What it feels like to have a heart attack. I had mine while I was at work.
|My Heart Attack Part 1
Having a heart attack is a sensation I had never experienced. I had just finished inhaling a large coffee to go from Dunkin’ Donuts. A maple bar washed down with caffeinated coffee followed by a menthol cigarette was a daily ritual that brought me great comfort. I was sitting at my desk waiting for our manager meeting to begin when the cramping in my stomach started. It felt like gas. It got so severe I made my way to the ladies’ room robotically. It had probably been one minute from getting up from my desk to throwing open the door to the bathroom. It felt like a century. The pain of the attack started as soon as I sat down to do my business. It came on like a huge lightning bolt that hit home in my chest to the left of the center.
My first thought was I am in deep trouble, there is no one in here to help me. My mind was busy making a plan to find a way to get across the room where I was sure there was a door going to the hallway which led to the huge open office filled with many other desks. My people were busy inputting data. The supervisors would be casually walking to the meeting room. Normally one or more of the women would stop in the restroom. Not this day. I tried to yell but no sound came out. There I was frozen to the floor with an indescribable stiffening of every bone in my body. I could not catch my breath. Hell, I could not breathe at all. I experimented with miming breathing in through my nose and out through my nose to no avail. I started to cry but that wouldn’t go on long. I had never cried while suffocating to death. I could feel and “see” every muscle, bone, and organ in my body. Writhing in pain, my mind was making a checklist as I saw each one.
When I found myself navigating as if in a submarine near my stomach I had a vision of green peas. Crawling in those moments was not an option. The lightning bolt attack knocked me off the throne. I was curled up in a fetal position of sorts with my face planted on the cold bathroom floor. I was lying half in and half out of the stall. From that vantage point, a quick turn of my head at floor level proved to me that no one was there. I felt alone and isolated. No one was there to see how I was in excruciating pain. The sound of me gasping for breath would have drawn someone’s attention. I heard it but knew the gasping was futile as my lungs protested the lack of oxygen. I let out an audible laugh as a quick thought reminded me how happy I had been throughout my life to find a restroom empty. No one babbling about the last customer they spoke with or someone making plans with another to go to happy hour at a nearby bar.
I was wishing with all my frozen stiff heart someone would walk in. Anybody. Praying fervently. I was hoping it would be Mike who supervised the team next to mine. He had just graduated from a community college the previous June. He was young and already a customer service zealot. He was one of us born to work in customer service. I envisioned him retiring after 42 years of customer service like me. He did help save me, but it took me putting that ‘crawling out and down the hall to the office’ plan in action to get his attention.
The pain ripping through my chest came to rest in my lower back. It took every last ounce, which was about the amount of strength I had left, to move. I managed maybe six inches on my first attempt. Something I call survival mode kicked in. I was soon crawling rapidly out the door and down the hallway. My knees ached as a rug burn was soon inflicted as I made it into the office all the way to my desk where I pulled myself up onto my desk chair. Mike was just coming around his desk. He took one look at me and went back to his desk. He picked up his phone dialing the security people, following procedure. Our big friendly security guard bounded through a door on the other side of the room. I kept passing out. I heard Mike say that the ambulance was on its way and to hang on and that big Mike was just a short way from reaching me. Big Mike picked up my head gently and said these words. “Vicki, you are having a heart attack. Chew these orange baby aspirin as quickly and completely as you can. They will save your life. Stay where you are and look into my eyes. Don’t look away. I am going to get you through this." As I chewed I heard a screeching siren. The very best part of the paramedics’ arrival was being able to gulp oxygen. I was so happy I wanted to kiss the very air I was breathing. I was allowed to sit up on the gurney while being wheeled past dozens of employees standing up near their desks stone-faced.
The inside of an ambulance is incredibly small. There is little room to move. I am told that I told the paramedic not to worry because I was alive and not claustrophobic. Three minutes later I was being wheeled to the side door to the Emergency Room. There was urgency in their movements as the medical people did the exam. An EKG, a talk with a doctor. A student nurse attempted to put in a catheter but after many attempts on her part and a whole lot of pain for me, she stopped trying. They did not have a cath lab in this hospital. I needed an angiogram, they said. I had to be transported to a hospital that thankfully was closer to home. My heart was beating but I could not move. I felt frozen to the emergency room bed. My lips were so dry I could barely swallow. My brain was on autopilot. I was not happy about sucking on ice chips and waiting what seemed like hours for someone to come in and give me a status report.
My Heart Attack Part 2
I was dozing on and off in a very small private room. A nurse came in to grab my stomach fat, squeezed, and stabbed a needle into my stomach. She said it was normal after a heart attack. The hospital I was taken to is literally located right next to the shopping mall where I was working on the Census 2000 project. They rented a closed-down grocery store. The ambulance ride was probably three minutes or less. My comment about you not wanting to ever ride in an ambulance was insensitive to ones who have had an ambulance ride significantly change their lives. We got there quickly where I was taken directly to an exam bay in the emergency room, evaluated (had a student nurse unsuccessfully put in a catheter, and checked after a coupld of hours being observed I was wheeled into a private room. There was difficulty reaching my daughter. They got her some 4 hours later. She called her brother and they got there when I was settled in and watching TV. I was never so glad to see their beautiful faces.
I was transferred to different hospital by ambulance in the middle of the night. I was no longer in a crisis situation. I had at least 40 minutes in there where I concluded it was cramped. I remember chatting a little with the person inside with me. I was headed for a hospital I knew well. In the morning I was scheduled for and had an angiogram. Blocked descending artery. Stent put in. At that time it was necessary to stay prone in one position for 4 hours I think. A plug is put in the entry point. After a long time being still I begged the nurse to allow me to move just a little. Against her better judgment she allowed it. I proceeded to projectile vomit on her and the bed and the floor below. I kept apologizing for that. She was very comforting. I was very embarrassed.
What I learned from this experience:
~Smoking was a serious mistake. Smoking and the build-up of plaque from lousy diet/high cholesterol were the causes of my heart attack.
~Quitting smoking was not going to last. I quit for a year, picked it up again for a couple of years, and quit permanently cold turkey when I was too sick and home for 3 months. I had no access to cigarettes and after 3 months I had no desire for a cigarette. That was 22 years ago.
~Life is short. Work on doing the things on your bucket list early while you have the time, money, and health to travel and do physical things. My bucket list is complete which takes the pressure off.
~People are scared off when you have a major medical event. They are afraid of the unknown. They don’t know what to say or when it is appropriate to contact you. I had a major issue before when I had breast cancer. I needed one mastectomy. I went in to have a follow-up mammogram about 8 months later to find it had spread. I had another mastectomy. During that time it was like I became invisible. I felt an urgent need to get my affairs in order, write an autobiography, and make final cremation arrangements set up and paid for so I wouldn’t be a burden to the kids when I die.
~The most humungous thing to come out of having a heart attack (and a couple of other near-death experiences) is I am not afraid to die. In some ways, I look forward to it primarily to seeing my grandma, mom, brother, and sister.