My Heart Attack Story

I had a heart attack (yes, a Myocardial Infarction or MI) on Monday evening, June 10, 1996. I was in the hospital from that night through Friday, June 14, 1996. When I got home, I wrote this about my experience.


Many of you already know that I had a heart attack this past Monday evening. For those who didn’t, please relax – I’m home now, and I’m fine! I had a PTCA (percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty or angioplasty for short) and all’s well. I thought I’d take a few minutes (hey! I’ve got nothing else to do 8!)) to recount the tale for everone and to extend my gratitude to all who called, came by, sent flowers, or offered or delivered help to my family during this time.

BTW – if you don’t see someone on this list that you think would want to see this, please pass it along – I’m doing this from home and don’t have all of my address lists available!

Lemme see…

Monday was just your average day. Work, visit to my new ENT (that’s Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor), home to change and off to karate class. The usual workout at class. Then I started to feel funny/uncomfortable. I left the floor to relax – it felt kinda like a spasm of the diaphragm or something. I went back into the changing room and sat down and loosened my uniform. My chest was hurting and my left arm was tingling. I tried a cool towel, I lay down, but the pain didn’t go away. After about ten minutes, I asked one of the young fellows in the dojo (David Arcella) to call 911.

The ambulance arrived VERY quickly, and it was just like on TV or in the movies! There must have been eight paramedics/EMTs/firemen. They moved quickly and started checking my vitals, writing notes on their latex gloves, the whole thing. They put electrodes on me and checked my heart, listened with their stethoscopes, and so on. Finally they said they were going to take me to the hospital, asked me which one I wanted (El Camino Hospital), and asked me if I could take a couple of steps (with their help) to the gurney which they couldn’t quite get in the back door. I said sure and tried to get up and couldn’t! After a couple of tries, I asked the nice fireman who was standing on my uniform jacket to please get off so I could get up! %^} It’s true! After a good chuckle, they got me up, I took the two steps to the gurney, and they strapped me in and off we went.

In the ambulance (maybe before?) they put one of those little oxygen things on my nose, put in an IV, and gave me a blast of nitroglycerin (at first I thought it was breath spray!). The paramedic who was primarily taking care of me (Jason) looked to be about 16 years old, but he was VERY good, even to getting the IV in while the ambulance was moving without causing me any pain and without fumbling at all.

Somewhere in there, I was pretty sure that they’d called Debbie (my wife, for those who don’t know) and kept telling Jason that she was gonna be really pissed at me! She’d been pushing me for several years to have a physical, ever since a friend of ours died of a massive heart attack a few years back. And I had – just a few weeks back – and had gotten a clean bill of health. But more on that later.

We arrived at the hospital, and they wheeled me into the ER! I kept looking for George Clooney or Julianna Margulies, but I guess they had the night off. Dr. Don McIntyre came in to check on me, and asked all sorts of questions. I noticed that David (the one who had called 911) was there with me, standing in for my family until Debbie could get there. Between the doctor and the receiving person, they kept me occupied for a while. They ran an EKG and tried some more nitro and finally gave me some morphine and probably some other stuff. During this time the cardiologist, Dr. Robert Naylor, arrived and did some more checking. After looking over the EKG he said this was definitely NOT gastritis and that we should proceed immediately to at least an angiogram (to check things out), maybe angioplasty (to fix things up) and might have to consider bypass surgery. I signed and initialed the appropriate forms, and they wheeled me into the Cath Lab (catheterization lab).

During all of this, someone came in to tell David that his family was there. I was a bit confused, since I thought they’d driven him from the dojo to the hospital. I asked David how he got there. He gave me a BIG smile and said “I rode SHOTGUN!” 8!)

David’s parents were also wonderful. His dad, Jim, who’s the most senior student at the karate school, offered to go back to the dojo and get my car and drive it home so Debbie wouldn’t have to worry. Given that my car has a manual transmission and Debbie can’t drive it, this was doubly appreciated. Jim had also taken care of my bag and gear that was at the dojo.

The Cath Lab is a very cool, very lab-looking place. They’ve got this fluoroscope thing that they can move back and forth over the patient’s chest and a wall of monitors showing them what’s going on. They got me settled, gave me a local, made a couple of small injections, and slipped in the sheaths (three steps: sheath, catheter, wire). I found out afterward that while they were in there they inserted a “stent” (a metal tube, braid-like, that remains in place to hold the artery open – the artery ultimately grows around the stent, holding it in place). The whole procedure took about an hour and a half, and I watched most of it on the monitor that was right near my head. It was fascinating! After the procedure was over (about 1:30am), the doctor showed me the film of the procedure and explained the whole thing to me! Then they took me up to ICU (they left the sheaths in until they were sure they wouldn’t need them any more).

