Sunday, November 29, 2009

It was not indigestion

In this blog post I will relate the tale of David surviving a heart attack while returning from our trip to Mexico.

First, allow me to provide the background necessary to place this story in its proper context. David is the man sharing life's journey with me for the past 24 years. It will be 25 years this next January. We have a 22 year-old daughter in common.

Both of us originally hail from Wisconsin and most of our siblings still reside there. As a consequence, the vast majority of our travels revolve around the 775-mile distance between Wisconsin and southwestern Virginia. It is a trip more often accomplished by automobile rather than by airplane.

David is decidedly a homebody. He enjoys gardening and the company of his black and white chihuahua mix Ranger. Conversely, I am a definite traveler, a gypsy at heart that relishes seeing different places and slices of life. Fortunately I am very comfortable traveling alone or meeting friends at the destination.

The last time David and I traveled to a destination together was on a trip to Washington D.C. during Easter week in 2001, so it was really special when David agreed to join me on a visit to Oaxaca, Mexico during the Day of the Dead celebrations. At age 62, David obtained his first passport.

While putting together the details of the trip, David verbalized his desire to spend some time at the beach, so the last segment of the trip included 5 days on the southern Pacific Mexican coast at Huatulco.

Details of the wonderful time we had in Oaxaca and Huatulco are planned for a later blog post, but this is a different story. On Saturday, the day of our return home, there were preliminary heats for Sunday's Ironman Triathlon being held in Huatulco. The street in front of our hotel was closed to traffic to allow the bicycle heats to take place. A little after 11:00 am our driver for the airport arrived and each of us grabbed a suitcase and began the 1/2 kilometer trek to open streets and parking. Though all three of the suitcases were on wheels, the trek was mostly uphill and it was hot outside.

Shortly after arriving at the airport, it was evident that David was not well. He was sweating profusely, was visibly distressed and his color was not quite right. With his consent, I summoned Mexican paramedics by alerting airline personnel to our situation.

The paramedics took his blood pressure and pulse which they found to be within normal parameters. At this point, he appeared to possibly be experiencing a heat-related event and airline personnel got us through Mexican immigration and into air-conditioning post haste. When it was time to board the plane David was feeling a little better and decided to fly.

During our first flight to Houston, David remained uncomfortable. At intervals he took aspirin, nitroglycerin and antacids. Antacids seemed to provide the most relief. As we went through American immigration and customs, he felt somewhat better. We had a lengthy route through the huge Houston airport and a tight window in which to make our connection to Knoxville.

Discomfort waxed and waned, never leaving David entirely. After collecting our bags in Knoxville, we drove to a pharmacy and got additional over-the-counter medications. Home was still 2 hours of interstate highway travel to the east.

Our route home takes us past the hospital where I work. David declined my first suggestion that we stop at the hospital ER. As we got closer, though, he wisely reconsidered. It was now shortly after midnight.

Upon arriving at the ER, David got immediate attention as an older male arriving with chest pain. Hospital personnel quickly got EKG and defibrillator pads on his chest. Just looking
at the staffer reading his EKG, David could tell from facial expressions alone that the EKG was not normal and indeed when I peeked at the tracings, even with my limited skills in this area, I concurred.

A cardiac specialist was called in and David underwent a cardiac catherization within the hour. Doctors decided to place an assistive balloon pump inside his heart via the femoral artery to reduce the strain on his damaged heart muscle. The next several days were spent in the cardiac ICU. Most of his pain and discomfort were due to Dressler's syndrome, an inflammation of the pericardium or heart lining that sometimes occurs following heart attacks.

By Thursday, David was stable enough to go home. A followup echo-cardiogram has found a blood clot in one of his ventricles. He has started blood thinners to dissolve the clot. The plan, as we understand it at this juncture, is to wait until the clot has dissolved and then to perform cardiac bypass grafting to improve the pumping capacity of David's heart. In his current state, he has enough cardiac muscle damage to be limited in the amount of energy he can exert. Surgery is not anticipated until late December at the earliest or sometime in January .

The day before his heart attack, David and I were snorkeling over coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean. There was no elephant sitting on David's chest, no classic heart attack symptoms, only the sensation of really uncomfortable indigestion.

We have to consider ourselves fortunate that David survived this event and hope for a good recovery. He has received excellent medical care and the human body can be remarkably resilient.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

Back Online

It was a bad motherboard.

After an almost two month absence, I am finally all systems go for a return to blogging. Multiple events have taken place in my life during the hiatus and through the next few blog posts, I will attempt to update you on the more interesting occurrences and incidents.