My Myocardial Infarction

I had a heart attack two weeks ago.  I woke around six and couldn’t get comfortable.  I turned this way and that, but the little cramp in my chest wouldn’t go away, so I sat up.  Soon I was pacing around the house, massaging my sternum, feeling a tingle descend my right arm, before traveling through my neck.  When the nausea started, I knew it was time to go.  Kathleen took me to the emergency room and the rest of the day was out of my control.

At least, that’s the way it seemed.  I suppose I could have refused treatment at some point, when they stuck needles in my arm, or put a shot of heparin in my belly, or told me to put nitro pills under my tongue, or said I was going to Asheville.  If someone I’d never met before, outside of an emergency room, gave me a two little gray pills and said “let’s take a ride,” I’d say “no thanks.”  But a couple strangers dressed in scrubs hand me nitroglycerin while strapping me to a cot, and I happily comply.  Their official-looking name tags obviously proved they knew what they were doing.  Plus, I didn’t care, since I now had a headache to accompany the pressure in my chest.  “That’s the nitro,” they explained pleasantly, and handed me some aspirin.

None of it was on my agenda for the day, which was now being hijacked by two EMTs whisking me to an Asheville hospital, through corridors and up elevators to a beige room, where an entire team of name-tags in scrubs covered me in tape, stuck more tubes in my veins, affixed electrodes to my chest, and handed me the TV remote.  I was relieved to locate ESPN and spent the next hour watching Mike and Mike.

In the middle of a discussion about Tim Tebow, a PA arrived to explain the planned procedure involving a probe inserted up my femoral artery in order to wander around the interior of my heart.  A small percentage of patients die, and occasionally kidneys are damaged by the dye, but there was an even better chance they could stick a stent in the problem while they were in there, which meant it was worth the risk, so I signed off and went back to the TV.  What was I going to do?  If I wanted to say no, I would have said it back in the ER and went home.

A smiling nurse arrived with a nitro patch for my chest.  When I worried about the head-exploding side-effects, she offered me more aspirin and something she said would calm me down for the upcoming procedure.  By the time Kathleen drove to Asheville, found the hospital parking garage, traversed the two miles from garage to room, and collapsed in a brown, Naugahyde chair, I was feeling pretty relaxed.

A doctor in a blue-striped, oxford shirt arrived to officially pronounce the probability of a myocardial infarction of the mild to moderate variety.  His associate was on duty today to stick the probe up my artery.  Soon enough, after unwisely declining a further relaxant, and having another smiling nurse shave my groin with hair clippers, a machine that should have been named Hal robotically rotated around my chest while a doctor poked on my anesthetized leg.  I thought about having a panic attack, but anytime I moved someone told me to stop, and all I could imagine was breaking off the probe inside me and having it curl up like one of those things you use to snake a toilet.

Finally, a doctor with a red and blue polka-dot hair cap informed me that a stent wasn’t possible.  A vessel on the outside of my heart was too clogged; medication should handle it just fine.  He then floated away into something that looked like mission control.  I was levitated onto a different bed and taken to recovery.

Unfortunately for me, in the unsuccessful effort to place a stent, they also injected me with blood-thinners.  As a result, instead of the normal ten minutes, I had to lay flat on my back and not move my right leg for an hour and a half, staring at the ceiling, imploring the clock to hurry, while trying to ignore the nitro-fueled boom-box pulsating in my skull.

After a while, the pain in my back was competing with the pain in my head, both of which were making me forget the heart attack.  I began to squirm.  I picked up my left leg and wiggled it around.  As I attempted to stretch the other one, the nurse grabbed my leg and told me to lie still.  She gave me another pill to induce calm.

I began to notice, through my pain-induced drug haze, that whenever I received a pill, or any other procedure, the dispensing professional scanned my hospital ID bracelet with a bar code reader.  I thought back to every time my wrist had been scanned since arriving in the ER.  It was like paying for an open bar at a wedding reception.  I wasn’t sure what I was buying and had absolutely no idea what it cost.  What the hell?  It was only money; a heart is priceless.  And I would definitely have paid for another pill.

After the allotted ninety minutes, the nurse finally removed the dressing, inspected my crotch closely, and then held a bandage over the cut on my inner thigh.  Five minutes later, she picked up the bandage, frowned, and pushed her thumb back down.  “It’s not clotting,” was her terse assessment.

After a further twenty minutes of holding a bandage next to my scrotum, she gave the same evaluation, followed by, “Do you have to pee?”

“A little.”

“Well, your bladder is leaning on the artery and that keeps it bleeding.  We can tip you upright, and you can pee into a jug while I hold the bandage on your groin, or we can give you a catheter.  What would you like?”

The jug would undoubtedly be cheaper.  But I knew me.  I can’t pee in front of people.  So I opted for a quarter-inch tube inserted down my dick.  At the point of insertion, my penis didn’t look a whole lot bigger than the tube.  I laid back and closed my eyes, momentarily forgetting my chest pain, back pain, and head ache.  Two female strangers were pinching and pulling my genitalia like a hunk of dead meat, and I was paying them to do it.

