I really like my University of Michigan clothing. My son has sent me a sweatshirt and heaven only knows how many different T-shirts in maize and blue emblazoned with Michigan swimming and diving on them. In fact, it was just such a combination of sweatshirt and T-shirt that I was wearing Tuesday morning as I prepared for my morning exercise routine at Planet Fitness. The muscle ache on the right side of my chest and in my right shoulder, I attributed to lifting one too many weights.
At the gym, and before working out, I sat at one of the client tables in one of the hand-shaped chairs, feeling that this shoulder and arm pain really weren’t getting any better. “Aw, to hell with it,” I thought and headed to my car instead of to the bike awaiting me at the gym. Home I toddled, laying down beside my sleeping partner carefully in order not to rouse her from slumber. After a few minutes of restlessness, I decided that the pain might just not be the result of a muscle pull or tear. Time to get this checked out.
At 6:15 in the morning, one does not go to the local physician. Instead, I took the direct route to Newton-Wellesley Hospital. In a situation not dissimilar from going to the dentist for a toothache only to have it disappear just before you get there, the pain began to subside…and I began to feel like a damned fool. Nurses came and nurses went. Doctors came and off they went. Blood was drawn and it too disappeared into the ‘who-knows-where’ cloud of something or other.
“I’d like to run another test,” said the attending physician, who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent. This one, I knew, was to determine if there was somewhere, floating around in this magnificent 81-year old body, a nasty little thing called a blood clot. These are fine unless they happen to wind up in your brain where they can cause a stroke or in your lungs where they can cause the ultimate step.
“The scan is clear; the x-ray is clear, but the blood enzyme is borderline,” said the doctor. I was acutely aware of what he was saying, having been through three prior heart attacks. “Are you saying this is an infarction?” I asked. “No, he replied,” obviously impressed that I could use such a terrific technical term – no dummy, this kid – but the troponin level is such that I think we should do another test. I will pause here to tell you that enzyme testing is an excellent way of diagnosing whether or not what the patient is experiencing is heart related or not. The only problem is that enzyme tests have to be performed six hours apart. By now, it was getting nigh on to noon and that meant that it would be well into the evening before the results were known. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t care to spend any more time in a hospital than absolutely necessary. They’re filled with germs and sick people and they are real morale busters. “You want to admit me, don’t you?” I glared with steely eyes (like that?). “Yes,” he said, with a look that matched my own. After arguing the advantages and disadvantages, I had to admit that his case for staying was somewhat stronger than my own arguments for leaving, thus I was taken to a bed in the main hospital, prepared for a sleepless night. Who the hell can sleep in a hospital?
Sometime after dark, this same emergency room doctor came smiling into 543A and proudly announced that my enzyme level had risen, thus indicating a heart “concern.” Translation: You have had a heart attack and we have stabilized you. Okay, that was heart attack number four, but the first one where any semblance of pain had occurred. Heart attacks are funny things. They don’t always behave as we have been told time and time and time again. Pain is not a necessity. Radiating tingling in the left arm doesn’t have to happen. Symptoms of a heart attack are all over the place, bear witness that the muscle ache (I thought) was on the right side, not the left, and while the muscle ache extended to the shoulder, it hardly “radiated” down the right arm. Still, it was a heart attack.
The following morning, there was no pain and I was ready to get in the car. It was over and all was right with the world, right? Young doctor whozit abused me of that idea early on. “We’re sending you in town for a cardiac catheterization,” He said. For those unfamiliar with this procedure – I had been there and done that so was fully prepared (yeah, right), a needle is inserted into the femoral artery [mistake one] in the groin and is threaded up through the heart, looking for blockages. If everything is clear, so is the patient. If a blockage is found, it is cleaned out and a stent implanted. A stent is a tiny piece of wire mesh that is used to keep the offending artery open. “Piece of cake,” I thought. “No pain; everything should be clean and clear [mistake two].
Late Wednesday afternoon, I was taken by wheelchair to the “cath lab.” They prepped the groin area and when the surgeon came in, he announced, “We’re going through the wrist.” I had heard of this procedure, but the radial artery seems so much smaller than the femoral that I didn’t understand how this would be possible. In addition, having a probing needle thrust into my wrist was not something to which I was looking forward. “Don’t worry,” said one of the nurses, “you won’t feel a thing.” While I was conscious throughout this ordeal, she was right. Whatever Kickapoo joy juice I had been given put me on cloud 9 and 10 and 11…good stuff.
I have no idea how long I was on that table, but it seemed like forever. When it was all over and the lights came up, I remember asking if everything was clear. Hardly, replied some doctor from somewhere. It seems that one artery was blocked 99.9 percent and a few others needed some plaque removal. Ergo, I was one lucky sumbitch that a doctor in the emergency room at Newton-Wellesley refused to let me make a fool of myself and go home.
To Doctor Adam Lurie; to Ryan Flanagan; to Doctor Colin Hirst and his team; and to all of the wonderful people I met at both hospitals, thanks for your dedication, patience, warmth, and understanding. Nursing care at both hospital was fantastic and guess what…I even liked the meatloaf lunch I was served just before departing for home on Thursday…in my Michigan sweatshirt and T-shirt.