On this day a year ago, we woke up to a big snowfall – the biggest of the season, as it turned out. It was coming down like crazy, and I was even hoping to get out on my cross-country skis, at least do a few loops around our yard, unlike the previous year.
Thought I’d clean off my wife’s car first and the steps and walkway out front, just in case.
But that’s when I had to stop and try to catch my breath. I’d felt this sensation, something like what I’d heard asthma described like, several times in the past few months. I thought it was the aftermath of a nasty bug the previous fall, and several people in the know said it sounded like a walking pneumonia. Once, in particular, it hit me at the end of a length in the indoor swimming pool. Another time, while carrying a three-year-old down from Mount Agamenticus. After the third time, I went in to see my primary care physician, who said my lungs sounded fine, ordered an X-ray, and scheduled a stress test. Oh, yes, and if the symptoms returned, go straight to the emergency room.
Yeah, yeah. Just what I needed – more inconclusive tests.
So as the snow hit just two days before the stress test was scheduled and the symptoms returned, I figured I could ride it out until my appointment.
That’s when my elder daughter showed up. “My Prius is cleaned off and warmed up. Get in.” My wife seconded the motion, and reminded me they had my doctor in their corner.
OK, drop me off. I’ll give you a call when I’m done.
Remember, there was no pain. No chest pain, especially. This was a breathing problem.
Well, I did run up to the third floor to grab a fat book to keep me occupied, just in case.
At the ER, I didn’t have to spend any time in the waiting room. No, they had me right in to an examining room. A quick EKG was iffy, since it didn’t line up with the only one they had on record … nine years earlier. As for other tests?
At least I had that big book, a Christmas present from my other daughter. It was frothy enough and good perspective for my revisions in what would become Daffodil Uprising. I was enjoying having a chance to read for a change.
My attitude by now was, hey, I’m along for the ride. Worry won’t add anything.
Next thing I knew, the ER physician back to tell me she wasn’t releasing me till I had a stress test, the earliest one being the next day.
Can’t you make it earlier?
Somehow, she did. So off I was whisked in a wheelchair to a treadmill and a chipper physician and a calm echocardiographer and five minutes of walking toward some souped-up videos of natural scenes. Everything was fine, I was really trucking, but then, when I was off and supposedly resting for the follow-up view of my torso, the pain or panic started to hit. I suspected something was up when the cardiologist was introduced and I soon heard whispering behind me, “No, it’s bigger than that.”
OK, I’m still along for the ride. Off to the cath lab patient area, where two lovely nurses kept me distracted while prepping me for what I was told was going to be a look at my arteries. Uh-huh. We did do a lot of teasing in the interim. Hey, they had me feeling more like a 17-year-old than someone who was weeks away from 70. Nice job on their part, even while they were doing some ticklish work with a shaver.
Then I was rolled away again – here for the ride, right? – and into the cath lab itself while one of them kept humming “Ride of the Valkyries,” not knowing its place in the opera or the later movies or even Bugs Bunny. She just liked the tune. Oh, my, what I way to enter semi-consciousness.
Let me say, even on my back I realized there was some impressive teamwork being directed by a very commanding cardiologist wearing a big red Barcelona soccer hat. The anesthesiologist had a smaller red hat but I don’t know if it was emblazoned with anything. I knew I’d love to watch them all in action sometime when I’m not the subject of attention.
Twelve or so minutes later, they were done. I had a stent in my heart.
Well, I had a 99 percent obstruction of the left anterior descending artery. That is, I was one percent away from what used to be called a widowmaker heart attack.
Well, this really had become some ride. And now they were keeping me overnight for observation.
Except the hospital was very busy, and I’d be having a roommate.
He wasn’t along for the ride, kept me awake all night with his weeping and then complained to his wife the next morning about my snoring. Oh, my.
On my part, though, I was feeling very lucky. All along I was impressed by the quality of people who had charge of this ride. I’d cast them all in the movie version. And then when the final word came in, I was feeling especially blessed.
Look, all in all, I’ve had a good life. Maybe faith gives me a different perspective, but either outcome, I’d still be grateful.
The seriousness of the situation came in later, bits and pieces. Like the mention that nine out of 10 who have this kind of heart attack never survive to the hospital. Oh, wow, I didn’t have the heart attack. Caught it in time.
It has greatly changed my view of my life now, though. As I said, I’m feeling very blessed.