Shock vs Denial

I’m not quite sure if it was shock or being in complete denial or what was going on with my thinking, during my most recent illness, but I know one thing – my doctor sure put it in perspective when I noticed the note he added to my chart after my first 30-day follow-up appointment I had with him last Thursday. There was one sentence he added to my notes stating, Pt is still in disbelief that she has had a heart attack”

Timeline: October 11th at 7:30 a.m.: I wake up with a burning sensation in my chest. I’m saying to myself why am I feeling like indigestion pain – but I do nothing about it, just basically brush it off.

October 11th around 1:00 p.m.: Preparing to head to work and while riding the train to work, I get a brief pain in my chest which lasted less than a minute. I immediately take a sublingual nitroglycerin I always carry in my purse (red flag #1)

October 11th 2:30-4:00 p.m..: The burning in the chest sensation happens again (red flag #2) and I ask my coworker for an antacid tablet, take it and feel better for a few more hours.

October 11th 8:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.: I go and make my usual rounds at my designated pickup locations to pick up patient medical records and boy, do I really feel like the inside of my chest is literally on fire (red flag #3). As I’m pushing the basket, I then begin to feel as if my legs are being electrocuted (only way I can describe it)!. THAT symptom finally got my attention but I’m still determined to complete my rounds. By the time I get to the emergency department (last location to pick up records), I then began feeling really weird, some slight chest pain but that’s it! This is when I decided to go ahead and be checked out in the emergency room…These symptoms were very different than the symptoms I had during my heart attack 10 years ago.

October 11-12 early morning hours: I’m now being taken care of quite swiftly by nurses, lab techs, phlebotomists, etc., upon admission to the emergency room. Without me asking, a tech or nurse says to me in a very calm, quiet voice “your troponin level is 11” (red flag 3, 4, 5). A troponin test measures the levels of troponin T or troponin I proteins in the blood. These proteins are released when the heart muscle has been damaged, such as occurs with a heart attack.  Normal levels are measured at 0.01-0.02.

October 12 at some point (lost track of time): So everything is happening so fast, this is where I guess I just draw a blank mentally. I’m making calls to loved ones, coworkers advising them of my whereabouts telling them ‘no it’s not a heart attack’. Finishing up in the cath lab and one of the techs looks down at me as if he’s so incredibly sad and ready to cry telling me “Ms. Johnson, you have multiple, multiple blockages in your arteries. You’re very lucky you came in when you did” (red flag 6,7 8 I’m having a heart attack).

THAT was the reason for the emergency 3-vessel coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) on October 13th because I had a heart attack because I had multiple blockages (of plaque) in my arteries) and finding out a day AFTER the bypass that I also had a heart aneurysm!!

I think I became so fixated upon learning I had an coronary aneurysm and worrying if I’m going to survive this bypass surgery, I guess I somehow did not connect the dots that ALL of these events were because I DID have a heart attack!

Fast forward to 6 weeks post bypass surgery and aneurysm, I’m so incredibly grateful to be alive and recuperating. Even though for a day or so I felt some kind of way after reading the note that the surgeon put in my record about being in disbelief I had a heart attack, I can really appreciate him being more than a surgeon – being a blunt, upfront doctor who really cares about his patients and recognizing the denial we can be in sometimes….. My point for this blog is to make men and women, be aware of any type of symptoms you may be having, especially regarding chest pains – do not brush it off like I did. Please get seen – do not wait hours or even days to get checked out.

I hope my detailed timeline of symptoms, occurrences can help someone, prevent them from suffering major heart damage.

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