It Wasn't Just Heartburn
Hello fellow survivors! Wow, that sounds both funny and scary to me because I never thought in a million years that I would be sharing my story about surviving a major health issue. My name is Doug and I am two and a half months post CABGx1 due to heart disease that resulted in me having a dreaded "widowmaker" heart attack. In all honesty my diet wasn’t the greatest, I smoked cigarettes for about 40 years and there was family history working against me. I was pretty much a poster boy for heart disease but was not concerned because I was invincible. Thankfully, I was able to celebrate my 56th birthday this year. Here is my story…
I work for a big box retail store. My daily tasks include lifting and pulling heavy items in addition to a lot of walking. Back in late August and early September, I would periodically experience what I thought was your ordinary everyday heartburn. No others issues, just heartburn and maybe some minor sweating. I did not consider these events as warning signs for a couple of reasons. First, the heartburn would only occur once maybe twice per week and wouldn’t last very long. Second, it would only occur during physical exertion so I figured it was just my lunch talking back to me. I mentioned this to my sister who is an RN and works in MICU. We joked that I was having a heart attack but, in all seriousness, I should call 911 if things got worse. I laughed it off but that advice would surely come in handy!
On the evening of September 11th, I was working my normal shift when I had another episode of heartburn while lifting a heavy item. This time, it was little more intense and I broke out into a cold sweat. I had to sit down and let it pass which I never had to do before. I toughed it out, finished my shift and was home by 11pm. At this point, I’m feeling okay and decided to have a little snack before bed. While lying there I started to feel the heartburn coming on again. This happened at night once before but this time it was as bad as I’ve ever felt and I was drenched in sweat. No crushing chest pain and no pain in my left arm, jaw or back. I was not experiencing the “typical” heart attack symptoms I always heard about. I just had some pretty serious discomfort. While I’m pacing back and forth waiting for it to pass, all I could think of is what my sister said…call 911 if things got worse. So, I picked up my phone and punched in 911. I was afraid I was overreacting and did not push send right away. After about 30-45 minutes of built up anxiety, I convinced myself to push send.
It was at this point I really felt like I was going to die and it seemed like forever before the ambulance arrived. When the paramedics got to me, they did a very good job of calming me down and I walked outside to the stretcher on my own. I was loaded into the back of the ambulance, got an IV started, was hooked up to a heart monitor, ate some baby aspirin and received a dose of nitroglycerin. By the time I got to the hospital, the heartburn had gone away completely. I was pretty embarrassed and felt that the paramedics thought I was being overly dramatic as I was wheeled into an ER cubicle. According to the doctor, my EKG was “inconclusive” and my cardiac enzymes were slightly elevated. After about two hours of being monitored, I heard the doctor and nurse having a discussion about letting me go home. However, before they could give me the news, I started to have another heartburn episode and let them know. The doctor took one look that the monitor and told me I was having a heart attack. I got a shot of painkiller, a high five and a “good call for calling 911” from the nurse. I was immediately sent for a cardiac cath. The doctor injected dye through my wrist, looked at the monitor and decided that stents would not help. He told me I was extremely lucky that I came in when I did and that I was going to have open heart surgery the next day. He said I had about a 95% blockage in one artery and three other arteries were about 85% blocked.
I went through the surgery without issue. My LAD was bypassed with a mammary artery and two weeks later the other three blockages were fixed with stents. As of today, I feel that I am progressing well even though I realize that the recovery process is slower than I would like. I have not had a cigarette since the day I went to the ER and I’m working on changing my diet which I’m finding out is a lot more difficult than I thought. Also, I am going to cardiac rehab three times per week. The only lingering issues I have are that the left side of my chest is still a little numb, my legs are still a bit sore from where veins were harvested (but not used), and sometimes I am an emotional wreck. Overall, I view these issues as minor and they will eventually get better. I am just happy that I am around to be able to share my story with everyone