Thursday, June 10, 2010
The Heart Attack
The first thing I noticed was one of my cats had her paw on my arm as if she was trying to wake me. I don’t know; maybe I was moaning in my sleep or something. As I turned over, I felt the pain in my chest. It felt as if someone had hit me as hard as they could on my breast bone. I sat up and tried to tell myself it was nothing. But I had a triple bypass five years ago and although I didn’t have a heart attack then, I knew what the symptoms meant. And I knew that the new feeling I was having, feeling clammy, was another one. I got up and turned on Google just to tell myself I wasn’t being melodramatic. And then I got dressed.
“It’s fourfucking20inmorning,” I told myself.
I couldn’t face having an ambulance come and carry me off—the last time it happened in my apartment complex, the lady never returned. So I did the man-thing. I gathered my medication (so I wouldn’t have to try to remember what I take) and took a baby aspirin, found my Kindle and its cord, made sure I had my ICE information in my wallet, and then drove myself to the local hospital which is about eight blocks away. No one was on the road and I kept saying to me, “You’re doing fine…”
When I walked into the emergency room entrance, there was no one around. I walked toward the emergency ward and finally saw a nurse. “I’m having incredible chest pains,” I said. “Oh, God,” she said quietly and had me give the initial check-in information.
By that point things in my memory begin to blur. I know they led me to a bed and I was surprised they didn’t have me remove my Levis. They gave me baby aspirin, a nitroglycerine tablet and morphine to calm the heart attack that they determined was going on. It took till almost 8 in the morning for the whole thing to subside. The doctor who became my cardiologist told me later that I’d had a “mild heart attack.”
The doctors at the hospital determined fairly quickly that they wanted me at their larger hospital in Chicago where the equipment and the level of care would be better suited for what I was going through. So I was transferred by ambulance to the hospital. I remember watching the ride through the doors and wondering what would happen if the doors flew opened.
For four days I was in the Rush Cardiac Emergency Ward. Great nurses, good doctors. After the angiogram which determined that one of the grafts from my triple bypass--the one with an artery from my arm—had failed. “But,” explained my cardiologist, “there were lots of little veins which had grown there providing the heart oxygen.” (At least that’s the explanation as I remember it.) I had worried I would have another bypass surgery, but instead a regimen of medicine was prescribed.
I was fascinated to see my heart on a sonogram. And I’ve never heard the different sounds the heart makes in the various cavities. I learned a lot of new things.
At one point I worried how incapacitated I would be. “Can I drive?” I asked my doctor’s assistant. “Why not,” she laughed, “you only had a heart attack.”
My school was incredibly supportive. In spite of us only having three weeks of school left, my colleagues covered my classes. When I returned to work the Friday before the last week, one of my freshmen girls was the first to see me walk toward the classroom. She literally beamed. And when the kids got in class, they gave me a standing ovation. It still makes me smile. Later for my junior class, I usually stand at the door and give the kids the equivalent of a high-five—we hit elbows since swine flu made us all worry about spreading germs. Well, I started the elbows with the kids and one of them said, “I want a hug.” So he got one. And many in the class lined up for theirs also.
Having a heart attack leaves me in a new category. I don’t feel much different than I did, but I do get more tired than before. I realize I have to spend part of my summer trying to build up my strength.
The change I know I have to deal with is suggested in the statistic which says, “One out of every three people who have heart attacks suffer from depression afterwards.” Believing I was close to death, whether I was or not, suddenly makes me question lots of things about my life that I thought I had already found answers for. I had a brother and a sister and parents and grandparents—all of whom are gone. And I’m not sure I’m ready to follow them this soon. I have five books I want to finish—all in various stages of completion. I have artwork I want to do. But I have to fight the feeling that it may not really matter.