Yep. I did. It’s been over a month now. The date, December 4th, will probably always sit in the back of my head as one of those anniversaries to commemorate with respect (one part solemnity and two parts gratitude): This is the day you nearly died.
I’ve had a hard time talking about it, let alone writing. It is easy to recite what happened that day, less so how I feel about it all.
It happened like this: I got up, took a shower, felt fine and thought that the two weeks of back pain I had been experiencing was finally over. As I got dressed to go to work—I was scheduled to lead a workshop in budgeting in 45 minutes—I suddenly felt the pain in my back return, then move to my chest and down the underside of my left arm. I could breath but the pain was so intense I was doubled over and sweating. I called my assistant and then my husband. He rushed home from work and drove me to the emergency room. Pronto, we got three clues as to how serious it was: first, I was seen immediately; second, nitroglycerin; third, morphine IV.
One of the doctors sat down on the bed, and said very calmly and sweetly, really, if such a thing could be said sweetly, “You just had a heart attack.” More than 90 percent of my main artery was clogged.
Husband and I were in a kind of symbiotic denial, both believing that while it was serious, I would go home, rest, and then deal with it. Or something like that. Neither of us seemed to understand the word “now.” As in, “You need to get a stent put in NOW.”
It wasn’t something to be negotiated. Pigspittle General didn’t have the doctors on staff to put the stent in, so they had arranged for an ambulance to drive me to OSU. Within a couple of hours, I was wrapped up in blankets, rolled into the ambulance, and attached to a machine that blared ominously every time we hit a bump in the road. I had to wave goodbye to my husband from the back of the ambulance, an experience I never want to duplicate. It was soul-wrenching. I cried all the way to Columbus.
The new heart hospital at OSU is as futuristic as Midwest hospital architecture is likely to get. The floorplan is circular with patient rooms encased in glass, like spaceship pods, one after the other comprising the outer ring of the floor. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be. It was private, reasonably quiet, and zen-calm.
Within an hour, I was in the operating room— mission control with flat screens that dropped from the ceiling, titled at angles so that the doctors could see them. I was in and out of a morphine haze, trying to focus on details, knowing I would want to remember them, but losing the battle. The staff was stunningly young—not one over 30, I don’t think. I could hear heavy metal but couldn’t make out the band. The surgeon, who struck me as more hipster than surgeon, leaned over and told me he was going to put the stent in my femoral artery that would open up the flow to my heart. I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t really see anything except greenish flashes from the screens above and I kept dozing off. And then there was a burst of pain as the angioplasty ballooned in my artery and I thought I was having a heart attack all over again (which, apparently, I was—the balloon stops the heart to open up the flow).
You can’t sit up for several hours after a stent is put in. You lay as still as you can. I remembered the mantra from that levitating game we played at slumber parties: she’s as light as a feather and stiff as a board. I thanked anyone and everyone who entered the room that night—for saving my life, for making me comfortable, for being doctors and nurses, for feeding me, for holding my hand, for loving me, for saving my life.
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Last night, we watched the 1930s film classic Dinner at Eight. At the end of the movie, Lionel Barrymore’s character learns that he has heart disease, a clogged artery, and likely only two months to live. I thought to myself how, in another time—or even just another place, one a bit more remote, I would have died. Nine short days before my 48th birthday.
There is more to tell. For now, I can tell you this: I’m a lucky, lucky girl.