My body remembered, even if I did not. While setting up my calendar for appointments next week, I forgot to set the calendar back that resides on the front of my fridge. Being naturally scatty sometimes (Sometimes? I hear you cry. Only sometimes?) I glanced at it on Thursday and decided that today, Friday, was the 27th.
I decided to do yet another blog post on my 30 August experience on the actual day. I even had a title for it. Anatomy of a Heart Attack. Catchy, no?
But even though my conscious mind had made the anniversary date two days in the future, my body did not. I actually called it an early-ish night. Stopping at around 03:30 in the morning. I finished up some projects that I was “multi-tasking,” or attempting to. I shut everything down; locked the downstairs windows; double-checked the doors and took myself, the iPad and the fan upstairs.
After checking all the windows upstairs, I then went to bed.
I was tired. I had walked over five miles yesterday at varying paces and had written five articles. Feeling both body and brain tired, I started that pleasant drifting off feeling that usually preempts my entry into the land of Nod.
Suddenly, at around 05;45, my stomach decided to swell and cramp with a combination of indigestion and gas. The end result was up and down to the bathroom the remainder of the early hours of the morning. I finally gave up trying to sleep and went downstairs. Turning on both laptops, I then went to make a coffee and start writing.
After the coffee had been sorted, I sat in front of my MacBookPro and signed in. The first thing I noticed was the date: 30 August 2013.
I suddenly got very tired and shut everything down again. I left the coffee and went back upstairs. It was 07:45, the exact time that I woke up last year on the 30th and went downstairs to wait for the electric chap to come fit a new meter.
I lay back down and drifted off to sleep around 08:30, waking up about one-ish. Fully awake now I went back down to make another coffee, make breakfast and remember last August when I almost died.
As I said before, I’d set my alarm for 07:45. The electric guy was coming around between eight and a twelve to hook up the meter. I went downstairs in a pair of sweat pants and put the kettle on for a cup of coffee. While it boiled, I turned on my old laptop to check my emails and my blog. A few days previously I’d been Freshly Pressed and I wanted to see how many views my post was getting and to answer any comments.
Once I made my coffee, I lit my first cigarette of the day and stood in the back garden drinking coffee and smoking. I then went inside and sat in front of the laptop. As I reached for the keyboard I experienced pain in both of my hands. The best way to describe the pain is to liken it to how your hands, and arms, feel after doing a particularly heavy session with weights. Like when you’ve really crunched out a set of arm curls.
Your arm muscles and hands feel like they are going to explode. If you look at them after the set, they look bigger because they’re full of blood. My hands felt like that, but worse. It was incredibly painful. I sat looking at my hands as I opened and closed them. Making a fist and then releasing, like that would help the pain go away.
I stood up and walked out to the back garden and lit another cigarette. While I pondered this pain, I finished my coffee and the second smoke and went inside to boil the kettle again. I had an earache in both ears and thought that I might be getting a sinus infection.
Second cup of coffee made and back down in front of the laptop. Reaching again for the keyboard the pain returned, this time not just in my hands but in my forearms as well. The pain has cranked up a few notches. I went back out to the garden, coffee in hands that felt like they were going to explode, along with my forearms. Lighting my third cigarette. I decided to “wait out” the pain.
In my mind, the entire time, I was thinking I had done something like pinched a nerve or somehow strained muscles and that this would pass.
I finished my second coffee and checked my cell phone, I’d gotten a text from the electric guy. While going to make my third and final coffee, the pain came back. This time it is in both arms and spreading towards my chest and back.
I stand there in agony and wonder, “what the hell is going on?” I’d had my arteries and heart checked out a year or so before and everything was “normal.” So I’m thinking, “It cannot be my heart…So what the hell is it?” The earache has returned and I’m having trouble thinking.
I then realise that I must be having a heart attack, or something very close to it. The pain was now so bad that I cannot stand. I crawled up the stairs to my daughter’s bedroom and knock the door open with my forehead.
She sits up in bed, eyes wide and startled.
“I’m, I think I’m having a heart attack. Call 999 and tell them to get here.”
