Internal Detours
Sunday, February 12, 2006
  how it began
Every story starts somewhere, even if it is an arbitrary start. This one started in 2004.

I had been looking forward to the first weekend in April for months. Every winter club run ridden shivering under layers of wool had been preparation for the sunny warmth of the season’s start. I’d about convinced myself to do Jubilee Joy Ride once more, just for fun. Instead, I spent the first weekend of April 2004 getting ready for what turned out to be quadruple bypass surgery.

I first thought I had pulled a muscle somewhere in my upper chest. I’d driven from Greenwood to Atlanta to Macon to Savannah and back again one weekend, and thought I’d overextended something and pulled some muscles. What I thought were muscles spasms were actually bouts of angina, and probably some small heart attacks. I could say the symptoms were atypical, but let's face it - I was in full-blown denial.

Saturday came, and I was up early. While my wife Ana still slept, I got dressed to go on a club ride. I felt twinges as I put on my multiple layers of wool. I remember standing in the bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror, wearing leg warmers and cycle shorts and the Mercian jersey I'm wearing in the picture at my first post. I wanted to ride my bike so much, but I just couldn't - I felt sore, I felt old and weak, and I felt vaguely scared. So I took off my wool and went back to bed.

I apparently had the heart attack in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 21. It woke me up about 5:00 or so, and I completely misinterpreted what was going on. I still thought it was freak muscle spasms, despite the fact that, in retrospect, it was pretty close to the classical elephant-sitting-on-my-chest situation. I decided to take it extremely easy and see my doctor the next day.

I expected my physician would double-check some things and give me a prescription for muscle-relaxants. He was not in denial. He ran an EKG on me. He compared that with my EKG from a stress test three years earlier and made arrangements for me to have an echocardiogram and some more tests – to be done immediately.

So, off to the hospital I went, still thinking he was just being cautious. Uh huh. The folks at Self Regional drew some blood and sent me off to do my echo. The tech was very calm and relaxed as she ran the sensor over my chest – and I now know never to play poker with her. They sent me home after the test.

I was home for maybe ten minutes. I walked into the house and immediately sucked in a double lungful of the home-made spaghetti sauce with kielbasa Ana had on the stove. I hadn’t even finished telling her about the day when the phone rang.

If you ever feel the need to have something grab your attention and really sharpen your focus, let me suggest receiving a telephone call from a cardiologist, one you don’t know from Adam’s nigh mule, who out of the blue calls you and says, “We have a bed here for you. Come on in. Right now.”

Within an hour, I was in a bed in CCU with all manner of monitors, sensors and IV drips hooked up. We were still in shock, and we joked about doing a blog as we went along. The joking stopped as we found out just how serious things were. We even took pictures of me in my hospital bed in CCU, and here's one of them. This is the last picture of my chest before it had the nice long scar.

The next morning's heart catheterization revealed just how blocked up I truly was, and the joking stopped.

I’m not complaining, don't get me wrong. I am extremely lucky to have had an alert physician. The 60% blockage towards the rear was bad enough – but worse still was the 95% blockage in the anterior descending artery, which could have made itself known, say, on the second climb on Klugh Road, or on some stretch of 505 in the back of beyond. That one was apparently the source of the mischief, as under load I had a chamber of my heart that wasn’t getting anything to work with.

This freaked everyone out. Ana was a pillar of strength in my presence, and stunned and shocked out of my sight - but she also kept everything on the rails. My parents and her parents popped in regularly to boost our spirits. Messages of support poured in from many directions, and I wound up on prayer lists on at least two continents, thanks to folks on the iBOB and Classic Rendezvous and fixed-gear internet newslists.

Not a complaint - but hospitals don't do much to help families when someone has a heart attack. Fortunately, Ana is an exceptionally bright and resourceful lady who believes in doing some research, and she snapped up a book entitled HeartMates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient, which helped somewhat - but a support group of some sort of people who had been in her shoes would have helped a great deal.

So, I cooled my heels for a while, as they pumped interesting medications into me to ward off the next heart attack they were sure was on its way. Further tests showed that instead of losing 30 percent of my heart’s real estate and function, the damage was less than originally thought. They moved the surgery date forward.

I am told the surgeon came out of the operating room with a grin all the way around his head. That was good - well-meaning but not terribly sensitive folks had been regaling Ana and my mother with horror stories about people dying and being revived on the table, etc., in the hours I was in surgery.

We'll talk about recuperation soon.
Wow. You're lucky to be around to ride. It's good to see you blogging. Found my way over from JimG's iBOB metablog.
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