At first, I thought, it was just a bad reaction to something I ate.
It was Thursday night and I felt a little discomfort rattling around my stomach, then a bit higher near the left shoulder.
It must have been that cheeseburger, I told myself, or maybe the fries. A couple of antacid tablets should take care of it.
I’ve always kept a bedside supply, even though since the daily omeprazoles, the gastric attacks, have been few and far between.
By Friday morning, the tablets weren’t giving much relief. It was time to go to the drug store for a bottle of Mylanta. Long ago, I remember learning to keep a bottle chilled in the fridge; taken at room temp, it can be downright nasty.
The pharmacist suggested the generic liquid antacid- a mix of aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide, and simethicone- so it was home with a bottle. I was sure it would control the bloating gas.
But relief was only temporary. The discomfort kept returning, and I needed something stronger.
Googling the symptoms, I asked “How do I get relief from indigestion?” Apple cider vinegar, came the answer, so it was off to the supermarket for a bottle of that elixir. By Saturday, night, even that didn’t work. Google offered all sorts of other home remedies: Wear loose clothing, stand up straight, elevate your upper body, try ginger, take licorice supplements, even chew gum to help dilute the acid.
Despite these extra steps, still no remedy.
Certain it was just a gastric event, I made it through most of Sunday, keeping an eye on the Red Sox game on TV and committed to waiting it out. After all, I’ve had acid indigestion before, and it always went away.
By late that afternoon, the sensations were no longer just discomfort, but more like small, rhythmic, electrical-like jolts. And they were now in my upper chest and left shoulder. They began to radiate across my chest. Thinking that maybe I should get this checked out, around 6 o’clock Sunday night, I drove myself to Carney Hospital’s emergency room.
When I told of my chest pains, I was ushered inside, and was rapidly surrounded by a team of nurses, technicians and a doctor. They monitored my BP and pulse, drew blood took a chest Xray, and gave me an aspirin and a nitroglycerine pill.
Soon the doctor returned to say they found enzymes in the blood and they would admit me overnight. I really didn’t quite grasp everything they told me there in the emergency room. But two words caught my attention: “Cardiac observation.”
Now it occurred to me: Maybe this isn’t indigestion; maybe I am having a heart attack!
I spent that night in a bed with a view of Dot Park, where I could almost see my house. A memory returned of a visit to my dad here in this same hospital, back in 1955- when he had the first of his two heart attacks. The Carney was new in our neighborhood back then, and they saved his life. Now here I am, 63 years later, back in this same hospital, maybe with the same problem as my father.
Was history repeating? Thank God for the Carney!
Monday morning, a cardiologist told me, “You had a mild heart attack, and will need further attention.” By 5 o’clock, I had been transported to the cardiac access unit at Mass General, where doctors on Tuesday would do a catherization to find and fix any blockages in my heart.
At 2 o’clock Tuesday, a team of heart specialists began the procedure, entering an artery on my wrist. In a little more than two hours, they found and repaired two blockages, leaving me with two stents in my heart. I was sedated but awake through the entire procedure and felt just a little discomfort but no pain.
The next afternoon, Wednesday, the 4th of July, my son came and brought me home. It was just under 72 hours from that first moment at the Carney, where on Sunday night, the doctors and nurses had taken the first steps in saving my life.