What Finally Got Me to the Emergency Room For My Chest Pains
A week ago, Monday, I went to the hospital with chest pain. I ended up being admitted to the hospital only to have a stent put into my right coronary artery and to find out I needed bypass surgery for three blockages in my left coronary artery which will take place tomorrow.
I am not a cardiologist nor do I have any training in medicine but felt it important to share my story with you to explain what finally sent me to the hospital to get checked out. If this story helps just one person who reads it and gets to their doctor or to an emergency room before disaster, it will be a recipe for success.
A Week Ago, Saturday
On Saturday morning, my wife and daughter headed south to Virginia to look at colleges. I was feeling some soreness in my chest but figured it may be a pulled muscle from all the tennis I was playing. I gave it very little attention.
Throughout the day I noticed the pain come back again and then go away. On a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 3 – 4.
A Week Ago, Sunday
I woke up feeling good but as soon as I jumped out of bed I noticed the tightness in my chest again. It wasn’t any more pain than the day before and was localized to just beneath my sternum.
I decided to take the dog for a hike at a park called Rolling Hills. On the ride over I felt no discomfort in my chest at all.
This hike is our dog Bailey’s favorite thing in life next to eating. It consists of a 15-minute walk downhill to a creek where there are usually a bunch of dogs running around off leash in and out of the water. A great place to be a dog.
Along the way, I met some friends of ours, spent a few minutes speaking with them and continued. I remember thinking the pain in my chest was starting again and wondering what it would be like coming back up the hill.
At this point it crossed my mind that this have something to do with my heart but gave it no credence. I figured as much tennis as I was playing, this was either a pulled muscle or some reflux from dinner the night before.
On the way up the hill I remember having to stop a couple of times because my chest was hurting but knew when I got to the car and sat down I would be fine with a little rest and that was exactly the case.
That afternoon, I went to a 1 ½ hour tennis clinic with two other guys and my instructor Paul. The week before I had a slight strain to my right hamstring muscle so I knew I would be taking it easy. The pain in my chest was there the entire time I played but it was still just this dull ache, about 4 to 5 out of 10 on the pain scale.
My pretzel logic was it must be reflux because if it were my heart, I would have had a heart attack by now. I knew it wasn’t a pulled muscle, they feel completely different so was I clinging to indigestion or reflux.
I remember when we were done, I sat on a bench and started to feel better. My instructor looked at me and asked if I was alright and I said I think I have reflux. He tole me to go see someone about it.
I went home, sat on the couch, felt better and then prepared some dinner. As long as I was sitting I felt fine, but as soon as I stood up to go into the kitchen or to my office, the pain reappeared.
I’m sure you are thinking, “Come on! How did you not realize this was your heart and you need to get to the emergency room?”
Looking back now, I would completely agree with you but at the time I really didn’t want to believe there was something wrong with my heart. I expected if there was, I would feel a much sharper pain like the ones you see in the movies where the guy grabs his chest and goes down to the floor in agony.
I have also heard people say it feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest. I did not have those symptoms. Just that dull ache that came with moving around on my feet that would go away when I sat down and something I could manage on my own.
That night I went into my office and did all sorts of research on acid reflux, found some antacids in the medicine drawer and went to bed. Lying down I was feeling fine so I thought, “so much for a heart attack.”
A Week Ago, Monday
The next morning, I needed to go to my endodontist for an x-ray to check up on a root canal I had 12 months ago. I remember feeling the pain walking around the house getting ready and eating some breakfast, but no more than the previous day.
When I got into the car and sat down, the pain went away. When I got to the endodontist, the pain reappeared and then disappeared on the ride home.
At this point I was starting to get nervous. I figured if it was reflux, the antacids should have taken care of it. I decided to sit on the couch and catch up on the news for an hour or so and avoid any movement that would trigger the ache in my chest.
Around noon I decided to take the dog for a walk around the block. I got about 100 yards and the same 4 – 5 out of 10 pain was back. I knew something wasn’t right. I immediately called my wife for her opinion knowing she would be much clearer headed than I.
She said, “Call your doctor right now and do what they say. Maybe you can go into the office for an EKG.”
So I called my doctor’s office and described to the nurse my symptoms and she told me to get someone to take me directly to the emergency room. OK, that got my attention.
I called a friend who works nearby and asked if he would take me to the local hospital. He asked when I said NOW!
He was at my house 10 minutes later and drove me to the hospital emergency room. Remember, I’m still feeling ok, especially when I’m sitting in the car, but I instinctively knew something was not right.
As soon as I arrived, I was brought back to a room where they asked me a lot of questions about the pain, where it was, how long it had been going on and hooked me up to an EKG or electrocardiogram, a test that shows the heart’s electrical activity to see if there are any abnormalities. Mine came up negative.
They also took some blood tests to check the levels of troponin proteins. When you have a heart attack and the heart has been damaged, it releases troponin. The more damage, the more troponin.
After what felt like an eternity, the cardiologist on call came to see me. She confirmed the EKG was negative with my troponin at .06 but explained that with a typical heart attack these levels are around 80. Not .08 but 80 so if I did have a heart attack, it was very mild with little or no damage to the heart.