She grabs her cell phone and calls. She talks to them calmly, only a slight tremor surfacing in her voice. She turns to me and asks what are your symptoms? I try to explain and offer to take the phone.
The emergency operator, says no, sit down somewhere and wait for the ambulance.
I went into my room and got dressed in my summer trousers, after putting on underwear as I had not been wearing any, (my grandmother would have been proud as they were a freshly cleaned pair) and put on socks, shoes, and a shirt. I got my wallet and went back down the stairs by sliding my ass down over each step till I got to the bottom.
I unlocked the front door and went to sit on an armchair.
The ambulance arrived and the two paramedics came in. By that time, I was sitting on the floor as I felt like I could pass out. I was not that lucky. The pain was increasing steadily and I have never felt pain like it. Sweat was pouring out of me like some kind of comedy skit with freshets of the stuff spurting out of my pores.
One of the paramedics asked me if I could sit in the chair. Out of breath I answered no. He stopped, confused, “Does it hurt you to sit in the chair”"
I replied, “No, but it’s a lot further to the floor from the chair if I pass out.”
He nodded and started trying to attach the sticky pads to me to get an EKG or EEG or whatever they call it. I was sweating so profusely that the pads would not stick. They could not get a reading.
Everything became a blur. My world had shrunk to just me and the pain and the sweat. I concentrated on trying to make the pain go away. At no time did I not believe that they wouldn’t have something in their ambulance that would give me relief.
They did not.
On the way to the local hospital, they give me shots of morphine and “spritz” nitro-glycerine under my tongue. Nothing helps. My daughter watches me with eyes the size of Texas.
We get to the hospital with sirens wailing, that to me, sound very far away. We get there and I’m carried quickly into the emergency room. A lady doctor comes over and after what seems like hours, the sweat drys sufficiently to get the pads to stick. I’m asked to “breathe normally.” I want to laugh at that, but I’m in too much pain to do more than snort.
They get their reading and ask if I’d rather go to Papworth Hospital at Cambridge, an hour and a half away, or Basildon. I don’t care either way and the decision comes down to lack of bed spaces at Cambridge; so it’s off to Basildon.
I find out later that the drive should have taken over an hour and twenty minutes. We got there in 45 minutes. Meg, my daughter, told me that they drove through the thunderstorm from hell. Sirens screaming as they swerved around traffic. On the way, they gave me some sort of gas.
It was magic. Unlike the morphine or the nitro-glycerine, this stuff makes the pain bearable. So bearable that I am able to breathe somewhat normally and the sweat begins to dry up. When we arrive at the hospital, I ask everyone if I can have some more of that magic gas.
The rest you already know. How close I was to dying. The emergency stents and then stopping everything bringing me back to consciousness and the emergency aortic dissection aka bi-pass.
My sleepless night in the wee hours of the day I had my heart attack a year ago, because of my “stomach ailment” must have been some sort of “carry-over” from that event. Even though, in my mind, I thought Sunday was the 30th.
Funny how the mind and the body remember things that we’ve chosen to forget, or have forgotten to remember. I hold my hand over my heart (pun intended) and promise that this is the last time, for a very long time, that I’ll be writing about my “life changing” experience.
I decided to chronicle the day’s events as I remembered them. I will point out that I did relate it in time slots. The time I got up and the time I got the text are imprinted in my memory. I do know that by the time we got to the first local hospital, it was almost four hours, if not more, from when I first started having my symptoms. I also believe that I’ve left a cigarette out…Like I said, it was sort of a blur.
I’ve written the account in both past and present tenses. It seemed appropriate to help get the confusion across that I felt on the day. I would also like to point out that, at no time did I think of the possibility of dying. It never entered my head. There were no moments of praying for God, or whoever, to make it all stop or to “spare” me. I just “knew” that the doctors would help me.
And they did.
30 August 2013
- Neil Armstrong is Remembered a Year After Death (guardianlv.com)
- Signs of a Heart Attack, for Men and Women (donbobbitt.com)
- Silence, a Mug of Coffee and Past Memories of a Kid (yushu93.wordpress.com)
- Happy Heart Attack Anniversary…Almost (mikesfilmtalk.com)