My Heart Attack Story - Lessons Learned
"You're a healthy, young 57-year old woman with no risk factors. Your EKG is NORMAL. You are NOT having a heart attack."
Those were the words a paramedic said to me on the way to the hospital on Sunday, September 6, 2020.
Here's the rest of the story...
Photographing a Bar Mitzvah!
As an Event Photographer during a time when most big events have been cancelled due to COVID, I was ECSTATIC to spend my Labor Day weekend photographing a Bar Mitzvah. It was outdoors with just close family and friends in Los Gatos, CA on one of the hottest days of the year.
About an hour in, I began having chest pains. I just had an EKG & Echocardiogram a few weeks prior - ALL NORMAL - so thought it was probably from the extreme heat. Plus, I just lost ~20 lbs!
But as the day went on, the chest pain and pressure became more intense, and began radiating into my neck, jaw, and down both arms. "Crushing" is such an appropriate description. I got a hotel room to cool off and rest before the evening celebration and felt a little better, but as soon as I left the room, the symptoms came back.
I somehow managed to make it through the event and drove myself back home (about an hour). Still not convinced I was in trouble, I took a shower and went to bed. Stupid.
The next morning, I still felt off and knew something was very wrong. I googled all my symptoms over and over again, and finally called 911. Paramedics immediately hooked me up to an EKG and told me all looked normal, and I was NOT having a heart attack. They gave me baby aspirin and Nitroglycerin spray 3x, and the chest pain subsided.
Once I got to the ER, things moved rather quickly. I have to mention - the paramedics told the ER admitting staff that my EKG was normal, and half-jokingly mentioned I used WebMD to look up my symptoms!
The ER doc ran labs & EKG again, and told me my heart enzymes were VERY ABNORMAL.
Troponin - the measure of damage after a heart attack - is normally < 0.5 ng/ML. Mine was 14.9! My EKG only showed a subtle abnormality.
YOU ARE HAVING A HEART ATTACK.
You are being admitted.
We are taking you to the cath lab for an angiogram.
We will probably find at least one blockage and place a stint to fix it.
A swarm of people began prepping me en route to the lab, and even attached the "paddles" in case things went south. I've never been so scared in my life!
What they found was a Coronary Spasm (click on the link to learn more) in a small branch of arteries that cut off blood flow to my heart.
No other blockages found. Injected Nitroglycerin directly into the cath, the spasm relaxed, and the blood started flowing again. Crazy!
After 2 days in the hospital, I came home a bit battered and bruised, but physically ok. And feeling lucky to still be here!
When Your Dad Cries, You Know...
I think I finally realized the gravity of the situation when my father came over to visit. While hugging him goodbye, he broke down in tears. My father - the hard-ass, disciplinarian, perfectionist I grew up with. Turns out he is the most sensitive, caring, man I know.
The Mental Game
I've since learned that Coronary Spasm (also called Prinzmetal Angina or Vasospastic Angina) is rare and chronic, not a one-off event as I initially thought. Still not even sure this is what I have, but I'll know more soon.
While ok physically, the mental game is a different story. It was one of those "That will never happen to me" moments.
At first, I just couldn't process it. Didn't want to talk about it. Didn't want to write about it. Didn't want to think about it. Just wanted to go back to "normal".
After a week of rest, I've finally started coming to terms with the fact that I had a life-threatening event. A trauma. And I need to deal with it. I decided to share my experience publicly with the sole intent of possibly helping someone else prevent a disaster. The outpouring of concern and gratitude was overwhelming.
I know I am not alone with feelings of fear and uncertainty after experiencing a heart attack. "Cardiac Blues" is an actual thing. For some great info/resources on Cardiac Blues, click this link - Australian Centre for Heart Health .
Here are Normal Reactions to a Cardiac Event:
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