That's My Story...And I'm Sticking with it...
My, My, My what do we have here?
A heart attack will sneak up on you like a thief in the night. You will wake up with a pain in your chest that feels like an elephant is stepping on it. You will find it hard to breathe and then the panic will set in.
On November 5, 2010 this is what happened to me at one in the morning.
My wife called 9-1-1 and within minutes the paramedics arrived. Feeling like I was about ready to explode, one of them kept trying to force aspirin down my throat when all I wanted to do was go back to sleep. They would not let me close my eyes. I was getting rather annoyed about the paramedic who kept flicking my nose with his finger, telling me to stay awake. One of them continued to try to force 81 mg of aspirin down my throat, but I was unable to swallow so I spit the aspirin out.
Next they wrapped me in a blanket and the four of them grabbed a corner to start walking me down the stairs to the ambulance. I could hear Amy on the phone with the hospital, sobbing as she gave them my medical information. I was put into the ambulance praying that one of them would give me a shot of morphine instead of trying to jam aspirin down my throat as I had already left a trail on the way like Hansel and Gretel. Morphine would make the ride smoother like it had the last time.
Even though the ride took barely ten minutes, I felt every bump and pothole. Tears rolled down my face as the pain became more intense. I had no doubt now that this was a bad one. My last myocardial infarction, to use the proper medical terminology was mild, so mild they had to do a blood test that revealed elevated cardiac catalysts leaving no discernable tissue damage. This time I’m afraid I would not be so lucky.
The emergency room at Gilbert Mercy was a hub of chaotic activity, but as soon as one of the men dressed in scrubs injected some morphine into my arm, the frantic activity became a ballet which I found thoroughly entertaining. The cat scan was next, but I was all settled in the gurney for the ride as faces and lights went skipping on by.
Once removed from the dark and mysterious room, I was on my way to the Intensive Care Unit or ICU as they say in doctorese. Once again the ride was quite to my liking until I saw Amy’s face. She had been crying. She put her hand on my face and said, “I thought I had lost you.”
Lost me? How did that happen? I am pretty hard to lose.
Then my cardio doctor came in, looked at the images from the cat scan and said, “We need to put a stint in your artery to get it flowing again.”
Off I went to the operating room. This trip included a ride on the elevator which on morphine gives credence to what Jerry Garcia had said years ago. Something about a long strange ride.
The room they wheeled me into was very large and darker than I had expected. One of the staff shaved me. The rough shave wasn’t my chin or even my armpits. No, this shave was the down there hair as they call it on commercials. I was a bit confused. My heart wasn’t where they had decided to shave. Seeing my troubled concern, my doctor spoke up, “We are going through your groin and all the way up to where the artery is blocked.”
I had to admit, I wasn’t feeling a bit of any of this. Everything was fine. No reason to panic. There was absolutely no pain, just some strange sensation that was more of a tickle than an owie.
There was a big clock on the wall and when my doctor told me the procedure was over the big old clock on the wall read 6:30. Still quite sedated, the first thing I said was, “You guys finished just in time for me to go to work.”
But my humor was not welcome at that moment with his apron covered in my blood. He thought I was being real as he responded very tersely, “You are not going to work! Not today.”
Of course I wasn’t serious, but later once the morphine began to recede, I realized my joke wasn’t that funny to the men and women who had just saved my life.
I did not have a private room and my roommate was an older man who had just had his chest cracked so they could install a pacemaker. He was in real pain and the Frankenstein stitches went from his belly to his clavicle or as they used to say from stem to sternum.
One of the nurses came in to do her rounds. I could hear him whisper, “Hey nurse, hey cutie pie, can I go to the smoking area and have a cigarette.”
“No you may not.” She scolded him, shaking her head as she headed my way. An hour later his daughter came in and together they walked to the smoking area where they both had a cigarette.
I sat there watching television. I am not by nature someone who likes watching a lot of television, but when you are limited in your options of what to do, you do what you can. With my ‘roommate’ now asleep after a couple of beers and whatever else was put in them, the silence was deafening. Amy had to go home and take care of the kids leaving me with the buzzing and beeping of a ward full of monitors. And my roommate’s snoring from his celebration of still being alive. He reminded me of how close I had come.
Now with all of the tubes and various connections to other parts of my body, my only sleeping position would be on my back. While not a fussy person by nature, I have been a stomach sleeper for as long as I can remember and thus a creature of habit as I am, I do not find great comfort sleeping on my back. Add to what I called the three o’clock invasion, when a nurse would come in for a blood sample and two injections needed as a blood thinner. One of the reasons I was on the guest list was due to thick blood that clotted in a vital artery that nearly killed me. After the invasion, going back to sleep was a nearly impossible physical feat. And there is nothing on television at that ungodly hour of the day anyway. I was left with stale conversation I could hear coming from the nurse’s station. My roommate was awake and absent from his bed, so I assumed he was in the smoking area with his sister.
