When your week begins with an ambulance ride and a Nitro prescription...

It began as a normal Monday and ended up with a call to 911, an ambulance ride to Mercy and hours in the ER to simply leave without answers. I started the week with the excitement of Go Red coming up on Friday and ended up truly understanding why February, Heart Month is so important.  As we sat and ate supper, I started to have severe pain in my left neck that radiated down my left arm. All I could think of is "not again!" I looked at Joe and told him what was going on, and we both decided to call 911. While we waited for the paramedics, I kept thinking about the odds that this could happen twice in two years? Is it stress? Heartburn? Gas? Ironically, almost two years since my last heart attack, Ryan the paramedic comes into my house and say "hey, we have to stop meeting like this." 

On a side note. You can take it from me. The fear of embarrassment subsides quickly when help arrives. Plus, it keeps the neighbors on their toes when the neighborhood is lit up like a 4th of July parade. What can I say, humor can be the best medicine.

They ran an EKG; Troponin levels were drawn, chest x-ray and a CT scan to rule out another dissection. All were normal thank GOD! But that's when it truly gets scary, what is it? Over and over I explained to the doctors and nurses that this is what happened the week before my last Dissection (S.C.A.D. Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection).  Two years ago, I went to the doctors, and they kept telling me I must have slept wrong on my neck and they tried to give me muscle relaxants. No cardiac workup was done. At that time I would have never dreamt that it was my heart. 

Monday night I was sent home from the ER and told that everything looks good and it must be a musculoskeletal pain. You have to be kidding me! Joe and I were beyond frustrated! We wanted answers and most of all a guarantee that it was going to be ok. I knew it was time to get ahold of my cardiologist.  

On the car ride home that night Joe and I kept saying over and over to each other that this is what  I had two years ago same exact pain.  Why won't the doctors listen? We were beyond frustrated and concerned. As I laid my head on my pillow that night all I kept praying  was "please God let me wake up tomorrow!" I called my cardiologist the next morning, and he had answers.

The problem, nobody knows what causes dissections and what you can do to prevent them.  So, Cardiologists are treating the symptoms with cardiac medicines indicated for other problems. Leading me to my new Nitro prescription. My doctor thinks that my neck pain on Monday night is due to a spasm in my coronary artery or a small dissection that is not large enough to cause EKG changes, cardiac enzyme changes or need cardiac interventions. With small dissections, your body has a natural way of healing them without the need for cardiac intervention. As my Cardiologist stated " we can go into the cath lab and look but you just end up chasing them." During this time,  your body sends out pain signals, i.e. my neck pain to let me know that something is going on.  Almost a week later and my neck still hurts, and I'm experiencing sporadic chest pain. With time, I hope this pain will go away.

So remember, February is HEART MONTH for this reason. Women's heart attack symptoms don't just slap you in the face and say "hey, she's having a heart attack!" Many times its very subtle changes in the way you feel that makes you question what's going on. Be your advocate. Question medical staff and ask for a second opinion. If you’re not comfortable with what you are  told... ASK more questions and demand more answers. No one knows you better than you!

Heart Attack Signs in Women

1.      Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.

2.      Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

3.      Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

4.      Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

5.      As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particular shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. 

(American Heart Association)

If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.

What? I'm a 40 year-old mom having a heart attack...

It started as a normal day.. I exercised in the morning, got the kids to school and went to work. After school we ran around and did our normal daily routines. I took Brenna to Irish dance lessons, we had supper and all went to bed. At 2:00 am I woke up with crushing chest pain. First thought, I gave up caffeine today for Lent could that be the cause? What if I'm having indigestion?! I got up and walked to the coach and sat in the dark for a minute. By now, I'm noticing the pain is in my jaw. I finally start to acknowledge that this is something bigger than I could possibly imagine. I have a Bachelors in Nursing and remember from my training that women present differently than men. 

I decided it was time to wake up my husband. I will never forget that moment of telling your loved one that you're having chest pain. Still not wanting to believe it was a heart attack I took his phone and briefly googled "women's heart attack symptoms". As I read down the list I finally had to acknowledge that this WAS happening. My husband said "I'm not that good at CPR, I'm calling an ambulance". 

After the call to 911 it seemed like it took forever. My mind was racing, what if the kids wake up and see the ambulance stretcher?,  Then it hits me I may not ever talk to my kids again, or I might die!! Are you kidding me, I went to bed a normal person in what I thought was good health and now I'm having a heart attack! I'm only 40 years old, I have a family to take care of and a husband I dearly love and have many years of fun experiences awaiting us.

