One week ago, chest pains woke me up very early. They only lasted a few minutes, so I managed to get back to sleep. Later, as I was getting out of the shower, they struck again. This time they were more intense, stabbing and twisting. They radiated up my neck and along my right jaw. I got dizzy and sat down. After a couple of minutes, all seemed fine, but in my mind, I knew that radiating factor was not good. But, I had things to do. Company was coming for supper, the house needed to be straightened and the table set.
I googled “Signs of a Heart Attack in Women.” One of the first ones mentioned chest pain that radiated upward, so it was time to confess to Steve what had happened. We called my local doctor’s office, I explained the situation, and the nurse’s exact words were, “If you were my momma, I’d be on the road with you to Huntsville Hospital right this minute!” That sounded pretty serious.
I figured we could go, quickly get checked out, and I’d still be back home in time to put the finishing touches on the evening meal. Alas, NOTHING happens quickly in an emergency room.
EKG was normal. Blood work (what would prove to be the first of MANY needle sticks in my future) was normal. Chest X-ray was normal. BUT, I had described chest pain that radiated to my jaw AND had mentioned that the pains happened when I was relaxed and not exerting myself. That led to another test, a CTA scan with contrast, that ended up happening at 9:00 p.m.
By then, of course, the dinner plans had been cancelled, and I had the nagging worry of having left the crockpot turned on low at home. I was still planning to sleep in my own bed that night but lost that hope when I was told that it would likely be morning before the results would be read and reported, so I’d need to stay.
I sent Steve home. Bless him. At least one of us needed some sleep, and SOMEBODY had to turn off that crockpot!
About 11:00 p.m., the cardiologist’s nurse practitioner came in and said the results were troubling. She then proceeded to draw me the following picture.
Two small blockages on each end. Two larger blockages, of undetermined amounts, near the center. The one on my LAD artery (often called “the widowmaker”) appeared to be the largest and was the most concerning. Now, I was getting nervous.
The doctor himself came in at midnight — wouldn’t that raise a red flag for you? He said they wouldn’t be able to know what to do about that LAD blockage without further tests, including a heart catherization that would have to wait until Monday. He strongly advised against going home because of the possibility of being away from the hospital if things escalated before they could address that artery. Now, my blood pressure was REALLY soaring.
I called Steve. His calm voice always keeps me from losing it. I didn’t cry.
An iv was started, injections in my abdomen (blood thinners) every 12 hours began, and a heart monitor was hooked up. When you’ve basically been told you are a ticking time bomb, sleep doesn’t happen.
At 3:15 a.m. — yes, 3:15 a.m. — I was moved to a room on the cardiology floor. Nice people. Long, scary needles.
Another cardiologist came in about 7:00 a.m. that Saturday. After listening to my chest, back and neck, he said he heard an obstruction in my neck. So, in addition to an electrocardiogram and regular blood draws to measure heart enzymes, an ultrasound of my neck was ordered. What? More obstructions and blockages? I asked what that could mean. “You could have a stroke,” they said.
Saturday was a complete nightmare for me. In addition to the constant parade of nurses, doctors, trips down the hall in a wheelchair for tests, trying to go to the bathroom dragging an iv pole and my portable heart monitor bag, my veins were beginning to be uncooperative. About mid-afternoon, a tech came in to draw blood, and the stick was excruciating. That was when I cried.
I was in pain. I was scared. I had a bleak-looking future. It all came gushing out through my tear ducts. Less than 48 hours earlier, I considered myself to be “the picture of health.” Now, I was a mess.
After awhile, I insisted that Steve go home and get some rest. We were scheduled to start a new Life Group on Sunday morning at our church. He was going to have to do that without me and needed to prepare. Plus, I was craving time to just “be” between needle pricks and checks of my vital signs.
That’s when I reached out to my friends on Facebook. Until then, only a few people knew the situation. I was in desperate need of heavy prayer support . . . and I got it.
Within a short time, hundreds of people were interceding to the Father on my behalf, and I could feel down deep in my soul that He was answering their prayers. Some people feel very negatively about Facebook, but that night and through the next two days, the connection it provided with friends was a life- and sanity-saver.
I got a couple of good naps Saturday night – hallelujah. Sunday brought far fewer needles and interruptions. I spent time in God’s Word searching verses about His peace. I found this again — John 14:27 — “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
I gave myself a sponge bath (no showers were allowed) and put on a fresh hospital gown and some lipstick. I still had to face the preparation for the heart cath and the actual procedure, but I knew my friends were praying. It made all the difference in the world.
Monday morning I was up and going by 4:30 a.m., knowing that patients would be taken back for caths beginning at 7:00 a.m. Our son Matt arrived from Franklin, TN to sit with his parents, love on us, provide some laughs and put his pastoring skills to good use. After SEVEN HOURS of waiting, it was finally my turn.
From that point on, the miracles started happening. The heart blockages were not bad enough to require any stents. The ultrasound on my neck showed no problems. And, I was given the news that once I went through the recovery protocol, I could GO HOME!!!!
As you might expect, I have spent the last three days catching up on sleep and processing all that God was teaching me through this trial. Most of you don’t know this, but back in 1994, I got a dire diagnosis. After a biopsy, a doctor in Decatur called to tell me that I had a vascular malignancy. He said that he was going to send the sample off to New York for further evaluation before we could decide how to proceed. I was home alone when he called. Our kids were teenagers. I was stunned. My future was very uncertain. But, after a harrowing week, the news was amazing. Instead of cancer, I had a benign hemangioma! I’ll never forget my sister-in-law’s words. She said, “Connie, I believe that test left Decatur malignant and arrived in New York benign BECAUSE OF ALL THE PRAYERS.”
I can’t help but wonder if the same thing happened with those heart blockages that showed up last Friday night. Just maybe, they started out bigger and shrunk as the prayers began. Whatever the case, I am so very grateful for the gift of another day and for the amazing blessing of friends who truly care. Thanks be to God, and thank YOU, my praying friends. Thank you. Thank you.
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow, Praise Him all creatures here below, Praise Him above, ye heavenly host, Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
By the way, the source of those original chest pains is still undetermined. It wasn’t my heart. I no longer have a gallbladder, so it wasn’t that. The likely culprit is stress. Now to see if I can learn to manage that aspect of my life.