What a ride....
Hello everyone my name is Steve I am 57 YO and on April 21, 2018 things came to an abrupt head for me.
I will try not to write a novel but let me give you a little background. I believe I really started showing my first symptoms of something not being right about 3 years ago. My wife and i were returning from an annual vacation to Myrtle beach which is about an 8 hour drive for us to Pennsylvania.
I don’t remember exactly why my wife was driving because I am usually as a typical man to be the one to drive...however this day I was riding and had very bad "heart burn" for about 20 minutes. I had'nt eaten anything so I thought it was strange that I would have heartburn...and it was bad. Not the acid burn but just a burning tight pain that felt like it was in my throat more than my chest. I drank some water I had and was about to tell my wife to find an ER when it went away almost as fast as it came on.
I really don’t recall what happened after that but I know I started thinking I might have a heart condition..I believe it was a few things like short of breath and I think I had a few more rounds of the heartburn feeling. Anyway I went for a physical which was normal and over the next couple years I had a treadmill stress test and a nuclear test of which both appeared to be normal. At least that is what I was told.
As time progressed the shortness of breath and a "pressure" in my chest was coming and going more regularly. I finally went back to my family doctor who sent me for a CAT scan on my lungs. Being a two pack a day smoker I am sure they were checking for lung cancer but we found something much different.
Everyone asked about the results and I told them if I hear back quickly probably not good but if it was several days most likely OK. I got the call the next day...it seems the cat scan did not show anything wrong with my lungs but it did show 4 blockages and an aneurysm of 4cm and I needed to see my cardiologist ASAP...and don’t do anything strenuous.
So off to the cardiologist office and a discussion with a PA whom I had never seen before. She assured me that the blockages were...her words...non-restrictive...which is why the numerous stress tests I had completed did not show anything wrong and the aneurysm was only4cm and they don’t fix those until they are 5cm….let’s do a 6 month follow up schedule she said. Needless to say I left there not feeling very confident. That was early February 2018. About two weeks after this visit I received a call out of the blue from the cardiologist wanting to change the schedule to every 3 months. I thought this was really unusual but said OK but since we scheduled my next visit for June we decided we would change to the 3 month schedule after the June appointment.
While all of this was going on I continued to struggle to get my breath and I kept telling my wife I just didn’t feel right. As spring got closer I love to play golf and found it almost impossible to walk even short distances without needing to stop and catch my breath. At this point I started to take the nitroglycerine pills they gave me in January. They helped but was very temporary.
On April 21st I was playing in a golf tournament and it was a beautiful spring day and I could not even make it from the tee box to the cart without getting winded and it felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest. I almost dropped out several times but managed to finish. When I didn’t want to go to the 19th hole with my buddies everyone knew something was wrong. The next morning I was home alone (wife was out of town) sitting there drinking my morning coffee contemplating going to the mountains to hunt for morel mushrooms. My arms were weak and I just felt awful. I decided to go to the nearby CVS to get a bottle of low dose aspirin which I had been taking but was out for about a week.
By the time I went in and got the aspirin and returned to my truck I am not sure why but I just said to myself..Steve something is wrong with you go to the ER. By the grace of god I made the decision to take myself to the ER. They connected me to the ekg upon arrival and soon I found myself being taken to a back room where the ER doctors said the EKG showed an “event” but they weren’t sure when it had occurred. They wanted to admit me until I could see my cardiologist. My cardiologist just happened to be on duty that day and admitted me. The following Monday after my wife got back in town and much discussion on my cardiologists part she finally decided to do a catherization.
Things get a little foggy for me at this point but from what I was told it didn’t take them long to find that all four arteries were 98% blocked and I was in big trouble. They immediately installed an aortic balloon pump to take some of the load off my heart and started trying to find a hospital that could take me and do an emergency quad bypass as the hospital I was at doesn’t do bypasses.
With options very limited and because of the nature of the balloon pump I was soon on a helicopter headed for Hershey Medical center in Pennsylvania. Once there it was decided they would do the surgery Wednesday morning. The surgery was very difficult and they encountered some complications. Apparently they were able to complete two bypasses but the other two arteries were to small to do bypasses so they decided to take me to the cath lab and roto root them out until they could get stents put in. Fourteen hours later I made it to the recovery room…critical but stable.
I should say at this point I was in pretty good physical shape, not overweight worked out at the gym pretty regular. I was however a heavy smoker with a high stress job and heart disease in my family. My mother had bypass surgery at 58 also.
That being said I started to bounce back pretty quickly…or so I thought…about my third day into recovery, I had just finished breakfast and my first walk around the unit and was sitting in my bed talking about hunting with my youngest son. All I remember is a tingling feeling shooting down both arms and that was it….next thing I remember is coming too at some point connected to all sorts of things with even more IV’s than I had before.
Apparently for some reason I had went into a condition called VFIB which basically means your hearts electrical signals are scrambled and your heart cannot beat properly to pump blood. The only way to correct this condition is with a defibrillator. So they used the old paddles on me and got my heart beating properly again. Interesting enough the doctors had not said anything before but apparently this had also happened during the surgery. The docs where not sure what was causing it, scar tissue most likely, but they were very concerned. After a week of observation and a steady drip of potassium chloride (I think that’s what it was) requiring a special IV to be inserted directly to the heart they told me I needed to have an ICD (Implanted Coronary Device) put in to provide the shock should this ever happen again. So back to surgery for this procedure which lasted about 5 hours and everything went smoothly. Another week in the hospital…all told about 3 weeks.
I think I was in shock and denial through most of this ordeal but when the reality set in the anxiety and fear raised its ugly head. For about a week I was to afraid to go to sleep for fear of not waking up. This continued for several weeks after I got home but slowly got better over time.
I went back to work after 6 weeks to try and get some normalcy back into my life. Cardiac rehab really helped me regain confidence that I could put some stress on my heart without keeling over…I had been walking on my own but knowing everything was working good while exercising was encouraging. It also was nice to be around people going through the same thing I was.
So here we are 5 months into recovery and I have not had any issues with VFIB, blood pressure is good most of the time (lots of meds) and I can walk the golf course again without having to stop and rest. I quit smoking for about 3 months and slipped a little but am now again smoke free. This is very hard having been a smoker since age 11 but I am determined to remain a non-smoker. The power of nicotine is incredible…when your surgeon looks you in the eye and says “We got you all fixed up and you should last for years…but if you smoke you will die” and you still want to pick them up its mind boggling.
I watch my diet but it was really never all that bad…watching sodium is the hardest, especially since we eat out quite often. I walk every day, lift weights again, love the sauna and have went back to playing golf…..lots of golf..actually played a 54 hole tournament 12 weeks into recovery. The anxiety and fear return every once in awhile but I refuse to live in fear…if I am going to die I am going to be doing things I enjoy…this will not define me – only make me stronger.
I talk to my wife regularly about my feelings and even though she doesn’t always really understand it helps to just get it off your mind…..kind of what I am doing now. I started reading these stories early on and it helps hearing others stories and being able to identify with those who have went down similar paths which is why I decided to share my story with everyone.
Good luck and God bless you all!