Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Having a Heart Attack

This has been something of a surprise.  While exercising the other day, I began to feel ill.  Substantially ill, in fact.  My chest began to feel tight, I experienced nausea, I broke into a cold sweat, nothing like the "hot" sweat which usually accompanies my workout.  I had the good sense to stop, and sat down, hoping that what seemed to be happening was not.  After I time, I began to feel better, and wobbled off to my car.  I hoped to make it home, there to "get better", but it was not to be.  I ended up pulling to the side of the road and croaking over my cell phone to my wife, who fortunately realized I was having problems and came and took me to a relatively nearby hospital.

Heart attacks, I will have you know, can hurt.  They can hurt a great deal.  I made this known as I was poked and prodded by various medical personnel.  Morphine was applied.  I found it most disappointing.  Nitroglycerin was taken.  Aspirin was chewed.  It was decided I should be transported to another hospital, and so I was bundled into an ambulance and had a most uncomfortable ride during which I gently noted I was feeling even more pain.  I was rewarded with another dose of morphine, which I will confess was less disappointing than the first.   Thereafter I was bundled out of the ambulance and into what I think was an operating room, where I had a case of the shakes.   But at that point I was given a very admirable anesthetic, and floated about contentedly while a wire was inserted into my wrist and eventually into an artery which had been blocked and was opened.  A balloon and stent have now been added to the parts which make up the whole of my body.  Now I'm in a hospital bed and am watched by several different machines and persons.  I can look forward to several different medications, rehab and a profoundly uninteresting diet.  However, I can also feel fortunate to be alive, and be grateful that I didn't have to undergo serious surgery.

The thought that one may soon die, when it has a reasonable basis, can be most sobering.  My admirable doctor genially informed me that I had beaten the "widow maker."  I doubt I can take much credit for this victory.  I think I can say, though, that the very real concern I felt was reasonably well masked, by pain if nothing else.  I did not (vocally) express fear or plead for my life.  I did not ask anyone to give my love and last respects to my family, though I thought of doing so.  I did my best to take what I was experiencing as a good Stoic would, recognizing that there were things beyond my control, willing to accept my fate, and struggling to calm myself in the face of pain and fear.

But fear and pain were present; there can be no doubt about it.  And I felt a great sense of regret.  I even prayed, in a fashion, that I would make it through.  I couldn't remember any of the Hymn of Cleanthes, and no comforting words of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus or Seneca occurred to me.  I thought of counting breaths, or doing something which would divert my attention from the pain  and fear.  I ended up reciting the "Our Father" for a time.  I've always thought it a lovely, simple prayer, and I knew it well, which was somehow very important at the time.

I'm still struggling to accept the fact I've had a heart attack.  It is certainly an interesting experience.  So is the realization that one might die.  I've often wondered how I would face death, and now at least have a better idea of how I may do so.  I know for certain that I would regret dying, which is to say I would regret no longer living, but am uncertain if I know much else.  Still, that in itself is something important, and useful, to know.

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