I am a very lucky guy.
I have a wonderful family, as you all know. I think I have mentioned them. I have all of what I need and most of what I want. I am lucky to be married to a woman who looks past my numerous faults and sees what I am trying to be, not the jerk I am being at the time. No, it’s true, I can be a jerk sometimes . . . really.
I look around me and I see blessings. They are the result of hard work, love, patience and God’s grace. I feel lucky every day. It might not be evident in the way I get out of bed in the morning, but I am thankful. Besides my family, I am thankful for paramedics from the Fairbanks Fire Department, emergency medical personnel at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and the American Heart Association. Without them I might not be here.
On June 12, 2007 at about 8:30 pm I had a heart attack. I was in our home looking out our picture window at our front yard and rubbing my left chest and shoulder. For the day previous that area had ached. I learned from classes I took as part of my cardiac rehabilitation that there are almost always warning signs. I assumed that my soreness came from working out, or sleeping wrong. Sore muscle pain doesn’t usually radiate from your chest down your left arm, but I rationalized.
Besides the pain that I was ignoring, I should have seen it coming. My Dad had his first heart attack at age 36 and eventually died of a stroke related to heart disease in 2002. He was 58. His mother died of a heart attack at age 44.
Along with heart disease I inherited high cholesterol from my father. My cholesterol level was about 340 on June 12. I rubbed my shoulder. I grew concerned when the pain increased and spread down my arm and into my jaw. A giant vise clamped down on my chest and suddenly I knew exactly what was happening to me. I thought about watching my father have his heart attack as the lights went out.
I woke up on the floor with an elephant sitting on my chest. I couldn’t inhale. I crawled to the stairwell and yelled for my son Parker. Well . . . I tried to yell. It came out as a wheezy whisper. I tried again, but he was playing Guitar Hero on the XBox and couldn’t hear me. I listened to a cover of Guns and Roses’ Sweet Child O’Mine. So this was how I was going to go . . . didn’t see that one coming. I never thought much about how I would go, but if I had I probably wouldn’t have called this.
The song ended and I managed to call for Parker. I will never forget the look on his 16-year-old face as he stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked at me. If I could pick a moment when he stopped being a little kid, that would probably be it. He ran down the hall and got my wife’s attention. Things started happening.
A 911 operator talked my wife through the situation as paramedics were dispatched. They arrived within minutes. From the time I started rubbing my shoulder to the time I was talking to a paramedic was around 8 minutes. I always put a little extra cash in the boot when local firefighters are having their annual drive. Those guys rock.
They gave me nitroglycerine. Immediately the elephant got off my chest. it still ached, but I could breathe. The put me in an ambulance in our driveway and did a few last minute things before taking me to the hospital. Parker came out of the house with his shoes in one hand and his car keys in the other. He made sure I was going to Fairbanks Memorial and then ran to his car. With squealing tires, spraying gravel and a roar he took off. “He’s had his license for two weeks,” I told the paramedic. He smiled at me. “I have some more nitro if you need it.” I laughed a little.
We got to the emergency room where I saw a familiar face. My ER doctor worked in just about every medical facility in Interior Alaska at one point or another. He was familiar with every member of my family. He explained what was happening and what they were going to do. I was being hooked to machines and undressed. They needed me to put my head back and arch my neck. The doctor asked me to look at a light fixture above and behind me.
“Look at the light,” he said. “DON’T GO TO THE LIGHT . . . just look at it,” he laughed. I appreciated his ER humor. I figured it was a good thing when your doctor made jokes.
In the hours and days that followed we found out that there was very little damage to my heart. That was due in large part to how quickly the paramedics got to our house and the skill that they used in treating me. Technically, I had a cardiac event. That is the term used when there is no damage to the heart muscle. I call it “Heart Attack Lite”. You get all of the abect horror without any of the heart damage.
My recovery involved a cardiac catherization and stent placed in the circumflex artery in my heart. I was also placed in the Pace Program, Fairbanks Memorial’s cardiac rehab program. I learned a lot from that program. I learned how to control my cholesterol and how to eat right. I still have problems with the eating right thing. My wife sometimes has to remind me that gravy is not a beverage.
I learned about the American Heart Association in the Pace Program. I knew about the AHA, of course, but I didn’t really know about it. I learned that the techniques and treatments used to help me were developed by the AHA and that they depend on donations. I also got involved in the American Heart Association’s Heart Walk.
The Heart Walk is an annual Fund Raising event held in communities all over the country. Walkers take pledges and donations and then participate in the event. This year’s walk in Fairbanks is May 18 at Veteran’s Park next to the State Building. Events start at 9 am.
I support this event and I would appreciate your support. I know I didn’t give you much time . . . it kind of snuck up on me this year. You can make donations at http://heartwalk.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=1033117 or you can contact you can simply go to the American Heart Association website.
I am a lucky guy. Not everybody who has a heart attack is so lucky. I am walking for those who weren’t as lucky . . . like my Dad and my grandmother. Thank you f or your support and thoughts.
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you soon on This Side of the Diaper.