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Posts Tagged ‘Widowmaker’

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Three years ago today, my sister-in-law snapped this picture of my husband and me. Despite having been through a very difficult two weeks, I looked perfectly healthy. But this could have been the last photo ever taken of me. Three hours later, I would have have a heart attack commonly called the Widowmaker, given that name because 90% of people who have it don’t survive.

When this picture was taken, I had no pain, but was already sweating profusely. I was clammy. Two hours later, I had what I thought was heartburn. I took antacids but it only grew worse. Lying down to sleep made it worse. I got up, still thinking it was heartburn, and ate a few crackers. I tried sleeping again but by then the pain in my chest was like a vise. I asked my husband to call an ambulance.

They arrived within minutes. By that time, I was feeling pain in my left shoulder, jaw, and arm, but my back was also in spasm, and I was sure that it was the main source of my problem. When the paramedics arrived, I was writhing in back pain and they began trying to work out the knot. It was only while in the ambulance that they suspected I was having a heart attack. And of course tests at the hospital confirmed that.

Three days later, I was stabilized and they performed an angiogram to check for blockages. Later, the nurses told me that they almost took bets among themselves as to whether or not I would need a stent. The doctor doing the procedure thought not. He was mistaken.

My LAD, the artery feeding two-thirds of my heart, was 95% blocked. I looked perfectly healthy and up to the week before, I had no idea that a problem existed. Neither did my GP.

LADIES, NEVER ASSUME THAT YOUR SYMPTOMS ARE INSIGNIFICANT, especially if they’re coming at the end of a particularly stressful period in your life.

(Women’s symptoms are often atypical. Some only experience fatigue (a month earlier, I’d nearly passed out while driving on the highway after a particularly stressful day at the hospital). Sometimes, women only experience discomfort in their back, usually between their shoulder blades).

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Wow! Sixteen months since my last journal entry! Is it possible that some of my readers thought I died? It’s a logical conclusion.

The truth is that health concerns have monopolized my mind and time, and I was loathe to write about it, to give it even one more minute of my attention. Yet, I couldn’t really think about much else. My muse took up residence in a distant corner, put her feet up, pulled her hat down over her eyes and said “Wake me up when life returns to normal.” The truth is, it still hasn’t, and chances are it never completely will. Post heart attack, I am a very different person – but that’s a story for another time.

To bring some closure to the heart attack saga, I have to start by saying it was surreal. Once my pain was under control ( and for those of you who wonder what the pain felt like, the closest thing I can compare it to is the feeling you get if something icy is caught in your esophagus – think brain freeze, but in your chest, arm, neck and jaw), it was largely a matter of being closely monitored and medicated. On my second day, a young cardiologist came to speak to me. Part of me still had trouble believing their diagnosis. I’d been under a lot of stress for months. I’d suffered a personal loss. I had fibromyalgia, which mimicked a lot of other conditions. I’d read about something called Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, commonly called “broken heart syndrome.” After all, I had gone through some scary episodes of chest pain when my mother dies 17 years earlier, and though a EKG initially indicated a heart attack, there was no indication that my heart had suffered any kind of true “event.”

Couldn’t that be what happened again?

He assured me that wasn’t the case this time. Blood work indicated the presence of enzymes that are a direct result of a heart incident. They were highest when I was admitted, then went down. But I’d had a little chest pain again the day before, and the markers had increased. There was no doubt that I’d suffered an attack. He told me that he wanted to do an angiogram to get to the cause. “That way,” he said, “perhaps we can get you another twenty years.”

It felt like those words were written in the boldest black marker. Twenty years? That was nothing! Twenty years was just yesterday! I wanted more than that ahead of me. I expected more. Until that day, I’d never really thought about my age. But I suddenly realized that from young doctor’s perspective, I WAS OLD. Shouldn’t living another twenty years be enough to satisfy me? Twenty years, as opposed to one or two years. What choice did I have?

They scheduled my angiogram for the next day. It hurt much more than I expected, the chest pain quite similar to my heart attack pain. Apparently that’s not typical. I learned later that the nurses and doctor who were to perform the test made bets between themselves that if I did have any kind of blockage, it would be minor. I seemed “too healthy.”How wrong they were! There, on the screen to the left of me, was proof of my attack, and just how serious it could have been. They explained that I had a 95% blockage in the LAD (left anterior descending artery). It feeds the largest portion of the heart. And because only 5% of people survive it, they have a nickname for it: THE WIDOWMAKER.

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