... what can happen next?
In the fall of 1990 I was helping my daughter, Martha, carry a few boxes from her car to our house when I felt a fairly sharp pain in my upper left arm. I sat for a while looking at TV, not really watching, and the pain gradually went away. During the night, I woke up with a similar though not as intense pain in my arm. I began to worry about what was happening to me.
In the morning I talked with my wife, Catherine, about my pain episodes. As she had been a surgical nurse for many years, she insisted she would arrange for an immediate doctor appointment. I drove to my office in Newburyport, MA for a few morning appointments. At 11AM I learned that Catherine had arranged a 1PM doctor’s appointment.
I left my office about 11:15AM and drove to Melrose, about 45 minutes away. Midway in the trip I noticed smoke beginning to pour out from under the hood of my 1980 LeBaron. Frightened, I pulled off the road near the Tara Ferncroft Golf Course. As I got out of the car, flames burst from beneath the hood.
I don’t know how they were signaled, but it was not long before police and fire engines arrived and the fire was quickly extinguished. I was in a bit of a daze and realized it was now about noon and I had a doctor’s appointment in about an hour. The police graciously drove me to Danvers Center where I was able to find a taxi.
As we drove down the highway I told the cab driver I had to get to a 1PM doctor’s appointment. Unimpressed with my sense of urgency, the taxi ran out of gas after only a few miles. Now I’m really beginning to sweat. “What else can happen”, I thought? After what seemed forever, another cab arrived with a can of gas and we were, again, on our way. I made the doctor’s office, late by 45 minutes. Since Dr. L. is never on time, he didn’t seem to mind.
My doctor arranged for a stress test for 11AM the next day at a local hospital where he would meet me. He said the symptoms I was having should be looked into right away. Even so, he showed up an hour late, maybe getting even with me?
Anyway, I wasn’t on the stress machine for more than a few minutes when I felt a sharp pain in my upper left arm. The nurse immediately helped me from the treadmill, placed me on a gurney and popped a nitroglycerine tablet under my tongue. I was having an attack of angina and found myself, in no time, in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Dr. L. said that, given my symptoms, he had called a colleague at New England Baptist Hospital and had arranged with him for an angiogram the following day, if I was agreeable. Since I was in no position to disagree, I agreed.
The next day I was loaded into an ambulance. The young ICU nurse rode along with me, midway offering me a nitroglycerin tablet. I think she was at least as scared as I was.
New England Baptist Hospital is at the top of Parker Hill, off Commonwealth Avenue, in Boston. The ambulance made the turn onto Parker Hill Avenue and after a few minutes pulled into a driveway. I was unloaded from the ambulance, placed on a stretcher and pushed down a long corridor. As we came to the end of the corridor, I saw in front of me a priest and about a dozen, white haired, elderly nuns. For a flash I thought maybe I had arrived at the Pearly Gates until the ambulance driver embarrassedly realized he had delivered me to the Parker Hill Nursing Home for retired religious. I was, with profuse apologies, reloaded into the ambulance and finally delivered to The New England Baptist Hospital.
I was admitted to a cardiac ward overseen by a tall, blond, buxom nurse. She asked me after my wants and I said I had no food yet today. She agreed to get me something. After a while the nurse looked in on me, eating a Hoodsie, apparently forgetting about my hunger. My adventure goes on.
I was interviewed by a cardiologist who told me he would be doing an angiogram in the morning. He said given my symptoms it was quite likely I would need angioplasty (the balloon treatment for plugged arteries) or by-pass surgery. I thought, “Well, that’s not great news, but there isn’t much I can do about it.” I might have slept a little. Come morning, I was off to the operating room.
Patients are awake, but mildly sedated for angiogram. You can see the screen as the dye is injected into coronary arteries. It could have been a lot more interesting to observe if it were someone else’s body being explored.
One half hour after I was returned to my room, the cardiologist came to see me with bad news and good news. The bad news was there was blockage in my coronary arteries. However, compensatory circulation available meant that I could be managed on a medicine called Cardizem. I would not need either angioplasty or by-pass surgery, at least for now.
Such turn of events in my favor is so much easier to take. On medicine only, I have been symptom free for almost seventeen years.
January 4, 2008