When the ambulance came, I was put on Oxygen and an EKG was done to see what my heart rhythm looked like. Nothing was said, I was loaded on the stretcher and loaded in the ambulance, My husband got the kids settled and followed me to the hospital. 

The ride in the ambulance was scary! Right away Ryan (EMT) said the dreaded words.."You're having a right sided heart attack, I'm starting the STEMI protocol." Four baby aspirin werepopped into my mouth and nitroglycerin under my tongue for the pain. I'm thinking to myself is this really happening? And then I started to sweat profusely, the pain gets more intense. I remember looking at the ceiling of the ambulance praying to God, begging my dad in heaven and all my guardian angels to let me live.  I can't be dying I have a lot of living to do. I need to see Parker and Brenna grow up, get married and have kids.  I can't leave Joe the love of my life its way too soon. I asked Ryan (EMT) to promise me that he will keep me alive, I say "I'm too young to die." Ryan says " I'll try." Now I look back and think Ryan you could of just lied to me and told me "you're not dying on my watch!" Heck, had it been a bad outcome I would have never known you lied Ryan. It's these little things that happen that for some reason mean so much. 

We enter the ER and all hands on deck.. At that point when I see all the people I know it's bad. People are coming at me from all angles, patches are placed, IV's started and then a chaplain shows up! At that moment, I'm thinking nope I'm not dying tonight this is not happening!! I'm a mom, a wife...the list doesn't end and this is not fair. I work out 5 days a week, try to eat right and.... At that moment Joe my husband comes into my room and I start to relax. I can see the scared look in his eyes as the chaplain asks us to pray before I go to the Cath lab. I take Joe's hand and squeeze it. I look at him not knowing if I I'll ever see if him or my kids again. All I can think to say is "I love you and I'm so sorry this is happening."

I'm wheeled into the cath lab where more patches are hooked up and defibrillator patches are placed. At this moment, I say a silent prayer to God asking that he lets me live. My thoughts while the nurses are prepping me go immediately to my husband and kids. What if tomorrow doesn't come? I can't leave my husband to raise my kids alone. This is not fair! Why me, why now? I have so much life to live! Please God don't let me die!

The next thing I remember is the Cardiologisttelling me that I had a dissection of my Right Coronary Artery, they had to place 2 stents.  It didn't help that the doctors kept saying that this is very rare or I have no other risk factors. I kept thinking, What???? Why??? How???? Me??? The questions keep racing in my mind. The nurses take me to my room in CCU and I get to see my husbands smiling face. I knew at that moment that everything was going to be fine, I am alive! 

We had plans to go to church that night for Ash Wednesday but those plans soon changed. I was given the service bedside. What better way to celebrate the true miracles that happened that night and all the guardian angles that had a hand in my positive outcome.

 No matter what lies ahead I'm ready. I have been given a second chance at life and from now on.. I will never take any day for granted!! 

I will not lie to you the day was filled with anxiety, nausea, pain and discomfort. I had thoughts swirling through my head how do I tell people? It kept hitting me that I almost died last night. My husband and I tried to figure out the best way to let people know. But then again how do you start off a phone call, email or text? Do you simply say "Hi, Melissa had a heart attack" what then?? I will never forget peoples response of shock, "Melissa had a heart attack?" they would say.  I know right.. aren't heart attacks reserved for the 65+ crowd? All through out the day I had trouble holding back tears.. tears of joy and then tears of what might have been. We each go through our daily life and move from task to task not ever imagining that today may be the last. We all need to remember that life is a blessing not to be taken for granted. 

We found out that day that years of estrogen from birth control pills had caused my heart attack.  The good news is I have no other risk factors and will start cardiac rehab to get my heart stronger. I will continue to blog through my recovery because I feel its important for others to know that what they are experiencing is normal post heart attack no matter what age you are. During this last week I have felt happy, sad, mad and confused. I remember a volunteer in the hospital talking about going to Walmart and I got jealous. Walmart? I know it sounds crazy. But post heart attack your independence is taken away and you have to rely on the love and help of friends and family. Simply walking from one room to the next can require lots of effort and you get really short of breath.

The hardest part about recovery is seeing all the worried looks on loved ones faces. This has been a true wake up call. I appreciate all the kind messages, visits and laughs from friends, family and loved ones.  

The picture below was taken when I was able to see my kids. (My son is not big on pictures)

I will continue to blog about my journey and the daily struggles of surviving at heart attack at 40.