Heart Month: A Tale of 14 Hours and 14 Aspirin Part Two

Heart Month: A Tale of 14 Hours and 14 Aspirin Part Two
Add a gurney and two nurses and picture us all squeezed into an elevator...

Continued from Part One...

So there I was, exactly two and a half years ago today, lying flat on my back on a gurney in the triage bay of the emergency room, my life completely in the hands of a group of complete strangers.

Are you a smoker?  No.  Do you drink?  No.  Use drugs?  No.  Is there a family history of heart disease?  Well, now that you mention it...

As I lay there, still stunned by the ER doctor's rather matter-of-fact diagnosis, it began to come into focus.  Despite just barely missing "preferred plus" status on a life insurance policy eight years earlier due to elevated triglycerides, I was certain that I'd beaten the family curse.  Could the cause of my heart attack simply be fate?

Before I even realized it, I began rattling off statistics like a 10 year-old Cubs fan.  First there was my maternal grandfather who died of heart failure a few years after suffering a heart attack (back in the days when bloodletting was still a treatment).  Next was my mother's oldest brother who died of a heart attack at 47.  Then her next oldest brother who died from complications while undergoing his second bypass surgery at the age of 51.  My mother's sister, thirteen years her junior, lives with diabetes and has suffered a pair of heart attacks and undergone numerous angioplasties.  Then of course there's my mom - diabetic, two heart attacks, a stroke, living with congestive heart failure (and surgically implanted, state-of-the-art defibrillator) but still going strong at 77, bless her barely functioning heart.

As preoccupied as I was with amazing the crew with family cardiac trivia and regaling them with every small detail of my 14-hour journey to the ER, the gravity of the situation had yet to sink in.

It became "as serious as a heart attack" the moment they sent for my daughter.

When they told her the news, she remained remarkably composed.  She immediately called her brother and informed him that he'd better get his butt to the hospital ASAP.  I wanted to let her know how proud I was of her.  Instead, I remained speechless.  Fighting back tears, lips quivering, my voice trembling, all I could manage to mutter was "I'm sorry."

The next thing I know I was hurtling feet first down whitewashed corridors like an Olympic bobsledder atop a luge.  I was slid onto an ice cold stainless steel table with a black boom looming ominously overhead.  And then I was out.

When I awoke I was back on the gurney rolling slowly toward an elevator.  There were many voices behind me.  Inside the crowded elevator I caught a glimpse of my daughter, my son, my fiancee, and my ex-father-in-law.  None of my departed relatives were anywhere in sight, so apparently I was still alive.

Inside the ICU, I was told repeatedly that I was a lucky man.

I didn't find out just how lucky I had been until I saw a diagram of my blockages the following day.  Two at ninety percent.  One at one hundred percent.  One was in the circumflex artery.  The other two were in the LMCA - the widow maker artery.  One of those two was the hundred percenter.

Two stents were installed in the LMCA during the emergency catheter procedure.  The 90% blockage in the circumflex would have to wait another four or five weeks to be opened and stented.  I was far from out of the woods.

I was given a photocopied diagram of a heart with my blockages crudely sketched in pen.  Any questions I might have could be answered in an illustrated guidebook that appeared to be written for a fifth-grader.  Meanwhile, I was scheduled for more EKG's, more blood work, and an echocardiogram.  There was no telling how long I would remain connected to the monitoring equipment surrounding me in my private room in the ICU.

The extent of the damage to my heart - caused in large part by my delay in seeking treatment - would not be revealed immediately.  I would have to wait for the doctor's analysis of all the monitoring equipment, the series of EKG's, the continual blood work, and the echocardiogram.

I could only hope that the same, strong, bicycling heart that allowed me to endure a 14-hour myocardial infarction would become strong enough to propel me on many more two-wheeled adventures.

As I peered out my hospital room window, I could see the familiar Poplar Creek Trail that I had ridden close to a hundred times before.  It was either a sign of hope or a cruel reminder of what my delay in seeking treatment had truly cost me...

My path to recovery begins in Part Three.


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