Saturday, October 10, 2009
Dying is a weird feeling . . .
. . . particularly when one has no warning whatsoever that it's on the agenda!
I've never had any heart disease problems - not so much as a twitch from that organ. I've been shot (and shot back), hit by vehicles (accidentally and deliberately), been through eighteen years in a fairly rough civil unrest situation, but never had to worry about my heart. I'd learned the classic symptoms of heart disease, of course, along with the other basics of first aid (chest pain/discomfort; radiated pain and discomfort into other parts of the upper body, including the arms; shortness of breath; and related symptoms such as cold sweat, nausea and lightheadedness), but only as an academic exercise.
So, on Monday morning, I set off about my activities without a second thought. The previous week had been unusually busy, physically demanding and a mental strain, as I'd sold my house and moved into rented accommodation for a few months. I had to get a last couple of belongings I'd forgotten, drop off another key to my old place, and do a number of other things.
It was at a local store that I began to feel rather strange. My chest began to hurt, and simultaneously the same sort of pain - and the same intensity - started showing up at the back of my left upper arm. The combination did not please me. Surely it can't be a heart attack?, I remember thinking to myself. That would be too stupid for words! It was still fairly mild - so against all my training (which was that one never ignores such clues), I continued with my day's errands.
That didn't last long. By the time I got home, in early afternoon, the pain was getting worse, and I was getting worried. I picked up the phone and called my physician, getting through to his nurse, and asked her for her advice. It was, of course, to to do what I should already have done - get my butt down to the hospital! Sighing, I headed for the bedroom to throw a few clothes together, still refusing to believe that this could possibly be anything serious. However, as I did so, I became suddenly light-headed, adding yet another piece of evidence to the puzzle - and by now I was seriously worried. I stopped fooling around, and called for an ambulance.
As luck would have it, my new place is only a minute or two away from one of the assembly points for Ambulance Driver's employers, and two ambulances were outside almost faster than I could put down the phone. The paramedics came in, took one look at me, glanced at each other, and had me sitting down right then and there. They deployed their EKG machines simultaneously, slapped the electrodes on my chest, took a reading, and said with one voice, "Oh, sh-i-i-i-t . . ." (AD says this is described in medical circles as 'a clue'. Srsly.)
Well, things got seriously out of my control, right then and there. Within seconds I was strapped to a stretcher and being wheeled out to an ambulance. A paramedic interviewed me in the ambulance while another sprayed nitro under my tongue, popped two huge pills into my mouth to lower my blood pressure 'faster than the Space Shuttle leaving orbit', gave me a few aspirin to chew, and had me swallow half a bucket of water to get the rest down: and then made me re-swallow another round of pills as a sudden bout of nausea came out of nowhere to make me regurgitate them all. Tthen it was hey-ho for the hospital at a heck of a speed, me being tossed all over the stretcher, and the paramedic not looking particularly worried about that as he fed me doses of nitro every three minutes.
I was rushed through into the emergency room at the run, and my clothes were already being ripped off as they connected me to their own EKG's and confirmed the readings radioed to them by the paramedics. Another simultaneous "Oh, sh-i-i-i-t," and they had me on my way to the cath lab, cutting my trousers off rather than waste time removing them in more traditional manner. I tried to protest such indelicate haste, but no-one seemed to be too willing to listen as they slammed a few syringes of local and other anaesthetic into me for a heart catheterization, to see what was going on in there. I can remember the walls fading out, the lights flickering and dying one by one, as a minister came rushing up to give me a belated blessing, and not being able to hear him as the third light went down, then the second, and at last the only remaining one, and for a moment I remember being absolutely terrified that I couldn't see or hear anything any more, and would I ever wake up? Then it all faded out . . .
Clearly, I did wake up again, and I've made a recovery from quadruple bypass surgery, for which (and for your prayers) I'm profoundly grateful. Still, there was a time on Monday afternoon that I wasn't so sure. Here's hoping I can avoid such adventures in future!