As with anything interesting in life, my experience leading up to the heart attack I had on August 21, 2018 is a good one. And it begins two months prior with a medical situation completely unrelated to the heart attack.
On June 7th, upon returning home from an event, I felt tired and had chills. That night, I just went to bed and didn’t give it any mind. The next day I was making frequent trips to the bathroom and thought maybe I’d gotten a mild case of food poisoning from the fish served the night before at the event. I took it easy over the weekend, drank a lot of Gatorade and felt better the next week.
Except that I continued to feel tired and I also continued to feel dehydrated.
June 17th, 2018, when I went to bed, I felt a burning sensation throughout my chest that I’d never felt before.
But, it subsided, I fell asleep, and the next morning there was no burning. However, I continued to feel quite lethargic, more and more since June 7th when I had chills and thought perhaps I’d gotten a mild case of food poisoning.
June 18th, I took myself to an emergency clinic complaining of being tired, feeling dehydrated and told the physician about my chest burning the night before. This precipitated them doing an EKG and taking chest X-Rays, both of which came back clean. Based on that, I was relieved that my heart was okay.
However, on that day, because of the chest burning experience, I quit smoking cold turkey. I was feeling so sick and just said ENOUGH.
The lethargy continued. Wednesday of that week, I spoke to my sister and related how tired I was. She said perhaps since I quit the smoking cold turkey and nicotine is a stimulant, maybe Nicoderm might be needed.
I stopped at my endocrinologist’s office that Friday and asked him to prescribe Nicoderm for me. Went to the pharmacy to pick it up and slapped that patch on per instructions on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday…but by Monday, I was vomiting and losing control of my bowels and of course stopped the Nicoderm immediately.
And that day, I made an appointment to go see a new GP because I was feeling more lethargic than ever, with going upstairs to my office exhausting me and my ability to focus on any work becoming a challenge.
The GP appointment was scheduled for June 28 at 4:30pm. The whole week leading up, all I wanted to do was sleep. My husband stayed home Thursday to take me to the doctor. At 4pm, I was asleep and he came in to wake me to leave. I muttered okay, and must have fallen back asleep.
My next memory was three paramedics standing over me beside my bed. And I remember nothing for the next two days.
Apparently, I passed out and was rushed to emergency with a 104-degree fever and an infection that couldn’t be identified. I presented with malaria type symptoms.
Two days later when I awoke, a series of doctors came in and out of the room asking me questions. They were all trying to diagnose the infection. And eventually, one doctor was able to pinpoint I’d been bitten by a tick! More specifically, a certain type of tick that’s rare. I was diagnosed with Babesia and stayed in the hospital for six days on some serious antibiotics.
You may be wondering why I’m sharing this with you…What does any of this have to do with my heart attack? Please continue reading.
A week after returning home, I was officially diagnosed with Lyme Disease. I’d already finished eight days of medication and now was put on 18 more days to rid my system of the Lyme. Recuperation lasted pretty much through the entire month of July, with my staying close to home and getting better day by day.
One of my great joys in life is swimming and I was feeling stronger, so I started to swim laps in late July. However, after 6 laps, I felt like my chest was going to explode. And, I thought it was because I’d not exercised in such a long time (more than a year) and that I was still recovering from the Lyme and all the medicines in my body.
The feeling in my chest was subtle and subsided rather quickly so I initially didn’t pay it much mind. However, on Sunday August 5, 2018, the burning in my chest came back. But, it was MORE than that. My RIGHT arm was hurting. I chalked up the arm hurting from my laying weird on the bed earlier in the day while reading a book.
Sitting in the living room with my husband, I told him about my chest burning and he also said it must be heartburn. I silently fought with myself while sitting on the sofa: On the one hand, I was embarrassed because I’d just come out of the hospital and recuperated from the Lyme Disease. If I went back to the hospital, they’d think I was a kook!
Still not feeling right, I went into the bedroom, sat on the side of the bed, and focused on exactly what I was feeling. Chest burning, arm hurting. Like a robot, I got up, grabbed my keys and purse, and drove myself over to the hospital.
