And with those words from Dr. Collins of Buxmont Cardiology, I officially became a cardiac patient. But let’s rewind…

On Monday, March 12, 2012, I had a new experience… chest pains. At 41, carrying a healthy weight, and eating more or less okay, it was both unexpected and disconcerting. Late that night, after a wonderful neighbor came over at a terrible hour to care for our sleeping children, Erin and I headed on over to Grandview Hospital. After the usual checkups and check-ins, I was a true medical bafflement. Normal (mostly) EKG, no cardiac enzymes, and none of the “classic” symptoms of a heart attack. After 18 hours of poking, prodding, sampling, testing, scanning, and endless questions, we all decided low potassium was the culprit. Drink the nasty powder, retest, send me home with no orders other than “see your doctor” and “follow up with the cardiologist.”

That day, my diet underwent a radical change. And my exercise regimen became more than “play with my kids.” And so the real fun started. I felt better… really better. Except I didn’t feel better when I really got my heart pumping. Then I felt pain. Not crippling pain, but the “I really should slow down a little” pain. I mentioned this to Dr. Collins, who became more curious. I still fit no real profile, but this exercise induced chest pain was worth another look. So he scheduled a stress echo (I had previously passed a non-stress echo with flying colors), and told me to “stop doing that” with the heavier exercise until we had things narrowed down.

“Well… it’s abnormal…” was the unofficial diagnosis. The official one was unstable angina, likely in the left anterior descending artery (LAD). He scheduled me for cardiac catheterization the following Monday morning and gave me a literal handful of pills to take between that Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Oh, and he also gave specific instructions to do nothing that whole weekend.

Monday morning came along and I made the acquaintance of Dr. Nainesh Patel, a cardiac interventionist who came down from Lehigh Valley Hospital. He was, like everyone before him, skeptical of what he would find, given my complete lack of fitting any profile of a cardiac patient. “Huh… you have a blockage” was the unofficial diagnosis a few minutes later. “Can you fix that here?”, asked I.  “Oh yeah… no problem.” Those are good words to hear.  It wasn’t until after the procedure, when they returned me to the prep room that I got the full meaning of “blockage”, when the white board in the room read, “LAD 99% blocked”.  And then it wasn’t… all before 9:00am.

But I’ve gone from someone whose drug of choice is caffeine, and who can probably count the total number of pills taken in a year on one… maybe two hands, to a 41 year old cardiac patient who takes a handful of pills and supplements on a daily basis.

So what are the takeaway lessons?

  1. Apparently, God doesn’t want me dead yet. I had chest pains without a heart attack. I had doctors who ignored the profile and ran (very expensive) tests anyway. I had a 99% blocked “widow maker” and had only twinges of discomfort.
  2. We should listen to our bodies, and tell our doctors what we think they’re saying. I could have dismissed my discomfort as age, lack of regular exercise, or just one of those things. Thankfully, I didn’t. They could have done the same. Thankfully, they didn’t either.
  3. Modern American medicine rocks. Seriously. I’m just over one month post-treatment, and I’m jogging with no pain (other than the burn one gets when jogging, hehe). By all accounts, I should spend many years as a “maintenance” cardiac patient- just check in every few months to make sure nothing “abnormal” is going on again.
  4. Modern American insurance… not so much. Don’t worry Grandview and the good docs… you’ll get paid for your labors… sometime. But I wonder if Aetna doesn’t actually want me dead.
  5. Friends and family are awesome. I won’t embarrass anyone else, but you all know who you are. Thank you.
  6. Kids, even younger ones, handle things better when you just explain what’s going one. Obviously, put it in age appropriate terms, but don’t sugar coat or pretend like nothing is happening.

This is probably not the last post on this topic, but after over a month, it’s time to out myself. Hi, I’m Craig. And I’m a 41 year old cardiac patient. But I’m still here!

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2 Comments to ““Well…. it’s abnormal…””

  1.  Rich said on

    Yikes, sorry to hear about all those adventures. Terry was about the same age when she had her heart attack, but fortunately we have good insurance. I’m sure your doctor has already checked your blood sugar, but you definitely want to check for diabetes, and anything else that could be causing such aggressive atherosclerosis.

    Definitely keep a close eye on the progress of this, and be on the lookout for blockage elsewhere in your system. When Terry had her heart cath that revealed the extensive blockage, that was really just the tip of the iceberg. She’s had less serious issues with blockage in her legs that caused pain when walking, and much more serious problems with her carotids including her stroke last year. You definitely don’t want to get surprised by carotid issues, and carotid ultrasound is only so accurate, so if the doctors start getting concerned I’d probably be relatively aggressive with getting angiograms or whatever else they suggest.

    We’ve been pretty happy with Buxmont though Dr. Collins is one of the few in that practice that we haven’t met. Heart cath’s and such are common surgeries these days, but the most important thing is to try to figure out what is causing the blockage, and to keep an eye on it and for any kinds of cardiovascular symptoms (stamina issues, chest pain/etc, edema, irregular heartbeats, and so on). They’re usually precursors to something more serious, but as with you Terry was almost completely free of symptoms before she had her heart attack (perhaps triggered by the sepsis she suffered at the same time).

    In any case, you guys are in our prayers! The good news is that aside from things like medication side-effects you can still live a very normal life even when dealing with many cardiac issues.

  2.  caw said on

    Thanks Rich. So far, recovery has been quite good from a medical standpoint. Aetna was behaving quite well up until about a week ago, so we’re hoping this is just a blip in their system.

    Dr. Collins is fairly aggressive in his approach- not overly so, but definitely tends to err on the side of caution and curiosity. And he’s about my age, which is kinda cool. Thanks for the thoughts, words, and prayers.

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