Serious as a Heart Attack …

… or … how really bad things can lead to really good things … if you’re willing to look for them

You all know the phrase: the summer offensive was, “Serious as a Heart Attack;” the guy exited the meeting with his attorney and he was as, “Serious as a Heart Attack.” Blah, blah.
Well, try one some time – a heart attack, that is. You’ll find that the phrase takes on a new meaning. I did.
May 26, 2011 was the date. I had gone to bed with “indigestion” which persisted until I nodded off. Somewhere before five in the bloody am, I had to perform that old guy tradition, the middle of the night pee trek. The indigestion seemed worse and, when I returned to bed became worse still – so uncomfortable that I rose, threw on a robe and tried relaxing in a comfy living room chair. Connor, the cat, jumped onto the arm of the chair with a quizzical look (I am not, nor have I ever been, an early riser. And, perhaps, being a cat, he understood that his food source was experiencing some difficulty. Cats may not be the most affectionate of creatures all the time, but they pay attention when Captain Crunchy is in distress.) The pain grew worse, and just like they say, I found an elephant standing on my sternum. My breathing grew labored and the elephant seemed quite happy to remain perched where he was – that’s when I walked to the bedroom and gently awakened my sleeping fiancé with the words, “Honey. I think we need to go to the hospital.”

“Mr. Daly,” said the graveyard e/r doc, “You’re having a heart attack.” I was hoping that it was tension over the home remodeling, the week-away wedding, the party guest list, but I knew it when he said it.
Those of you who’ve had the experience understand the pain. Sure I’d had a pang or two – little hints of what was to come – but I ate fairly well, stayed away from fatty, sugary food and was in reasonable shape for a man of my advanced years. I never expected, “The Big One.” Besides, pilots aren’t allowed to have “chest pain” – FAA won’t stand for it – so we have “indigestion”.
Since Kaiser farmed out their “catheterization” work I was ambulanced off to Scripps Hospital on Torrey Pines Mesa. I was mildly comforted by the female EMT accompanying me who said, “Mr. Daly, it sucks that you’re having a heart attack, but we’re taking you to the place that started this procedure. They do more of these than any hospital in the City, in Southern California, perhaps, even, in this country. You will get the best care possible.” I appreciated her vote of confidence, but it did very little to calm that elephant now doing, I believe, the cha-cha on my chest.
At 5:45 AM, the EMT’s wheeled me into a room with half a dozen, maybe more – the details were insignificant compared to my labored breathing – numbered areas containing a bed, each, and a whole lotta serious-looking medical equipment/stuff.
The male EMT, nodding at the numbered areas, said, “Got a preference?”
I replied, “4’s always been lucky for me.”
“4 it is,” he said, turning the gurney towards area “4”.
The cardiologist and a couple of nurses greeted me, and hooked me up to a bunch of stuff – the memory dims four plus years later.
The cardiologist, a very nice man with a spectacularly good bedside manner and a sense of humor to boot, said, “Mr Daly, you are having a heart attack. We will fix that problem. After this procedure, which should take less than an hour, you will feel a whole lot better – better than you’ve felt in years. You’ll feel so good that you may want to leap off the gurney. I would advise against that because we will be making a hole in your right leg so that we can enter the femoral artery. When we’re done, we’ll be putting a “plug” in the hole in your leg. If you jump off the gurney, the plug will pop out and you may bleed to death before we’re able to reinsert it.”
“Got it, Doc,” I said. “I’ll curb my enthusiasm.”
The Doctor departed, leaving a nurse who was still hooking me up to stuff. In rushed an amazon, (apparently the head nurse, although I couldn’t see if her knees were dirty) who took a look around the room and raced over to area number 4. She grabbed the chart on my bed, perused it for a moment, then tried to roll me towards the OR. The nurse who had been working on me advised her that she hadn’t finished her prep work, and would be done in a moment. The amazon, agitated, barked, “We have to get this patient into the ER now. I sped down here from Escondido. Time is of the essence.”
I began to realize that, perhaps, my heart attack wasn’t the garden variety and, maybe, might be a tad more serious than I thought. I did have to chirp at the amazon, though, “These folks are working very hard on my behalf,” I said. “And, however much coffee you drink, you need to cut it in half.”
“I don’t drink coffee,” the amazon replied, but at least she smiled at me.