In ICU, there I was with an IV (Lidocaine and saline and ??), monitor with contacts stuck to my chest, sheaths hanging out of my groin, flat on my back, but FREE OF PAIN! Debbie joined me there, as did her brother John. To be honest, I think this was far harder for Debbie than for me. I was involved the whole time. She had nothing to do but worry and be scared. She was magnificent. Okay – she’s STILL magnificent!

They told me I had to stay flat on my back for at least seven hours until they took the sheaths out. And I couldn’t bend my right leg at all during that time (that’s where the sheaths were). The nurses and aides and everyone were wonderful. I started getting calls around 8 in the morning and people started showing up not much later! They wouldn’t let me have many visitors or phone calls, but I heard about most of them. My poor Dad tried to get through at least three times before they finally relented and let me take long distance calls. I can’t remember all the people who called (many of whom only spoke with Debbie), but it was enough to speed my healing dramatically! To know that that many people cared was astounding!

My day nurse was Fanny. Fanny was wonderful. Around 9 or 10am, Fanny removed the sheaths (she made Debbie leave – Debbie was NOT happy). When they remove them, they apply pressure to the incisions for about twenty minutes (this means that Fanny put both hands on them and pressed with most of her body weight for the entire time!), then put a 5 pound sandbag on the spot and tell me not to move for another 6 or 7 hours! Sigh. At shift change (3pm), my new nurse was Ron. He checked the sandbag around 4pm, decided to remove it around 5pm, I had some internal bleeding and we started over (pressure, sandbag, etc). So I ultimately was flat on my back almost motionless for almost 36 hours! This was NOT easy. My back hurt, my butt hurt, and I was getting twitchy. Finally, on Wednesday morning, they sat me up somewhat and told me I could move a little bit.

Wednesday, around noon, they moved me from ICU to 4 West (I think it was TCU or CCU or something – not ICU, anyway). I found two of my friends from I-Cubed waiting for me along the route, so they walked with us down to my new room. I’d warned them that I snore BIG TIME, so they arranged for me to have a private room. Given the number of visitors and phone calls I received (not to mention flowers!), it’s probably to everyone’s benefit that I was in a private room.

In my new location, I received a bit less attention, but it was no less professional or caring. I’ve gotta say that El Camino Hospital has an incredible staff! My Nurse’s Aide was Debbie. It turns out that her two daughters and my youngest two daughters (Sami and Sydney) were in Pop Warner Cheerleading together! Small world.

The remainder of my stay went pretty quickly. They let me get up and walk around the halls, and between visitors and phone calls I watched a bunch of TV and read some. They also switched me from the wired monitor in ICU to a wireless telemetry monitor in 4 West! Much more comfortable (although still challenging to sleep). And while they left the “lock” in (the IV connection), there was no IV hooked up. I actually got to take a shower on Thursday!

Also on Thursday, my primary physician, Dr. Carole Nistler, showed up to check on me. She was shocked, given that she’d just checked me out a month or so earlier. She’s a terrific, caring doctor, and was clearly very concerned. I told her that the Cardiologist, Dr. Naylor, had told me in the ER that they’d never have found the problem without performing a stress EKG, and that it wasn’t clear that there would have been any reason to give me one. My cholesterol had been a little high, but not SCARY high. Anyway, we had a nice visit and all’s well.

Friday morning Dr. Naylor came by relatively early and approved my release and gave me prescriptions for various medications. My nurse on Friday morning was Mary Chan, who has been married for a year and is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. She called my prescriptions in to the pharmacy so that Debbie and I could just swing by and pick them up.

Now I’m home. I’m alive and well and in excellent spirits. I’m taking it very easy – just walking around the house, watching TV, and reading. While our two youngest are at friends’ homes today, Debbie, Sarah, and Matthew celebrated Father’s Day with me first thing this morning and it was GREAT!

If any of you want to get in touch with me, please feel free to do so. I will be giving my heart muscle a chance to recover, and should be back to full UNRESTRICTED activity within 6 weeks! I’m on a low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-sodium diet for life, will be taking one baby aspirin daily for life, and may be on cholesterol or blood pressure medication – I’ll find out more over the next few weeks. Hopefully I’ll be able to start getting some exercise in the next week or two (my muscles and conditioning are melting away rapidly %^{). But I can use the phone and deal with email, and love having visitors.

In closing, I’ll say it again – I’m ALIVE and WELL and HAPPY! YAY!

4 Responses

  1. Twitter Comment


    @magimark 1996 – story is on my blog – just put it up, because I’ve been thinking about it and the lessons – [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

  2. […] years ago today, roughly five hours from now as I write this, I felt the beginnings of my heart attack. That experience – the whole heart attack experience – was a revelation to me, and I […]

  3. […] years ago today, roughly five hours from now as I write this, I felt the beginnings of my heart attack. That experience – the whole heart attack experience – was a revelation to me, and I […]

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