A year ago today, my life changed forever.
On February 22, 2011, I came to work not feeling well. Even small amounts of exercise fatigued me and caused what I later discovered was chest pain.
In my mind, it was inconceivable that anything serious could be wrong. I went 12-14 hours a day, held down three jobs and got by, right? It was just the stress that was causing me to feel this way, for sure.
And on that day, one year ago, I could not walk the 100 or so yards from the train station to my office. It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. Pain, tightness, shortness of breath. But I KNEW that I had to be healthy. I didn’t have the time to slow down.
I called my primary care physician and described the symptoms via a phone message and opted to take the subway back home and rest. He called me back minutes later, and in a profanity-laced tirade, told me to call 911 -NOW. In retropect, it was only his vehemence that spurred me to action (I later jokingly thanked him for “being such an asshole”). So a few minutes later, I was in an ambulance, headed to GW Hospital, insisting that I did not need to be there and that I was just clogging up the healthcare system.
When I was told that I was to be kept overnight “for observation,” I was mad. Really mad. THIS COULD NOT BE ME. I was indestructable.
Later than night while being visited by the head of cardiology and a bunch of other white coats, I engaged in a back-and-forth argument over my condition – and I did not say anything at the time, but as I watched the monitors I was hooked up to, my pulse and blood pressure soared. And guess what? The pain in my chest returned.
I reluctantly agreed to an angiogram for the next morning based only on the fact that I was told that stress test would keep me in the hospital for an extra day. So the next morning, the wheelchair showed up to pick me up, I did my best to close the back of the gown (why do they make them like that?) and was wheeled off into the “cath lab,” where they do cardiac catherizations.
Then they got my attention – fast.
My now cardiologist explained the procedure to me: they would shoot dye into my cardiac arteries and a) find nothing and send me home, b) if there were blockages, they would try to fix them with stents, or c) I would go straight into the operating room for bypass surgery. That was probably the most frightened that I have been in many, many years. BYPASS? What if I woke up in a recovery room, just having had my heart and lungs stopped to fix me? My family was supposed to take a long paid-for vacation six days later. I DIDN’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS.
So, off I went, and the part that I needed the most was the first jolt of anesthesia, something to calm me down, lower my heart rate and relax me. Then, I went to sleep. Sort of.
I was so worried about the outcome – not so much for me, but for my family – that I forced myself awake during the procedure, felt the cath tube in my chest and slurred a question asking what they saw. All I remember is hearing the word “morphine” and I was back out.
Two and a half hours later, I heard someone calling my name. The doctor who did the procedure told me that I had three blocked cardiac arteries. Two got stents and one had been blocked for so many years that shunts had grown around it. And no, I did not need bypass surgery, only because the main cardiac artery was not blocked. I had escaped both major surgery and likely a massive heart attack.
A wave of relief came over me the likes of which I had not felt since my children were born with ten toes, ten fingers and were pronounced healthy.
And as for getting my attention, since then, I have lost 45 pounds, shaved about 150 points of my cholesterol, lowered my blood pressure enormously, and best of all, have developed what the docs tell me is the cariovascular system of someone 16 years younger than me.
And since just July 1st of last year, I took up jogging – at 46 years of age. Since that time, I have run 273 miles, done a 5k, an 8k and a 10k. And my biggest challenge awaits on March 17, when I am going to push my body to do a half marathon: 13.1 miles. I will my body to do things to prove to myself that I CAN do this. My legs ache, my feet hurt, but my chest feels fine.
Shortly after my illness, I was told that a sense of mortality could be a blessing. Live like you were dying. Since then, I have jumped out of an airplane, traveled to China and have a half marathon in front of me. All of which are on my bucket list. Plus, my book manuscript is due at the end of March and I have enjoyed writing every word of it.
I would not wish what I experienced upon anyone, but I can’t help thinking that one year ago today, my life was changed. Forever.