The Big One … Almost

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

38 thoughts on “The Big One … Almost

  1. Holy Moly. Glad you pulled through. One of my best buddies passed away with cancer 4 years after retiring early at 49. Can’t say he lived healthy but he did mention to me over our last beer that he should have retired way before cracking the 30m club. He regretted it a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ouch. That’s about the exact age that I am now. When they say “but for the grace of God, go I …”? That’s me right now. Glad to be living life full-time … even if I’ll never see $30 million.

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    2. Glad to hear you made it! Amazing how unpredictable life is, especially when you are doing all the right things to prevent something like this from occurring: exercising, managing stress, maintaining a good weight, getting your physicals, (it’s disappointing they can’t detect a pending dooms day event like this blockage in your heart during a physical), etc.

      Well if the Widow Maker would have gotten you, my thought is in that last moment you would have been consoled in part by the 4 years of freedom you enjoyed. It could be that if you wouldn’t have RE you may have been one of the long line of hamsters at the wheel that died at their desk. The last 4 years of good living may have skewed the 50/50 odds in your favor– who knows.

      At any rate I am happy for you and your wife and son as well as for me because I have been following your blog for several years and have come to look forward to your posts during my retirement; but this is one milestone I hope not follow your footsteps in 🙂.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks SO much, Yong! I’m actually in much better shape than when I was working at MegaCorp, so you are right that maybe our FIRE choice prevented me from having a heart attack at work … instead of the tennis court. They guy I was playing with is also a MegaCorp early retiree … we worked together for the last few years of of careers.

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  2. Wow! Unbelievable! I’m so glad you are ok and let me take this opportunity to thank you for the work you do to share your personal and financial wisdom with us all. You are a rockstar and I’m so happy you’ll be around to continue your wonderful work. Wishing you lots of rest and a speedy recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks SO much for the kind words, Julie! I’m a pretty positive person overall, but try to share the bad with the good in these posts. Happy New Year 2020!

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  3. Eric, I am stunned and concerned to read of your close call. You are blessed indeed to have survived. I have a friend, Ed, who had stents put in over a decade ago. Ed is now 93 and in good health. He knows that God saved him, to do His work on earth. I hope you too will ponder this question. I will pray for your recovery and life, my friend. Be well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the note, John – ! The whole experience has been quite surreal and will continue to be until I get fully recovered throughout the next couple months. I never lack goals for myself, but this one is very clear and immediate! (Yes, our family did enjoy G! Cinnamon Rolls the morning before this happened!). 😉

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    1. Thanks for the note, Brian – I didn’t see it coming either! My goal is always 4.4 million steps a year, which is 12,000 a day. I was right on track until last week. I’m on the treadmill right now this morning – but taking it much slower. No tennis for a while either!

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  4. What a shock to read of your sudden illness. I’m so glad things turned out OK for you. I had a heart attack at 55, which to me seemed ridiculously young – but to be fair my lifestyle was at that time quite unhealthy. Recovery was less rapid than yours has been, but it has led to some significant life changes, and encouraged me to re-evaluate my whole work-life balance. I retired at 60 and 5 years later continue to enjoy every day in good health. Thankfully, living in the UK, the excellent medical care that I received did not cost me a penny. People complain about our National Health Service but when it comes to emergency care it is truly a blessing to know that you don’t have to worry at all about how much this is costing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to hear that, Bill – It sounds like you have had 10 years of good health since your heart attack. It sounds like you’ve been fortunate enough to not to have any additional heart incidents.

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  5. Wow – yes glad you are OK and will hopefully be writing many more blog posts for your loyal readers to enjoy. I’ve always enjoyed reading what you have to say and am glad this one had a happy ending. Keep up the good work!

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  6. Scary. I’m glad you got the 911 call in quickly, and are now making a speedy recovery. We are of similar ages, and like you, I’m very active and now “working” to stay healthy just three years after retiring. You always hear the horror stories about “that guy” who kicked the bucket right after retiring. I’d hoped we were past that window! You just never know. Live every day to its fullest. Best wishes on a continued recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Thom – I have a friend who was an insurance actuary and he used to tell me that your odds of living a long life are really high if you are a guy who makes it to 55. I guess I blew that now – my 54th birthday is in April!

