February was American Heart Month

I had a heart attack in 2001.

Obviously I survived. A friend of mine had one a few years earlier and he didn’t. I remember that incident quite well because his wife called us around six-thirty in the morning as we were getting ready to leave for work.

We’ll call them Fred and Ethel (only one point for the easy pop culture reference). I worked with them both. This was during my stint as an economist. Now the point of this is that I ran into him in the subway a few weeks before his death as I was going to meet a friend for lunch. We chatted briefly and he confided that he was going to see a doctor during his lunch hour because he had been experiencing chest pains. I wished him good luck with that and caught my train and didn’t give it much more thought until that phone call. The thing was his wife had no idea that he had had chest pains or that he had been seeing a doctor. He didn’t tell her anything until he woke up dead one morning a month later. When I told my wife about the meeting in the subway she read me the riot act on how she was to be kept informed of the state of my health. She did not want us to go through the tragedy our friends did.

So in July of 2001 we were wandering around the Folk Life Festival on the Mall enjoying the steaming yet blistering heat of a DC July and I began to feel strange. None of the classic heart attack symptoms you read about, just odd. There was a finger drawing little shapes under the skin on my chest. I got a bottle of water, but dehydaration wasn’t it. We went home, she drove with me laying down in the passenger seat. I felt better after a while but I scheduled an
EKG in the next couple of days. Huh. Clean bill of health. Didn’t see anything.

Next day I’m sitting in the HelpDesk and I get this burning pain in my chest. I thought it might be indigestion, so I drank some cold water. Hmm. That’s not it. Pain getting worse. Only had to tell my boss once, God bless him. He called 911, my wife, and gave me one of those baby aspirins. He wheeled me downstairs to the lobby in a swivel chair where I provided lunchtime entertainment to all as the paramedics sized me up. I got an ambulance ride to George Washington Medical Center where I laid on a gurney watching my heart rate and blood pressure on a little machine. When I saw 213/185 I pointed it out to a nurse who said a doctor could interpet the numbers for me. “That can’t be good.” I said. And then she looked at the screen. “No.” She said in spite of herself and wheeled me off to the emergency room where I lay for ten hours between two AIDS patients, too terrified to move. Eventually they found me a room. They had been taking my blood every hour or so and at five in the morning confirmed that I had indeed had a heart attack (well, duh.) And at seven AM they wheeled me into the angioplasty suite and stuck a wire up my femoral artery that wound its way into my heart. They even had a little screen next to my head in case I wanted to watch the wire on its little journey. Yeah, right. I was afraid I would cough at the wrong moment and get to see the wire tear right through a ventricle or something. I could see the obit now: NOTED BARFLY DIES OF HEART AILMENT…

Anyway all went well and after a day or two of observation they sent me home with a band-aid on my thigh and told me to check the band-aid periodically for blood because if I was bleeding there, I would bleed out in minutes. That was heartening.

So the moral of this story is if you are a guy around fifty and you sit around a lot, eat Buffalo wings and onion rings (you know, GUY FOOD), you ought to get yourself checked out. Get a physical, get a stress test. Well, prepare yourself for that stress test. My boss who was so good to me when I had my attack went for a stress test. He had a heart attack while on the treadmill. Luckily he was in a medical center. They cracked his chest and gave him a double bypass. Thing is we eat too well in this country of ours and unless you are one of those exercise nuts that go out jogging in the middle of winter in their little gym shorts (every office has at least one), you probably aren’t getting the exercise you need to counter that diet. I eat differently now. Lots of salads, and I cut way down on fried stuff and red meat. I also take lots of pills and execise every night.

My doctor told me I was lucky. It’s the first heart attack that usually gets you, like it did my friend Fred. I got off with a warning. Take it to heart.

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Edwin J. Albetski Jr.

Sure scared the hell out of me at the time. Who would tell me the best books to read, the best places to eat or the best scotch to drink? Who would discuss philosophy and history with me until 4am on a Tuesday? Who would I bounce my outlandish political theories off of?