Just 3 weeks ago, I was out on a 20-mile bicycle ride, which isn’t uncommon for me. I’m 54, in reasonably good health (5’11”, 195) and in the past few years have made attempts to eat more healthy. Yet, when I got back from my ride, I felt like I had – as bike riders say – “hit the wall.” I felt tired and decided to get some food and something to drink at home. As I sat there, I noticed a slight burning in my esophagus. Sometimes during a bike ride I would slightly feel this, but accounted it as needing a break to let my lungs catch up with my riding. Yet this time, it wasn’t going away. I described it as if I had swallowed a sharp tortilla chip sideways! The pain was enough to get my attention, but not enough to cause me to panic. I decided to take a shower and swallow a couple of aspirin. I cut my shower short, and the pain was still there. I realized that it was time to let my wife know. She immediately said, “Let’s go to the Emergency Room at Stanford.”
We were in the E.R. within 7 minutes, and I was being treated within 30 seconds of walking in the door. My blood pressure was 199/108. I received at least a dozen EKGs within 15 minutes’ time, and was given sublingual Nitroglycerine, my pain remaining at about a 6 out of 10 throughout. There was no change, so they put me on an I.V. of Nitro, and took me for an angiogram. I must say that at this point, I just surrendered to whatever they needed to do. All concern for privacy, dignity and all that other guy-stuff paled in comparison to wanting them to solve the problem.
In the Cath Lab, they prepped me for an angiogram. I was told what the procedure would be. They were going to insert a wire into my femoral artery in my groin and then “snake” it up my artery in to my heart. They would then inject some dye into my heart so that my blood flow would show up on screen. It was then that I found that I would remain awake during the process. As I said, at this point, I had surrendered to whatever they needed to do. As the doctors injected the dye, the screen showed a blockage on my right coronary artery. The doctor leaned over and told me, “Your artery is blocked and we're going to fix it right now.” The doctor inserted an angioplasty with a stent.
During the installation, I felt a little bit more pain than before, but it didn’t last very long. I was monitored in the Coronary Care Unit (the ICU ward for cardiac patients) and after a day’s rest, was sent back to the Cath Lab to receive 3 more angioplasties for partially blocked arteries.
The next day, I was discharged with meds for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and an anti-clotting agent to keep things flowing through the stents in my heart. I was also given instructions for taking baby aspirin for the rest of my life. Looking back, I’m glad I heeded the warning signs and went to get checked at the hospital. I was told that I did the right thing. I’ve changed my diet to minimize fat and salt. I’ve cut out a lot of processed foods because they’re packed with a lot of sodium. I’m learning to read labels and make healthy choices. I encourage you to learn from my experience and make the right choices while you have the choice to make!