A Good Scare is worth more than Good Advice
I was 59 years old and in very good shape. I had never smoked, had a BP of 95 over 60, a resting pulse of 48, and had been through a stress test six months earlier with no issues. I came home from playing tennis and took a shower while my wife was making dinner. I looked down and found two aspirin in my hand (I never take aspirin). I realized what I was doing and asked my wife to call 911 - that I was in trouble. By the time she got them on the phone, I was flat on my back feeling like an elephant was jumping up and down on my chest saying "Don't breathe". The first EMT says “he's fine. BP 120 over 80, pulse 60.” The female EMT says, “he's dying, give him nitro.” In the ambulance, she is in the front seat while the guy working on me is in the back. She says over her shoulder, "$20 says he won't make it to the hospital.” He says, "No, he's a fighter, I can see it in his eyes." She says, "I can see the EKG and he's toast." All I could think of was that my first wife was married to me for 20 years before she knew what color my eyes are. He can't see anything in my eyes but she can probably see the EKG. It took me over a week to figure out he was saying, "he's awake, shut up.”
I don't really know all of what they did to me in the ambulance, but Fr. Mike met my wife at the hospital and told her he was sorry for her loss. She responded “What loss? I thought it was indigestion?” He ran back to find out that I didn't die in the ambulance, or if I did, I didn't stay that way. They did a catheterization, removed the blockage, and installed a stent. I survived a widow-maker (100% blockage of the LAD).
The next morning I am lying in the hospital bed feeling sorry for myself and angry at the injustice. I did everything I was supposed to do, why am I here. They wanted us to walk, so I was hanging onto the IV tree for dear life and doing the cardiac shuffle like everyone else. We looked like the Bataan Death March. I decided I can’t live like this. I am going to pretend I feel good even if I don’t, so I tried to pretend I had a spring in my step and tried to whistle a happy tune. With the little wind I could muster, I had to settle for wheezing a happy tune.
I approached the cardiac rehabilitation like I was mad at someone. I gradually went from barely walking on the tread mill to almost running. When I finished, I started shopping for a personal trainer. He asked me what were my goals - lose weight, body build etc. I laughed and said I want to be able to get out of a chair without falling down, and I would like to be able to pick up my grandsons. We started really slow, but over time I started doing something that looked a little more like a workout and less like a retirement home activity.
Now, I am 68 and see a trainer three times a week I do pull-ups, push-ups, wind sprints, (very) low hurdles and some olympic style weight lifting. I can't play tennis or ski anymore, but I can do almost anything else that I used to do. Whatever you do, don't give up and don't give in. It will get better.