Heart Attack: Never Too Young?

Heart Attack: Never Too Young
What does a heart attack feel like? Do you think a heart attack feels very painful? Do you think you will clutch your heart as they do on TV?
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I know how a heart attack feels, and on that pain scale thing they have, mine were all at various numbers. I have had 3 c-sections and that first day pain was worse that two of my heart attacks but the third heart attack hurt the worst.

I had been ill in mid September 2009 with a flu bug, that one disappeared, and then I was hit again. In many ways, I think the flu bug that hit on September 25 and lasted until about the 28th was worse. Perhaps one of them was that dreaded swine flu. After the flu disappeared, the cold symptoms remained.

I also had a messy house, having been sick for so long. There was laundry to be done, dishes and the usual housework. I spent the day cleaning upstairs and running up and down the cellar steps to do laundry.

Thursday evening I knew I had to begin doing some writing. I did not want to fall so far behind that it would take forever to be caught up. I sat writing in my quiet home with only Demon and Angel, my cockatiels, to keep me company.

I lit a cigarette, took a drag, and continued to type up what was to be an article. By the time I took that second drag, my left arm around the elbow began to get a dull achy sensation. I put out the cigarette so that I could rub my arm and not have the cigarette burn up.  I have arthritis and I felt like this was one of those aches at first.

The pain in my left arm was around my elbow and was dull but within seconds of rubbing it, the pain spread. The pain was rolling up my left arm, the waves began dull but the time it got halfway to my shoulder it was almost unbearable.

I got a quick sharp pain in my chest and my first thought was “I am too young for this.” Now my arm was very painful but the pain never went past halfway to my shoulder and then it would circle back down halfway to my wrist.

Then the pain shot up and across my shoulder so fast, it was unreal. I knew my cell phone was out of time, but my Yahoo pager was on, so I paged my daughter’s cell phone using Yahoo messenger and told her to call my mom. While I waited for her to respond, I felt the need to vomit so I got up and headed to the bathroom. On the way which is a few feet I got light headed, but I managed to sit on the toilet before it came out both ends of me.

While sitting there I got short of breath. I figured incorrectly that it was because I was throwing up and had done too much after being in bed so much in the past few weeks. I went to lie down in my bed, and could not rest. When I lay down it seemed as if my heart was trying to come out of my chest. I was struggling to breathe.

I got up, came back to my computer, paged my daughter back, and told her to call 911 for me. I knew something was horribly wrong, but I thought I was too young to have a heart attack. I was very wrong. 

As I was sitting there typing to her I got massive cold sweats that totally drenched me.

I knew being the only one home I had to let the rescue people inside so I got up and left the office, and my lifeline the computer. Even though my house is small, it seemed to take me forever to get to the front of my house as I could barely walk.

Within minutes, the ambulance arrived and two people entered my house, Tammy and a man--I have forgotten his name. The quickly got all my stats, checked my oxygen and gave me some oxygen.

In the back of the ambulance they did vitals again, I was given the baby aspirin, and a spray of nitro under my tongue and the pain in my chest seemed to get better.  Usually heart attack pain subsides when nitro is given and mine did as well.

All these things, the pain in my left arm, the short of breath, asthma attack, cold sweats, vomiting and runs all are classic symptoms of the dreaded heart attack. I bolded those symptoms so that you would know them, learn them for they may save your life one day.

At the hospital, they did x-rays and blood tests but the one blood test to confirm a heart attack came back negative so I was told it’s not a heart attack and was sent home. I was sent home with no further instructions but was told it was most likely a panic attack, which mimics a heart attack.

Looking back, they misdiagnosed me that night; it was a very mild heart attack.

 By Sunday evening October 4th, I was again experiencing some of the same pain and these symptoms began about 6 pm.

I experienced the same symptoms; the pain in my left arm, the shortness of breath, cold sweats, but even though I had nausea I did not vomit or have the runs. Ray, my son Alex, Cody who is like a son, and other family members took me back to the hospital. I was feeling weak when we got there so walking was very much out of the question and I went into a wheelchair.

I was sitting in the waiting room waiting to be seen and was hit by another wave of those dreaded symptoms. I felt like I was dying, and all I could say was that dreaded “f word” repeatedly. It hurt so bad this time. Crying out was not an option, I could not cry; I could just say that one word.

