Wandering Around Out There With A Canoe On My Head

Do You Know The Signs of a Heart Attack?

preston in a hospital bed drinking through a straw and waving

by Preston
June 11, 2021

Originally posted on Facebook, June 11th, 2021

Last Friday I had a bit of a heart attack. A pretty dangerous one, if I’m being honest. I’m fine, and I am going to be fine, no worries. In fact I was going to not really mention anything until I was told specifically that the reason I’m fine is not only for the help I received so quickly from Hamilton Health Sciences and their top notch modern medicine, but also because I was able to react to the signs of a heart attack and seek help so quickly. In the moment, it didn’t seem possible for me to be having a heart attack. I’m quite young (47, so I guess relatively young is more precise), and the thought just doesn’t seem possible. Had I delayed too long though, this could have been much, much worse.

So on that note, I was hoping to contextualize the signs from what happened to me, and hopefully that might help you to know and remember them if you ever need to.
TL;DR version: Call 911 right away. But for the rest of us more indecisive ….

The first sign for me was some indigestion, which obviously is easy to shrug off. It became more painful, but still felt like when some food gets stuck to your chest. I drank some water to relieve this, but it seemed to completely bypass the block, offering no relief. That was weird.

Next came pain and pressure in the center of my chest. I was very uncomfortable, but figured this must be from something I ate, or much more intense heartburn. The thought of a heart attack did cross my mind, fleetingly, but my thought in the moment was that your heart is on the left, not dead center, so that can’t be it. As it intensified, I probably should have taken it a bit more seriously though.

The next sign was shortness of breath. But for us over-thinkers, that’s kind of hard to nail down. How short? Relative to what? As your breath becomes short, how do you tell the next breath is more short? I know that might sound funny, but in a bit of a panic state, that’s kind of how you think. (As a helpful way to tell, take a deep breath, then another. If it’s hard to do, or your normal breath goes back to shorter in-and-out, you’ve got shortness of breath.) So yeah, shortness of breath. Check.

But maybe this was just because of the pain? Do I need more Tums? Maybe I should go to the hospital, but I shouldn’t bother the ambulance for this, right? How embarrassed would I be if I called and all the lights and sirens and speeding led to me just finding out I had to take a pill or something. I became anxious that I was going to be causing a big stink for nothing.

The funny thing is, my doctor has sent me to a bunch of appointments over the years because of my family history, forcing me to sit in various waiting rooms, bored, waiting for late running appointments, doing the usual staring at my phone, looking around the room, reading all those medical posters, like “Do You Know The Signs of a Heart Attack”. I’ve read that one a few times. One of the signs that I saw that I thought stood out was “Sense of impending doom”. Sounds weird right? A little dramatic way to say anxiety? I kind of found it funny, so I guess that’s why it stuck in my head.

preston in a hospital bed drinking through a straw and waving with monitors

But here’s the thing: My next sign was, in fact, an overwhelming sense of impending doom. I don’t know how else to describe it. That poster hit the nail on the head. When I felt it, I had no doubts now. (Thank you seemingly overly dramatic posters!) This is the moment I knew I couldn’t delay. This was something, and something serious. I had to call for help.

Like a weirdo though, my first call was to get someone to watch Nancy, then I gathered some supplies for the hospital stay, then wanted to avoid the confusion of coming up to my apartment, so I took the elevator downstairs before I called. Don’t do this. Don’t be a weirdo. Just call 911.

Other signs started to hit me at that point: lightheadedness, nausea, **my hands and arms began to tingle, especially my left arm – again, right from the poster. (Note: I didn’t seem to get any jaw, back or joint pain, but these are also signs.) I became very pale, and sweaty, which a neighbour mentioned to me. Normally I’d find that rather rude, but this is the one time you want to hear that. So it’s not me, right? This is serious. This was worth calling an ambulance over, right?

I felt huge relief to see the ambulance, and they rushed me right into the ER, then straight onto an operating area. (I remember asking everyone I could if this was, in fact, a heart attack. “Oh yeah” they said – to my great comfort that all of this wasn’t over something more mild and less urgent.) They put a couple of stents in my arteries and monitored me for 3 days, with each nurse poking fun at my sandal tan, then I got sent home. Amazing where modern medicine is at.

Preston's feet with a sandal tan in a hospital bed

I’m lucky to have a great support network as well, taking care of me (and Nancy) as I recover. Thanks to friends, medical professionals and a bit of a road in front of me, I’m definitely going to be fine.

But I’m going to be fine, in no small part, to that wonderfully over dramatic poster, warning me to watch for an “Impending sign of doom”. It’s the sign that stuck in my head. I really hope you never have to go through this, but I figured I’d share this in the hope that maybe something I wrote might stick with you in your own moment.

Important P.S.:

If you suspect you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 911 right away, sit and rest and give yourself one or two tablets of 81mg aspirin (baby aspirin), by chewing it to make it more quickly effective.

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