These are words you never want to hear. I know because I heard those words on the night of January 7 in the hospital emergency room. The doctor first used a calm voice as he directed nurses, likely to keep me, my wife and others calm. He then discreetly turned to a nurse and directed him to get a defibrillator. He added the word “now” in a quiet but semi-urgent tone. Suddenly I became concerned. I was already light headed, sweating and now I was scared.
I obviously survived the incident. I am wiser and would like to share what I have learned. My cardiologist tends to be blunt. He is brutally honest and unapologetic. He educated me that heart disease is the number one cause of death for men and women in the United States, not by a little, but by a large margin. Almost 25 percent of all deaths in our country are from some form of heart disease. Most people first discover they have a heart issue by having a heart attack.
There are approximately 1.5 million heart attacks or strokes per year and more than 50 percent die from this first warning sign. My cardiologist noted this is preventable. He continued with “anything wrong with your heart, I can fix it.” He was also not shy about his feeling on insurance companies that refuse to cover heart scans or stress tests for your heart. He urged my wife to get one; even if it is out of your own pocket, it can save your life.
My doctor spent a fair amount of time with my wife and I recounting what led me to the emergency room in the middle of the night. He then abruptly stood up and announced, “You are going to have an angiogram and I am certain you need stents to clear a likely blockage to your heart.” He said it was a simple procedure and that I was one of the lucky ones. Many do not get this second chance.
While in a semi-sedated state and waiting for my cardiologist to arrive and perform the procedure, I remember the up-lifting music playing. The staff was singing along and even would occasionally break into a dance. One nurse said, “I know this equipment looks expensive and scary, but we actually do know how to use it.” I assume this was to keep me calm and reassured. The rest of it was a blur to me. Meanwhile, my poor wife sat in the cardiology waiting room for any news of the procedure … she was not alone.
Other wives were in the room waiting for news too. One by one, doctors came in and delivered bad news after bad news. Do not put your spouse through this agony. As my cardiologist approached my wife, I can only imagine her bracing for the worst of possible news. He then informed her that my heart was strong and the arteries clear. He then added “even remarkably strong and clear.”
I have thought back to my days of the emergency room and the hospital stay. I realize the moment I became concerned was when I heard those words I was not meant to hear; “Get the defibrillator, now!” Up until that point, everyone was cool, calm and deliberate. It is amazing how just a few words can be the most terrifying ones you ever hear. I suppose it is because you realize, they may be the last. In the end, I was more than lucky, I have no heart disease or even pending issues. My clean bill of health is not only reassuring, but it has helped me understand what I can and need to do to assure good health.
There are a lot of people with no idea they may be at risk of a heart attack. Do not let the first warning sign be your only and last one. A heart scan can help determine if you are at risk. For those of you reading this, I beg you and your spouse to have a heart scan soon. Even if your insurance does not cover the few hundred dollars of cost, it could save your life. If you reading this and thinking, “my family has no history of heart problems, so why should I worry,” get checked. I have learned this could be a wrong assumption. The mistake could be fatal. If you are fine with no issues, I can assure you that the piece of mind is the best feeling in the world. So, please get tested soon. If you are over fifty years old, the sense of urgency is even higher as every year passes. If you do not do it for yourself, do it for your spouse and family.