I can’t tell you how good it felt to write this, any more than I can tell you how thankful and appreciative I am that I can write anything at all.
For six weeks I didn’t type a word for the Dyersville Commercial. That’s because I had a heart attack Nov. 7.
I hope sharing my experience with you makes you more aware of some of the symptoms of a heart attack, as well as some things you should and should not do. Please leave any actual diagnosis and treatment to healthcare professionals.
For two days before my heart attack, I was aware of pressure in the middle of my chest. I first noticed it when I climbed the stairs to my apartment and was terribly winded when I got to my door.
According to the American Heart Association, most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, like mine did, or squeezing, fullness or pain. My shortness of breath at the top of the steps was also a symptom.
I was aware of the pressure for a couple days, but dismissed it as a pulled muscle. When I sat down with a bowl of cereal the morning of Nov. 7, I felt lightheaded, broke out in a cold sweat and began feeling twinges in my left arm.
I live by myself, so knew I had to make a quick decision. Going on my first instinct — but in retrospect making a potentially dangerous decision — I jumped in my car in Cascade and began driving to Mercy Medical Center-Dyersville. I wasn’t having the dramatic type of heart attack they show on TV, but the better decision would have been dialing 911.
I made it to Dyersville and soon heard the doctor mentioning an ambulance and Mercy in Dubuque, so I knew it was the real thing.
The blare of the sirens as we got closer to Dubuque was unnerving, and once we got to Mercy I was taken straight to the cath lab. The doctor informed me that I definitely was having a heart attack, and they inserted a stent to open an artery that was 100 percent blocked.
The doctor told me that my quick actions, along with the affected artery not being a large one, kept things from getting any worse. My prognosis is excellent, with very little damage being done to the heart muscle. The doctor says there is no reason I won’t get back to 100 percent.
But that’s up to me.
They can preach a heart-healthy diet, but I’m the one who is choosing to listen. They can tell me to exercise, but I’m the one choosing to do the work.
My time off work seemed like a year but was necessary for me to begin taking the steps toward a long and healthy lifetime. I thank the Lord for each and every “bonus day” I’ve been given — to not take advantage of this second chance would be unconscionable.
I’m not an expert. There are other symptoms of heart attacks, and the symptoms vary across gender. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of a heart attack, and just as importantly, be honest with yourself if you experience any of them.
I could have convinced myself that, as a 54-year-old man, I was too young to be having a heart attack. I could have gone back to bed thinking I’d feel better when I woke up.
I may not have woken up at all. Instead, I didn’t talk myself out of what I was going through, and because of that, I should see 55 and many years after.