The highlight of the morning was breakfast until I found out I was being served decaf coffee. After years in the military, the decaf was just not cutting it. Eggs and grapefruit rounded out the menu. I do not care for hot sauce, but this was as tempting as it could get to make my breakfast swim in the stuff if I wanted to.
The nurse came in to take my tray away. She was a very solidly built African American nurse who had more personality in her little finger than most people had in their entire bodies. She would give me a rundown of the chaos she had to live with everyday, but she used a lot of humor to get her point across. While laughing was nearly impossible in my current condition, her stories were worth more than one guffaw. She treated me like a king and made an instant friend of Amy. They could nurse-talk for hours which was as good a sedative as there was.
The good news was my heart had suffered some tissue damage, but considering the extent of the blockage, I was fortunate to survive with only forty percent functional damage overall. I would have to endure cardio-rehabilitation, but I got through it once, I could do it again. I apologized for cracking jokes in the operating room, but I had a feeling I was not or ever be totally forgiven. It was okay with me. I would be going home eventually and before the holidays even. I was a lucky man even if my sense of humor was not appreciated.
My dreams were based on some of the noises I heard on the ward that included snoring from my roommate. So I got out my MP3 player and listened to the Boss and somewhere in his music, tears began rolling down my face at some of the tunes about desperation and passion that went unfulfilled. “Something in the Night” was a song that I had loved the first minute I heard it. I played it over and over again which is something I never do, because I prefer variety. But there is something in that song that pulled at my soul. I was fortunate to be able to hear the music that went right to my wounded heart. Perhaps it was the singer realizes that the only peace he will ever find comes as he’s driving down a deserted road at three in the morning. Three in the morning? Here comes the invasion.
“Good chance you will be headed home sometime tomorrow.” My favorite nurse told me before telling me about the latest episode of her teenage sons whom she could no longer control. Hard for me to believe that. She was the only one who could put the fear of God into my roommate.
“No offense, but I can’t wait.” I said.
“None taken.” She shook her head. “Good thing I am not a patient here. I’d be one of the worst. Just the worst.”
I laughed until my side hurt.
My roommate went home. His sister ‘broke him out’ as he put it. They lit up a cigarette as they walked out the door of the building. My favorite nurse shook her head. “He’ll be back.”
Amy and I watched Shipping News with Kevin Spacey. It was a really good movie, but then she had to leave. And I was all alone again. But not for long as they wheeled in another patient who had a pacemaker installed. He was still very much in pain and spent a few hours moaning until he finally fell asleep. Morphine is some wonderful stuff as it can turn off even the most excruciating pain. I had a tube running into my arm of the stuff and it made everything much better.
On my back again. Wires and tubes prevented me from getting to my stomach for a good night sleep, my last one hopefully in this place. I managed to get my torso turned, but the tubes in my arms prevented me from making a complete one-eighty. Little by little, I managed to get another part turned toward the mattress. One leg and arm was still elevated, however, but if I kept working it, I could get on my stomach.
It never quite got there, but sleep did and so I spent the night half turned and half suspended precariously. There was no need for a three o’clock invasion, but the next morning as the morning sun came screaming into my room all I heard was the voice of my favorite nurse exclaim, “My, my, my, what do we have here?”
I must have resembled Pinocchio before his fairy godmother turned him into a real boy and he was still just a marionette hanging in Geppetto’s workshop. Half of me was resting peacefully on my stomach while my limbs were suspended in the wires and tubing. I could see her standing by the side of my bed, but I could not look up to see the amused expression on her face. There was nothing I could do to escape from my precarious position. Within a couple of minutes, she had managed to free me from my snare. If someone had thought to snap a picture, it would have lived on SnapChat for years. I can’t imagine how I must’ve looked to her, when she walked in with my final breakfast.
Half hanging suspended from the wires and tubes, the other half resting comfortably in a pillow. I’m sure that this was not something they covered in nursing school, but her kindness and patience came natural to her as did her sense of humor in my predicament.
Within an hour after breakfast, the doctor signed my discharge and I was on my way home. Wheeled out in a wheelchair, it was the first time I smelled the air outside the hospital, so I took a deep breath and it was even more intoxicating than the morphine. I was glad to be alive. It is easy to take things for granted, but once you’ve been through something like this, you begin to count blessings until you realize that the number isn’t as important as the fact you are still alive.
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