Tuesday, February 28th, I woke with an interesting feeling.

At 3 am, I got up to use the facilities and I noticed that it felt like I had a pinched nerve in the center of my back, and my left arm felt like it was asleep. We have a sleep number bed and sometimes my arm goes to sleep in the middle of the night.  I tried rotating my shoulder, thinking I had slept wrong, maybe twisted in my sleep or something, and the circulation to my arm just didn’t feel right. Besides the pain in my chest and back felt like my ribs were poking into my chest. Still, could be a pinched nerve, pulled ligament, or something like that. Might even be heartburn. Since the tingly arm was a component, I started to think about a stroke so I went to the interwebs to research stroke symptoms. Smiled in the mirror, no droopy side of my face. Held out my arms, no falling arm. Did have the tingling left arm but it might still have been asleep. I was also able to recite a complex phrase without slurring my words. 3 out of 4, no sale.  This had happened once before, about six months ago and I got up, took a couple of TUMS and went back to bed and never gave it a second thought. So, I ate a couple of TUMS and the pain abated enough to let me go back to bed until 6 am,  when I woke up again with the same pain. I was still thinking nerve pinch and decided to get up and get ready for work.

When I was just finishing up in the shower, I felt pretty light headed and decided that now would be a good time to lay on the floor so I did. Lay there for a few minutes, felt a little better and got up, finished toweling off and got dressed. Damn pain would not leave me alone and it seemed to be getting worse so I came out to the living room and told Dominique that I think she needed to drive me to the ER because I may be having a heart attack. She wanted to call 911 but I said I’d be fine and who wants to pay $800 for a fancy cab ride? She got dressed and we went out to get in her car.

Once I was in the passenger seat, it felt like my heart was going to erupt from my chest, ALIEN style, and I said, “Y’know, the $800 cab ride looks pretty good to me right now,” and I went back into the house to try to get comfortable to wait.

Dominique called 911.

Tried everything, lying on the floor with my feet up on the seat of the couch, no joy. Feet on the floor, no joy; knees bent, same result. Tried standing, sitting, leaning, nothing brought any relief. I started to get scared. Dominique sat on the couch and held my hand till the ambulance came and then things got kind of crazy.

Suddenly, my house was teeming with emergency healthcare professionals whose mission was to save my life. And save it they did.

First thing was oxygen through a cannula. Almost immediate relief. Then came two baby aspirin. More relief.

The pain scale was brought into play: 0 to 10, 10 being the most excruciating pain in your life, where was I at? Had to say, at the worst, 8.5—almost broken bone kind of pain but scarier because this is your heart you’re talking about, and nothing is more important than your heart. My vitals were stable and the pain almost non-existent so I was now at a .5, which the ambulance crew thought was hilarious—nobody ever broke it down to .5s before. Then when James, one of the firefighters, was setting me up an IV, he missed the vein. To which I said, “James, how could you miss my vein? It’s a junkie’s wet dream!”, which it is. I have great veins! They hadn’t heard that one before, either and hilarity again ensued. They figured that since my vitals were good there was no rush, so we leisurely drove through the early morning traffic to the VA Hospital Emergency Room.

Once we arrived, I was immediately whisked to a holding room and I bade goodbye to my saviors, Jason and—regretfully, I didn’t catch his partners name.

Kay, my new nurse, gave me a half an inch of nitroglycerine from a tube and popped a plastic patch over it. The relief was almost immediate, since the pain had started to come back again. A few minutes later a cardiology team came in and decided that I was suffering from a blockage of one of the major arteries and then proceeded to lay out the plan.

After a few minutes more I was whisked to the Cath Lab, wherein a balloon catheter would be inserted in my femoral artery and snaked up into my heart, blown up to remove the blockage (95% as it turned out, The Widowmaker, if not resolved, I was ominously told later) and a stent would be inserted to hold the artery open so blood could flow.

They popped a hole in my right femoral artery, in the crease between my right leg and my side, gave me drugs so I think I pretty much slept through the whole thing, except for when I looked up at the monitor and saw this explosion of dye filled blood once the stent was in place. I am going to try to get that visual texted to my phone so I can look at it whenever I want a cigarette, which I have since ceased. I used to say that the main reason I didn’t quit is because I didn’t want to be wanting a cigarette for the rest of my life, but now it seems that the rest of my life actually depends on me wanting a cigarette for the rest of my life, so I’m going to deal with it. I’m hoping the feeling will pass, but hey, if it doesn’t, it will still be better than being dead, right? It seems as if that’s where the stakes are now: craving or death. No contest, eh?

Speaking of which, today is my fourth day totally smoke free. Still fighting the craving…

After the angioplasty at the Cath Lab, they took me upstairs to CCU where I exhibited all the best possible results. All my vitals were normal to the point being downright boring, almost as if nothing had even happened. All of my caretakers were amazed. No pain, perfect vitals (98.6 temp!), everything more normal than it should be, especially considering what I had just put my old, creaky body through.

Thank God for small mercies.

And so I do.

Oh, there was one possible speed bump. On Wednesday morning they did an Echo Cardiogram and we found out that where everyone else has a tricuspid valve at the base of the aorta, I have a bicuspid valve and it seemed to be a bit enlarged. So they decided that I needed a CT scan to see what was up with that bicuspid thing. Side note: Abraham Lincoln had the same thing, which somehow made him so tall, or so they said. Anyway, went down for the CT scan at midnight Wednesday night, the docs read the results Thursday morning and said the equivalent of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but we’re going to keep an eye on the condition. Good thing too, because it would have meant open heart surgery and I would not be sitting here in the comfort of my living room sharing with you right now.

Again, thank God for small mercies (and BIG ones, too!)…