No, it really wasn’t entirely the excitement of the Obama win that has kept me from putting pen to paper or sitting down to my computer with a cup of coffee and tapping out a few pithy sentences. A little more than a week before the election, my husband Richard came home from a weekend trip and promptly had a heart attack. A heart attack! Not kidding. I am serious. Yes, as serious as a heart attack.
Well, he didn’t come home and promptly have a heart attack, exactly. Because when it happens to you, as opposed to it happening in the movies or something, you don’t think it’s a heart attack. He felt weird, is all. Like he had a big lump in his throat. No dramatic clutching of the chest, no falling to the floor. Just a vague “not feeling well.” And the attendant anxiety that goes along with “not feeling well” if you haven’t seen a doctor for at least four years. And you smoke. And you have high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease. And have been in complete denial about your health and run screaming from the room when your wife mentions that you “might need a check-up.” So he thought some of what he was feeling was anxiety. Anxiety over thinking he was having a heart attack.
So I gave him an aspirin (which turned out to be a really, really smart thing to do, who knew? I did! Because I listen to the radio!) and the plan was, first thing in the morning, I’d take him to the doctor. Which is sort of what happened, except it was more like three in the morning, and it was the emergency room, because he woke up sweating and the tightness in his throat felt more pronounced. “Sweating” had come up when I was Googling “Lump in Throat,” followed quickly by “heart attack, symptoms of” so off we went. I know, I know, I should have called 911, but it was three in the morning, and an ambulance would not have gotten him there faster than I did.
We entered the E.R. Richard, looking a little pale, mentioned that the feeling in his throat that was spreading to his chest, and they had him hooked up within minutes. They looked at some screen, and said that yes, he was, in fact, having a heart attack. They used the word “massive” a few times. And then they took him away to a place called “Cardiac cath.” Where they put a stent into his heart.
A few hours later we were together again, waiting for a room to open up Cardiac ICU. Modern medicine!
It wasn’t until three days later – when I was wondering why Richard couldn’t be released from the hospital to go home-- that we met the cardiologist who had saved Richard's life. Which was rather, er, sobering. The situation was a lot more serious than we had imagined. I mean, I thought, hey, he’s got the stent, he’s got a little color back in his face, let’s go home and make some tofu. But then we found out that the reason the doctor gave him the stent is because there wasn't enough time to get Richard into surgery. The artery they call "The Widowmaker artery" (!!) was 99 percent closed, and the other left tube was 80% closed. It was really bad. Normally, a stent is never put in that particular artery. But the cardiologist decided to take the unusual step and put in the stent because (he said) if he’d taken the time to organize a bypass surgery, Richard would not have survived. As it was, he had a good chance of dying (DYING) on the table while the stent was inserted. Like, a NINETY PERCENT chance, is what he said.
My honey’s heart is pretty damaged, but the cardiologist thinks that some of it was just "stunned" and isn't totally dead, like a bird that hit a window, or something. The hope is that it will come back with cardiac rehab. He is very, very lucky. And he doesn't feel so bad about the idea of having to start actually exercising and eating more vegetables and never smoking cigarettes again. He actually seems to be enjoying discovering new herbal teas and interesting foods that don’t clog arteries. And I get to be astonished as I watch him eat dried apples and vegetarian chili.
He thought that quitting smoking would cause him to lose his sense of humor, or sarcastic edge, or irascibility, or something. But In a matter of weeks, he’s gone from an irascible, cigarette-smoking, bourbon sipping, highly caffeinated, sugar-fueled, sedentary hamburger lover, to an irascible brown-rice-and-fish eating, non-smoker who is starting to take walks. He made it home in time to vote for Obama, and cried in the voting booth. His sense of humor and personality are intact, and he smells much nicer when he comes to bed.