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Act I - It Happens

On June 14th 2001, I got up at 5 a.m. to do my early morning workout. Several months prior I had hired a personal trainer to help me with strength and conditioning. I usually warm up for 15 minutes before his arrival and did so on this day. We have an exercise facility in our building which is very convenient. Janet was on the road at the time in Minneapolis for business.

I proceeded to do my workout for the next hour until around 6:30 a.m. I was feeling somewhat fatigued due to what I thought at the time was a lack of sleep. At the end of the my session I went to do my cool down (sit-ups, stretching, etc) and I started having incredible difficulty breathing, I felt immense pressure on my chest and was extremely weak and disoriented. I lied down to see if I was just fatigued, but the pressure was getting worse and I could barely breathe and was fighting to stay conscious. I asked my trainer to call 911 and find me two aspirin (which he could not find).

Amazingly enough after about 10 minutes I started feeling good enough to stand up and walk around. By this time the 911 response team arrived but were told by my doorman that I was up and moving about and feeling better. They did not come up to the gym to confirm this and they left without examining me! I told my trainer that I was feeling better but I was going to get some personal belongings and go to the doctor.

I went up to our apartment. By the time I got there I realized I might be having a heart attack. The pressure was getting much worse and my breathing was distressed and I was on the verge of passing out. I found two aspirin, chewed one and swallowed the other one. Lying on the floor I called 911 and asked them to assist me. They apparently were aware of the earlier call and were actually arguing with me about returning. I screamed a few obscenities at them and assured them that I was having some sort of cardiac event and that I needed to be taken to a hospital. I proceeded to take the elevator down to our lobby. The ambulance arrived within minutes, after briefly stabilizing me, taking blood and giving me oxygen they rushed me over to Grant Hospital which is about a half mile from our house. I arrived at the hospital just after 7 a.m. This was less than 45 minutes after the onset of the attack.

The staff at Grant were great, they made me answer a bunch of questions, did all sorts of fancy medical stuff and reassured me every step of the way. Nobody left my side. They did numerous tests, pumped me full of all sorts of drugs and called a cardioligist. They determined that I was having a heart attack and said that they wanted to give me an angioplasty immediately. I signed a bunch of papers and asked for a phone. I called Janet's work voicemail and left her a frantic voicemail. I also called my friend Claire at work and left her a voicemail message.

After I was somewhat stabilized they rushed me into the Cardiac Catherization Lab where they did the angioplasty and placed a stent in my Left Anterior Descending Artery. While they were poking around they asked me if I wanted to watch what was going on. I said absolutely not, however I was told that that they would be taking digital images and movies and I would get a copy of that for my records (which are now on this site). The procedure itself was mostly painless. They kept me awake but gave me some sedatives to help me relax. The worst part was at the point where they were trying to clear the blockage by expanding the balloon. At that point the pressure was pretty intense and felt much like the pain I had experienced a short time before. The procedure took about 90 minutes and by 11 a.m. in the morning I was wheeled into the ICU.

When I arrived in the ICU I was told that Janet had contacted the hospital and was on her way from Minneapolis. Overall the procedure was really painless. However while I was in the ICU I had to keep my right leg straight for 24 hours while lying prone on my back. This is because they go in to your heart via your groin and there is some chance of things of clotting and other complications. I asked them to tie my leg down so I would not bend it. The pain in my back from not being able to bend my knees was excruciating. They gave me some meds to alleviate that pain but they were not effective.

Janet got through on the phone to me in the ICU and told me she was on the next flight home. I felt greatly relieved being able to talk to her and I know it made her a lot less frantic to hear my voice. She had called my parents as well who were on the way down to the hospital.

Later that evening, while in the ICU the Cardiologist who performed the procedure came in to tell me what had happened. He told me that I had indeed had a heart attack. Because of my quick response I most likely prevented things from becoming a full blown cardiac arrest. My quick response also allowed them to take action that minimized the damage. He explained what the recovery process would be like and what lifestyle changes I would need to make (many of which I had already been observing). He told me that after a week I could return to 100% of my normal activities (except lifting). I asked him about that again since it seemed unfathomable to me that in 7 days I would be "normal", he again repeated to me that I could return to work and commence normal activities.

