My 2nd Anniversary - The Heart Attack Story
Two years ago, at the age of 34, I had a heart attack. It was the scariest yet most incredible experience of my life.
To celebrate, I decided to journal my reflections about that day and that time in my life. And when I had it all written out, I thought I should share it.
Because we see the best of the best of people’s lives on social media. The smiles, the vacations, the highlight reel. And sometimes we just need to share the “real” reel. The heartfelt, the fear, the vulnerability, the feelings.
Here’s my "real" reel…
The Heart Attack
I had a heart attack while I was out on my daily run. But the story doesn’t start there. It starts long before.
I’ve always been a control freak. Blame it on being a firstborn. Or blame it on being a Virgo (I’ve blamed it on both). But my need to be in-the-know and control the outcome of events was in my DNA from birth.
I was a stressed-out hot mess. Balancing being a wife, mother and working woman was wearing me down. And on July 30, 2016 my body couldn’t take it anymore.
The irony is that I may have been in the best shape of my life when it happened. I was training for a fitness competition. I had plenty of time to prep my chicken and broccoli and workout twice per day since the kids were away at their grandparents’ house for the summer. On the outside, I was fit and healthy.
But on the inside, I was restless. I felt excited that my husband and I had time to bond and reconnect with the kids gone. But I couldn’t relax. I didn’t feel happy. It had nothing to do with my husband. He didn’t do anything wrong. It was me. I just didn’t know how to relax and unwind. In fact, having the extra time on my hands without the kiddos really made me feel more uneasy than anything.
So I did what I always did when I was feeling frustrated. I ran.
That day I remember I was supposed to go with my husband to his softball tournament in Canada, about 45 minutes from us. But I decided to stay home and have some alone time (read: I wanted to pout about an argument we had) and finish a closet project I was working on.
He grabbed his softball bag and I laced up my sneakers. We were each on our way. Separately.
I had only gotten about .25 miles up the road (and up a big hill) when I started having small pains in my back. But it didn’t stop me. I kept pushing on until I felt like I was being stabbed in my left shoulder blade. I decided to stop for a minute and catch my breath. I noticed that the pain was worse when I breathed in.
I decided to turn around and go home. While it only took me a couple minutes to get to where I was, it took 20 minutes for me to hobble back to my house.
I remember thinking to myself that I just needed to lie down. But I was worried that if I lied down in the street it might “alarm” someone driving by that something was wrong with me. No, it never occurred to me that I might need to alarm someone of my situation. So I kept hobbling home, stopping every so often to breathe.
I made it home and dropped onto my bed. I didn’t know what to do. I knew something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what. I surely didn’t think it was a heart attack. Maybe indigestion? A really bad side stitch? I didn’t want to call my husband and have him turn around and come home. He’d miss his tournament. And what if it was for nothing?
I just want to add here that I’m being honest about what was going through my head at that time. And I realize how ridiculous those thoughts were. Now I encourage women to listen and trust what their bodies are telling them.
So I didn’t call my husband. I called the nearest relative instead. And this is what I said: “I just wanted to call you and tell you I’m not feeling well. I’m home alone and I thought you should know in case something happens to me.” She, of course, thought this was strange - who calls and says something like that? Long story short...I called my doctor’s office and they told me to go to the ER.
By the time my aunt came to pick me up, I was actually starting to feel better. I knew it might be a long process in the ER so I grabbed a snack (priorities, people!) and changed out of my old sports bra into a fresh, new one. Yes, evidently even when you’re having a heart attack, you can still be worried about being caught in old underwear.
The one (and only) nice thing about arriving at the ER with chest pain is that you don’t have to sit in the waiting room. They take you back...immediately. And after a few EKG’s, blood panels and exams, they were about to send me home. The doctor was pretty certain that at 34 years old, I was just having a panic attack. There was no other medical explanation for my pain.
And then my last blood panel came back. There were significantly elevated heart enzymes in my blood. That indicated something had indeed happened with my heart. They sent me to the cardiology unit.
This is the point where I decided I needed to reach my husband, who was out of the country playing softball. Luckily, his sister was able to get ahold of one of his teammate’s wives and he booked it to the hospital.
So much of the next 24 hours was a blur. I got admitted to the cardiology unit, which I didn’t realize then meant that I was spending the night. When they wheeled me into a private room, it hit me. I started crying. This was actually happening.
I could hear the nurses in the hallway refer to me as “the 34 year old with the MI” (myocardial infarction...aka heart attack). They ran blood tests on me every couple hours. I was like a human pin cushion that had to pull around an IV bag everytime I needed to go pee.
I remember starting to have anxiety in the hospital. (Full disclosure - I’ve always had a little anxiety). But this time it was bigger. Every twitch I felt made me panic. I could feel my heartbeat. Every. Single. Beat. I tossed and turned all night, certain my heart was going to explode at any moment.
In the morning, I went through another round of test. Ultrasounds, CT scans, more blood work, blah blah blah. Turns out, I was in perfect health. My arteries had virtually zero plaque (yay me!). Evidently, my heart was perfectly normal. But I didn’t feel normal.
After a “heart healthy” breakfast, the cardiologist came in to talk to me. I can’t remember exactly what he said, except he used the words “myocardial infarction” and “mild heart attack” and sent me home with aspirin and orders to get some rest.
That night we went home and had leftovers from the special birthday dinner I had made my husband just two nights before. It tasted better than anything I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Tonight I’m going to make that same dinner, pour a glass of wine, put my feet up and thank God for this wonderful life.
And you better believe first thing tomorrow I’ll be out for my daily run!
That’s my heart attack story. Thank you so much for allowing me to share this experience with you. It felt so great to get my story out on paper. Though I've shared my experience with many people over the last few years, publishing it here feels especially good to me.
Want to read about the transformation that took place after the big event? You can read about that here.