Monday, December 24, 2007

Women & Heart Attacks!

I've meant to send this to my women friends to warn them that it's
true that women rarely have the same dramatic symptoms that men have
when experiencing a heart attack...you know, the sudden stabbing pain
in the chest, the cold sweat, grabbing the chest and dropping to the
floor that we see in the movies. I had a completely unexpected heart
attack at about 10:30 pm with NO
prior exertion, NO prior emotional trauma that one would suspect
might've brought it on.

I was sitting all snugly and warm on a cold evening, with my purring
cat in my lap, reading an interesting story my friend had sent me, and
actually thinking, "A-A-h, this is the life, all cozy and warm in my
soft, cushy Lazy Boy with my feet propped up." A moment later, I felt
that awful sensation of indigestion, when you've been in a hurry and
grabbed a bite of sandwich and washed it down with a dash of water,
and that hurried bite seems to feel like you've swallowed a golf ball
going down the esophagus in slow motion and it is most uncomfortable.
You realize you shouldn't have gulped it down so fast and needed to
chew it more thoroughly and this time drink a glass of water to hasten
its progress down to the stomach. This was my initial sensation---the
only trouble was that I hadn't taken a bite of anything since about
5:00 p.m. After that had seemed to subside, the next sensation was
like little squeezing motions that seemed to be racing up my SPINE
(hind-sight...it was probably my aorta spasming), gaining speed as
they continued racing up and under my sternum (breast bone, where one
presses rhythmically when adminstering CPR). This fascinating process
continued on into my throat and branched out into both jaws. AHA!!
NOW I stopped
puzzling about what was happening--we all have read and/or heard about
pain in the jaws being one of the signals of an MI happening, haven't
we?

I said aloud to myself and the cat, "Dear God, I think I'm having a
heart attack!" I lowered the foot rest, dumping the cat from my lap,
started to take a step and fell on the floor instead. I thought to
myself, "If this is a heart attack, I shouldn't be walking into the
next room where the phone is or anywhere else...but, on the other
hand, if I don't, nobody will know that I need help, and if I wait any
longer I may not be able to get up in a moment." I pulled myself up
with the arms of the chair, walked slowly into the next room and
dialed the Paramedics. I told her I thought I was having a heart
attack due to the pressure building under the sternum and radiating
into my jaws. I didn't feel hysterical or afraid, just stating the
facts. She said she was sending the Paramedics over immediately, asked
if the front door was near to me, and if so, to unbolt the door and
then lie down on the floor where they could see me when they came in.
I then laid down on the floor as instructed and lost consciousness, as
I don't remember the medics coming in, their examination, lifting me
onto a gurny or getting me into their ambulance, or hearing the call
they made to St. Jude ER on the way.

But I did briefly awaken when we arrived and saw that the Cardiologist
was already there in his surgical blues and cap, helping the medics
pull my stretcher out of the ambulance. He was bending over me asking
questions (probably something like "Have you taken any
medications?"), but I couldn't make my mind interpret what he was
saying, or form an answer, and nodded off
again, not waking up until the Cardiologist and partner had already
threaded the teeny angiogram balloon up my femoral artery into the
aorta and into my heart where they installed 2 side by side stents to
hold open my right coronary artery.

I know it sounds like all my thinking and actions at home must have
taken at least 20-30 minutes before calling the Paramedics, but
actually it took perhaps 4-5 minutes before the call, and both the
fire station and St. Jude are only minutes away from my home, and my
Cardiologist was already to go to the OR in his scrubs and get going
on restarting my heart (which had stopped
somewhere between my arrival and the procedure) and installing the stents.

Why have I written all of this to you with so much detail? Because I
want all of you who are so important in my life to know what I learned
first hand.

1. Be aware that something very different is happening in your
body...not the usual men's symptoms, but inexplicable things happening
(until my sternum and jaws got into the act ). It is said that many
more women than men die of their first (and last) MI because they
didn't know they were having one, and commonly mistake it as
indigestion, take some Maalox or other "anti-heartburn" preparation,
and go to bed, hoping they'll feel
better in the morning when they wake up...which doesn't happen. My
female friends, your symptoms might not be exactly like mine, so I
advise you to call the Paramedics if ANYTHING is unpleasantly
happening that you've not felt before. It is better to have a "false
alarm" visitation than to risk your life guessing what it might be!

2. Note that I said "Call the Paramedics". Ladies, TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!

Do NOT try to drive yourself to the ER--you're a hazard to others on
the road, and so is your panicked husband who will be speeding and
looking anxiously at what's happening with you instead of the road.
Do NOT call your doctor--he doesn't know where you live and if it's at
night, you won't reach him anyway, and if it's daytime, his assistants
(or answering service) will tell you to call the Paramedics. He
doesn't carry the equipment in his car that you need to be saved! The
Paramedics do, principally OXYGEN that you need ASAP. Your Dr. will be
notified later.

3. Don't assume it couldn't be a heart attack because you have a
normal cholesterol count. Research has discovered that a cholesterol
elevated reading is rarely the cause of an MI (unless it's
unbelievably high, and/or accompanied by high blood pressure.)
MI's are usually caused by long-term stress and inflammation in the
body, which dumps all sorts of deadly hormones into your system to
sludge things up in there.

Pain in the jaw can wake you from a sound sleep. Let's be careful and
be aware. The more we know, the better chance we could survive!

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