I am in general a very healthy 51 year old man with about 15 extra pounds to lose. I Exercise 4-6 hours a week, make 95% of my own food that is done in a healthy fashion. I get annual physicals and am active about 16 hours a day. I don’t smoke, drink, and am sporadic in my consumption of soda. On May 23, 2015 I had two heart attacks. Turned out I had 100% blockage in one artery, 95% in another and 80% in another. I now have 3 stents and am recovering. For a horrible event, everything went about as well as possible for me to survive the experience. So what happened?
Looking back, I can think of lots of things that could have been indicators of issues, but I’d even had a cardiac stress test about 5 years before that didn’t show anything, apparently the only thing that would have shown my problem, which was genetic, was an Angiogram. The issues I’d been feeling were an “odd” sensation in my shoulders and elbows occasionally during exertion, sometimes being out of breath from pretty minor exertion, like walking up the stairs. Sometimes my blood pressure would spike up for no real reason and I’d take medication and it would be fine again. For a couple weeks prior to the event I’d been getting some constriction in my chest that I thought might be food sensitivity as I’d been eating some new spices.
May 22nd was the Friday of a holiday weekend. I’d rented a U-Haul to drive 40 miles to my fiances house to pack her up to move her to my house. It was raining and I had my daughter in the truck with me. We loaded up and drove back to my house that night. Thank goodness no heart attack during these drives, many people could have gotten hurt. Saturday morning the 23rd, we unpacked the house and decided to take the kids to a movie that afternoon as a reward. I brought along a bag of Ginger & Wasabi Triscuit crackers to munch on as a snack.
As we sat down for the 2pm showing of Tomorrowland, I ate all my crackers pretty quickly and started feeling that odd constriction again, I thought it was a reaction to the food, I got up and walked around, sat down and tried to watch the movie, but I really didn’t feel good. My fiance and I decided to go across the street to the CVS and get some benadryl to deal with it, when we walked in I saw a blood pressure cuff and decided to check it out and it was 210/130. I’d taken my BP before the movie and it was 128/83. At this point we decided to head over to the Kaiser center. My brilliant fiance had me put the address in the GPS since she didn’t know the area and was driving, we contacted my mom to meet the kids and I called Kaiser to ask what they thought.
By the time I finally talked to someone at Kaiser, we were a couple blocks from their center. The people on the phone were really agitating me and they told me to pull over and call 911 because they thought I was having a heart attack, I said “why would I do that when I’m almost there?” and that is the last thing I remember till the next day.
My fiance tells me that she kept her composure and got to the Kaiser and pulled up on the sidewalk next to the door, ran in and yelled for help. They got out to me with the automated defib unit and apparently I was blue at this point, my heart was stopped and I wasn’t breathing. They shocked me and started CPR while other staff called 911.
The ambulance got there quickly and apparently I was now conscious and lucid and telling them what we’d been doing. I have only a vague memory of this. We got to the hospital about 10 minutes away and my heart stopped again and they had to shock me again, I’m told I got shocked 5 times total and I had lovely marks on my chest from it that have now healed. My fiance says that at this point everything still kept going right, the cardiologist just happened to be there and had just finished some other procedures so was free, they had me in and prepped in 20 minutes. It was because of the quick thought and action that I got through this phase of things so quickly. My fiance got ahold of my mom who got ahold of my siblings and apparently they were all out there watching me and making sure I got the best care possible in addition to my Bishop coming while I was still out and giving me a blessing.
The next thing I remember is waking up on Sunday and feeling like I was suffocating. I’m told that they’d tried to wake me up a couple times but I was fighting them too much. I had someone tell me that I was fine and could breath, there was a breathing tube down my throat. I remember focusing on calming down and found I could breath, but it was not a comfortable process. They took the tube out after about 10 minutes I think, which was a huge relief. I was on a ton of medication and pain killers at the time so time was passing in an unusual fashion and I could hardly open my eyes because everything was spinning and I was feeling nauseous, but I did see that almost all my loved ones were there, there is something very humbling about an actual demonstration of how much you are loved.
