My heart story
Sorry for my long post first of all… I was living a healthy life, sometimes stressed due to work & not always very active, but overall quite healthy. I never smoked, rarely drank and was a vegetarian so I tried to eat healthy. The weekend of August 13th we had an extreme oppressive heat wave (real feel temp of 115*) and I remember feeling chest pressure every time I took my dog outside to go to the bathroom. When I went back into the air conditioning it seemed to be better so I just thought it was asthma symptoms returning after a few years of no symptoms - but thought since it was so oppressively hot and humid that it was triggering my symptoms. I went to work on Monday and felt some chest pressure, but again was ok when I was in air conditioning. I worked from home on Tuesday and felt fine. But that night everything changed.
I was working on my checkbook and watching TV when around 10:30pm my life changed. It was as if someone switched a light switch. My symptoms began with diarrhea. I decided to put my checkbook away and I’d go back to it the next day. Within 10 minutes I had to go to the bathroom again, but I had a feeling of what I thought was heartburn. I even took tums to try and relieve the burning feeling. I began to have horrible sweating too. I have never sweat so much in my entire life! It was as if someone threw water on me – the sweat was dripping off of me. My nightgown was drenched. I took a cold shower and just sat in the bottom of the tub letting the water run on me – as cold as I could stand the water. Hoping it would cool me down. I knew something was wrong, but never thought it was a heart attack. I figured I’d wait until the morning and if I still felt bad I’d go to my family doctor. I live with my parents, but didn’t want to wake them as they babysit my niece & nephews and wake up early. I began having the chest pressure again. I did try to sleep, but had a difficult time sleeping. I was an insomniac, so it wasn’t anything that abnormal. I began throwing up then, and having neck pain that travelled to between my shoulder blades. So between the cold sweats, chest pressure, diarrhea, vomiting, and neck pain I could not get comfortable. I did wait until 6am, texted my boss that I wouldn’t be in and that I may end up going to the ER because I felt horrible. I tried to pick my dog up to go downstairs and couldn’t pick her up. I had no energy. That’s when I knew something was REALLY wrong. I asked my dad to feed my dog and take her outside & I asked my mom to take me to the ER. I explained my symptoms during the night, and she quickly called my brother to let him know she couldn’t come to watch his sons. I then had to walk up two flights to change to go to the ER. I remember how difficult those flights were, and even just changing my clothes was difficult. We only live about 2 minutes from a hospital, and we got to the ER early enough that there was no one in there. I was taken back to a room right away and they began testing. They did a bunch of tests!! But it was the blood test that showed my troponin level was high. So high that they ran my blood test a second time. Then the cardiologist team came into the ER room with me. I was told I’d need a heart cath that would check if I had any blockages in my heart, and if I had any blockages they would try to stent me. They explained in detail what it would entail. When I awoke from my twilight sleep after the heart cath I had asked if I needed a stent – if they found a blockage. I was told they found a blockage but they couldn’t stent me. They said I have 100% blockage in my left main, or widowmaker, artery. I asked what that meant and they said I’d need open heart surgery. I had a brief moment of panic and shock and then I felt a peace come over me. I knew I had a presence with me – or a guardian angel as I like to think. I didn’t feel any fear from that point forward. I was admitted to the critical care unit with the intention of having surgery over the weekend. I was put on blood thinners and I finally was able to eat some food. Shortly thereafter the surgeon came in to talk to me and asked how I felt. I told him I still had pressure. He said I’d need open heart surgery that night. He ordered the blood thinners to be stopped and for me to stop eating. He explained all the risks of surgery, and the added risk of going into surgery on two different blood thinners. He said I had to say whether I wanted him to proceed or not, and that I could talk to my mom if I wanted him to leave the room. I said that I know the longer I wait that more of my heart will die, and that brings increased risk. That my only chance to really survive is to go in for the surgery right away. He shook his head yes. So I said – ok let’s go ahead with the surgery. My mom did everything from bursting into tears and called my family so they knew I was about to have a major surgery. My dad was able to come down before I went in, as was a good friend of mine. They went into the room before I was taken into the OR and we said our “see you laters”. They took my glasses too. I was still not fearful, but I know think of how that could have very well been the last time I saw my parents. And that thought bring tears to my eyes. I was taken in to the OR and remember that there was A LOT of people in there, that it was cold, and there were very large lights over the bed. I was strapped down, and then given the anesthesia. The next thing I remember is having a nurse call my name, but I couldn’t open my eyes or call back to her. She was saying that I was in the recovery room and that I was ok. She kept telling me to open my eyes – but they were so HEAVY!! It was the oddest feeling – like an out of body feeling. I kept telling myself to open my eyes but I just couldn’t. Finally, I did, and then I realized I had the breathing tube in still. It made me choke, and I waved at the nurse when I could see a blurb of color come in the room (as I’m blind without my glasses). She asked what I needed (as if I could answer, lol) and I pointed to the breathing tube. She said in a while it would come out. That happened at least 3 or 4 times. I was getting so irritated and felt like giving her the finger at one point. Once it did come out my throat was so sore and scratchy. Then I was told I had a fluid restriction so I couldn’t even drink water – ugh!! I was out of bed within about 6 hours after surgery to use the bathroom, and I sat in the recliner (so much more comfy than the bed while the chest tubes were in!). I don’t remember much of my hospital stay. My mom stayed with me every day, and I did a lot of walking in the halls. I got my chest tubes out that Friday – it was AGONIZING!! It felt like he was ripping out my heart! I had 4 tubes total, and a pacer wire. Once the tubes were out it was easier to move around though I’ll be honest. I was told I’d have to have a bowel movement too before I left the hospital, and I ended up needing an enema Saturday night to help me. It worked VERY well – too well. Sometimes the nurses didn’t come to my room quick enough. I learned very quickly that I needed to accept that I’d need help from others for the simplest of tasks and I couldn’t feel like I was an invalid. I needed help for now, I’d get better.
I went home on Sunday, and honestly I was scared. In the hospital I had nurses 24/7 to help me, and it was an easy set up with the bed, recliner and bathroom there. Also whenever I wanted to walk I could walk the halls – even at 4am! I knew it’d be different at home, especially with eating too! My parents did get a commode as our bathroom was on the 2nd floor. I slept in the living room for about a week or so on the couch and it worked out – my dog slept with me. I graduated to the 2nd floor after that, and got a bed wedge. It felt good going up and down the steps again. But I was tired a lot – I remember taking naps and actually sleeping at night. I joke that open heart surgery cured my insomnia! It was about a total of 3 weeks or so that I was finally able to sleep back in my bed on the 3rd floor in the attic. It felt great!
I did cardiac rehab therapy. I forget when I started that, but I did it for 8 weeks. I was by far the youngest in the group! But it was so beneficial in gaining my confidence back and also building up my endurance. I was sad when it was over.
I went back to work after 3 months, and started back as ½ days. My work was great at working with me, and allowing me to ease back into my work. Some of my tasks still have not returned to me and I’m ok with that!
It’s been a tough almost 6 months, but I know that I could have very likely not survived that night (and technically I shouldn’t have). I’m grateful to have a second chance at life, so on the days when I have a “bad” day I remember that. I survived for a reason, and I think it’s to help others and to share my story. If I had known what the symptoms were for a women’s heart attack, I’d have gotten help sooner. Maybe my outcome would be different. Regardless I’m alive, I can help others and I have a wicked cool scar. I’m becoming more involved with the American Heart Association, and I think that’s so cool! I’ve met so many incredible people already and I honestly wouldn’t have changed a thing. This has made me who I am and I am stronger because of it. I’m a heart warrior!