I received my first stent just under 3 years ago. I had a minor heart attack caused by blockage in my Right Coronary Artery. I never had chest pain prior to this event. The symptoms were pressure in my forearms and a buzzing in my head. Thankfully, Eryn Wisler insisted that I go to the hospital.
Unfortunately, I started having chest pain almost immediately after that procedure. I was also experiencing frequent muscle pain, gut pain, head fog, and nausea. I told my cardiologist and my GP that something wasn’t right, and we underwent every test you can imagine - blood labs, cardiac tests, GI tests, neurological tests - everything came back negative except one nerve conduction study that showed that I suffer from a polyneuropathy. So, I became convinced that the pain I was experiencing was neurological, rather than cardiac.
I became convinced that I’m statin-intolerant, and doctors agreed. I also became convinced that the massive cocktail of medications I was prescribed was, at least in part, responsible for the neuropathy. I was in great pain and discomfort, and stopped taking the entire cocktail as soon as doctors blessed it, which was about a year after the procedure (less than two years ago). I continued taking a daily aspirin regimen, but nothing else. To be fair, I was taking so many meds, that I can’t be sure which one(s) were causing the pain.
I continued to exercise regularly, playing basketball at least 3 times a week. I played so much that I almost developed a jump shot. It hurt every time, but I played through it, because I knew how important the exercise was, especially since I was off of medication.
Over the past couple of months, the pain became intolerable. It got to the point where I’d have to ask for the game to stop for a minute while my pain subsided. I started experiencing the same pain with only minor exertion, like going up and down stairs. Fortunately, I had already scheduled an appointment with a new cardiologist.
At my first appointment, he took an EKG and immediately noticed that it was abnormal. He ordered several tests over the course of the next week. I participated in a nuclear stress test on Thursday, which they had to cut short due to my chest pain. Still, they sent me on my way. On Friday morning the attending cardiologist (someone I’ve still never met) read the results of my test and it caused enough alarm that he called me and told me to go straight to the hospital.
Within a few hours, I was in the catheterization lab receiving my second stent. This time, my Left Anterior Descending Artery (aka “The Widowmaker”) was blocked more than 95%. Thankfully, the cardiologist in the lab appears to be a good one. Even though I was the 9th of 11 heart procedures he performed that day (!!!), he was very attentive, and seems to have a firm grasp on my situation. He believes the procedure was a success, and that I should have a full recovery. He seems eager to work with me to find a pharmaceutical regimen that is effective and tolerable.
Given that the blockage in this artery was not a concern less than three years ago, the obvious takeaway is that heart disease can progress very fast, and mine is particularly aggressive.I obviously need to be on anti-lipid medication, regardless of the side effects. Here are a few other takeaways:
Cardiac testing is horribly ineffective. Regular stress tests often show nothing until you’re on the verge of death.
If you’ve got bad cardiac genes, diet and exercise won’t save you - no matter how good you eat, or how frequently you exercise.
You have to be extremely aggressive with your doctors. All they can do is order tests and read results. They can’t really see inside your body. They can’t feel what you’re feeling. If something doesn’t feel right, keep pushing.
Cardiac events and stent placements have become so common that the cardiac unit at most hospitals has become an assembly line. It’s very easy for doctors to become complacent and detached in this environment. A cardiologist who remembers you and your unique situation is invaluable. One who goes through the motions and reads the manual to you is unacceptable.
Don’t wait. I waited too long to see a new cardiologist. I waited too long for test results. I should have taken myself to the emergency room on Thursday, but once again, I fooled myself into thinking that the doctors would have done something if it were urgent. It was urgent, but no doctor looked at my test until a day later. Lab technicians will not tell you anything, even if they suspect something is wrong.
Most of all, I am very blessed. Even though I’ve flirted with disaster a couple of times, God has been good. Despite my own ignorance and poor decisions, the right people have intervened in enough time to save me twice. I’ve been overwhelmed by unbelievable support from friends and family, and I’m so thankful for all of you. Clearly, God’s plan involves me staying on this earth a while longer. I gave this pathetic heart over to him long ago, and he has kept it ticking this far. I pray that he keeps it ticking for a long time to come, and that he receives all the credit for it.