Through the haze of the next 24 hours, I remember drinking a bit of water and having some pudding and jello and talking to my family and fiance as they came and went to make sure I was ok, I could still hardly open my eyes and I recall one of my sisters telling the doctor how those meds did the same to her and what had worked better for her, which was useful. Come monday it was time to take the balloon out of my heart that had kept it pumping so the muscle had a chance to recover. Did I mention what a very odd sensation it is to have your heart beating in an unnatural fashion? Thank goodness I was as out of it as I was, I don’t think I could have tolerated the sensation otherwise.
The doctor shows me this clamp like mechanism and explains to me that they have to apply pressure to my artery for 30 minutes after they take the tube out to keep me from bleeding to death in seconds. I’m thinking “ok, that’s fine, you always have to apply pressure to stop bleeding”, what I wasn’t prepared for was how much pressure. So they pull the tube out (very unpleasant) and it feels like a very strong man pressing his thumb on the hole before the clamp goes on. For those that don’t know, this is right in the groin next to the sensitive bits. Then the clamp goes on and I’ve never experienced pain like that in my life, later I found out the pressure gauge on the clamp was in the 200 pound range. My fiance, mom and sister were all doing their best to distract my brain by making me think of things and answer questions while I screamed out “make it stop, make it stop”, I can’t even imagine how hard it was for them to watch me writhe around, scream and cry and be powerless to make it stop, but still do their best to get me through it. I thought sure I’d blacked out, everyone was hoping that I would, but I sadly stayed awake through the whole thing, but once it was over, my God, what a relief.
Tuesday morning my fiance came to see me on her way to work (poor thing, having to juggle her job, our kids, her move to my house and the upcoming wedding and if we could even do it) and we had a quiet moment where I was able to sit up for the first time and just hold on to her and recognize how much I loved her and how lucky and blessed I was to have her in my life, I would literally not be alive without her (I’m told only 3% of people survive what I went through because of the time involved). I was still spinning and was forced to only look at her lovely face with only one eye open.
The hospital told me that Kaiser wanted to move me to their facility for the next couple days, I said I just wanted to go home, I was being a bit naive as to my current state of health. They did take me off all the various pain killers which improved my outlook tremendously and I was able to get up and walk around, slowly, on my own power but with people with me.
By the time they moved me that evening, my humor was coming back and I convinced the ambulance driver to light up the lights and sirens for me to celebrate my continued life and upcoming marriage.
My fiance and I had hatched a plan earlier in the day Tuesday to have the Bishop come to the hospital and marry us then and there. We had practical reasons for it and it seemed prudent. The hospital staff was giddy with excitement when we told them, going so far as to sending a nurse to the store to get a cake and flowers. My fiance was able to get me cleaned up a bit and they gave me some scrubs to wear so I wasn’t in a backless robe for the event and we had a nice 3 minute ceremony that was the most special few minutes of my life. I even ate some cake, which maybe I shouldn’t have, but it was certainly the talk of the hospital while I was there.
The next couple days were mostly uneventful as I continued to get better was my mom spent a tremendous amount of time with me and various friends also stopped by to check on me. I was able to go home late afternoon on Thursday and the most amazing surprise awaited me at home. Friends and family and folks from church had come over and fixed my sink, cleaned the house, organized and helped my fiance get most things unpacked and ready. I had nothing to do when I got home but heal and prepare for our public wedding on Saturday, which thanks to the prep work ahead of time by my mom and fiance,went off beautifully. We had flowers, food, a cake, photographer and a string quartet of her students, who were amazing and even performed one of the songs I’d composed.
I continue to heal quickly while everyone keeps an eye on me that I don’t overdo anything. I feel deceptively good after 5 weeks now, but I tire quickly. I’m told that only about 3% of people survive what I went through. I’m on medications probably for the rest of my life, but I’m going to do everything possible to be there for my wife, kids, family and friends now. I’m hopeful that now that things are cleaned out, I’ll do great after I have another 2 or 3 months to recover.
Shawn M. Gordon
July 1, 2015