Sunday, November 20, 2005

Heart Attack Notes

I am writing this over a period of time, so that I can review before I post. Also, I can make it a longer post. Think of it as a sort of diary.

Shortly after 5:00 AM on October 29, I woke with an unpleasant pressure in my chest. I took two Tums thinking it might be gas pains. My wife woke and said I didn't look good. Since the pain did not want to leave, I agreed that I should maybe go to the emergency room at Prattville's only hospital. We also agreed that maybe calling 911 would be appropriate. All this commotion woke my mother-in-love who had been living with us for a little over a year. She suggested I take a nitroglycerin capsule in case it was a heart attack. She said if not, I would get a headache. I moved downstairs so that the emergency guys would not have to carry me down. I was sitting on the bottom steps when they arrived. I had no headache, but an elephant had decided to sit on my chest.

They assessed my situation and gave me some aspirin and another nitroglycerin capsule. After a short ride to the hospital, I was met by Dr. John Williams, who happened to be a cardiologist. He rapidly diagnosed me as having a heart attack and sent me to Jackson Hospital in Montgomery. They took me directly to the catheterization lab where he perfomed an angioplasty. That relieved the chest pain completely. I was awake for that procedure. I was also awake when Dr. Stephen Kwan, a thoracic surgeon, arrived and informed me that I had rather severe blockages in five arteries and he was going to operate on me. Somewhere between the cath lab and the operating room, the sleepy medicine took over. I was not awake for the chest surgery.

I did awake with a breathing tube down my throat, pain in my chest and what felt like bruised lungs. Every time the breathing machine pumped oxygen, it thumped agains my left lung or something. Anyway, the pain there was much worse than the pain on the way to the hospital and it kept beating on me. In spite of that, I drifted in and out of sleep. I remember having the thought, "It's a good thing they did this all at once, because there is no way I want to do this again."

I drifted in and out of consciousness until Sunday when they told me I had to breathe on my own if I wanted that breathing tube out. Later that day I was breathing well enough that they did take the tube out. It still hurt to breathe, but at least I could almost talk. I spent another night in the ICU before they thought I was doing well enough to go up to the ward. My precious wife, Pat, had stayed at the hospital that whole time. She would stay in the room with me until I was discharged.

Once in the cardiac care unit (3 West), I had a pretty fixed daily routine. They offered me food for lunch and supper, but I was not ready to eat. I did eat starting with breakfast Tuesday. They got me out of bed and sitting up as soon as they could on Tuesday. I learned to sit and rise without using my arms, only the leg muscles. I walked with assistance around the nurse's station at least once each day. Each day I was making progress, but there was something the doctor did not like about my lungs, so I went back to surgery on Thursday. So much for going home by the weekend.

One of the strangest things to me was the perception of time and space. When I closed my eyes, I did not see dark. I saw what appeared to be a stucco wall that looked like it was within arms reach. The wall had discernible grainy patterns. Time seemed to drag by at night. I was awake about half the time, seemingly sleeping a minute at a time the first night and gradually sleeping about five minutes at a time. When I came home I was up to sleeping an hour at a time. Even now, I sleep about three hours at a time.

I walk about an hour each day, so my time alternates between sleeping, breathing (using a special incentive device that shows what volume of air you are moving), walking, eating, and sitting with my legs up. Today I saw the doctor for a follow up. He removed the stitch from my abdomen and the staples from my leg, listened to my lungs and checked my blood pressure. He seemed pleased and schedule me for another visit in two months.

OK, I promise not to mention this anymore.

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