After a day in ICU I was transferred to a regular room where I recovered for the next 2 days. While in the room I was connected to a wireless heart monitor. Now Rembemer I had been working out before I went to the hospital and had not bathed for 2 days at this point I was starting to smell a bit pungent to say the least. Janet was with me and asked if I could take a shower. The nurse said no problem, she would need to disconnect me from the heart monitor and would give me some toiletries to clean up. After I took a shower I paged the nurse to return and reconnect my heart monitor. Janet was with me and we waited patiently for well over 90 minutes. Finally, the nurse returned and said to us, "...we were wondering why no signal was coming from your monitor." That sure made me feel full of confidence! I spent another night with no sleep and was released late the next day.

I returned home where I rested up for a week and returned to work on the 25th of June. I worked partial days the entire week.

Act II - Think Thorek

On Friday June 29th I completed my first week of work and was pretty exhausted. It was pretty warm out that day and I asked Claire to drive me to the bus on her way home from work. She dropped me off and I waited a few minutes before the bus arrived. I took a seat on the non-air conditioned bus and settled in for the ride home. About 10 minutes into the trip I started getting extremely disoriented, dizzy and had complete numbness in my extremities. I started breathing deeply to help me relax but it was not helping. I also was beginning to feel pressure in my chest similar to the original heart attack.

I was beginning to panic and thought maybe I was having a panic attack. However, I felt like I could not take a chance. I asked a passenger in front of me for help. She gave me water and asked around for somebody who might have aspirin. By this time I was trying to visualize what hospitals might be on my route home. A women told me that there was a hospital on the corner of Irving Park and Broadway, Thorek hospital.

I decided that I was in need of immediate medical attention. At this point I was feeling much worse than the original heart attack. I stumbled off the bus and proceeded to walk the one block to the hospital ER. Now mind you that Thorek is in somewhat of a fringe neighborhood. In the one short block between the bus and the ER I was approached by three different panhandlers asking for money. Finally a policewoman saw me stumbling towards the ER and came out and assisted me into the hospital.

After I arrived in the ER I was taken to a curtained area. My pain and breathing were getting worse. However, once I was given a place to lie down I was not seen by a nurse or doctor for almost 10 minutes. The person next to me was drunk or drugged and screaming at the top of his lungs, repeating everything anybody said, just like a parrot. On the right I had some gangbanger who obviously had been in some sort of major incident, he was bloody and beaten up lying unconscious on a stretcher surrounded by 4 police officers. At this point seeing and hearing all of this going on around me along with getting no attention was causing me to feel even worse.

I decided that I needed to act on my own behalf. I added to the chaos by yelling "somebody please help me" over and over again. Finally somebody came over. It was a woman who wanted to take my insurance information. I screamed at her that everything she needed was in my wallet, including a card from Grant Hospital that described my condition and the location of my stent. I told her I wanted to see a doctor, a cardiologist anybody! Finally a nurse and doctor came over and asked me a bunch more questions that were unrelated to my condition. They gave me some aspirin and nitroglycerin. I gave them Janet's cell phone number and asked them to leave her a message at home and on the cell.

Meanwhile, the doctor asked me to roll over on my side which was extremely difficult for me to accomplish. He proceeded to give me a "rectal probe" which really made me feel like a million bucks. What the hell did a rectal probe have to do with my heart condition I thought, he probably was looking to see if I had a gerbil up there or something. I later found out that apparently they were looking for blood which would have been an indication that the stent had been compromised.

Needless to say I was pretty freaked out about this place. My experience at Grant was very positive and comforting, this place was extremely chaotic and uncomfortable. Well after enough kvetching they finally starting pumping me up with morphine. They assured me that I did not appear to be having a heart attack but my blood pressure was very low and they wanted to admit me for observation in the ICU.

Shortly after this Janet arrived with our friend Paul who had given her a ride. She immediately asked to have me transferred to Northwestern Memorial which they would not do. They can't transfer a patient unless they are stable and I was anything but stable at this point. My brother Michael arrived shortly thereafter both he and Janet accompanied me to the ICU at Thorek.

