Voices in a tunnel…bright lights…I wake, open my eyes, and I’m still in the cath lab. Many times during the previous hour I had wondered if this was the end of my life. I had prayed about it, telling God that it was OK with me if it was OK with him. I just wanted my wife and family members to be fine without me. The way we have built leadership at the school where I am an administrator caused me few concerns there. Basically, I’m replaceable!
I could see that the doctor was still working on a few things, but I got the sense that the procedure was nearly finished. “How long have I been here?” I managed to ask. I really don’t recall what he said, but it wasn’t more than 30 minutes. Then I realized that I was absolutely pain free. And my attitude was bordering on euphoria. I asked the doctor what he found.
He started to explain, but then he said “These pictures show it very well.” He turned the monitor screen around where I could see it, then he played the first clip. It showed my beating heart, then a shot of dye which made the arteries appear as dark snaky threads all over my heart. He pointed to one area and said “You had a sizable blood clot here.” It was a thick, dark line that abruptly ended in a short stump. He played the second clip which showed the blockage being removed and the artery below the blocked area now clear and splitting into two branches. Later, he and another cardiologist on his team would tell both Donna and me that I came within minutes of dying, and that the speed in which Bob, the ambulance team, and the emergency room personnel got me to the catheterization lab saved my life.
The staff lifted me onto a bed and wheeled me to ICU where I was put into my own room. In ICU, one RN is assigned just to you, unless they get very busy. During my 5 day stay I had tremendous care from the RNs and from the rest of the staff. Adena Health Systems is a fantastic hospital!
Donna arrived within a few minutes of my settling in to the room accompanied by my daughter-in-law, Khali, and Steve, my pastor. Donna’s first words, through very teary eyes, were “You’re taking up golf! I can’t do this any more.” My youngest son Phil, his girlfriend Sarah, and Sarah’s mom came in a few seconds later. Not long after that my oldest son Ryan walked into the room. I was very happy to see them all, but I cannot remember the specifics of our conversation other than us explaining to each other what the past 2 hours brought to each of us. We had all been tapped fairly deeply emotionally.
As the evening continued more and more people came to visit including my mom and dad, some best friends, and my sister-in-law and her husband. The next several days brought more of the same. Jeff, my Air Force son who is currently stationed in Korea, kept in touch by phone and by a Skype video link. Five members of the Ohio Flyers came by, two of whom live almost 2 hours away. More family and friends stopped by including two teachers with whom I work. I really appreciated the compassionate care from each of the nurses and technicians assigned to me. The phone calls, cards, and flowers came in. It is humbling yet very reassuring to see how much you are loved, and events like this give people an opportunity to show it. The support was overwhelming.
The cardiologist team assigned to me took plenty of time to explain what they found and their suspicions about what may have caused my problems. After a second catheterization procedure on Monday it was verified that the entire clot had been removed and that I had no appreciable plaque build up on the arterial walls. No open heart surgery would be necessary nor was there a need to place any more stents! The doctor had used a balloon on the end of the catheter to expand 2 stents which had never been fully deployed. And to top off the good news, the “stunned” muscle in my heart was already showing strong signs of recovery. I was elated with this report! I’ve had one previous heart attack and a total of 6 stents. Because of this, for the past 2 1/2 years I have been extremely conscious of my diet, and I exercise almost daily. Most people say they know of few people who are as driven as I am to do the right things so as to avoid further cardiac problems.
So what happened to cause the blood clot? Well, it’s because of a decision I made last fall, October 2008. I had gone in for a routine colonoscopy, and because a polyp was found, a second procedure was scheduled to remove it. Prior to the surgery I had to be off Plavix and asprin (anti-clotting medications) for several weeks. In my follow-up consultation with the cardiologist, I asked him if I could just stay off the Plavix for good. I had taken it for 3 years straight, all of my blood analysis numbers looked fantastic, and I had shown no signs of any new heart problems at all. The Plavix causes extensive bruising all over my body with almost no provocation, and I wanted to be free from this. Plus, it’s not cheap!
The cardiologist said I’d incur a slightly higher risk as a result of being off the medication. Four of the 6 stents in my heart arteries are the drug coated kind that were designed to ward off excessive scar tissue formation. But in recent years a number of studies have shown that some individuals with these stents have had higher than normal occurences of clot formation in the stents. When I asked about the risk, the doctor said I’d have a 1 to 2 percent greater chance of experiencing the formation of clots in the medicated stents. I thought those odds were pretty low, especially since I had been so careful about living right. So I had not taken Plavix since October 2008.
Obviously I am one of those folks who represent the 1 to 2 percent who should remain on Plavix for the rest of our lives!
I was released on Wednesday, March 11, with orders to take it easy and not go back to work for a while. I have a deeper appreciation than ever for my wife (who refused to leave the hospital even though it meant sleeping in an uncomfortable reclining chair), my children, their significant others, and my friends and coworkers.