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  7. Sorry to hear but glad that you are on the mend. My brother in law had the same issue three weeks ago age 59. His issue was gradual, felt poorly so he went to the clinic at noon. He was home by nine after getting a stent. Both of you are fortunate

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow – sounds like your BIL got help just before a big problem. That’s great! Amazing that they could have him in & out so quickly, isn’t it? 🙂

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  8. Very scary post Mr. Firestation. Every day is precious and what a great reminder as we start the New Year that we need to make the most of every day. That’s great news that everything worked out OK. Thanks for sharing such a personal moment and also a great reminder on the importance of our FIRE journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Appreciate the nice comments. I always try to ‘seize the day’ but am quite happy that the day didn’t seize me!

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  9. Wow! Glad to hear you’re doing well. Nothing makes you realize how fragile life is like hearing stories of near-death experiences. I’ll make sure to live & enjoy every day as I make my way to FIRE, just in case something happens before I get there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good call! Regardless of health, I always tell people to enjoy life during the FIRE journey. I worry sometimes that people are so focused on frugal-living to hit a FIRE number, that they miss out on the fun of life in the short-term. Carpe diem!

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  10. Congratulations on LIVING! Scary. This is one area that our healthcare system really lets us down. They pay for a colonoscopy after the age of 50 yet only about 150,000 of Americans get colon cancer but they will not pay for a heart scan and about 1,500,000 have a stroke or heart attack.

    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the note! I didn’t really know anything about getting a private heart scan before, but a couple people have mentioned it to me. It doesn’t look like they are terribly expensive … a couple hundred $ only. I’m going to mention it to my wife …

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  11. I’ve been reading your blog for years and am shocked to read about what happened. So glad that you made it through and already recovered to the point that you could blog about it. Thankful for modern medicine.

    I’m wondering if you had monitored your heart health before or if this came as a total surprise since you had no risk factors. I would think that a stress echocardiogram or similar test might have given some warning? From what I’ve read on your blog, you seem to be living a healthy lifestyle as far as diet, exercise, and stress…

    I’m about the same age as you and my father died of a heart attack at age 50 so I’ve monitored my heart since my 30s.

    Take care and wish you all the best for recovery.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was an executive at MegaCorp and starting in about 2003, I would get full-day executive health screenings every few years. Those included getting hooked up to wires and walking on a treadmill. No problems ever emerged. I only had basic, annual check-ups the last 4 years after I RE. I write more about risk factors soon …

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  12. Wow! So happy to hear you pulled through! My father in law has told me similar stories of his coworkers dying shortly after retirement. I also had a colleague who had a brain aneurysm while sitting in a meeting next to me that eventually took his life. Definitely have learned to take each day as a gift. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kelly! Wow – having someone die next to you in a MegaCorp meeting has to be awful for everyone involved. I’m so lucky I was at the tennis club, with a lot of people around, and close to a couple big hospitals.

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  13. Wow..! Been a follower of your blog for a number of years and it has inspired me to follow some of your pre-FIRE tracking methods (post-it stickies), etc.. In some queer way your health issue is another ‘reason’ why one should pull the trigger for FIRE if you are looking to spend time outside of work – you never know when your number is called. Good luck with your continued recovery!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michael! Yes, I agree with your thinking. It’s hard to look at the longevity aspect of FIRE, but working longer to save enough to spend to age 100 isn’t practical for most people. Something will happen to most of us much sooner – generally a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. Better to get enjoying life now than wait for something that doesn’t happen!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Very happy to hear that your prognosis is good, but sorry that you had to go through this experience. I’m a few years younger than you, and have enjoyed following your pre- and post-FIRE experiences. Glad that I’ll continue to be able to do so, hopefully for many years to come! Wishing you a quick recovery and continued happiness in 2020!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks SO much! Moving slow right now, but should make a full recovery. Looking forward to getting back to 100%.

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