Privileged to get second chance at lifeI remember waking up around 11 p.m. with tightness in my throat, shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat. What was going on?
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
I remember waking up around 11 p.m. with tightness in my throat, shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat. What was going on?
I called my daughter, Carrie, in Portland, who immediately suspected a heart attack. I was directed to take several baby aspirin to foster blood flow and head for the hospital.
Once I got there, I felt fine again and was prepared to leave. Not so fast, said the emergency room physician. It was determined I needed an ambulance ride to St. Alexius Hospital, Bismarck.
This really can’t be happening to me, I insisted. The heart attack happened a year ago around Valentine’s Day, and my life hasn’t been the same since.
In observance of American Heart Awareness Month, I feel it’s an opportunity to focus on heart health.
Tests indicated I needed open-heart surgery. I came through surgery with four by-passes and feeling rotten.
I learned a coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG for short) treats blocked heart arteries by creating new passages for blood to flow to your heart muscle. It works by taking arteries or veins from other parts of your body — called grafts — and using them to reroute the blood around the clogged artery.
Ripping your chest open is not fun, nor is it especially attractive. My son and daughter came home to be with me while I recovered for a week in the hospital and a few days afterward.
Anesthesia knocked out my ability to think properly and I lost my appetite for weeks — not such a bad thing.
I was on an emotional roller coaster, with piles of medical bills and fears for the future. Could I keep my job? Would I have another heart attack? Would I have to change my lifestyle?
The answer to all the questions was yes. I did have a secondary heart attack after the surgery. Co-workers held my job. We’ve improved our diet and lifestyle.
I’ve had plenty of time to wonder why I ended up in surgery in the first place. Both my parents had open-heart surgery and my youngest brother, Bob, died of a heart attack six months earlier.
The answer was simple — lifestyle choices.
I grew up with a German diet — eating lots of pork sausage, bacon, ham and donuts fried in lard.
I gained an extra 25 pounds over the years and didn’t visit the West River Community Center nearly enough. Then there’s the stress of daily newspaper deadlines.
I haven’t figured out how to relieve the deadline pressures, but I try to exercise more and improve my diet, although I sorely miss the donuts.
Through TOPS (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), I reached my weight goal. However, weight-control will be a lifetime challenge for me.
I try to appreciate every day as a gift. I appreciate all the health care providers, co-workers and people who supported my medical benefit. I take my medications faithfully, and go for check-ups as required.
I do have three messages of advice for everyone.
Carry a bottle of baby aspirin with you, at your desk and in your vehicle — the aspirin likely saved my life until I could reach medical care.
Second, become informed about the symptoms of a heart attack. I’ve learned symptoms manifest differently, from chest pain to discomfort in the arm or throat.
Finally, exercise more and eat healthier — we really don’t need that double cheese burger or deep-fried chicken for lunch.