This blog has been a few months coming. However, I sincerely wanted to let everyone know that this Houston Boudoir Photographer gives her heart to St. Lukes. The story of my recent heart attack cannot be told without whole hearted thanks to the men and women at St. Lukes Episcopal Hospital who took care of me during a very scary time.
I Knew It Was Coming
I am a contrary patient…just ask my doctor. My physician at Medical Clinic of Houston on Sunset (love this place) is not particularly confrontational. However, she very clearly rolled her eyes at me when I politely refused to take a statin drug. Just never felt like my high cholesterol numbers were that bad. In my defense, my good cholesterol was always very high and my triglycerides were always low.
YouTube definitely had me scared to take statin drugs. Dr. Munsiak never fired me as a patient, but when I reported that I was having weird chest pains and shortness of breath last spring, she recommended I have a Coronary Artery Calcium Scan. After researching this test, I whole heartedly agreed that it would be a good test to tell me if I needed to start taking care of my heart.
A documentary called The Widowmaker available on Youtube explained the high speed X-ray clearly and the possible results. The gentleman who funded the documentary did so because his score was in the one thousands which meant he could have “the big one” at any time and needed interventions to protect his heart. He was a fit, athletic individual and had no idea that his heart was in such bad shape.
I had the test on a Thursday, and my doctor called me Friday and said “Jan, your score is over 2100 and you need to get your head out of the sand and take this medicine, I’m calling it in now. You will see the Cardiologist ASAP, I’m doing the referral now…”
The score was high enough to scare me, the Houston Boudoir Photographer who never listens to doctors!
And the Cardiologist Says…
Okay, did I mention this happened weeks before Christmas? The cardiologists office worker, Amy, called me that afternoon and said, “Dr. Achari wants to see you as soon as possible when can you come in?” I offered up the week after Christmas. My initial response was, “I don’t want any more bad news before Christmas – I got too much shit to do!”
Amy called me back and said, you need to come in Monday (this was on Friday). I’m like, damn, this sounds serious. The cardiologist Dr. Achari had me on blood thinners, upped my statin, and got me in for a treadmill test in a matter of an hour. Not to mention, after failing the treadmill test he had his nurse go get me a sample of a blood thinner to take right then while I still had the electrodes on me. Half a nuclear treadmill test later, he felt a little better. While I am deeply indebted to him and his staff, I sincerely feel that my push back on doctor ways severely hurt me.
My husband, Tim, who was sitting next to me when the doctor said, “We may need to go right to the Cath Lab or Bypass Surgery…” Tim says I pushed back, and the doctor said we can try to manage it medically. I do believe if I had been a man and didn’t have a plate full of things to do to get ready for Christmas, I would have been in the Cath Lab the next day. Unfortunately, my driving thought was, “I don’t want to have to tell the kids this news at Christmas.” I was also thinking about the gifts that needed wrapping, grocery shopping to be done, meals to be prepared. We women have a lot to do to make sure our families have a joyous holiday.
And So The Holidays Came and Went
Now being managed by a wonderful Cardiologist on blood thinner, anti cholesterol medicine, and something to give my heart a bit more blood flow I felt confident. I had begun an exercise program in the past spring, but now I was working hard to get into shape. Once my heart doctor said it was okay, I was at the gym three days a week and walking most other days.
Those pesky chest pains didn’t stop though. In fact, every time I got on the treadmill machine I pushed myself to that point. I felt like I had to increase my endurance. Now into 2019, exercising regularly, and having my blood work monitored didn’t stop the craziness. At the beginning of February, my red blood cells took a nose dive. Probably due to the strong blood thinner I was taking. My medications were changed again, and away we go.
Valentine’s Day less than a Week Away
Tim and I had a serious conversation about that bucket list we’ve been working on. We love to travel, and Hawaii is one of my favorite places. Therefore, a plan was born to spend my birthday in Hawaii. To get ready, I started getting a suntan. Unfortunately, my back would itch like a son-of-a-bitch! In retrospect, I think this may have been from my new blood thinner.
Valentine’s Day was just a few days away, I was getting nice and tanned, starting to get a few muscles from all that working out, and had lost about 30 pounds. I was, overall, feeling pretty good. It was Monday afternoon, I had worked out and tanned, and thought I would go take a nice hot bath with some Epsom Salt and Almond Oil to relieve that damn itching.
The Elephant Did Not Enter the Room
I would like to remind everyone that I am a retired registered nurse, asthmatic for most of my adult life, and very aware that I was a candidate for a life ending heart attack. Laying back in that hot bath in my soaker tub, I could not have been more relaxed. I said to myself, “Why do I have that feeling now?” I can’t say it was actually pain, I can’t say I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest, I can’t say I had any shooting pains down any arms, no nausea or indigestion. Mostly, just a vague feeling around my chest. And a vague feeling something was very wrong.
