Saturday, December 17, 2016

Four years after the Day of the Widowmaker

It began with a hallucination.

Flashback, I thought, after-effects of my misspent youth.

My vision lit up with sparkles and crinkles, as if I was being wrapped in silver Christmas wrapping paper. Me, a present for someone, or maybe for myself. It should have been the ER, but I didn't realize that yet.

I had been having these visions for weeks. They didn't appear as I climbed the steps to my office and the downtown parking garage. I did have some shortness of breath but I ascribed that to lack of exercise and the ritual packing on of holiday pounds. I'm going to get back to the Y at the first of the year, I told everyone. Really -- I mean it.

Four years ago today I sat at my desk. The crinkly vision subsided, replaced by a horrible stomach pain. Uh oh, I thought. The dreaded cruise ship virus that was a plague in Cheyenne that winter, even though very few cruise ships dock at Port Cheyenne. My boss had said she'd returned home a few days earlier to find her husband curled up on a ball on the floor. He had a stomach ache. Rita got him to the car and then the ER. The docs pronounced norovirus. Sure enough, at home two hours later, the symptoms exploded in living color. I didn't have to ask for details.

My stomach ache led me to the restroom several times but no explosions. I decided to go home. I had plenty of sick hours. I was off the next day for my birthday. I didn't want to be sick for my 62nd birthday.

I was. Went to the doc. He said I had the norovirus and gave me a shot for nausea. The EKG machine was right outside his office. He could have put that to use and found the problem. But I had no history of heart problems. And a stomach ache was not one of the symptoms usually described in American Heart Association literature. I stayed home, nursing my stomach ache. The day after Christmas, I revisited my doc and complained of congestion. He sent me to X-ray. The pictures showed congested lungs. Pneumonia, he pronounced, and sent me to the pharmacy to pick up a supply of antibiotics.

A week later, I was in an ambulance screeching its way to the ER. After an EKG and series of X-rays, the results were in. I had -- and was having -- a heart attack. The cardiologist said I had a blockage of my left anterior descending (LAD) artery. I am an educated person, curious to a fault, but I didn't know that I had such an artery. The artery, of course, knew about me. Later, after surgery, I discovered that an LAD heart attack is happily referred to as "widowmaker." The surgery came two days later, after the docs and drugs took care of my congestive heart failure that had looked like pneumonia, at least to one practitioner.

Widowmaker. I was lucky. Blessed, too, as Widomaker is very efficient at its task of killing you. Once my lungs were decongested, I received an angioplasty and a big stent at the junction of my LAD. Six months later, I was the proud recipient of an ICD -- an implantable cardioverter defibrillator -- due to damage sustained by my heart muscle during my two-week-long heart attack. A bedside monitor keeps track of my rhythms and arrhythmia. I lost weight. I exercise. I eat sensibly. Take my meds. All the things I should have been doing before my very expensive heart attack.

I retired in January. I have had many fine days to write and travel and garden and read. On warm summer days, I sit on my back porch, look out over the garden, inhale deeply and thank God and medical science that I am still here.

1 comment:

RobertP said...

Happy Birthday Mike. Damn glad you are still with us!