You might think it should be obvious whether or not I had a heart attack, but I’m not completely sold on the idea. There were moments where the doctors seemed to imply it might have been something else (particularly, cocaine), but then they’d run another blood test and go oh, shit. A bunch of different doctors took turns being weird about this.
I probably did have a heart attack, and by the end of this post maybe one of you will be able to explain it to me. For the moment I’m embracing it, because it makes a better story. Nobody wants to hear about the guy who had indigestion and a sore arm.
My Arm Feels Funny
The first sign that something was wrong sounds pretty typical. I had a strange, aching pain in the center of my chest, radiating down my left arm. If you ever feel something like that, you should assume that it’s absolutely a heart attack and get yourself to the hospital, post-haste.
I did not.
Actually, I didn’t go to the hospital for more than 24 hours. I got through the day, the pain coming and going in waves, and even managed to sleep a solid six hours. I hoped it would be gone when I woke up, but no dice—it was getting worse, and now I was lightheaded and nauseous. I decided I would go to the hospital the next day, because I had writing deadlines that night.
Not very long after that, there were a couple firefighters in my living room, staring down at me as I sat in a chair waving, like hey, yeah, I’m the one. Not very long after that, I was in the hospital, where I managed to remember to take a picture of myself for the first time in about six years.
I’m not a very good photographer. As you can probably tell, though, I was having a great time.
Hospitals Are Wonderful
My first concern at the hospital was having an IV put in. I’m not afraid of needles, but I had only ever watched other people get IVs, and it was never a very pleasant process. I didn’t want to look like a wuss. From what I’d witnessed in the past, you are stabbed repeatedly until your veins all explode and your entire arm turns purple. But it went really well, for me, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life gloating and making fun of you wusses.
My second concern was that I seemed to have had a heart attack. The first doctor to explain this to me said that there are two types of heart attacks: one that shows up on an EKG, and one that they find in your blood. I had experienced the second kind, with elevated levels of something called troponin.
I had no idea what any of that meant, but it was at this moment that I realized I was going to have to quit smoking. As soon as the doctor was out of the room I grabbed my shit and snuck out to the parking lot for a cigarette, which is probably not advisable, but it was going to be my last. From then on I was a model patient.
Everybody’s Doing It
The guy next to me, back in my curtain-room, overheard my symptoms. He told me his heart attacks were all like that—apparently, he was on his third. “Silent killers,” he called them. He said a lot of people ignore them, and don’t know they’ve had them until they get checked out later in life and their hearts are all scarred up like a map of the Balkans. He seemed happy about it. He wasn’t much older than I am.
I began to notice that everyone there had come in with heart attack symptoms. It makes sense that they would keep us all together, I guess, but I never would have thought the not-too-serious heart attack section of the hospital would be busy.
There was an older woman whose breathing was so labored the doctors kept trying to put her on oxygen. She told them that’s *gasp* just how *pant* she talks, and her husband confirmed it, but a new doctor tried to save her every twenty minutes or so. Somehow, this never got annoying.
There was a young girl in a snazzy blue dress, like a prom dress, who wouldn’t stop crying and explaining to everyone who might listen that she couldn’t stay because she didn’t have her phone. They tried to bargain with her and get her to drink some water, and before this moment I honestly had no idea it was possible to drink water dramatically.
I’m sure a lot of the people around me had just had panic attacks, or something else, but a lot of them were ostensibly legit heart attack patients. At least as much as I was. And they came and went at all hours.
Eh, What’s a Little Heart Attack?
On my second night they told me I’d have a stress test in the morning, followed by an angiogram as soon as they could get me in for one, during which I should expect to be augmented with stents as needed. I hated the idea of stents, but I did some research on my phone and by dawn I had accepted it.
So there I am, in my boxers, sweating profusely from the treadmill and trying to catch my breath, when the doctor says something like, “Alright, you’re good to head home.”
He explained that I’d passed the test with flying colors. My heart was very strong, my blood pressure was fine, cholesterol was low, and a bunch of other positive things I barely heard because I was so caught off guard.
Can you really have a heart attack and then just be declared healthy and sent home? That has to be wrong. There has to be a reason for a thing like that to happen, and there has to be something you can do to fix it.
As I got dressed I asked him if that meant I didn’t actually have a heart attack. He said my bloodwork indicated a heart attack, but it wasn’t a very big one. I asked if I should be taking any drugs or anything, and he said I could take aspirin if I really wanted to, since there’s no real harm in it.
In the end, it probably doesn’t matter. If nothing else, I got to play an ultra-realistic heart attack survival simulator, and the results are the same.
Smoothies are not a plan for healthy living, in and of themselves, but they’re a reasonable start. Especially if you’re replacing Slurpees. That, coupled with a bit of exercise and quitting smoking, might be the right prescription for me.
Apparently there are lots of different types of heart attacks. Some of them resemble panic attacks, and some panic attacks are worse for you than some heart attacks. It’s all a bit strange. But taking better care of yourself should result in less of either, or both. I’m trying really hard to wrap this up with an inspirational message but, really, I just wanted to end with a section titled “Change Juice” to upset you.