Upon arrival, I was given an EKG and told I was NOT having a heart attack. Great news and helped to calm my anxiety. I stayed and was placed in an emergency room to wait for the doctor. My husband showed up about 10 minutes later. The emergency room doctor did yet another EKG (we’re at 3 EKG’s now), which came back clean and he had chest X-Rays done (this is number 2), which also came back clean.
Turned out this doctor was the one who received me when I showed up unconscious in late June so he know about my case. He wanted to admit me to the hospital for a stress test the next day. I declined because I was feeling better and had just come out of the hospital. He made me promise to go see a cardiologist and the very next morning, I scheduled an appointment to see a new cardiologist.
Here’s another important piece of information you need to know about me before we go further: I’m a Type 2 Diabetic (diagnosed 5 years ago). My mother was a Type 1 Diabetic with late onset (in her 50’s) and heart disease is genetic on my mother’s side of the family.
(I’m surprised my endocrinologist never suggested I add a cardiologist to my medical team BEFORE there was a problem, especially since he knew I was a smoker and he knew my mother’s medical background.)
The cardiologist ordered a stress test for me and an echocardiogram. I went for these procedures on August 7, 2018. During the stress test, I lasted about 5 minutes; the burning sensation I had when I swam laps started again and so we stopped the treadmill.
The physician who administered the stress test suggested I get a NUCLEAR stress test. I told him I felt like I was being taken down a rabbit hole because as fast as that chest pain started, it went away. I asked if I could wait a few weeks to take the nuclear stress test because I was so tired of being poked and prodded. He said that would be fine and I scheduled it for September 17, 2018.
On August 8, 2018, I received an email notification from the cardiologist that the echocardiogram showed “normal” results. Message received: There’s no need to be concerned about my heart!
On August 11th, I shared with my friend what I was experiencing with the burning in the chest and that my heart appeared to be fine. She, too, thought it could be a heartburn issue and suggested an over the counter pill I could take for two weeks to cure heartburn. We went to Walgreen’s together and purchased the product and I started the 14-day treatment the next morning.
From August 11 until August 21, I took the over the counter treatment and did not do any exercise. Again, I pursued this because I’d been told by the cardiologist that my heart didn’t show any abnormality and there’s was no urgency to take the nuclear stress test.
On August 21, I went in for my six-month check up with my endocrinologist. My AC1 numbers were off the chart fantastic at 5.1! While there, I casually mentioned to him the burning I’d had in my chest and told him how smart it was that I’d added a cardiologist to my medical team.
That afternoon, I ate a slice of pizza with fresh garlic on it. Later, I sautéed zucchini, squash, and onion with seasoned salt and olive oil and sampled it while preparing the rest of dinner.
Around 8pm that evening, my chest started burning like never before; a seriously burning sensation that would not go away. Since I’d now had 3 EKG’s that came back showing no problems, 1 echocardiogram that came back showing no issues and 3 rounds of chest X-rays that came back clear, I deduced that I was having heartburn or perhaps had developed acid reflux.
That night, I took Pepcid and I took Tums. I was frightened. I went to lay down but laying down hurt so I sat up. I drank water, I drank some milk hoping it would coat my throat, which had started to hurt. I ended up being awake until 2:30am that night because I was scared to go to sleep and because I was in pain.
Eventually I fell to sleep and awoke in the morning feeling better, though my throat was still a bit sore.
That morning, I emailed my cardiologist.
Below is the email message verbatim:
I've had a few occasions since my tests earlier this month where I've experienced that pain in my chest (a burn) much like what happened when I went to the emergency room. I have the nuclear stress test scheduled for September 17. Should we move that up?
AND...Do you think I should see a gastroenterologist to see if this is heart burn or acid reflux I'm experiencing. I had a very bad time last night; hit me around 8pm and I was up and hurting until 2am and afraid to go to sleep. I did eat GARLIC yesterday so maybe that "triggered" what happened. I've just never had this in my whole life and I'm scared b/c I can't determine if it's my heart or heartburn/acid reflux. I'm now keeping a daily log of what I eat and drink to see if a pattern develops, as well. Please get back to me with guidance on what to do.
