Monday, May 10, 2010
Today we celebrated the two year anniversary since my husband’s heart attack. We had a dinner of heart healthy salmon. A heart attack is a big wake up call. It makes you stop and pay attention. My husband was one of those people who never needed to visit a doctor. Other than an occasional cold, he was never ill. He was physically active and weighed the same that he did in high school. He was probably still wearing some of the same clothes! He was about to turn 60 years old and he smoked.
Late morning the day of the heart attack Paul loaded up his boat and headed off to fish in the Columbia River, a short two miles from our house. Alone in the boat on the river, he started to feel ill. He thought he had indigestion and he drank a soda to settle his stomach. When he didn’t feel any better, he headed back to shore and loaded up the boat to drive home. Two blocks from the boat ramp he blacked out behind the wheel of the pickup and drove into a utility pole. He knocked out power to an apartment complex and the loud bang brought a crowd of people to his assistance. Someone called 9-1-1 and a bystander found his cell phone and called me.
I could hear the sirens in the background of the phone call. The caller told me he had been in an accident but was conscious, was dripping with sweat, and was being taken to the local hospital.
I found out the details later. The police were the first official responders and they thought he had been drinking. The police officer kept asking him “How much have you had to drink?” and not accepting that he had not been drinking. There were two unopened bottles of beer in his cooler, along with another can of soda and bottled water.
When the paramedics arrived at the scene they knew right away that it was a heart attack. They wasted no time in getting him to the hospital. I beat them to the hospital by a few minutes. His EKG was transmitted to a cardiologist at the regional trauma center. He received the miracle clot busting drug and was loaded back on the ambulance for the 30 minute drive to the regional center. The ambulance driver told me to meet them at the hospital but not to try and keep up with them. “We’ll be driving with lights,” he told me. It was only much later that I realized he meant the flashing ambulance lights.
I got to the second hospital as they were running with him on a gurney down the hall to the operating room. The surgeon stopped at the door to the operating room and told us to say our good-bys.
Paul received two stents. He was conscious during the procedure and told me later that it was immediate relief when the blockage was finally cleared. The pain stopped immediately.
It seems strange to say, but the best thing that happened to him that day was that he ran into a utility pole. If he had stayed out on the river, he might not have made it to shore alive. If he had driven home he would have crawled into bed to take a nap and I would have found him dead. Hitting the pole assured that got the professional attention that he needed to live. The paramedics immediately recognized the signs of a heart attack and got him where he needed to be. Although it was late afternoon on a Saturday, the cardiologist happened to be in the hospital when the call from our local hospital came in. He stayed and waited for the ambulance to arrive. They got to the operating room within the golden hour.
We have much to be grateful for. Two years later Paul has made a complete recovery. He quit smoking and has made significant changes to his diet. We rarely eat red meat anymore. He’s not as good as he should be about exercising, but we definitely are living a healthier lifestyle.
We have much to be grateful for, but time tends to dull the memories and we forget some of those lessons that were learned the hard way. It’s good to celebrate these anniversaries and remember how close we came to a different ending.
Life is good and we are grateful.