Eye Openers: Heart Attacks and Diabetes

My wife is 36 years old. She is a stay-at-home mom of 2 kids (2 and 12), home schools the oldest, and babysits a couple of kids for extra money. She does the grocery shopping, attends church regularly, is stressed daily, and always seems to have 10 million things to do, and not enough time to do it all in. She’s also, as of Friday night at 9:45pm, a heart attack surviver.

For over a week, she’s been having chest pains and a heaviness in both her arms. She kept ignoring it, brushing it off as stress and anxiety. Wednesday night, when I came home, she was just sitting on the couch crying. I asked if she wanted to go to the emergency room, but she didn’t because she said, and I quote, “I don’t have time for anything to be wrong, and I’m afraid there is something wrong.”

Fast forward to Friday, I had been debating taking off work. Finally, at the last minute Thursday, I wrote my name on the calendar at work. My plan was to take her out to dinner and a movie, and just hope she could relax. I, too, had fears that she was having heart problems – heck, even our oldest son told her he thought she was having a heart attack. So I lined my mom up to watch the kids and we left the house about 7pm.

We made it to eat, but as we sat and ate, she started hurting again. We ate, she ignored it, and we finally got ready to go. By the time we got to the car, she was really hurting. She was almost in tears. I told her I was going to take her to the emergency room. No, she didn’t want to. She didn’t have time for the emergency room. I insisted, and she huffed and puffed. I started to give up and go home, but she started crying. Now, I know I shouldn’t have, but I got angry. I turned the car around and we went to the ER. She got out of the car at the door, came immediately back out and said we could leave because she didn’t want to wait. Wait time was an hour to be seen (yes, in the ER.)

I pulled away and drove around the parking lot trying to talk her into going back in. Finally I just parked the car and got out. I stood there, opened her door and told her we weren’t leaving until she went in to get checked out. She bawled the whole way in. We were there a minute, and they pulled her back immediately. within 10 minutes, she was in an ER bed and being hooked up to machines. They did an ultrasound on her chest, a cat scan, did 2 EKG’s, and told us she was being checked in to the hospital because she had fluid around her heart, her enzyme levels were elevated that signified a heart attack, and there appeared to be damage, as well as a blockage. Interesting note: the heart, being a muscle, lets off a very specific enzyme when it is damaged. It’s different from the same kind of enzyme our muscles let off when we exercise and they hurt because to build muscle, you have to tear it down by exercising, then when it heals, it’s a little stronger next time around, and you repeat.

By Saturday morning, my wife was already scheduled for an arteriogram. I’m not up to date on the procedure, but they run a tube up one of your main arteries, straight to your heart and check it out. While there, if possible, they can also repair damage by using balloons to widen arteries, and if necessary, use stents (metal mesh tubes that expand and lock in place,) to keep those arteries open for blood to flow freely. With my wife, they had to place 2 stents. The cardiologist assures us this fixed her issue, and she was good as new.

When they take the tube out that enters the artery, it requires a couple of people and several hours. One person has to hold pressure on the artery to make sure the person doesn’t bleed out. Another has to slowly pull out the catheter that is inserted into the vein. For 20 minutes the person applying pressure has to stand there trying to get the artery to clot. It’s a wild procedure to watch, and the whole time my wife wasn’t able to move or react. She had to keep her head still and flat for 2 hours after the fact. After that, she had to continue lying flat on her back and not moving an inch for 6 hours. It was horrible to experience, and she was crying, not from pain from the procedure, but from stiffness of not being able to move.

But that’s not all! The doctor also revealed that she has a “very bad” case of diabetes. She will have to contend with that, as well, when she comes home. Type 2, mind you, which can be controlled by a few different methods, and some say even eliminated with proper diet and exercise. The diabetes, he believed, was the cause of the heart attack because it had gone unchecked for so long. The reason being, if you haven’t guessed, is because my wife doesn’t believe in going to doctors for check ups and medicine and all the stuff you’re suppose to go to the doctor for. She gets that from her grandmother. The strongest medication she takes is extra strength Tylenol.

So, 36 years old, healthier than me I always assumed, and she’s lying in a hospital bed after having a heart attack. I felt that folks were looking at her, then looking at me and thinking, Wow, and yet you’re not the one laying here? It’s eye opening. It could very well be me. And all I could think was how she kept wanting to ignore the problem. What about our kids? What if she’d continued to ignore it, and I let her, and one day the kids just found her dead? I’d have so much guilt knowing that I should have done more to make her go.

Thankfully, I hope and pray this was one of those eye-opening events in one’s life that makes you reevaluate things. I’m seriously praying she’ll slow down, worry less, calm down and enjoy her time more.

And I hope it serves as a lesson for others – including myself – to pay more attention to warming signs our body gives us. They’re there for a reason, I believe, it’s just up to us to acknowledge when the “check engine” light comes on.

On a positive note, my wife says she feels amazing. She even gets to come home tomorrow, Monday. I just hope she comes home with a new mindset on her health and taking care of herself.

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