pain. THE PAIN.
In my chest. Then my arms. Then my neck. Then, even my ears.
This rolling wave of all encompassing misery. And, it did come in waves…left to right, right to left, from up to down and back up again. I had never, ever, felt anything like it, and I immediately knew something was very wrong.
I got up, went back into the kitchen and told Bob just that…
“Something is very wrong.”
“This is not good.”
“I think I’m having a heart attack.”
Now, here is where we should have called 911. Here is where ANYONE should call 911, so if you find yourself thinking you may be having a heart attack, do NOT do what we did, which was get in the car and drive to the hospital, even after I ended up melting onto the front hall floor…I just had to lay down…on the way out the door.
Since they closed our local hospital, we had to drive to Wake Med North in Raleigh which is 20 miles, 30 minutes without traffic, from our home. The waves continued the whole way like big, bad, rolling thunder with a continual, underlying sense of pure illness. I wasn’t sick to my stomach but I did have spells of slight, clammy sweating and a need for fresh air. About half way there, passing Rex’s Wake Forest facility, I asked Bob if they had an urgent care and if we could stop there because I was beginning to wonder if I was going to make it…literally. He said they did, but it was closed.
I stayed calm.
That amazed me. Even in the throes of that incredible pain, I stayed centered and focused on my breath, which was becoming more precious with every inhalation, although I was not actually short of breath. It was more a sense of not knowing if my whole body was going to hold up.
It was an odd thing for me to wonder if my next breath was going to actually come.
At the door to the emergency department, Bob threw the car into park and jumped out (car still running) to get me a wheel chair. We were directed to the registration desk where I gave them my name and birth date and then insisted I couldn’t answer any more questions right then…
“I need help NOW!” (I’m usually not so impatient/demanding!)
To her credit, the registrar recognized that I really did need immediate attention and notified the triage nurse who wheeled me directly into a room with an EKG machine, which she hooked me up to after a few, perfunctory questions.
I laid there as the machine did its quick thing and watched the nurse rip off the print out and run out of the room. Before I knew it, I had been wheeled into another room and was quickly surrounded by about 20 people…each one of them either poking me with needles or questions, all talking to each other…
(YESSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!! Morphine!!! Relief!!!)
(NOOOOOOOOOO!!! It’s not working!!!)
As they packaged me up for transport to Big Wake for cardiac catheterization, I told Bob “I love you. Call the kids and tell them I love them.” I wanted those to be my last words, if they were going to be my last.
I still just didn’t know.
My paramedic in the ambulance was an angel named Michael. As we barreled down the highway somehow my pain actually got worse. I rocked from side to side, my legs doing some kind of weird cycling thing, my whole body now caught up in an agony that I was beginning to question would ever end. Waves and waves of pain and underneath that pain was a whole other ocean of misery. Every time the driver hit the siren I prayed, “Jesus, open the way.”
Arriving at Big Wake, I was wheeled directly to the cardiac cath lab, where the whole team was standing by, ready for me. At this point, the morphine and Ativan I had been given began to really kick in…not so much relieving the pain, but allowing me to relax my body a bit and making everything even more surreal. More poking and prodding, instructions to lay still, lights being turned off and on, monitors glowing. I saw my heart on a screen. I felt the doctor pushing, tapping something into my body. I looked at his tired, intent face, saw him yawn.
And then, suddenly, the pain was gone.
Just like that.
(NOTE! Heart attack symptoms can vary WIDELY between individuals! Here is a great article and website to get you familiar with what to watch for. http://myheart.net/articles/signs-and-symptoms-of-a-heart-attack/ And, have some aspirin on hand…”just in case!”)
To be continued…
The medical information included in this post is, at best, of a general nature and cannot substitute for the advice of a medical professional (for instance, a qualified doctor/physician, nurse, pharmacist, and so on). I am none of these. I am simply sharing my own, personal experience.
Nothing in this post should be construed as an attempt to offer or render a medical opinion or otherwise engage in the practice of medicine.