Monday, March 23, 2009


I had a heart attack.

For those who might have been checking in on the blog and wondering where I had gone, the place was VGH.

Here's the story.

For about a week, I had been feeling the recognizable symptoms of angina - pain the in the shoulders and arms, lower jaw and teeth, shortness of breath and some tightness in the chest.

Recognizable, because I had an angioplasty procedure done at VGH in June 2005, in which a drug-infused stent was inserted to pry and keep open a blocked coronary artery.

On Friday at 6pm, I went swimming at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre. Great time to go, by the way. Very quiet.

I did my usual 500 metres, stopping at the end of each 50 metre length for a moment or two. On Friday, I couldn't help but notice a real shortness of breath and the unavoidable fact that both arms from shoulders to hands hurt and felt heavy and buzzing.

Stubbornly, I persisted, finished my routine, enjoyed a bit of a shvitz in the sauna and the whirlpool, showered, dressed and went home to a quiet dinner and evening.

I went to bed about 11:30.

At ten to one a.m., I woke up suddenly with pain in both arms.

I tried a blast of nitroglycerin, which seemed to provide short relief. I put on my heart monitor, found that my heart rate was low, but o.k. and tried another shot of nitro.

Then I thought I might try to go back to sleep. All along, the number 911 was very much on my mind.

I lasted less than four seconds of pillow time, and sat up with the full realization that calling emergency was my only choice.

Within six minutes, eight uniformed and brilliantly equipped firemen and paramedics were milling around my kitchen.

By 1:30 I was in a bed at VGH emergency ward.

Around 9 am, the doctors appeared, one of whom was my original operating surgeon, the aptly named, Dr. Saw. You can't write material like this.

The doctors confirmed that another angiogram and possibly angioplasty was in order. The "lab" or operating theatre is normally not up and running on the week end, but, they assured me, if an emergency or two appeared, they would be at work and they would piggy-back me into the rotation.

Of course, by the time I had been transferred to the Cardiac Care Unit, around noon on Saturday, two emergencies had presented themselves. I was wheeled in for action shortly after 3pm.

An hour and two new stents later, I was returned to my favorite bed in CCU 15.

I should add that before and after the procedure, there was a most welcome run of friends and family and loved ones all. Do not underestimate for a second, the huge importance of that love and support. It is everything, believe me.

I slept well and on Sunday, the doctors informed me that not only had I had a revisiting attack of angina, but I could now claim my first heart attack. A small one, sure enough, but real. Yikes!

They sent me home at 3pm.

I stood outside in the sunshine on 10th Avenue, near Willow, waiting for my daughter to pick me up.

I thought for a moment about the people who think I am cynical.

If only they knew what an unrelenting optimist I am.

"Only twenty-four hours ago," I babbled quietly to myself, "I had a heart attack. Now I am standing in sunshine. Miracle of miracles!"

Catherine came along with her beloved little pooch, "Rocky," and we went to the pharmacy and bought only $550 worth of medicines for the next year. While the pharmacist did his magic, we had a coffee and a snack.

I slept very well last night. I have no pain. I am tired and weak, but I will walk about one block today as per the post-op instructions.

I am in shock. I am a little weepy with a mix of emotions. And I am happy to be alive.

I may not blog for the next few days.

But, as we say in radioland, "Stay tuned."

As for you...stay young, eat your veggies, sing favorite songs, rarely refuse sex, and keep trying to understand The Mysteries...