A few weeks back, I was walking to the store. It’s a short walk (about 3/4 of a mile) with a very slight grade. I walk a lot, usually a few miles a day, mostly by choosing to walk while waiting for the train, or when going to the market.
This time, when I got almost to the store, I started having some chest pain. I thought maybe I was feeling the precursor to a heart attack, or that maybe that bug from last week had turned into pneumonia. I hadn’t been walking that briskly, and I was really out of breath in addition to the pain (both of which were odd for me, especially since I had been walking relatively slowly).
Naturally, I immediately made an appointment to see my doctor (although in hindsight I probably should have gone to the ER). He saw me, had an EKG machine brought in, and didn’t see anything, but referred me to cardiology to get a stress EKG.
Apparently, they’re really busy so it was a few days before they could see me. Another lesson learned here is that I should have pressed harder to get in for the test, as I was having chest pains with exertion, but I was fine as long as I didn’t walk very fast (which of course is not normal for me). So every day I would walk from the train to my office and feel a little bit of pain in my chest. Nothing like that first day, but always a broad pain that I was pretty certain was my heart.
Well, the day for my stress EKG got here, and I went to the appointment at the time that was scheduled, only to have them tell me they needed me there half an hour earlier. The stupid scheduling software was scheduling the time for the cardiologist, but there was a half an hour of prep prior to the test. They couldn’t squeeze me in, so rescheduled (for a couple of weeks later). I ended up going in the next week (senior moment), but again they had me wait.
By this time pain in my chest was pretty normal (it was dull, but still there most of the time). I went through the stress EKG, and there’s this point after you’ve walked on the treadmill for twenty minutes or so that they have you jump from the treadmill to a table where they try to do an ultrasound. The idea is to get measurements of how your heart is doing while your heart rate is elevated.
Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for this test, I’m in good shape, so by the time I got to the table, my heart rate had already dropped. I had no pain during this whole test.
The cardiologist said she saw some irregularities, but there was nothing definitive, so she gave me the choice of doing a PET scan or an angiogram. I was still hoping this was nothing, so I told her, of course, I will do the PET (since it’s not surgery). She sent off the referral, and in they called me to let me know I was scheduled a couple of days later.
During the PET scan, they measure how much plaque buildup you have on your heart arteries, and then they give you a drug that makes your heart speed up. It’s the weirdest sensation: like you walked up a bunch of stairs, and your heart is trying to catch up with the exertion. Anyway, at that point, I had more chest pain (which I expected at this point), but things went back to normal pretty quickly.
I waited a bit for the results, and they took a LONG time to finally come talk to me. Karen and I were waiting together, and talking about going to lunch after this, and where did we want to go.
Finally, they come and give me the results. Your plaque levels are in the 95th percentile (meaning I have more plaque than 95 out of 100 people my age). AND they say you need to go see your cardiologist straight from here, no stopping for lunch.
We drive up to see her, and my mind is going straight to the open heart surgery and triple bypass my brother went through. The pain in my chest was constant again.
Well, my cardiologist tells me that there is definitely some problem, and now I NEED to get an angiography done so that they can see what the damage is. If all goes well, they see some blockage and place a stint. If the blockage is too severe, they’ll wake me back up and talk about another surgery.
It is sort of blurry after this. I remember that I went in, the surgeon talked to me and let me know that because my arteries are good, they’d be going in through my wrist (if the plaque build-up is too severe, they go in through the groin). They taped my wrist down so that I wouldn’t accidentally move it, and drugged me enough so that I was comfortable. I was sort of awake, and remember the surgeon talking and watching images of my heart on the screen. I don’t remember the part of the procedure where the stint was placed, but I do remember seeing the picture of my heart.
Afterward, he told me my main artery was 100% blocked and that they had placed a 22 mm stent in the heart with good results. I felt better immediately, and there was only some ghost pain, which now seems to be completely gone.
I was going to keep this all private, but then I saw a post from a friend about some health issues she was going through and thought if somebody hears my story and benefits from it, then it’s worth sharing.
Since I’d had this blockage for a long time, I had been tired, more often short of breath than normal, and suffering from respiratory infections at a rate that was abnormal for me. I knew something was wrong, I just hadn’t been able to find out what.
So listen to your body, pay attention to your family history, and push the doctors to figure out what’s wrong. If you’ve got family history of heart disease, it’s worth pushing to have them double and triple check your heart. They can do amazing things, but they have to find the problem first.