Those of you who read the first article posted here on TRiiiKE.com learned I had a heart attack in September of 2010. My main right coronary artery was 100 percent blocked and a stent was placed. Then in December of 2010, while attending cardiac rehab classes I suddenly experienced searing and throbbing tooth and jaw pain. I had been to the dentist two days prior, so I simply thought the dentist may have irritated a nerve. The cardiac rehab staff thought it may be angina, instead. To make a long story short, I took another ride by ambulance to ER, was admitted and soon ended up in the cath lab again for yet another stent.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last of my troubles. After Christmas, I returned to cardiac rehab and felt grateful that I was finally on the mend. I went back to cardiac rehab stronger and more confident in my ability to deal with my heart disease. I returned to work and was, once again, handling my heavy work load. ‘This is it’, I thought. I was losing weight, watching my diet, exercising and feeling better and stronger each day.
Then came January, 2011. My husband and I traveled to Standish to attend a dinner meeting with colleagues. We headed home after dinner and I was thankful my husband had come along. I still found driving tiring and I mentioned to my husband how thankful I was that I no longer had to commute an hour to get to work every day.
After arriving home, my husband and I settled in and decided to watch a movie. Nothing prepared or warned me for what was about to happen next. I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my chest. It subsided quickly but returned every few seconds. Not wanting to alarm my husband, I walked out to the kitchen and placed a Nitro tab under my tongue and returned to the movie. I slipped the Nitro bottle in my pocket just in case I needed to take another pill. Five minutes passed and the chest pains had not subsided. I took another Nitro, this time telling my husband what was happening. I tried to deliver the message calmly and my husband shot back a mixed look of disbelief and concern. After three Nitros, protocol is to call 911 if the pain continues. I was reluctant to call because the pain was not intense but I decided to follow procedure.
The ambulance arrived and they took me to the hospital where I was admitted for evaluation. I had the usual testing – an EKG, echocardiogram, x-rays, and lab work. The following day I was scheduled for a stress test. The doctor who monitored me during the test said I handled things “well and the EKG looked good.” He said as long as the imaging, which compared my heart function prior to and after exercising, “went well,” I could go home. Being my usual optimistic self, I thought for sure I was going home. Besides, I hadn’t experienced any additional chest pain except for one time since admission.
The cardiologist met with me the next morning and told me the imaging had not looked good and explained the lower half of my heart was not getting enough oxygen. Another heart cath was scheduled for the next day. The outcome of the cath exam found that one of my stents placed in September was becoming blocked and the blockage in my main left artery had progressed from 70 to 80 percent in a few short months. The cardiologist asked for a consult from the heart surgeon to provide an opinion on how to proceed.
The cardiac surgeon on consult was the same surgeon who performed my Mom’s double bypass approximately 20 years earlier. I was fully confident in his opinion and his abilities. He was matter- of-fact when he told me that I definitely needed a triple or quadruple bypass. He said my chances of survival were 99 percent and I had a good chance of leading a long and productive life following the procedure. I asked him if I should wait or if I should have the surgery now. He looked me straight in the eye and said “Go home and what? Risk another heart attack? You should have it done now.”
My surgery was scheduled for 6 a.m. the next morning. I can’t say I was fearful or even apprehensive. Maybe I was still reeling from the news and only half believing what was about to happen. My family sat quietly while they prepared me for surgery. My boys looked tired; their eyelids half-mast. Being night owls, these guys were not used to waking up at 5:30 am. Quick kisses and hugs were soon shared and I was whisked away to the surgery area.
The on-call doctor, who was filling in for my family physician, met me outside of surgery, held my hand and wished me well and told me I was “in God’s hands.” It was the first time I became teary-eyed and somewhat overwhelmed. I knew this doctor (who I had only met several days earlier) had gotten up and made a point to come in and see me prior to surgery. It was a very kind gesture and one I won’t soon forget. It touched my heart.
The last thing I remember was getting something to help me relax and then it was “lights out.”
I awoke in recovery 10 minutes after surgery. The surgery itself had taken four hours. I couldn’t speak because of the breathing tube. I remember my husband holding my hand. I don’t recall my sister or my sons being there but have been told they were. Deb, a friend of mine who works as a surgical instructor, took time out to sit with me and recited the Lord’s Prayer. Despite the sedation, the weakness and the pain, I felt very happy to be alive. If I could have gotten up on the gurney I would have been hugging everyone and sharing high-fives.
My heart attack and subsequent issues have been a rude awakening, but an awakening none the less. It is ‘oh so easy’ to take life for granted and to go through a day being less mindful than what we should be about what really matters.
We have had a tradition in our household since the boys were very young. If any of us are ever too far away to hug or kiss or we are in the middle of something and just can’t get away…we still blow kisses and say “I love you.” If one of us happens to be on the receiving end… the receiver’s job is to catch the kisses and respond with “I love you back.”
I encourage you to take time to hug your spouse, kiss your kids, get together with a friend, and tell your family you love them on a regular basis. Set aside any grudges. Instead, forgive and forget. Accept others for who they are and leave the judging to Someone more capable of holding the position. Most importantly, spend time taking care of yourself! If you do these things, chances are something wonderful may be heading your way. It may be a simple smile, a heartfelt hug or words of encouragement from another. Nothing earth shattering – just the important stuff!