Physically I'm ok, but the anxiety is getting to me.
Before I start my story there are some things about me you need to know. First, I just had my thirtieth birthday. Secondly,after I had been diagnosed with hypertension, I had made a decision about 12 months ago to get in shape and healthy and dropped from 135kg to 110kg. I am 1,91cm and quite muscular. I excercised almost every single day, I don't smoke and I don't really drink much except for the odd single brandy every now and then. Thirdly, I am an expat living in South Korea.
It started on the Wednesday the 29th of July. Shortly after getting up I had intense heartburn. Felt strange, but otherwise I was ok. Struggled to finish my breakfast. Went to work and got some heartburn meds at the doctor. During my break when I usually go for a brisk walk, I found myself unable to walk far. That should have been a warning sign. But I thought maybe I had the flu. The next day I went to work, heartburn gone, but after I finished work I started to get heart palpitations. Call me foolish, but remember I wasn't even 30 yet at the time and in quite good shape. On Friday, early morning, I woke up with pain in my right arm. However I had a slight tear in a muscle in my shoulder from a rugby game the previous weekend and thought it was that.
I went to work, resolving to go to the doctor on Saturday (taking a day of in Korea can be a very stresful and logistically challenging proposition, but that's another conversation). While teaching my 4th class of the day the palpitations came back, I got a mild headache and I felt more and more uncomfortable. There was a strange feeling in my chest, but no pain. I was debating with myself whether or not I should go to the doctor and almost decided to stay.
Luckily though, I made the right call and told my manager I have to go to the doctor. I drove myself. Doc did and EKG and realised something wasn't right and sent me to the ER. Again I drove myself, luckily it was just five minutes away. During this drive I started to get a little scared cause I had pain radiating down both arms. Walked into the ER.
They did an EKG and a blood test, and discovered an irregular heartbeat as well as cardiological enzymes in my blood.
Called my wife and my Director as most professionals in Korea can speak English to varying degrees. Luckily for me both the ER doctor and the cardiologist spoke the language quite well.
Underwent and emergency Angiogram. It took about and hour during which I had no idea what was going on, only the faint notion that something is not right. After he finished the first words the cardiologist said shocked me to my core.
He said, "You are very very lucky. You were very very close to death."
Turns out my right coronary artery was completely blocked and I had had a heartattack even though my symptoms were so slight I almost ignored them. I asked the doctor what would have happened if I had delayed until Saturday. He informed me that I would in all likelihood have made my wife a widow.
Just for a moment, imagine how terrifying a proposition this was. Not for me so much as for my wife. The regular grieving process and loss of a spouse, especially a young one, aside; the sheer logistical nightmare of facing this without family in a foreign country during covid...
I stayed in ICU for the night and had a scheduled angiogram the next day. Cardiologist said I was out of danger, but there was still a part of my artery that looked a little to narrow as well as some residual plaque. I should stay in the hospital for a few days and give the medication time to work and then they will either place a balloon or stent into the artery.
All things considered I did not feel too bad and pretty quickly I was able to get up and walk to the bathroom. A day or so after the second angiogram I did have a hypoallergic reaction to the contrast dye they used and developed a severe case of hives which was agony (this will become important later).
Four day later I went in for an echocardiogram before I was supposed to go for my balloon/stent. The cardiologist then explained that he had consulted with his collegues because he was baffled as to why I had a heart attack at such a young age, especially while being as fit as I was. The echocardiogram revealed that there was very little actual damage to my heart and within a month I should be able to "climb mount Everest if you want to" to quote the doctor.
He also decided not to do the final angiogram and delay it by a week to give the medication more time to clear out everything because he really did not want to implant a stent at my young age. A balloon would be a better option.
I was released and went home and except for the hives, which were driving me nuts, I felt pretty good and even went to the supermarket the next day. I was on a bunch of medications, which I will list in the comments if you guys really wanna know. But I made sure to drink them as scheduled and eat as healthily as I could. I was having a helluva time sleeping though as the hives got so much worse at night. It finally cleared up on Friday and for the first time I was able to sleep soundly since the hives started.
Cue Saturday morning 3am, one day before my 30th. I woke up with enormous chest and heart pain, my heart was racing so loudly my wife could hear it, hyperventilatting. Immediately used the angina spray I had been given. My heart slowed down marginally, but then I started to shake and tremble. Told my wife to call 119. I grabbed my hospital information and used the spray again for good measure. I walked to the ambulance, all the while giving my wife info she would need if I'm not around. I was convinced this was the end.
The paramedic immediately took a EKG, but he didn't appear to be much concerned, all the while I was shaking so badly that I almost fell off the gurney. Got to the ER and the doc did another EKG and drew blood. He then informed me that they will wait for the blood tests but he thinks I might be having a severe panic attack. The exact moment he said that my shaking stopped, as if someone had flipped a switch.
Long story short, he was completely right. Blood tests were normal and within an hour I was fine, my body just feeling a little shaky and tired. After 90 minutes it felt the exact same way it does when someone sneaks up behind you and gives you a fright.
Returned to the hospital for my scheduled angiogram and the doc finished within ten minutes, giving me a tap on the chest and saying, "excellent!"
So turns out the meds had completely cleared out the artery and there was no narrowing or need to put in a balloon or a stent. And they had finally found the problem, congenitally that artery was larger than the others and as he explained it to me, this made the blood flow weaker, thereby making it easier for plaque to accumulate as the blood couldn't carry it away. This also explained why the other arteries in my heart had no problems. Overall my heart was in pretty good condition and within a week I would be able to do any excercise, as long as I started out slowly and did not push myself too much.
I was released on that same day and went to work a few days later. I'm still on the medication and taking it dilligently. I'm able to climb 15 flights of stairs and do ten to fifteen minutes of tabata without dyspnea or angina.
However the medication is still being worked out. The terrifying part is that some of the side effects of my medication are the exact symptoms of a heart attack, dyspnea, chest pain, dizzyness, muscle aches and GERD.
Every single time I feel my body making the slightest tinge I go into analysis overload, is this another heart attack? Should I call an ambulance or go to the doctor? What if I ignore it and I die in my sleep tonight? I have these thoughts about a hundred times a day. I am speaking to a therapist, but it would be nice to hear from other survivors on how to handle this.
On Monday, while in the middle of a class, I started having slight chest pain and used my nitroquil spray. However it had the opposite effect, the taste of the spray immediately took me back to that terrifying night in the ambulance and I started to have a panic attack. I managed to get it under control after I had excused myself and informing my manager what was happening. As soon as I had my break I went outside to the local park and started excercising, I figured if it was a heart attack, excercise would make it feel worse or I would be unable to do it, but with a panic attack I would start to feel better. It worked.
Unfortunately there isn't a rehab program in my area and even if there was, the language barrier would keep me from really speaking to other survivors. I saw the cardiologist again on Monday and everything is still fine, turns out the chest pain I have been having is due to acid reflux from the aspirins. I will see him again in a few weeks to determine whether or not I can start playing sport again.
Like I said, physically I am ok and I absolutely realise how incredibly lucky and blessed I am and that for my ultimately not much has to change within my lifestyle except for taking pills every day. But this anxiety...
Thanks for reading.