Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional. The closest to medical training I have was taking Honors Anatomy & Physiology when I was a junior in high school and grading oodles of Medical Terminology exams when I worked at an area juco while I was in grad school. Otherwise, what I’m sharing here is personal experience from my father’s heart problems as well as from a number of medical sites that I’ll link to at the end of this post. However, because none of us are textbook cases symptom-wise, I’m sharing his story with the interwebs in hopes that it’ll save a life when someone doesn’t have a textbook-case heart attack …
How many of you can name off a heart attack symptom?
The three that come to mind for me — the ones I’ve always heard in the news:
Shortness of breath
Pain in the chest and/or left arm
The first time my dad had a heart attack — Easter weekend 2005 — he only experienced one of these, shortness of breath. He insisted nothing was wrong and ate dinner before he gave in and would let us take him to the ER.
Last month, when his second ‘heart attack’ occurred, he was loading a riding lawn mower onto the back of his truck to take it to the repair shop on a fairly hot summer afternoon. Because of the heat, he had been drinking water all day … but because of the weight of the mower that he and my brother were loading + the heat, he asked the bro to go get him some more water once it was on the back of the truck since they were both winded. My mom was standing there watching them and stayed outside while my bro went inside. They were talking while Dad leaned back against the truck to rest, then he went unresponsive. My mom had to wrap her arms around him to keep him upright, meanwhile she was screaming at the top of her lungs in hopes my brother would hear her from inside the house a couple hundred feet away or that my uncle, who was several hundred feet away across the road, would hear her. My bro reached the door to go head back outside and heard her screaming. Dad was responsive again by the time the bro got to them; the way it was explained to me via phone initially was that he passed out. Later on we also found out my uncle had his hearing aids turned off while he was working outside …
My dad, being the stubborn self he is, insisted on going to the direct care clinic in the city I work in, 45 minutes away. Understandable, even though we have a local hospital, the time he went to the ER there for a wasp sting (which he’s highly allergic to), he was told it would be a four hour wait before he could be seen. Thanks, but no thanks … plus dad’s cardiologist is in the city I work in & the hospital there has a designated (& highly ranked) heart hospital.
En-route, my dad went unresponsive again and for longer. That time, my mom called 911. They told the dispatcher they could meet an ambulance at a gas station they were close to. As fortune/timing would have it, an ambulance had finished responding to a call and was within a few blocks when they got the call. They took my dad directly to the ER of the hospital where we took dad nine years ago.
By the time I got the voicemail that he’d went unresponsive a second time (not just fainting), left the office and drove the two miles to the ER, dad was in a lot of pain, registering a 10 out of a 10 when asked. Then the left side of his body began jerking uncontrollably, which was panicking him further. By the time they located the partner of dad’s cardiologist and he got to the ER, his entire body was uncontrollably shaking/jerking. Right before they took him upstairs, the chaplain showed up. There’s nothing that’ll make you lose it quicker than a chaplain coming in, praying over your dad, then turning and saying, “we need to pray now.” The prayers were appreciated, I should add, but it almost seemed like ‘last rites’ …
The cause? Some plaque build-up in one of the arteries had broken loose. A blood clot formed to combat it … and got caught in one of the stints from nine years ago that was in the main artery … and essentially blood flow was cut off to the rest of his body.
Dad later told us that while mom was screaming at him to get him to respond (the first time he went unresponsive) he was aware of everything going on around him but couldn’t do a thing — speak or move.
We later found out that at the time when they took up him up to the Cath Lab, his heart was functioning at about 30 percent. Its a miracle he didn’t have to have a pacemaker put in or, worse, a bypass. When they finished the stint procedure, his heart was functioning at 50-55%. Had my mother and brother waited until he exhibited an actual heart attack symptom (the ones that we hear about in the news all the time) to call 911 or seek help, he would have died. In fact, when I was looking at various medical sites to find one that listed unresponsiveness as a symptom, the only site I could find it on was Heart.org — and it was listed as Cardiac Arrest.
Its been a nerve wracking month. Try making a grown man behave and not do anything at all … it’s just not possible 😉
He is doing much better and has been taking it easy, but all the sitting around, napping, and dvd marathons has apparently grown old … thankfully he is taking it easy (if watering the yard and riding the now repaired lawnmower count as easy).
According to all of the sites I went to, these are the primary heart attack symptoms (for men and women):
Chest discomfort or pain — feeling of fullness
Upper body pain — arms, chest, back, even the jaw …
Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Stomach pain — heartburn, indigestion
Shortness of breath
Nausea and vomiting
Fatigue — especially if it lasts for several days
Women sometimes exhibit different symptoms than men — and not all medical professionals it seems, takes it seriously when you don’t have typical symptoms. I can think of many stories I’ve heard (in the news and via people I know), that were shrugged off because they were misdiagnosed with something else or told nothing was wrong because they didn’t exhibit the right symptoms.
We’re lucky that they did take it seriously with dad — the cardiologist told us afterward that dad got there in the nick of time and that everyone was were they needed to be that day. My brother shouldn’t have been off work that day, but he was. The ambulance had just responded to the call and was close by instead of still being at that call and them having to wait longer to get another ambulance there. The cardiologist was within walking distance. An OR was open in the Cath Lab and ready to go when they took him upstairs from the ER.