Pump that Dye: A Heart’s Tale

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Once upon a time, in the early 1960’s, there lived a little girl. She played in the streets of a new type of neighborhood called a suburb. Her house looked just like all of the others on the streets. She wasn’t anything special, either; not a beauty, not an athlete, not a genius; she was just a little girl.

HOWEVER, she and her dad loved to watch football games on their b & w television. Especially the college games. In fact, it was so much fun, her dad had stacked four tvs on top of one another so they could watch all of the really important teams play each week.

Now, it so happened that during the football-game-watching afternoons the little girl and her dad would enjoy a large bowl of crunchy Cheetos and potato chips and fresh fruit from the yard. She would sit on his shoulders and together they would finish off the bowl.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings the little girl was responsible for cooking the slabs of bacon in the frying pan.  Her mom had put it in the utility room with a windowfan on to suck out the grease, but no one thought about a way to suck it out of their bodies.  After frying the bacon her mom taught her how to fry everyone’s eggs by spooning the hot, delicious bacon grease on them. Then they would pour the rest of the ‘gravy’ over their grits.  Not one drop of bacon fat was wasted.

On Sunday nights they would enjoy a rich, fatty steak.  It was always the little girl’s job to start the charcoal and get it hot enough. And the mom would put real butter and real sour cream on the table for the potatoes. Everyone ate happily and had to clean their plates because, “There are starving children in Africa.”

Some special weekends about once a month the little girl’s family would host a huge fish fry in their large back yard. All evening everyone would gorge on fresh fried fish, fried hushpuppies and baked potatoes with all of the fixings, especially that real butter and sour cream.

And DESERT!  There was always a desert about an hour after dinner. Apple pie, rhubarb pie, real ice cream, puddings, brownies, cakes, cookies. Everything in the little girl’s house tasted delicious because that’s what counted.

Year 2009: Intervention Cardiac Physician’s Office

Sitting in the doctor’s office I recalled our lifestyle of the 1960’s, ‘70’s, even ‘80’s until doctors and advertising finally convinced some of us that fat in foods and no exercise was bad for us.  That combined with the deaths of many from that era by heart failure with massively clogged arteries (atherosclerosis).

My father, after being obese his entire adult life, died of a massive coronary two years ago, his second one, after a quadruple-bypass. And that was after living with congestive heart failure for ten years and taking high doses of rat poison (Coumadin) so his blood was thin enough to flow through his arteries.  After the heart attack he changed his eating habits, because mom forced him to, but it was too late. The damage had been done when he was a youngster and then a young adult. AND he had passed on the family bad HDL genes as well, so I was now fighting for my health on several battlefields.

The real story started in June after dinner. For many years I’ve tried to prepare fairly healthy meals and with three vegetarians in the family it’s not always hard. In addition, my husband and I will have a glass of red wine with dinner a few times a week. So I was working on my book when my heart started doing flip-flops in my chest. Literally.

I froze and waited anxiously. I could feel my heart stop, wait a second and then BOOM it would beat again for a few strokes then stop. I broke out in a cold sweat and became very nauseated. I didn’t want to upset anyone, so I got my husband’s attention and softly told him what was happening, in case I passed out or something.  I sat, listening to my body and fearing the worst.

“I’m too young to die. I have young children and an unfinished book. I can’t die yet. God, please don’t let me die this young.”

It lasted about half-an-hour then just eased away. The next day I made a doctor’s appointment.  When I explained what had happened she immediately gave me an EKG in her office.  The result?

I had had a mild cardio infarction. A heart attack.

She asked why I hadn’t gone to the ER, but I hadn’t had any pain or numbness, no tingling.  She put me into the hospital overnight for tests.

The nurses, technicians and doctors gave me several more EKGs with the same result, an EEG (abnormal) and monitored everything I did.  The doctor wanted me to recreate the event so the heart monitor I was wearing could pick it up.  I walked and literally danced down the halls, listening to my iPod, after visiting hours, of course, but to no avail.  The nurses waved as I passed their work station for the fifth, eighth, tenth time.  No reaction.

“Come back tomorrow for a stress test.”

So I went home to my own wonderful bed and slept like a log. Although hospitals are meant to make people feel better, they wake you every two hours for blood pressure, vitals, blood samples or just to listen to you breathe deeply and make sure you’re still alive.

The next day I went in for the stress test which took several hours. They injected a radioactive isotope called Thallium into my bloodstream after taking a set of pictures of my heart at rest. Then I waited a while before they took more pictures and compared them.

Meanwhile, I went upstairs for the chemical part (stress without the exercise) of the test. They injected Dobutamine, a form of adrenaline, directly into my IV causing my vessels to dilate instantly.  It was the weirdest medical test I’ve ever taken. My whole body instantly flushed hot, my head felt about to burst and it felt like elephants were sitting on my legs.  This passed in about a minute, but that was a verrrrrry long minute. The headache remained for several hours.

After this injection I went back downstairs for the pictures of my stressed heart which would show where the blockages were.

The result? 90% chance of blockage leading to my legs.  I would need a heart catheterization.

The next test was the quickest and most definitive of them all, but also one of the most expensive.  The cardiologist made a tiny incision in the artery at my groin, where the right leg is attached, then inserted a dark dye through a catheter. This is called coronary angiography.  Pictures were then taken of the heart and arteries, following the dye progress. In my case the dye remained dark and highly visible all over the place, NO BLOCKAGES!  Yay!

Dye results in heart

Dye results in heart

Had they found blockages, the doctors would have inserted a stent, a small metal basket-tube on the end of a balloon catheter. Once in place the balloon is expanded pressing the stent against the walls of the artery and opening it for better flow.  In my case that was not necessary.  My father, however, had that procedure before his bypass.

So I have a follow-up appointment with my regular doc next week to discuss everything.  I know he’s going to insist that I lose weight, and I’ll try harder this time. But the prognosis is pretty much this:

  • Eat healthy
  • Small portions, even if it means 5 meals instead of 3,
  • Low fat,
  • Low salt,
  • Plenty of fiber
  • Drink plenty of water or green tea (antioxidants)
  • Reduce caffeine
  • No smoking (I don’t anyway)
  • Drink red wine occasionally
  • Exercise! Even if it’s just walking for 30 minutes every day.

Will I listen to these guidelines?  Absolutely.  I was given a wake-up call.  Just glad I answered.

Here are just a couple of awesome sites to check for even more information  about heart fix-ups.

http://www.heartsite.com/html/chemical_stress.html

http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/stress-test–(dupe)

http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4491

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