What a difference a year makes

Posted on September 28, 2013 

A year ago, I was lying in a bed in the St. Francis Hospital CCU.

A friend, sweet Angel Karpowicz, is someone I've known for many years. She was in the chorus of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," just like me. Unlike me, she was in high school and had the voice of an angel.

She later went on to college and spent years teaching music. Then disaster struck. She had a nodule on her throat that jeopardized her singing. She gave up teaching and went back to school. This time, she studied to be a nurse. And Angel ended up as a cardiac nurse.

So a year ago, I woke up to see her smiling face. Then her face changed. She stood over me with her hands on her hips, and said, "You are the last person I expected to see here."

Angel then picked off all the things her heart patients had in common. Excess weight, smoking, drinking, poor diets, etc. She said I didn't fit in any of those categories.

I told her I was in two other categories -- high blood pressure and diabetes.

"Oh," she said.

I didn't see much of her after that because she was assigned to other people.

But if any of you have a heart attack, St. Francis is the place to be. The people there, from doctors and nurses and technicians, are the best.

It started four days earlier. On Tuesday, I stayed home because I felt wretched. I tried to see my doctor, but had to wait until Wednesday. When I got there, no one could figure it out.

I went back on Thursday. No change.

On Friday, one of my sisters insisted that I go see someone else. We went to a "doc-in-a-box."

The young doctor there listened my symptoms -- nausea with the inability to keep food down, a terrible, sharp pain between my shoulder blades and a feeling like getting an ear infection.

He then said, "Have you had an EKG?"

I told him I'd never had an EKG. He hooked me up and when he came back in the room, he was holding the print-out, shaking his head and saying, "This doesn't look right."

He said he was sending me to the ER.

My sister said she'd drive me.

He said, "No, she's going my ambulance."

When Nancy asked why, he told her matter-of-factly that if I arrived by ambulance, they'd see me right away. Besides, he said it's Friday afternoon. If she took me, it could take as long as four hours for a doctor to see me.

So I went by ambulance and boy am I glad.

I remember being taken out at the ER at St. Francis and being wheeled in. They stopped at the desk but the next thing I knew we were flying down the halls.

I had a heart attack right there in the ER.

I went through a lot, but it wasn't as bad as other people. I think the cardiologist scared my sisters when he told them that I had a major heart attack and the first 48 hours were crucial because it was that bad.

He said I had a minor heart attack during the night, and it was building up to the big one that afternoon.

I remember waking up during the night thinking Chipper, my nine-pound Chihuahua was sleeping on my chest and I wanted him to move. I was kind of surprised to see him sleeping soundly, next to me. I went back to sleep.

Dr. Patel said I should have called 911 then.

But by Sunday, he changed the prognosis because I was doing so well.

In fact, he initially told me I'd be in the hospital five-to-seven days. I was released after four days.

He told me I'd be recuperating at home for seven-to-10 weeks. I was back at work after five weeks.

The toughest part was cardiac rehab. I was never, ever one to exercise. And here I was, exercising three times a week.

That parts lasted the longest, too. I was in rehab for three months.

The funny thing is after all the exercise I got, whenever I missed a week or so, I MISSED the exercise.

In fact, the past two months, I haven't been to the gym and I really miss it. I will start again next week.

My diet has changed, though not really drastically. I didn't eat badly before. Now, it's more veggies, less bacon and fried food.

I'm taking more medication than ever. And I'm injecting insulin, which is no fun.

I wish I could say I weigh less. I don't. I wish I could say I'm in better shape. Well, actually, I can say that. I am in better shape than I was a year ago.

Before my heart attack, I knew that women had different symptoms than men.

I never really had that pain radiating down my arm or pressure on my chest (other than that night I thought my dog was sleeping on my chest).

However, I now know that if I have those symptoms (nausea, pain between my shoulders, ear ache) all at the same time, I will definitely call 911.

I thank my family, friends and all the medical folks I've met this year to pull me through this.

I'm hoping that will be the last of any heart issue in my life. IOf course, I'm responsible for my own health, but I'm counting on Dr. Patel to keep me on the right track. And you, my friends, to help me, too.

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