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Saturday, September 13, 2008

I was sitting all snugly and warm: A nurse's heart attack

I had a heart attack at about 10:30 PM with NO prior exertion; NO prior emotional trauma that one would suspect
 brought it 
on. I was sitting all snugly & warm on a cold evening,
 with my purring
 cat in my lap, reading an interesting story my friend had sent me, and actually thinking, 'A-A-h, this is the life, all
 cozy and warm in my
 soft, cushy Lazy Boy with my feet propped up.'

A moment later, I felt that awful sensation of indigestion,
 when you've
 been in 
 a hurry and grabbed a bite of sandwich and washed it down
 with a dash of
 and that hurried bite seems to feel like you've
 swallowed a golf ball
 going down 
 the esophagus in slow motion and it is most uncomfortable.
 You realize
 you shouldn't have gulped it down so fast and needed to
 chew it more
 thoroughly and this time drink a glass of water to hasten its progress
 down to the
 This was my initial sensation---the only trouble was that I
 hadn't taken
 a bite 
 of anything since about 5:00 p.m. 
After it 
seemed to subside, the next sensation was like little
 squeezing motions
 seemed to be racing up my SPINE (hind-sight, it was
 probably my aorta
 gaining speed as they continued racing up and under my
 sternum (breast
 where one presses rhythmically when administering CPR). 
 This fascinating process continued on into my throat and 
 branched out into both jaws. "AHA!! NOW I stopped
 puzzling about what was happening -- we all have read and/or heard
 about pain in 
 the jaws being one of the signals of an MI happening, haven't 
we?" I said aloud to myself and the cat, Dear God, I think
 I'm having a 
 heart attack!

I lowered the footrest dumping 
 the cat from my lap, started to take a step and fell on the
 instead. I thought to myself, If this is a heart attack, I shouldn't be 
walking into the next room where the phone is or anywhere
 else ... but,
 on the 
 hand, if I don't, nobody will know that I need help,
 if I wait any longer I may not be able to get up in moment.
 I pulled myself up with the arms of the chair, walked
 into the next room and dialed the paramedics ... I told her
 I thought I
 was having a heart attack due to the pressure building under
 the sternum and
 radiating into my jaws. I didn't feel hysterical or
 afraid, just stating
 facts. She said she was sending the paramedics over
 immediately, asked
 if the front door was near to me, and if so, to unbolt the
 door and then
 lie down on the floor where they could see me when they 
 in. I unlocked the door and then laid down on 
 the floor as instructed and lost consciousness, as I
 don't remember the
 coming in, their examination, lifting me onto a gurney or
 getting me
 into their 
ambulance, or hearing the call they made to St. Jude ER on
 the way, but
 I did 
 briefly awaken when we arrived and saw that the
 cardiologist was already
 there in his surgical blues and cap, helping the medics pull my
 stretcher out of the 
 ambulance. He was bending over me asking questions
 (probably something
 "Have you taken any medications?") but I couldn't make my mind interpret
 what he 
 was saying, or form an answer, and nodded off again, not
 waking up until
 cardiologist and partner had already threaded the teeny
 balloon up my 
 femoral artery into the aorta and into my heart where they
 installed 2
 side by 
side stents to hold open my right coronary artery. 
I know it sounds like all my thinking and actions at
 home must have taken at least 20-30 minutes before calling the paramedics,
 but actually
 it took perhaps 4-5 minutes before the call, and both the fire
 station and St.
 Jude are 
 only minutes away from my home, and my cardiologist was
 already to go to
 the OR 
 in his scrubs and get going on restarting my heart (which
 had stopped
between my arrival and the procedure) and installing the
 Why have I written all of this to you with so much detail? Because I want all of you who are so important in
 my life to
 what I learned first hand.

A nurse’s advice:
1. Be aware
 that something very different is happening in your body not
 the usual
 symptoms but inexplicable things happening (until my
 sternum and jaws
 got into 
 the act). It is said that many more women than men die of
 their first
 last) MI because they didn't know they were having one
 and commonly
 mistake it 
as indigestion, take some Maalox or other anti-heartburn
 preparation and
 go to 
 bed, hoping they'll feel better in the morning when
 they wake up ...
 doesn't happen. My female friends, your symptoms might
 not be exactly
 mine, so I advise you to call the paramedics if ANYTHING is
 happening that you've not felt before. It is better to
 have a "false 
 alarm" visitation than to risk your life guessing what
 it might be!

2. Note that I said "Call the paramedics." And if you can, take an aspirin. Ladies, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!
 Do NOT try to drive yourself to the ER - you are a hazard to others on
 the road. Do NOT have your panicked husband who will be speeding and
 anxiously at what's happening with you instead of the road. Do NOT
 call your doctor
 he doesn't know where you live and if it's at night
 you won't reach him
 and if it's daytime, his assistants (or answering
 service) will tell you
 to call the paramedics. He doesn't carry the equipment in his
 car that you need
 to be 
 saved! The paramedics do, principally OXYGEN that you need
 ASAP. Your
 doctor will be notified later.

3. Don't 
assume it couldn't be a heart attack because you have a
 count. Research has discovered that a cholesterol elevated
 reading is rarely the cause of an MI (unless it's unbelievably
 high and/or
 accompanied by high blood pressure). MIs are usually caused
 by long-term
 and inflammation in the body, which dumps all sorts of
 deadly hormones
 into your 
 system to sludge things up in there. Pain in the jaw can 
wake you from a sound sleep. Let's be careful and be aware. The more we
 know, the better
 chance we could survive.

Read another story of a rescue by emergency medical technicians.

Thanks to Cheryl Long for the source story by an anonymous nurse.

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