They got me back to the room quickly after seeing me have an attack. The doctor did that blood test once more, and the numbers were positive. I was put on a nitro drip, which made the chest pain go away. I had an IV drip of saline because I was dehydrated. I was also at this point on 2 liters of O2, and told to stay in bed.

The nitro was giving me a headache, and this is a common side effect but I knew I needed the nitro so I did not complain. I was scared but having Ray and my family around me was comforting. 

I am not sure which of the two episodes on Sunday triggered those numbers and made them positive; it may have been both of them so close. I was admitted to the hospital, which is never a good thing when you do not have insurance. I did not want to stay in the hospital. I had no choice there, as I knew it needed to be done. All I could think of is my kids. I knew they must be scared, so that kept me focused a bit and kept the tears away.

The rest of the night was a nightmare, I so badly wanted to cry, but I had to be strong for the kids. I was taken to the heart floor and left too tried to sleep. I was so hungry but I could not eat because I was headed for the heart catheter lab in a few hours to see how much damage the heart attack had done.

Ray stayed with me until I was settled in my room upstairs and he then left. I am forever thankful for him staying with me, and doing all he could that night. He went to his apartment, got some things, and then went to my house to make sure my boys got up for school. After he left, I began to cry because I was scared and I had a heart attack at 43. Not one but 3 of them, and well, that just scared the crap out of me.

Monday October 5th was spent lying in the bed, unable to eat or drink because of the pending procedure. I had a lot of company, which was good, and they kept my mind of things somewhat. Family was in and out but no food arrived, and I was starving.

It was not long after the ultrasound that a man arrived to take me down stairs to the heart cath lab. That was very scary, although the people tried to make it less scary I was still very scared.

I am lying in this room, and on either side of me I see the catheters hanging much like you would see curtain rods hanging in a department store. Man, they looked so long and that was a revelation. They need to be long because they are inserted when your body joins your leg and travel up to your heart. I felt the tears fill my eyes, and I told myself this is for Amber, Alex and Timmy and I have to do it. My kids, my world, you know, the thought of them living without me made me realize I had to be brave for them.

I felt the coldness of the iodine being placed but never felt the insertion as I was in the twilight zone. I woke up briefly later when I felt the catheter being pulled out and that did hurt.

I was so tired, and I wanted to be elsewhere. I remember as I left the lab my mom was in the hallway and she asked how I was and I told her. She told me to sleep so I did. I know it sounds hokey but imagine laying there to weak to move and the woman who gave birth to you tells you to go to sleep. Imagine you are 43 and it is the most comforting thing in the world. I was so thankful she was there taking care of things and I went to sleep. I do not remember leaving that hallway or going upstairs to my room.

I woke up awhile later in my room, surrounded by my family and Ray. I could not sit up, and the bed was flat. I could hear their voices but I only seen my youngest child Timmy who was squatting on the floor by my head. That was a comforting image to me, and I drifted off to sleep.

The heart cath showed no damage for which I was very thankful. I was sent home with medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and my heart and of course aspirin on a daily basis. I was also put on a low salt/low fat diet and I was told to quit smoking.

The cath site never bruised but it was tender. I had a pressure bandage on it for 2 days. The pressure bandage was five 4 by 4 squares of gauze folded and stacked one on top of the other topped off with one huge piece of clear bandage. This made it super hard to sit up straight for any length of time for the first few days while it remained in place.  After it came off it was still hard to sit for a while because the area was sensitive.

July 18, 2010: Update

Its been a little over nine months now since I had the heart attacks and at least 8 months since I wrote this. It was a very bad time for me and I could not bear to edit it as it brought me to tears every time. Yesterday my granddaughter asked me how it felt when my heart broke and it reminded me of this article.

I am publishing it so that if you know someone who has had a heart attack you can get an idea of how he or she feels. Do not be surprised if the person remains scared to do things for months later; it took me until spring to go walking outside by myself for more than around the block. Be patient with them, and offer to walk with them. Offer to sit and talk about their feelings about the heart attack.

I have also learned to settle down and relax--more work can wait. I no longer push myself as I did before, I do sit and write, but I make sure I get exercise on a daily basis.

The baby my daughter was pregnant with when I had my heart attacks is now eight months old. Little Adrienne is trying to crawl all over and is a bundle of energy. I was there when she took her first breath and to me that was healing. A perfect little newborn gave me hope that I would live. I have a lot more living to do and I am taking care of me for all those people who count on me.

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