Once in the ICU I was hooked up to all the usual things. Next to me were some pretty messed up people but at least they were quiet. There was an empty bed across from me. I asked for some food (which was never brought to me). I asked for a doctor, a cardiologist somebody who I could actually communicate with. I talked with at least two "medical professionals" who claimed they were doctors but I had my doubts for sure. At this point it was getting late both Janet and my brother went home and said they would return in the morning. Around 11:30 p.m. I asked for food again and some medicine to assist me in sleeping. Neither was provided. I struggled to get to sleep.

Around 2:30 in the morning a bunch of folks brought a guy in and he was hooked up to all sorts of life support. He had been stabilized in the ER and was being brought to the ICU for observation. They said he had overdosed and was found on the street, most likely a suicide attempt. He had apparently taken 80 Corcidin which is a cold pill or something. They put him in the bed across from me, tucked him in and went about their other duties. About an hour later all of a sudden I heard beeping and loud alarms and screaming. Doctors (I think) and nurses ran into the room. The OD guy had awaken and realized he was still alive and was pulling out all his tubes. Blood and puke were flying everywhere. Nurses were screaming "oh my god" (instilling me with more confidence in their abilities). This went on for at least another 90 minutes. Meanwhile I was totally ignored. I needed water, a portable urinal and something to eat but apparently OD boy was garnering all their attention.

In the morning Janet as usual came to my rescue. She had been on the phone for hours with Northwestern and had arranged for my transfer in a few hours. Meanwhile my brother arrived to make sure they did do something stupid in the meantime.

Around 9 a.m. they finally brought in some food for me. Get this: Bacon, eggs, French Toast with Butter and milk. I thought it was a joke and asked if they could bring me something else. No such luck. I guess I would have to wait until I got to Northwestern.

Finally around noon my angels of mercy arrived from with a stretcher and they took me down LSD to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I was smiling all the way so glad to be out of Thorek.

By the way it finally determined that I had a reaction to my new medications and that coupled with the exertion that day and the weather contributed to a massive drop in blood pressure and blood sugars.

Act III - Finally arriving at the Four Seasons

Ironically, upon arriving at Northwestern Memorial Hospital I can honestly say I was never so happy to see a hospital in my life. I was smiling all the way up to the Cardiac Surveillance Unit on the 8th floor. I was taken to my private room with a lake view and comfortable surroundings. I immediately felt better just being there. This place was luxurious, it was the Four Seasons of hospitals. The staff were comforting, friendly, spoke English well and did everything they could to reassure me.

I remained at Northwestern for the next 2 days while they did some tests and exams. Northwestern is a teaching hospital and I was continually being seen by cardiologists, residents, nurses, etc. It was the weekend and things were quiet so they were using my case as a learning opportunity.

On Monday I was taken to have a stress test and they also wanted to take some pictures of my heart using some sort of scans in the nuclear medicine facility. Instead of giving me the treadmill stress test they gave me a pharmacologic stress testing using a drug called adenosine. I was very anxious about this because the doctor had told me that this test in essence simulates a heart attack by using drugs. Well I can tell you that indeed it was a pretty realistic simulation that lasts in total about 6 minutes. They also took a bunch of pictures of my heart.

Everything looked good. I was released from the Four Seasons later that day with a full set of discharge instructions new medicine and most importantly a great deal of confidence in my condition.

Epilougue - On the mend- cardiac rehab
Well I am three months out at this point from the heart attack. I am feeling great. I made significant lifestyle changes but the biggest factor in my healing has been the Cardiac Rehabilitation program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The staff at the facility (Karyn, April, Liz, Kristen, Meredith, Cheryl, Patty, Nancy, Kim, Eden, Ty) are fantastic and they made a huge difference in my outlook and recovery. On November 7, 2001 I graduated from Phase II of cardiac rehabilitation and have now joined Lakeshore Athletic Club where I will continue my immersion into wellness.

July 2002 - did the cardiac stress echo and passed with flying colors

It is not often that you get a chance to stare death in the face and say f**k you!

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Stu's World
Updated: March 20, 2010