I had been experiencing an occasional backache, nausea, and heaviness in my chest off and on for several weeks. The mild discomfort included a tiny cough and shortness of breath. (Later, I would discover that annoying little chronic gasp was my heart's way of recharging itself.)
I ignored the symptoms and continued with my busy schedule which included a heavy work schedule and a full class load at the University of Michigan. One afternoon I took a very rare day off from work and was frantically finishing major research papers for my finals. This time I felt an unusually sharp tightness in my back and chest. For a tiny moment I considered it might be a heart attack. But I didn't have one scheduled in my day planner, and frankly, I just didn't have the time... It wasn't a convenient day to die.
I sat on the sofa and waited for the intense wave of pain and nausea to pass. My skin felt clammy. The pressure increased. It felt as though a huge wall of cement had fallen on my chest. I tried to convince myself that I had food poisoning and ran through a menu of the foods that I had eaten in the last 24 hours that could have possibly caused me to become ill. "Lemme see," I said out loud. Nope. Not food poisoning. I hadn't had anything to eat except Mac 'n Cheese the day before for lunch.
Heart attack? Nope. Not me! No one in my family had ever had serious heart problems and I certainly wasn't going to start the tradition today!
The certainty that I was going to loose consciousness washed over me. I looked down at the floor and thought that I had better get off the sofa quickly and lay down ."I don't want to fall off this couch and break my nose," I declared out loud to my cat. I didn't want to bust up my face and look ugly in my coffin.
I laid down on the floor on my left side and rested my head on my arm. Suddenly I knew I was going to vomit! I crawled on my hands and knees into the bathroom and emptied the contents of my intestines from my tummy to my toes. As soon as my stomach was empty the pain subsided and I convinced myself it was just a little flu. Some sort of inconvenient bug.
I had more of these events within the next few weeks. Like aftershocks following a major earthquake they intensified. Never once did I consider the need to call 9-1-1 or to call and make a doctor appointment.
Finally, one Thursday afternoon, a coworker saw me as I leaned against the wall at work, ashen and shaken. He asked what I was doing and I pointed to the bathroom door and the exit from the building. I said, "I am either going in there and throw up or out there and pass out!" He questioned me and then declared that I had just described eight of the seven symptoms of a heart attack. He phoned his cardiologist and made an appointment for me the following morning.
The next day the cardiologist suggested a heart catheterization and scheduled one for the first thing the following Monday morning. It's no big deal, I thought. Nothing's wrong. Just a little indigestion and a whole lotta stress. He prescribed Xanax and Omeprazole and the suggestion that I might want to "try and take it easy."
On Monday, July 1, 2002 I joined him in the cath lab. It's no big deal he told me. I do 60 to 100 of these a day he said. It's nothing to sweat. In the groin and out again he insisted...
And the rest, as they say, is history. I flat lined three times during the procedure. I heard him tell me to look up over my head on the screen where I could watch what he was doing. He was talking softly and encouraging me to watch the miracle of medicine for myself. I heard him say that I have the heart of a race horse and that I could run the Kentucky derby and win. "We are going into the right side now," he told me. And then everything went black...