I got out of the bath, thinking, this might be something like those “chest pains” I have at the gym, it will pass. It didn’t. I laid down on the bed and waited, it continued. I called to Tim to bring me my blood pressure cuff. BP was okay, pulse was a bit fast for me. Then, I asked Tim to find my pulse oximeter (measures the oxygen on the end of your finger). Oxygen saturation was fine, but heart rate was even faster and way irregular. I said Tim, “We need to go to the hospital…”
Tim got an overnight bag ready for me while I slipped into a tank top and leggings and sweater. I thought I would dress in something easy to work around if medical tests were called for. We got two blocks from the house, its a few minutes after 5:00 p.m. and Tim says, “Which way should we go, its rush hour.” At the light at White Oak and Houston Avenue I started to feel a bit short of breath and tingling in my fingers. Part of me is thinking, am I having a heart attack or am I anxious now…
At this point, I told Tim let’s go back to the house and call 911…
Will She Go…Will She Stay
Okay, I’m cheap. 911 got there, my EKG was not perfect – something about some S waves…don’t get me too lying. The feeling stopped though. At this point, I was thinking that I would save my insurance company the cost of the ambulance ride and I hemmed and hawed about letting 911 take me to the hospital. In the end, and because of the EMT objections, I did agree to let them take me. Much to my husband’s relief!
At St. Lukes I Felt So much Better
I am not shy in the hospital. I’m a retired nurse, been walking in hospitals trying to make things happen for dying patients is my wheel house. The very person sitting at a desk when the EMT wheeled me in heard me say, “My name is Jan Watson and I am a patient of Dr. Achari.” And to my surprise, I immediately heard a nurse walking by in Triage called back, “Oh, I just saw Dr. Achari…”
I’m feeling better now, these are my people in a way that non-medical people will never really understand. A Fellow from the Cardiac Unit came down to assess me and he sat down next to the gurney and said, “Mrs. Watson, have you ever heard of the Widowmaker?” And I’m thinking, “hmmm, that’s what I’ve been afraid of.”
15 Minutes Later
I’m in the Cath Lab getting my first stent in 15 minutes with my own doctor attending, he hadn’t left the hospital at that point and the on call doctor didn’t sound like he wanted to come up to do the procedure. Thank God my doctor was there. During that 15 minutes and while the procedure was going on, I was apparently in Cardiogenic shock. Two very important blood vessels were 98% blocked – the LAD and the RCA and the stent went into the LAD. My heart was “too weak” for another stent and the doctor ran a balloon up my other groin to my heart to give my heart beat a bit of a stronger beat to help it recover.
I have not had another chest pain, weird feeling, nothing, nada, since that first stent. I had to lay in the bed without bending my legs, hips, or having my head up more than 30 degrees for three days. My heart was recovering well, and two days later I was able to have my second stent placed. One of the crew that took me to the cath lab the second time had also taken me from the ER to the Cath Lab when I first arrived. She seemed stunned, “Man you look better, you were flat out gray when I saw you last time.” That was so reassuring.
It Takes a Village
With the help of my kids, friends, and my wonderful sister – recuperating was a breeze! I was discharged on Friday, and had a boudoir session scheduled for the next day. With the help of my wonderful make up artist Sil, who came and assisted the whole session, we made it through. It was a tough couple of hours though, trying to act energetic! A mini session day had been scheduled with my friends at Darling Way for a Valentine’s Day celebration, but my body was just not up to that!
My Hearts Off To You…
Ladies, let’s take care of those hearts! Not just the one’s that result in a bit of romance and a lifetime of caregiving. Of a certain age? Go ahead and talk to your doctor about that Cardiac Artery Calcium Scan. It’s not the end all or be all, but take it from me, a woman who has probably been having Heart Disease taking its toll for years – I didn’t know! All my shortness of breath, funny feelings in my chest, always chalked up to asthma.
Because I knew I had some awful arteries clogged up to the hilt around my heart, I did go to the hospital. My doctor reminds me all the time, a delay could have resulted in a different outcome. Importantly, I never felt anything remotely like “pain”. It was a vague, weird “feeling”. For some of us, dying may just feel “off”, it may not be a dramatic rising of agonizing pain. Yes, sometimes your body will shout at you to get your attention. However, your body will also whisper quietly, and I think we all know that women will take those quiet whispers and ignore them because of all the louder noise coming at us from multiple directions.
And Because Heart Break Happens
This wild adventure for me just won’t stop! A few weeks ago, my sister called me about 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, I was still laying around in bed. My brother had woken up, went to the bathroom, and my sister-in-law heard him fall in the bathroom. He had fallen against the bathroom door and she couldn’t open it. He was not responding to her, but she heard him take a couple of gasping breaths. 911 was called immediately, but they couldn’t revive him. He was only 63 years old, vibrant, did not smoke. Built a picnic table the week before. Loved to sail and owned Alvin Antiques and went in every day it was open. We were not close (unhappy family stuff), but I would never have wished this for him.
I know it probably sounds selfish, but ultimately, it reaffirms how lucky I am to be alive. I knew it was coming.
Today, I’m a lot more thankful for everything! Thankful for my darling husband, Tim, who apparently wants to keep me around a bit longer. Kids who drove a long way to make sure their Mama was going to be okay. Sweet songs sung over the phone by granddaughters Addie and Ellie! And a wonderful medical team up at St. Lukes that took care of my every need. But it could easily have ended differently.
Please get that baseline, watch all your important body parts! Women cardiac issues go unrecognized and largely ignored by the medical community. And don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as anyone for ignoring those warning signs.
And because life is short, and you never want to say, “I wish I had…”
Meet Hitch. My new sidekick. He helps remind me to take at least one good walk a day, smell the flowers, get plenty of rest, and the therapeutic value of a good belly rub!