She said that she could order a stress test to see how I did but based on the positive troponin in my blood and how I described my conditions with pain/no pain that she wanted to admit me for treatment. She was worried that I would pass a stress test, leave the hospital, and then have a major problem.
She was quite certain there was a blockage in my artery and wanted me to undergo a catheterization. This is a procedure where they insert a long thin tube into an artery in your wrist (or groin if the wrist artery is not big enough) and that is threaded through your body up to your heart to see if there are any blockages.
I agreed, and off to a room on the cardio floor I went, where they immediately hooked me up to a bunch of monitors and slapped a nitroglycerin patch on my arm. The nitro patch works by relaxing and widening the blood vessels to allow blood to flow more easily.
I was nervous but felt good to be in a safe place knowing if something went wrong, medical professionals were standing by! More blood work was taken that night and my troponin was up to 1.2, still way below 80 but enough to realize the doctor made the right decision to admit me.
I also went for a CAT scan where they inserted dyes into my bloodstream and took images of my heart. I don’t think I ever heard what the results of those were.
A Week Ago, Tuesday
The next morning, I found out there were no doctors around to do the catheterization. All the local schools were on spring break so a couple of the doctors were out of town. The remaining doctor who was available was booked solid and since I was stable, we decided to wait until Wednesday and be the first procedure of the day.
This was the toughest part so far. I knew something was wrong but I had no idea what I was dealing with. Of course, I expected the worse and imagined every conceivable thing that could be wrong with me.
Lucky for me the nurses were all incredible. They were talented people who not only knew how to handle me physically but mentally too. My nurses, especially Laura and Barb, calmed me down and reassured me that I was in good hands and everything would be alright.
I spent the day reading and watching television. My wife and daughter cut their college touring trip short and came right home to be with me. It was a long day of waiting and I was anxious to get it over with.
A Week Ago, Wednesday
I was the first procedure of the day so I was up early, gave myself a sponge bath and headed down to the CATH Lab. I was greeted by a team of surgical nurses who prepped me for the procedure and explained what was going to happen.
I was under twilight sedation so I could speak to the doctor if asked a question and watch the procedure without feeling anything if I wanted to but was told afterward I was out for most of the process.
I do remember them trying to get the catheter into my wrist and not being able to so they opted for my groin. After that, I don’t remember much except feeling pressure in my groin area where they were inserting the catheter tube.
When the procedure was done,I was told the right coronary artery was 99% blocked and shown a video of the blockage, the insertion of the stent, and the blood then flowing back into the artery. It was a beautiful thing!
I have been describing it as looking at a straw (the artery) with a thin thread hanging out the end (where the blockage was). Once the stent was put in, the thread opened back up to the size of the straw with strong blood flow through my artery.
I was told there were three more blockages on my left coronary artery. This artery, known as “the Widow Maker” for obvious reasons, is responsible for pumping blood from the heart to all the extremities.
You can see the three blockages in the diagram my doctor drew up for me. There is a 50% blockage, 60% blockage and 80% blockage.
Because of location and positioning, there is no way to safely stent these blockages. It would be extremely tricky if not impossible to stent where the Y forms so I was told I need bypass surgery.
OK, this is not what I wanted to hear but these are the facts. I have to say, I am much calmer knowing what the problem is and how it is going to be fixed than I was Tuesday night not knowing what to expect. I went back to a recovery room on a different floor knowing we had a plan to deal with this.
I spent the rest of the day and night in recovery and felt fine except for some tenderness in my groin area. I was able to get out of bed to go to the bathroom and take some strolls down to the end of the hall.
On Thursday I was given a few more tests and released around lunch time to go home and take it easy.
A Week Ago, Friday
First thing in the morning, my wife took me to another hospital within the system that houses the cardiac surgery program, to meet with the surgeon who will be performing my bypass. He asked me some questions and then immediately put me at ease by explaining that the stent corrected my biggest coronary problem and I shouldn’t worry about having a heart attack between Friday and when the surgery is done.
He walked me through the entire procedure and explained what would happen before, during and after. He will be using a robot called DaVinci for most of the procedure and finish the surgery by hand to attach the bypass artery to my coronary artery.
We asked a lot of questions and were given a lot of helpful information. More than anything, the doctor gave me confidence in him and the technology he will be using during the operation.
I will be having this procedure done tomorrow and hope to be reporting back via Facebook on Saturday or Sunday.
I realize this post is not about cooking but I thought the subject important enough for me to lay out my experiences in detail like I did. If you didn’t read the entire story, I hope you take away the importance of listening to your body and taking action when you feel something is not right.
I believe I was very lucky nothing more damaging happened before I got to the emergency room. I knew something was not right but for at least two days I ignored what I felt.
If you feel pain in your chest that appears when you are active and subsides when you are at rest, start thinking about getting checked out. Even if it turns out you do have reflux or a pulled chest muscle, better to have checked it out.
Don’t wait. Be safe.