They probably won’t admit it, but I suspect they were afraid I was about to die.
I know I thought I was.
Yep, it’s been a year since I had a little “cardiac event”. OK, it really wasn’t so little. I had a massive heart attack — what cardiologists refer to as, “The Widow Maker.” A 100% blockage in my Left Anterior Descending (LAD) coronary artery and a 95% blockage in my Left Circumflex (LCX) artery.
It pretty much sucked.
Pretty much? OK, it SUCKED.
I’ve never felt that kind of pain. The physical pain during the heart attack was excruciating. That was pretty short-lived though. The mental pain lasted a lot longer.
Now before someone goes off and calls the guys in the white coats to bring me a straight-jacket, rest assured that mentally, I’m fine now. Physically? Better than ever. Losing 60 pounds, eating better and exercising goes a long long way toward making one feel better.
Now a year removed from that awful day sometimes I get this little thought in my head. It’s weird, and difficult to wrap my arms around…
Maybe that heart attack is one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
One of the best things? Really?
Yep. What it amounted to was a swift kick in the pants. Or maybe it was more like getting smacked by a 2×4 across the back of your skull. The proverbial “wake up call.” I needed to make some lifestyle changes, swiftly.
I am a very lucky man. I’m lucky that I was home, surrounded by family at the time of the heart attack. My cardiologist said if I’d been in a plane — as I had been just eight hours before the heart attack — that the chances of survival would have been zero. I am lucky that I was only three miles from one of the best heart hospitals in the Southwest. I was lucky that my ambulance driver drove like a wild man. Lucky everyone pulled over for him. I don’t know if it was luck or “the system” that gave me incredible care providers from the 911 dispatcher, to the firemen and paramedics that responded first, and fast, to the simply amazing doctors and nurses. Whatever it was, I literally owe those people my life. There are no words to express my gratitude to them all. Thank you, from the bottom of my damaged heart.
Depending on whose data you look at, survival rate for the Widow Maker heart attack is 5 to 10%.
I beat the odds.
Yes indeed, I am a very lucky man.
With incredible support from my wife, kids, family and friends, we’ve managed to make the most of this little health crisis. Other people have too. I travel a lot for work, and invariably where ever I go someone comes up to me and says my heart scare got them motivated to lose weight, exercise and/or stop smoking.
I find that unbelievably cool.
When I sat down to write this piece, I wasn’t sure what I was going to say. I figured I would get all emotional and misty-eyed recalling the really shitty day of the attack and all that’s transpired since then.
But you know what?
Screw that. Believe me, it is REALLY easy to feel sorry for yourself when something like this happens. I assure you that facing your own mortality blows and seriously jacks with your head. Oh I could talk more about the pain, all the medications and side-effects, the really crappy feeling that waking up every day and having the first thought in your head be, “well, I didn’t die in my sleep!” creates.
Screw that. Sure, all that happened. But all that is over. Done. Finished.
I don’t feel sorry for myself. I no longer wake up thinking about dying (most of the time).
I AM ALIVE!
And that my friends, is what matters.
I’ve been given a second chance at life, something most people don’t get. That is a good thing.
It’s been a year, and in coronary artery disease that’s a big deal. After 12 months, the chances of restenosis (repeat blockage of coronary stents) is rare. I may be able to remove or reduce certain medications. I won’t have to visit the cardiologist as often.
Living rocks. I like it. I plan on dong it for a long, long time.
Please, do me one favor!
Go to these pages, and read them:
It is so important to understand the signs of a heart attack. Everyone is different. I was lucky in that my symptoms were impossible to ignore. Others aren’t so lucky and walk around for days in the middle of a heart attack. Or they drop dead. Don’t be that guy (or gal. Women tend to have less intense symptoms than men and can be more likely to go longer before seeking treatment than men.)
And please, do what you can to control the factors you can control. Your weight, your diet, smoking, exercise. All that you can do something about.
So do it.
Because living rocks, and the last thing you want to do is look in your loved one’s eyes and see them filled with fear.
PS: Big, HUGE shout out to my peeps in the Under 55 Heart Attack Survivors group on Facebook. Y’all are a pure delight. Your passion, drive and sense of humor go a long way in making this journey easier!
Photo Credit: Lotus Carroll on Flickr. CC Licensed.