Heart And Soul

Back when I worked maintenance in the government salt mines, if a piece of equipment or system malfunctioned, it was classified as an event. Most events were relatively minor, but they were still considered a bad thing, a data point that would show up in red on the morning spreadsheet, and require some form of restoration. And since restoration involves spending money, that could set off a wave of middle management e-mail chains and teleconferences reaching all the way to Washington, D.C. for a significant (costly) event. Recently, I had a bit of an event in my life. I’m still trying to figure out how significant it is, but it’s definitely knocked me back a step.

A couple of months ago I noticed occasional shortness of breath when I exerted myself. (I mean, more than usual for my old, fat ass.) I had been working pretty hard, doing demo work on an old house I bought to renovate, so at first I chalked it up to that and the fact that I had recently turned 60. I told myself maybe I needed to take it a little easier now. But it slowly got worse, and then I started feeling something right in the center of my chest. Not pain, just a very weird feeling, a lump-in-the-throat nervousness bordering on dread. It concerned me enough that I did something I despise doing. I got involved with the health care system.

My doctor ran a brief EKG test and saw no problems. She wrote me a prescription for heartburn medication and referred me to the cardiology department for a stress test. The cardiology department couldn’t get me in for almost two weeks, so I took the heartburn meds and waited.

It was not heartburn…

Things went downhill during that couple of weeks, with more and more shortness of breath, and the pressure in my chest turning to pain. Sharp pain. I knew, like the Warren Zevon song goes, my shit was fucked up. By the day of the stress test, I couldn’t walk a hundred feet without intense chest pain. I failed that test miserably, had to abort before I could get my heart rate up to the target. They gave me some nitroglycerin pills and scheduled a catheterization for two days later. The last couple of days before the catheterization were rough, constant chest pain, panting like a bulldog, with a wicked headache from the nitroglycerin. And the overwhelming feeling of dread was like nothing I have ever experienced. I went to sleep at night wondering if I would wake up.

Long story short, I have an inch-and-a-half long stent in my right coronary artery now. The cardiologist said the artery was 99% blocked, but during the minute or so he was using the angioplasty balloon to mash down the fat and stretch the artery out enough to place the stent, it was 100% blocked. And let me tell you, that hurts. It hurt for a few days afterward, and I can still feel exactly where it is in my chest. It’s not pain, just that lump-in-the-throat feeling of dread like I had in the beginning. I hope that feeling of dread goes away. It doesn’t help that I read the stent manufacturer’s patient information guide. It has a list of adverse events, in alphabetical order. The first one listed is abrupt stent closure. That sounds unpleasant.