So I’m pushing the shopping cart around into the cereal aisle at the supermarket Friday afternoon and a strange feeling comes upon me. Since I’ve been having a lot of joint and muscle aches lately because of my ever-blossoming arthritis, I figure it’s more of that. The sensation begins intensifying. I can’t quite put my figure on it. It’s almost electric. It like bands of low wattage electrical lines are wrapping themselves around my entire chest cavity. Wait. Wait. Yeah, that’s sort of like a pressure sensation I’m feeling now. It’s like there’s a wiry belt clinging around my chest and it keeps tightening. By now I’ve stopped pushing the half-filled cart and I am just standing still trying to define what’s happening to me. Soon, those famous five warning signs are circling the imaginary halo I see forming around my head. Then the clincher comes—my entire jaw begins aching like every tooth on my lower jaw has decided to throb at the same time. I am perplexed. I am not sure what to do. As I read it, I’m having—or about to have—a heart attack.
I look down the cereal aisle. There are some employees chatting and pointing to some of the products on the shelves. There are refrigerated items in my cart. I just can’t leave it and go home—at least that’s what I am telling myself. On the other hand, I fast-forward the scene and see myself lying in the aisle with a crowd of people around me and the ambulance on its way. Uh-uh. That picture has a lot wrong with it and I’m not posing for it. So I decide I will go to the checkout line, pay for what I have and then go home. This sounds good, but I keep wondering if I’ll make it before the really big squeeze comes and takes me out.
Well, to help this story along, I’ll tell you I got home and wife Rosemarie (an RN) puts on her imaginary white uniform with the blue cape and off we go to the ER. I put up no fight. I’m kind of scared. Heart disease runs in the family.
At the ER we go through the usual routine. Of course, by now I have no symptoms. Both the chest pressure and the achy jaw have gone away completely. The anxiety hasn’t. My blood pressure is 190/92. I’m there for the long haul. They take blood, do an x-ray and three people ask me the same 20 questions. Meanwhile, my doctor is called and he gives the directive to have me admitted. After camping out in the ER for 7 hours I am rolled into a room on the fifth floor at 1:05am. The room has to be at least 50 degrees if not colder. I hate cold. I know I will be up all night, what’s left of it.
Timing is everything when it comes to hospitals. If you wind up being admitted on a Friday night you may very well have to lie around all weekend and wait for Monday before any tests can be run to determine why you are there in the first place. Friday night trips to the ER are best for broken bones, cuts needing stitches or skulls fractured. These things can usually be tended to immediately. A pending heart attack with no current symptoms…well, that’ll need tests, the kind done during the week.
Monday at noon, after three totally sleepless nights in a igloo with a fan blowing, I am rolled into a room on the lower level. What a gang of nice people I meet. They have to be nice because they are about to perform a diabolical test on me. The nice straight crease in my groin that basically separates my lower stomach from my right leg is intruded by a needle which will allow entry of a catheter that will work its way up and through various veins and vessels that funnel blood into my cardio-vascular system. The catheter will search through the tunnels looking for ones that have become clogged. If any are found, a “stent” or expanding piece of netted tubing will be installed at the spot, expanding the opening and providing a clear passageway for blood to flow through.
Me? I’m lucky. Only a 30% blockage is found in one area, not enough for a stent and not enough to cause me a problem, at least for now.
I am discharged from the hospital at 9pm Monday night with a pile of new pills to pop. I am relieved that nothing serious was found. Of course, this is a little unnerving not knowing exactly why I had the scary episode in the supermarket Friday night. The trouble with this kind of ending is that it may influence your thinking if and when you have another similar episode. What then? Do you react with the same cautionary “better safe than sorry,” or do you say the heck with the ER and going through all that again. I guess the older you are, the easier the decision. Then again, I suppose it won’t be long before the insurance companies make the decision or us.