Two years ago, in January, I picked up the phone at my job as a bra fitter in Wisconsin, and expected to speak with a good client. Instead, I got a hurried message from my mother’s boss – saying only that I needed to come pick her up from work, as my father had been rushed to the hospital. There were very few details. My mother sat at her desk mostly in shock, and attempted to relay information to me, one tiny tidbit at a time, about what she had been told. He felt ill, she said. He left class to go to his office and sit down.
My dad was, at the time, 59. Overall, quite healthy, a former athlete (soccer, skiing, tennis – also fond of lap swimming). I managed to get a bit more information from my mother in the car – his chest and back hurt, and he felt as though he might be sick. In my infinite wisdom, I suggested perhaps he was having a heart attack – not well received information, but, as I attempted to spin it, very treatable given that he immediately received medical intervention.
What happened next is all a blur for all of us – he got pain meds, the fastest physical exam ever, and was un-dressed by about 5 nurses, technicians, and doctors while being wheeled to an elevator. CathLab. Lots of talking and walking in hallways – and waiting. 100% blockage – and from his office in downtown Milwaukee to the CathLab
table in under 90 minutes. It’s the quick thinking of his colleagues that saved his life.
One look and it was all, “sit down, and stay still” – no going back to work, or brushing this off as bad indigestion. EMTs had fun with it, asking him in front of students, “any illegal drug usage?” and “no, really, did you take anything?”. My mostly fit dad had just had a physical a few months prior to his heart attack – it yielded no special cause for concern. The only real symptoms of a lurking problem were persistently slightly high cholesterol and a family history of heart attacks.
My point in telling you all this is simple. Know the symptoms of a heart attack. Trust your intuition. Know that men and women experience heart attacks very differently – it’s especially important to pay attention to unexplained pains in y
our neck and jaw – as well as any shortness of breath not linked to exertion. Know that high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease can be powerful predictors – family history may help your physician make more informed suggestions for reducing your risk.