Saturday, October 30, 2010


For about 4 weeks now, I've had off-and-on chest pain. At first it was nothing major. It could have been many things...I have allergies that cause me to have asthmatic-like symptoms, I have reflux that has been known to present itself as chest pain, and on and on. After a week or so of it I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. The night before my appointment, I went to lay down for the night and suddenly experienced excruciating pain, far worse than I'd been dealing with previously. I sat up, but it kept getting worse, and then my left arm started to ache and got weak.

I freaked out and had my wife take me to the hospital. I'm young for a heart attack, but I'm also fat and in poor health anyway. At the hospital, there were no patients in the E.R. and I got in right away. They went into full "red alert" mode, hooking me up to an EKG, checking my vitals, drawing blood, and everything else they do for a heart attack patient.

The EKG apparently looked normal, so they did not think it was a heart attack. They figured it was my reflux, and gave me 2 different acid blockers (on top of the one I'd taken myself before bed) intravenously. I started to fell better, and the blood work came back normal, not showing any signs of a heart attack. They sent me home and told me to talk to my doctor about it, and go get a stress test done anyway to make sure it wasn't my heart.

My doctor agreed that it probably wasn't my heart, since my EKG and blood work were normal, and put me on a stronger acid blocker. He did refer me to a cardiologist to have a stress test done, just to make sure.

It was a week before I got my referral and made an appointment. I thought the pain I was feeling was probably reflux, or maybe I'd gotten an esophageal ulcer, as I'd been told I might due to my long-standing problem with reflux. The cardiologist didn't have an appointment open for over a month, so I took it, and they told me they'd put me on his cancellation list.

A few days later, the cardiologist's office called; they had a cancellation the next day. I jumped at the chance, figuring that getting my heart checked would give me piece of mind and we could move onto the next logic step, a gastroenterologist.

I went for the stress test. I talked to the cardiologist about my uncle's heart problem, which is apparently genetic and which my uncle says my grandfather and my father both had. The cardiologist said if there wasn't direct evidence that my father had this condition, then it probably wouldn't affect me.

They hooked me up to an EKG again, and then put me on a treadmill. It didn't take long before I was hurting and having trouble breathing. I kept the doctor apprised of what I was feeling, and he asked a couple of times if I could keep going, until I told him I couldn't do anymore. He slowed the treadmill to a stop.

He turned to his assistant and said, "Get him some nitro."

"This can't be good," I replied.

They had me lay down and gave me a nitroglycerin tablet to put under my tongue and dissolve. The pain went away within a few minutes. The doctor explained that the EKG was abnormal and he suspects I have a blocked artery that feeds the back of my heart. Within a week, I'd need to go to the hospital to have a catheter inserted through an artery in my groin (yay!) through which they would run some x-ray dye to find the blockage, and then probably go in with a balloon to open up the artery and then put in a stent (basically a tiny wire mesh cylinder that will keep the artery open). He wrote a prescription for nitroglycerin tablets and gave me the instructions for their use - which includes, "If you take three and the pain hasn't gone away, call 911, because you're having a heart attack."

He did say that to have this problem at my age, it probably is genetic. But I'm pretty sure being a fat bastard and eating the way I do hasn't helped things.

In six days, I go in for the angiogram (the "inserting huge needle and tube into my groin" thing) and probably angioplasty (the balloon and stent part). I'm grateful that this technology exists now, even if they do have to puncture my groin. Did I mention they are going to puncture my groin? I'm not overly happy about that part, but in the bad old days, this kind of thing meant open heart surgery and a much greater risk of death.

Obviously, after this I am going to have to make some major life changes, and they're changes I'm not looking forward to. I'm going to have to exercise regularly (which I really don't mind), change my diet radically and completely quit drinking alcohol (things I do mind).

I am very fortunate that I have the best health insurance around, and some of the best medical treatment in the world at my disposal. This is why some kind of national, public healthcare is necessary - were I not lucky enough to have awesome health insurance, I would be bankrupt after next week.

After the surgery, and completely changing my life, I should be OK and survive to see my son grow up. For that, I am increasingly grateful.