It had been a typical Thurs. workday, ending with my chairing a board meeting in the early evening.
I had had a rather big lunch, from which I was still feeling full several hours later. I watched some television, then went to bed, but started not feeling well. I felt some pressure (but no pain) on the left side of my chest, and some tingling (not numbness) in my left arm.
I got up, chewed a regular strength aspirin and walked around until I started to feel a bit better. Then I began to feel worse – nausea & clamminess. I picked up the phone to dial 911, then replaced the receiver, almost talking myself out of it, since on 2 other occasions I had called and it had been what later was diagnosed as gall bladder disease (but my gall bladder had since been removed). On both those occasions, the pain had been much worse.
Finally, I decided better safe than sorry, and made the call. The ambulance was there within seconds, and off we went. The paramedics confirmed I was having a heart attack, hooked me up to an EKG, gave me nitroglycerin and a baby aspirin to chew. One of them said, “You called just in time”.
I remember arriving at the hospital and giving the cardiologist my personal info. She went to call my older sister, then reported that Diane was on her way (she lived in a town about 1/2 hour away). “Did you tell her I was alright?” I asked. “I told her you had a heart attack”, she replied. This distressed me, since that is the message we got when our oldest sister, Sharon, had passed away several years ago at the age of 52. In fact, Sharon had never regained consciousness. In her case, as with my mother at age 61, the 1st heart attack was their last.
That was pretty much all I remember about that night, other than a vague recollection of my sister and my son standing by my bedside (didn’t know til my sister confirmed it the next day that it wasn’t a dream). The head of cardiology arrived, and inserted 2 stents. Waking up to find that my life had been changed literally overnight is disconcerting, to say the least. Most people are prepared for surgery, so are aware of what to expect in recovery.
After 4 1/2 days in the hospital, I was released with a whole new regimen of prescriptions and an oxygen tank for use at night (although I was never able to sleep with it on, so took it off at dawn and slept in late!) After 3 weeks, I began my cardiac rehab. Because of the crappy insurance I had at the time, I was not able to finish the course, but the trainer at our gym adapted my exercises to their machines, and that worked out fine. Months later, the doctor inserted 2 more stents. That procedure was a piece of cake (at least, for me!)
It’s been almost 2 years, and as I approach my 62nd birthday, I am still struggling to improve my eating habits and exercise program. Fortunately, I have never smoked, don’t eat steak or use a salt shaker, nor am I addicted to drugs or alcohol, so my battle is mostly with sugar and carbs.
The thought I wish to impart to all women, especially my female relatives who have my maternal grandmother’s genes, is to be aware that the signs of heart failure in a woman can be so subtle. Both times that I went to the emergency room with “indigestion”, I was never made to feel foolish. Don’t ignore the symptoms, even if you feel silly. Had I laid down to sleep instead of making the call, my life would have ended that night.