Female, 45, heart attack, triple bypass~wait, what?!
by Lisa Almquist
(Lincoln, Nebraska, USA)
I had a heart attack 25 September, 2010 at the age of 45. After the ambulance tranferred me to the hospital, a heart cath showed that I had three blocked arteries. The cardiologists told me that they needed to rush me into emergancy bypass surgery. It was all such a whirlwind. From my nausea, sweats, vomiting, back and jaw pain resulting in them telling me I was having a heart attack, to a heart cath, to a rush down the hall way to heart bypass surgery? I had only woke up 3 hours ago and felt fine...now I'm being whisked away for heart surgery? And wait, what?! I had a heart attack???? There has to be a mistake. I'm 45. You have me mixed up with someone else in the ER...THIS CAN'T BE HAPPENING TO ME!!!!!
After I woke from triple bypass surgery my life as I had known it had changed. I was only 45, and I had a rough time in surgery. It was touch and go for that night. I had two cardiac nurses sitting next to my bed all night. In and out of consciousness, and one would be wiping my forehead, holding my restrained hand. (I tended to try and pull out my breathing tube, so I had to be restrained.) One nurse said, "You just have to make it through tonight honey." The next day, Sunday, lots of doctors, lots of visitors, I have fragmented memories thanks to pain medicine. However, the breathing tube remained. I was hungry and thirsty, had a lot to say, but couldn't do anything.
Monday the breathing tube came out. I started to become aware of my surroundings. Pain came in fragments. The doctors told me how lucky I was. So many doctors...every conversation started out, "You are too young for this....is there heart problems in your family....does this run in your family...." Yes, it does...but it wasn't suppose to happen to me...
I was 45. I am in the military so I worked out 6 days a week. I ate healthy. Didn't drink much alcohol. Yes, I smoked on and off (mainly on) for 20 years...yes, I had high blood pressure...yes, I had just been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes....yes, the PA at the VA said, "You are a walking heart attack waiting to happen..." yes there is a history of heart attacks and premature deaths due to heart problems in my family. But this? Happen to me? I had been feeling fine. A little run down lately perhaps, but this??? To ME??!!
Physical therapy talked about helping me get out of bed and into a chair. What? HELP me? I can do it on my own...uh...nope. I didn't realize until that moment, that moment I needed help sitting up, moving my legs, getting out of bed, move all the machines with me, to go 2 feet. I moved 2 feet and was EXHAUSTED. The severity of my situation began to hit me, as the pain meds decreased and my brain came unfogged. I HAD
I had a lot of visitors. The gravity of my situation showed on their faces when they visited. They tried to hide it, but I could see it that fleeting moment when they first saw me. And I started to become aware of all the bandages, and all the machines. I wondered what is my life going to be after all this???? I made a decision then and there that I was going to recover. When PT started to assist me to walk, I would insist on one more lap. After machines started coming off, and I could walk myself, I walked around the hospital. I vistited with the others on the Cardiac ICU that I could. When they transferred me to a cardiac wing, I did the same. I walked. I visited. I did everything they told me. Walking around the cardiac unit, I noticed I was by far the youngest one there. I realized that although I was only 45, that would be an advantage to me. I had youth on my side to rehabilitate.
I was out of the hospital on 2 October, exactly one week. It felt like a lifetime. My mom who lived half a country away, came to stay with me since my boyfriend was going to deploy to Iraq in 2 weeks. She said I was in better condition than she imagine. That was a good sign. As I walked out of the hospital, into the crisp sunny fall day I reflected on my journey. I left the hospital with cardiac rehab appts, follow up cardiologist appts, to do/ not to do lists, lots of new meds, and a bandage down the middle of my chest.
Well, its two years later. I am pending a Medical Board to get medically retired from the military. I have had several hospitalizations. I have been diagnosised with Congestive Heart Failure. I have had a ICD implanted for the reduction of risk of sudden cardiac death. My EF have remained in the 30% range. I take a lot of meds. But I remind myself that I am alive. My grandpa died 2 years younger than me in 1949 when he had his third heart attack. With modern medicine, I have a chance to live. I have a chance to grow old. I wear my chest scar proudly. I don't cover it up. I have no plans for cosmetic surgery. It reminds me. Everything is either "before the heart attack" or "after the heart attack". I've suffered depression. I still do at times. I wonder sometimes if that chest pain, if that tingle in my arm is another heart attack. I'm afraid to exert myself too much. I tire easily. Sometime I wonder if I let my heart attack/triple bypass define me. But only those who have experienced heart issues can understand, it is me now. I understand how close I came to not living past 25 September 2010. So coping with heart disease is the new me. But at least I'm alive. :-D