Thanks so much, Patty Stern
The response I got from the above email was a directive to go to the pharmacy to purchase an OTC medicine.
I went straightaway only to learn that the milligrams suggested are only available by prescription. I called the cardiologist’s office while at the pharmacy asking for the prescription. I took a pill that night.
The cardiologist never replied to my question about moving the nuclear stress test up.
The next morning when I awoke, since the cardiologist did not seem to register any concern, I again deduced that I was experiencing heartburn or developing gastric issues or acid reflux and needed to go see an internist.
I was able to get an appointment for that morning at 10am with a new GP/Internist with a specialty in gastric issues.
After relating what I was experiencing, my new doctor felt strongly that this was a HEART issue and not heartburn! I told him I’d contacted my cardiologist, even inquiring with her if my nuclear stress test should be moved up, and did not get a response to that inquiry. I asked him if he’d reach out to her and fast-track the nuclear stress test.
Soon after returning home, I got a phone call with an appointment for the next morning, August 24 at 8am for the nuclear stress test and another echocardiogram.
That evening, my new GP/Internist called me at home to see how I was feeling and confirm my nuclear stress test was booked. To note, I did not hear a word from my cardiologist at this juncture.
The next morning at 8am, I’m ready. I’m injected with the radioactive dye for the nuclear stress test. I get that echocardiogram. I hop on that treadmill again. I finish. I go downstairs to get oatmeal because I’m hungry.
I come back up and the cardiologist comes in and says I have to go to the hospital immediately. There’s blockage, she says. I’m leery at this point because I’m feeling okay AND because she sure didn’t have any concern 72 hours prior!
She leaves the room and returns with the heart surgeon. He looks me straight in the eye and says I must go straight to the hospital. I am 100% blocked and I DID have a heart attack Tuesday night! He leaves the room and I tell the cardiologist I’m mad at her. She asks why. WHY? I had a heart attack Tuesday night and reached out to her first thing Wednesday morning. She never answered me about the nuclear stress test and she allowed me to walk around for 72 HOURS having had a heart attack!
I drove to Overlook Hospital and was on the table at 11am for the catheterization of the heart. Amazing procedure. I was in CCU that night and moved to a regular room the next afternoon and stayed in the hospital for 4 days total. The surgeon (and my new cardiologist) was amazing. Kept close track of my heart monitoring and came to see me every day.
My life has changed forever. I’m now an official member of “The Heart Attack Club”.
Even though I “feel” great and “look” fabulous, I had a heart attack and I have to respect that.
I am now on four new medications.
I am now on a cardiac diet and focused on lowering sodium and saturated fats.
I am now in cardiac rehabilitation for 12 weeks three times a week having my heart monitored to build strength and endurance.
Here’s a few takeaways from my story:
Never feel embarrassed about going to the emergency room multiple times if you don’t “feel right”.
Advocate for yourself because no one can do it better than YOU. If I hadn’t listened to my body and pushed that Thursday to get into the GP/Internist’s office, I wouldn’t have had the nuclear stress test done the next day and would not have learned I had indeed had a heart attack! Which means I wouldn’t have had the life-saving procedure done.
Proactively build your medical team! Even though I remember that my mother built her team of doctors in her 60’s, it honestly never occurred to me to do the same! In hindsight, bringing a cardiologist onto my team when I turned 50 and going annually to get checked because heart disease is genetic in my family on my mother’s side may have helped avoid the heart attack at such a young age.
The medical record situation in our country is crazy! It’s your responsibility to stay on top of your medical records and make sure that EVERY doctor on your medical team is in possession of all your files. I discovered this once I realized I have doctors who work for two different hospital systems and my records are split up. I invested the time to personally go see the doctors to make sure each of them have all of the files and a complete history of my medical issues. In an emergency situation this may very well save my life if I’m unconscious.