Posted by: Rob | July 25, 2010

The Meatball Sub

Back in the ’90’s, when I was working at the old Coffeyville refinery, my colleague Dave and I would often head downtown for some lunch.  We cycled through the majority of the fast food options, often times ending up at Subway.  Dave’s preferences were usually from a narrow range of selections and one of his favourites was the 6″ meatball sub.  This epicurean delight he had nicknamed “the heart attack”.

Do you know what the signals or symptoms are for a heart attack?  I thought I did: severe chest pain – centre and left, with pain or numbness radiating into the left shoulder, down the left arm and up into the jaw area.

It turns out that symptoms can be as individualized as we are and I’m claiming that to be the reason I did not recognize that I was experiencing some heart trouble recently.

We were camping up at Garner Lake for the weekend.  On Saturday we were hiking the trails around the lake and in the afternoon had taken the trail that loops out over an off shore island.  The back half of the trail veers away from the lake and the terrain goes from flat to rolling.  As we started climbing the low hills, I started to feel a cramp in the front of my left shoulder.  As I started rubbing it a bit to try to alleviate it Ann asked me what was wrong.

“Just a cramp.  Must be due to a muscle spasm in my back.”  I went on to rationalize that it couldn’t be heart related; I had always had excellent cardio-vascular fitness levels and no family history of heart disease that I was aware of.

That night, as I was preparing to take a quick shower, I was nearly overcome by a wave of severe nausea and dizziness.  Afterward, as I crawled into bed, Ann remarked that I looked terrible.

“Must be a touch of that flu you’ve had this past week.  I should be better after a good night’s sleep.”

I had some more brief chest pain on Tuesday night after cleaning the outside of the trailer, but this was easily chalked up to the wiping work.

Thursday morning, however, I was awakened by strong pain sensations again in my upper left chest and shoulder area.  I rolled around a bit, but it would not go away until I sat up.  It was too early to get up for the day so I lay back down.  However, the pain returned so I decided to get up and start the day.

I wasn’t feeling all that great and as I got ready to head to work, Ann came downstairs.

“I think I’m going to go to the ER and get this checked out.  Just to be sure.”

“Good idea,” she replied.

Heart trouble it indeed was.  I was admitted to the hospital and an angiogram was scheduled for the next day.  Friday found me city-bound via ambulance and I was soon experiencing the delightful sensation of a “snake” in the artery up my right arm and into my chest.  A blockage of 90% was discovered; this was angioplastied and a stent installed.

I felt better almost immediately.

In retrospect, I had seen the signs but hadn’t recognized them for what they were:

  1. Blood pressure creeping up.  I’d noticed this during my last several blood donations.  It was higher than historical, yet not high enough to be deemed hypertension.  All it prompted were soon forgotten mental notes that I’d best get working on physical fitness.
  2. Shortness of breath.  I probably should have known better and recognized this as a significant symptom.  I’ve always had better than average lung capacity – about 140% of average – and to become winded going upstairs to read to Dee at bedtime should not have been happening unless something radical was wrong.
  3. Occasional bouts of nausea and light-headedness.  Every now and then I would feel a bit “off”.  I usually attributed this to a touch of the flu or something like that.  It was likely really a blood clot or something “sticking” in my reduced diameter heart artery.  Once it would clear, I’d feel okay again.
  4. Fatigue.  I’ve been “tired” a lot, but lately it had been a little worse.  Coinciding with the Summer Solstice and the resultant lack of sleep at this time of year, it was hard to single this out as symptom of other issues.  Thinking about it now, I was really tired for the last week or so before I went to get the chest pains checked at the hospital.

Now, thanks to the heart mechanics, I’m feeling much better physically, but have to deal with the emotional and intellectual working out of what this all means going forward.  There will have to be lifestyle changes – modifications, at least – so that I may continue to hold up my end of a certain bargain.

For the rest of you, try to learn from my example.  Don’t take life for granted.  And don’t ignore the signs.

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Responses

  1. Fark Rob. Listen, when your innards start shouting at you, you have to pay attention. ‘k? No more farting about. Or I’ll get cross. Right. Glad we cleared that up.

    • Thank you, Ms. Dolce. Even though they weren’t shouting, I should have paid more attention. For all I’ve experienced I should know better. I will endeavour to improve my attention paying in future, as I do not want to make you cross.

  2. 90%? The fact that you were up and about, wiping down the trailer, hiking and all that is pretty astonishing… suspect that says that your underlying “platform” is still strong.

    there is a fine balance between ‘being responsible’, ‘earning enough to afford the lifestyle’ and ‘not wasting a single breath’. but that is the three-legged stool i have put in place for my immediate future…

    good luck finding your balance, sorting out the stuff in your head, and finding the way forward…

    • Actually, you wouldn’t believe some of the antics I was doing with the ole central coronary artery 90% blocked. Impresses even me. Sadly, discretion prevents me from sharing.

  3. Yeah, they should have hauled you off the mountain and to the hospital. You are lucky you survived for a week pretending everything was OK. At least, in women they know that we often have atypical signs of heart problems. And I don’t wanna know what you were doing with your artery 90% blocked. My mother died on the angioplasty table with an artery like that.


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