I always say I’ve lived a charmed life. Great family, good health, and many blessings. This past holiday week was also charmed, but in a very different way, as I was fortunate to survived a holiday heart attack that caught me completely by surprise.
I was playing tennis with my good friend Russ the day after Christmas, looking forward to a post-match , end-of-the-year beer, when I felt sudden pain in my shoulders, neck, and then my entire torso. I rested a moment on the courtside bench, walked across the court to see if it would dissipate, and ultimately went to the tennis club lobby to stretch out on a couch.
Then things got worse. After a minute or two of increasing pain throughout my torso – and massive body sweats – I suggested he let the front desk know something happened and he suggested calling 911. His suggestion was one of the keys to saving my life.
Within 10 minutes, the EMTs arrived, had baby aspirin in my system, and showed me an EKG reading that said ‘major heart attack’. I was quickly in an ambulance and there were about 10 people waiting for me in the hospital ER when I arrived.
They acted FAST. Soon, I was upstairs in a ‘Cath Lab’ where they used a catheter to insert a stent in the ‘Lateral Anterior Descending’ (LAD) artery that supplies blood to the most important parts of my heart. The seriousness of this kind of heart attack is underscored by the nickname ‘The Widow Maker’.
When I asked the cardiologist how severe it was for me, his response was “massive”. He said this was “The Big One” and 30 years ago there would have been no chance of survival. Even with modern medical technology, the survival rate today is less than half. I now count myself very blessed to have survived something that brutal.
Within minutes of the stent procedure, I felt strangely ‘normal’. No pain, no real tiredness. The stent fully opened the artery and I felt like I could go back and play a second set of tennis. Maybe it was just the adrenaline that kept me from feeling it at first. I had some pain that first night – but not too much – and subsequent tests showed it was all normal.
Exactly 24 hours – to the minute – of having the heart attack, they had me on a treadmill and using a hand cycle to begin cardio rehab. They said they would expect a full recovery in an unbelievable 6 weeks. The RN said they have patients that go on to run marathons and there shouldn’t be any lasting disability.
As amazing as it sounds, I left the hospital for home in just 2 days.
Yes, there are things I can (and will) do to live a healthier life – like eating better – going forward. That said, I didn’t really have the profile of someone with significant risk factors for this to happen, like a family history of heart disease, diabetes, or hypertension. They asked me about stress and my brother said, “Him? He doesn’t even have a job!”
As I said, I’ve always felt I’ve lived a charmed life and this situation is no different. People are asking if I have come through this event with some insightful new perspective on life, but at this point, I would say what I always say: live each day as a gift and make the most of what you are given. This incident reminds me that tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone.
A lot of people have stories about parents or relatives who died at work or very soon after retiring. A woman I worked with at MegaCorp said her father passed away on his last day at work. It’s troubling to think about our time away from family and friends to be the final days we have.
That said, I like to think that had this heart attack been my inglorious end, I would be quite pleased that I made the decisions I did almost 4 years ago to stop working and live life FULL-TIME. The unconstrained fun and adventures that I have had with my family, my wonderful wife, my amazing son, and numerous friends over the last four years have been true treasures!
Next week, I’ll touch on the personal finance & health insurance side of this. It looks like we are well prepared for the shocking bills we are likely to see in the mail soon.
Image Credit: Pixabay