Oh, So Close!
I imagined it would be like getting hit in the chest by Mike Tyson, or George Foreman, or one of those other heavyweight champions. I would fall to the ground in pain unable to breathe, my tongue hanging out of the side of your mouth, watching my life pass before my eyes. That’s what I thought a heart attack would feel like. It didn’t.
Mine snuck up on me.
I caught a cold around Thanksgiving. About a week into it my breathing started to feel raw. A little pain (felt like fire) in the chest, a cough and some catching-my-breath issues. I thought I probably had pneumonia. The low grade pain and other symptoms came and went for several days until the night of Friday, December 6, when the pain spiked enough to wake me from a sound sleep. The pain radiated to my shoulders, down both arms,into my neck and jaw. Over the course of the next couple of hours the pain subsided, but the spike was enough to convince me I needed to see someone ASAP.
The next morning I went to urgent care at my usual Allina Clinic. “I’m either having a heart attack or I have pneumonia,” I informed the admitting person. She asked a couple of questions about symptoms (pain location and severity, breathing, family history of heart problems, etc.) and quickly got a nurse involved. Vitals, a chest Xray and a CT scan took place over the next 15 to 20 minutes. The nurse told me the vitals were okay and the Xray showed my lungs didn’t have fluid. The CT scan wasn’t perfect, but within tolerances for a person my age.
Enter the physician’s assistant on duty. She immediately dismissed the idea of a cardiac issue, instead prescribing an antibiotic, cough medicine and steroid. She did mention the CT scan wasn’t like it would be “if I was twenty years old.” Then she dismissed me. “Hope you feel better,” she said as she got up to leave. Total elapsed time with the P.A.: less than ten minutes up to that point..
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Both you and nurse said that the CT scan wasn’t perfect. What did you mean?”
She sat back town and went over the CT scan print-out with me, pointing out where the scan would have been different if I was younger. There were a couple of spots on the scan that didn’t look right to me, but she did not see them as a problem. “Maybe we should have a cardiologist look at this,” I suggested.
“Oh. We could refer you to one,” she replied. “I can have someone call you Monday to set it up. There’s no one in the referral department on Saturday.”
“Let’s do that,” I said. We both got up to leave. “Hope you feel better,” she repeated. I drove home and took the steroid, antibiotic and cough syrup as directed over the next few days. The pain persisted, but not at a high level. On Tuesday morning, December 10, I got a call from the Allina referral department who gave me the number of a cardiologist to call. I set up an appointment a couple of days later. I felt fatigued and took a mid-day nap, waking up with the same extreme radiating pain that had sent me to urgent care three days earlier. I called my regular doctor, Dr. Neil Johnson, and got in to see him at 3:45 in the afternoon. In less than three minutes, after about four questions–the same type asked by the urgent care admitting person–he told me to go directly to emergency. We (Kathy was with me) chose Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville because it was only three blocks away. We made the right choice.
The care at Fairview Ridges was (I hate to say the word because it is so over-used, but I can think of no other) AWESOME! From the emergency room, to the cardiac ward, to the ICU to the cardiologists (thank you Drs. Foster-Smith and Battista), to the surgical team, without exception, is was AWESOME! Keep in mind, this praise is coming from a curmudgeon who is skeptical of our medical system, and who had never previously spent a night in a hospital as a patient.
Pre-Op Scan of the “Widow Maker” artery.
Post-Op scan after installation of a stent
On the other hand, the artery was 95% blocked (see top image, above) and there was a little blood clot sitting there, waiting to roll into the remaining 5% opening. I was that close to “lights out”.
Kathy calls me the Christmas miracle. I don’t know about that, but it was awfully nice to see the first light of a new decade on January 1, 2020.
After the procedure was done (a stent placed in the “widow maker” artery) I learned that I had had three heart attacks: one on Friday December 6, a second on Tuesday, December 10, and a third on Wednesday, December 11 while in the hospital, which got me advanced on the list of people waiting for angioplasties. Luckily, none of my attacks were severe, so there is no significant damage to the heart muscle.
The usual content of my newsletter will return next month, when the cover of The Sower, sequel to The Reaper and second book in the Chimera Chronicles, will be revealed.
One final thing. GO, GOPHERS!!! Gophers 31, Auburn 24—and it wasn’t that close. Congratulations on beating one of the best college football teams in the country. I guess that makes you ONE OF THE BEST TEAMS IN THE COUNTRY. Can’t wait until next year.