In a hospital, medical staff are known to ask about how much pain you’re suffering on a scale from 1 to 10 – 1 being, “Oh, it’s just a little;” 10 being, “OMG, I’m gonna die.” When I first arrived at the ER, I told them that the pain was about an ‘8’. They had already given me an aspirin and with the ‘8’ response they had me place a tab under my tongue.
“What is it,” I asked.
“Nitroglycerine,” the ER nurse told me. “Let me know if the pain diminishes in a minute or so.”
“Nope,” I said after a minute or so. She popped another nitro tab under my tongue.
“How about now,” she said.
“Nope.” Another tab under my tongue, but this time she seemed a tad concerned.
Third tab was the charm. “It’s about a ‘5’,” I said. She seemed relieved.

They asked me the same question when I arrived at Scripps. ‘5’ is what I told them. Shortly before my nurse had finished her prep, the amazon came over to wheel me into the OR.
I said, “You remember that pain that used to be an ‘8’, then relaxed to a ‘5’?” I said.
“Yes,” the amazon replied.
“It’s pushing up towards ‘9’,” I said.
“Mr Daly,” said the amazon, “Can you sit up?”
“Sure,” I said, as I did.
She took a couple of paddles and placed them on my back and my chest and asked me to lie back down.
“Is that ‘just in case’?” I asked.
“Yes, Mr Daly, just in case.” Whoo boy, this stuff was starting to get serious.
They had given me some kind of anesthetic which they told me would relax me and eliminate pain, but that I might be awake during the entire procedure. Not moi, me boyos – as they rolled me into the OR, I rolled off into yamma-yamma land. Nighty-night.

Now, while I was sleeping, my fiancé, Saint Laurel, who had followed the ambulance to Scripps, was waiting outside the OR. Years before, she had taken her father to a hospital for, I believe, triple-bypass surgery. She had waited for over 3 hours before the surgery was done. None of us mentioned to her that my procedure should be completed inside an hour. When my cardiologist emerged from the OR in just under that hour, she turned ash-white knowing she was about to hear very bad news.
The cardiologist realized that he hadn’t informed her and rushed over to tell her that the procedure went fine and that I’d be emerging from the OR in a few minutes. Saint Laurel’s panic was relieved.

So I wake on the gurney as they’re wheeling me out of the OR and the cardiologist is right by my side.
“Doc,” I said, “Thanks for saving my life.”
He smiled. Maybe patients didn’t always thank him. “You’re welcome,” he said.
“Doc,” I said, “We’ve got a problem.”
“What problem is that,” he said, with a touch of concern.
“My fiancé and I are flying to Hawai’i a week from today. We’re supposed to get married a week from Saturday.”
“I don’t understand the problem, Mr Daly,” the cardiologist said with another smile.
“You mean I can fly?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said. “You’re cured. We did an angiogram and found a complete blockage of your left anterior descending artery. We did an angioplasty and opened that blockage. We inserted a stent to keep the blockage from reforming and then we did another angiogram to find that all of your heart’s arteries are flowing freely. In fact, a vacation with lots of rest would be the best thing for you.”
I was cured. We could go to Hawai’i and get married. Whatta great day.

Because the heart attack was a “stemi”, a serious myocardial infarction, they kept me in the hospital an extra day. The next day, safely ensconced in a private room, a nurse practitioner called on me to see how I was faring. We had a pleasant discussion until I told her that Saint Laurel and I were flying to Hawai’i that next week to marry.
“The Doctor authorized that?” she said.
“Of course,” I replied. “I’m cured.”
” … but Mr Daly … there are problems.”
“What problems would there be?” I asked.
“Well, you can’t put any strain on your heart. You won’t be able to carry your luggage.”
“That’s okay,” I said, “My fiancé is a strong girl. She can handle my bag.”
“But there’s another problem,” she said, a tad quietly.
“What would that be?” I asked.
“Well … (quieter still) … you can’t have sex for at least a month,” she said.
“I CAN’T HAVE SEX ON MY HONEYMOON?” I replied, letting everyone on my floor know my predicament.
“But … it could kill you,” she replied, with great concern.
I chuckled. “It’s alright,” I said. “We’ve lived together for ten years. I think we can give it up for a while. I don’t think that she would want THAT to be her last memory of me.”

(Coming up, next month, a happy ending?)

Posted in Whimsy