Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Bum Ticker

On November 1, 2000, at a spry 52 years old, I rose to greet the day with my usual nervous energy, slammed a couple of cups of coffee, put on a Nicorette patch, walked the dogs, and headed out. That day, among my many planned errands, was a stop at our local everything market, Fred Meyer, for, I dunno, some CD bubble envelopes, fishin’ worms, something. As I left the store, I realized I was having chest pain, and it worried me.

I drove up to my commercial building, trying to have a good attiude, attempting to burp the pain away, and thinking about what I needed to do at the building. When I arrived, I went into one of my tenant’s stores, and was greeted by a question regarding the gas furnace there. The pilot light had not been lit for the season, and would I please do it. I went to my shop to get some tools, greeting others as I passed. The pain in my chest was insistent.

It wasn’t a pain like I had ever felt before. That’s probably what worried me the most. It was odd. It was not even so much by the heart area, it more more to the right than to the left. It was not excruciating, but it was consistent, not going away, not letting up at all. That, plus the fact that I was becoming increasingly scared, made me decide to take some action.

I walked into the store where I was working on the gas furnace, and excused myself to my tenant there, and basically told her that I was going to the hospital, see you later. I got into my van and began to drive to Providence Hospital, which is a 3 or 4 mile trip from my building. It was about 9 am.

When I arrived, I drove into the area where the ambulances park, and thought, nah, can’t park there, that’s only for really sick people, car accident victims, like that, and drove on. But in the regular emergency parking lot, which is a bit of a walk from the Emergency Room doors, there were no parking spots. Finally, my fear getting the best of me, I parked in a “Maintenance Only” spot, and got out of the van. When I got to the front desk, I was even more scared, maybe just from the realization that I was sick enough to be there. I think I advocated for myself pretty well, and spoke up about my fears, that I was afraid I might be having a heart attack. They didn’t exactly rush me in, but before too long, I was in a wheelchair, being pushed down the hall, hoping for salvation.

When I reached emergency, I was weak, scared, not very talkative. I remember that the physician, who came almost immediately, spoke loudly and clearly as he asked me questions. Eventually, a nurse put a pill in my mout, and told me to let it disolve under my tongue, so I figured it was Nitro-glycerine, which I knew even then was used to increase blood flow. But suddenly, after taking the pill, I began to have bad arrythmia, my heart beating irregularly, all over the map. And at that point, the questions ceased, and the doctor announced, “Richard, you are having a heart attack right now, we are going to see what we can do for you.” It was little consolation to hear the nurse, who had, seconds earlier, admininstered the Nitro, which seemed to get the attack going, apologize profusely, as if it were her fault.

At that moment, it was like being in a TV show with an ER format. They were removing my clothes, and putting pills in my mouth (which included 3 baby aspirin, I could taste them). They stuck a Heparin Lock in my right arm, and wheeled me quickly on a gurney, through the halls of the hospital. Someone said “stat”.

Lucky for me, there was already a team of heart surgeons, having just completed an angioplasty on someone else, waiting for me. As I was pushed through the halls, the doctor who had attended me in the ER bent over and asked, who shall we contact, and what is their phone number? I weakly said, “my wife Marie”, and gave him her work number.
The surgery was quick, professional, calm. After they inserted the tube through my groin, it was only seconds before I heard the surgeon behind the scope say “there it is”, meaning they had found a blockage. To hear those words gave me hope. The surgeon at my side said, “Okay Rich, we’re going to open up that artery a bit with a balloon, and then put a “stent” in there, wanna watch?”, as he reached up to the TV screen to adjust it for me if I were to answer in the affirmative. That sentence, his nonchalance, gave me more hope. There I was, so focused on just trying to survive, and he was inviting me to watch the procedure. I declined, but I think I almost giggled.

When the procedure was over, Marie met me as they were wheeling me out. It was so wonderful to see her face, though I could see she had been crying. So many things went through my mind. But one thing is for certain. Marie got the phone call that no one ever wants to get. She drove to the hospital not knowing if I was going to live or die. And folks, once a person goes through that, for you, you are truly bonded forever, at a very, very deep level. Words cannot express my gratitude to Marie for her love, care, and chicken soup, in the following weeks, as I recovered. I was in the hospital about a week. Way too fucking long.

Marie took a month off work, to help me, so more thanks to all the folks at her work. Abby, Donna, Joyce and Tom, and others, brought food, low-fat no doubt. Matt fixed our screen door. Andy and Alicia came to visit and check in on me. My daughters kept in touch by phone. Many others offered their sevices. My son Blaine kept me company and was his usual loving self.

I remember going upstairs for the first time, one step at a time, just to do it, take a shower, hang out in my office. The stairs were a challenge. I was just weak, and worried, still. Now 4 years later, almost 5, as I bound, like a kid, up and down those stairs, I remember thinking, I will never take being able to climb stairs for granted again.

Okay so now I take the meds, my heart is strong, I am thin, the numbers are good. The kind and professional people at Providence Hospital, and Marie, saved my life. I needed a tune-up.

I haven't felt comfortable writing about this until today. In fact, as I wrote it, at times, it was not fun...... but way more fun than having a heart attack. To those of you who have been through a similar event, I send my best wishes for your continued good health. Back in 2000, I too had a bum ticker. These days, I consider the future with enthusiasm.

There would be a song, of course, addressing all of this, and it appears on my 2002 CD, “Useful Information.” It’s titled, “The Betterment Of My Heart.” Click here for a clip.

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Pacific Beach, Washington, United States