The tube had its desired effect.  My bladder deflated; the incision closed; I was rolled back to my room.  Kathleen waited in the Naugahyde chair.  ESPN still played on television.  A nurse came by and thankfully removed the nitro patch.  For the first time in my life, I was peeing into a hose.  And all of it in an effort to fix something that couldn’t be fixed.

Today, I’m doing pretty well.  I get tired more easily.  I keep thinking I’m better, as in getting over the flu, but it doesn’t work that way.  This is a structural problem, and will require some lifestyle adjustments.  I can’t snack on potato chips anymore.  But I can drink a couple ounces of booze and have an occasional “celebratory” cigar.  I’m trying to think of the modifications as simply changing the food at the party.

I can’t say I had a brush with death, because I never thought I was going to die.  It never occurred to me.  I was too busy having a heart attack.

I didn’t see any bright lights or get any messages from God.  I wish God was that straight-forward.  The lucky Egyptians got a lengthy Book of The Dead, written on the walls of their tombs, warning of the challenges ahead and providing the necessary passwords to negotiate the gates of the underworld.  The God I know is much more complicated.  Or is it me?

I’m more acutely aware of my progression through the fourth dimension of time.  I can shrink myself within the space measured by rulers; I can’t within the one measured by clocks.  If I traveled faster through time, I could slow down the second hand, but I’d simply be postponing the inevitable.  Even the universe will die.

My father’s father, I have discovered, had a heart attack at the age of sixty-one.  He then lived to be ninety-four.  Anyone who knew him immediately adds that he was a mean cuss, as if that explains why he didn’t die younger.  I’m going to assume it’s DNA or some other kind of vital essence that promotes longevity.

I did get to stay in a $12 thousand dollar a night hotel, leaving me with a bill about the size of a lost weekend in Vegas.  Paying it off will undoubtedly take longer than my physical recovery.  God bless America.

About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

6 Responses to “My Myocardial Infarction”

  1. We’re glad you’re here, Bucky. And hoping for you to feel even better soon.

  2. Quite impressive that through the pill-induced calm, you were so cognizant of all the details! But I guess when you are in the middle of it, and your entire universe at that moment is in the hands of people whose faces and names are strange to you, you focus on what you can. I’m so sorry, Bucky, that you had to experience this. It’s a humbling slap on the side of the head.
    Wayne’s heart attack was on September 13, 2009. No hints of any heart glitches. Swimming laps that morning, followed by a hike. A few hours later, at the mercy of the mercy-givers. Maybe these intrusions into our plans are to remind us what a fragile tightrope we are walking; maybe they’re meant to prove to us that the rest of the world turns, and turns very well indeed, even when we’re removed from the mix; maybe they’re meant to bring us to our knees with the realization that His blueprint trumps ours everytime. In any case, there’s a reason why it wasn’t “The Big One.” And lots of us are glad that for you, it wasn’t.
    Heal, pray, and write!

    Be well. And yes, that does mean being serious about all the “shoulds” and musts.” Like many of us in the big six-o year, I’ve said the hard
    good bye to too many of my peers recently – folks I intended to grow old with. There’s no joy in outliving your dear friends.
    Care for yourself

  3. Wow, Dr. Dann. I am so delighted that you are doing better. I wish you as well a 90 something span of life and an even quicker recovery. Will be emailing you the response to our last dialogue. I am not dismissing your condition by mentioning “work” but my dad had cancer surgery and almost died and what kept his mind off of his condition and me off of my own, was a nice diversion called “work”. I don’t mean to suggest to you what you might be doing during this time of convelescence, it’s just a friendly suggestion that worked for me and my dad. Thanks Dr. Dann and I hope you feel better soon. Brian. God Bless America.

    • I’ll be fine. One nice thing about my job is that it isn’t particularly strenuous, other than walking around a hilly campus. I was able to finish the final exams, at least, before the Christmas break started, so now I am able to relax. When you have time, send me your thoughts. I hope my last input was not discouraging to you. I’m simply trying to help you refine your approach. I’ll enjoy my holidays, and you do the same! -Bucky

  4. I’m always glad for good relationships with my students when I wake up in the Sylva hospital and see their smiling, caring faces! Unfortunately, there aren’t as many of them at the Asheville hospital. Hope that you got lots of good rest over the holiday, counting today’s snow day, and that you and Kathleen had a Christmas that was merry and bright. May the New Year be a prosperous – spiritually as well as financially – for us all!

  5. oh my, what a time! tell the story about the time we went swimming for a knife or better yet the story of jd & kahluas a natural relaxant or swimming at a lake in the nude hundreds of miles from nowhere or catching fish soooo big they pull the boat around the lake or being stranded on a small island with a big fire & 2 nutty people. man ithink you need to write a book on the people you have met both good & crazy.

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