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Surviving the widow-maker

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When the dispatcher answered, I realized that I could not speak and was having a stroke. It took several minutes - knowing what I needed to say, but unable to actually voice the words. I managed to say 'stroke' and the police dispatcher transferred me to fire dispatch. As the minutes passed, I was able to give an address - I only had a cell phone so the dispatcher was not given a location for me. By the time I reached hospital most of the dysphasia had passed, and within eight hours everything was back to normal. I got to go home again the next day - a little wiser. Last month, I went for my double bypass - waking to find that I'd had a four way. It was explained to be that I'd had a partial blockage of the LAD artery - a potential widowmaker. I learned that the fact that I had lost 80lbs in the preceeding months, resolving the diabetes and improving the sleep apnea, was likely the difference between living and dying.

October 15, 2011 at 10:46 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Surviving the widow-maker

I hated turning 50. My father had died from his second heart attack in six months in his fifties. Ten years earlier, I had immigrated to California from the UK. The lifestyle change was unkind and I put on a lot (100lbs) of weight, and this induced Type II diabetes and Sleep Apnea. I had never been athletic, but I had always been well - I boasted that I had only had six days sick leave in my entire working career. A career that had included thirty years in public safety, including periods as a police officer and a firefighter/emt. I had been working a private, armed, gang suppression position, 10 hour night shifts, wearing body armour and a 20lb gun belt. I had an hour's commute each way to the job site, rising gas prices and minimal wage - all in all, very stressful. Sunday night was much like any other, until around 2am I ran up three flights of apartment stairs, and on reaching the top was so out of breath I could not speak. I got back to the parking lot - still out of breath and with a little chest pain. Removing the front panel of my bullet proof vest eased things and I took my meal break before finishing the remainer of the shift and driving home. I had breakfast and went to bed around 8am. An hour later I was woken by an intense sub-sternal pain, but with no other symptoms I took this to be indigestion, and when the paid passed, wnet back to bed and slept for the rest of the day. I woke feeling fine, and worked another full week. The following Monday was Memorial Day, so I only slept for a couple of hours after work before getting up to attend a social event. I noticed that I was wheezing a little and thought that I might be getting a cold. Over the next five hours, the wheezing got worse. For some reason, instead of calling 911, I drove myself to the local ER, ten minutes from home, getting progressively worse. I parked and walked across the lot to the ER entrance. As I stepped inside, I could tell that the nurse behind the desk didn't like what he saw, and I started to say "I'm having difficulty breathing". I was told later that I didn't finish the sentance - the next thing I remember was waking to a full crash team working on me. I was moved from ER to the Cath Lab, where another tean was ready to take over my care. Angiograms confirmed the problem, and two stents were inserted. I was told that I was in Atrial Fibrulation - likely since the chest pain a week before. I was also told that there was evidence of an earlier heart attack that would require a double bypass to repair. Several days later I was 'cardioverted' to return my rythmn to 'sinus'. After almost two weeks in hospital, I came home - but not for long. I had been home less than 24 hours when I started to feel 'strange' - no chest pain, no breathing problem, but something was wrong. I picked up the phone and dialled 911.

October 15, 2011 at 10:45 a.m. ( | suggest removal )