Home Heart Healthy Diet Rick Steelhammer: Listen to your heart when it tries to conk out on you

Rick Steelhammer: Listen to your heart when it tries to conk out on you

8 min read
Rick Steelhammer: Listen to your heart when it tries to conk out on you

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There’s nothing like having your heart stop beating to bring a little clarity to the fact that your role in the soap opera of life can be canceled without notice.

That’s what I came to realize a couple of weeks ago after getting up at the crack of dawn to let the dogs out the Steelhammer Compound’s door before they forced me to add to the collage of OxiClean blots on the living room carpet that marked earlier failures to arise in time for them to heed nature’s call.

After I climbed the stairs to the bedroom and prepared to settle in for a few more minutes of sack time, a sudden tightness spread across my right arm and shoulder, a reflux sensation coursed through my throat, and I broke out in a heavy sweat. It was the same feeling I experienced the previous night only more so. After jogging the first — and what turned out to be the last — mile of my usual 3.5-mile Wednesday run following a blistering 11 minutes on my gym’s Stairmaster, I jogged another quarter mile to see if the weird, mildly painful sensation would go away. When it didn’t, keeping in mind I was unlikely to make the U.S. Olympic Stairmaster team, I stopped and so did the pain.

After consulting a couple of medical websites for heart attack symptoms, none seemed to match what I experienced. There was no crushing sensation in my chest or left side, no sharp pain, no shortness of breath. I felt fine for the rest of the evening and put the matter out of mind. When the eerie feeling returned with a vengeance Thursday morning, I realized something was seriously wrong, and though a heart attack was not my primary suspect, I knew I needed to head for the emergency room.

My wife called 911, and I walked to the street to wave in the ambulance and spare its crew of having to maneuver a gurney through the lawn chairs and recycling containers on the compound’s deck before hoisting my considerable weight onto the conveyance.

By the time we got to Thomas Memorial’s ER, I was feeling a little better. But shortly after arriving, a doctor told me I was having a heart attack and had me wheeled into the cardiac catheterization unit. I was given an assortment of feel-good meds, and watched with mild amusement as my body was shaved in places that never had been shaved before as the unit’s crew prepared to search key arteries for clots and plaque to remove before installing a stent at the base of my heart. At one point in the procedure, the conversation in the room became more animated and a nearby technician stopped what he had been doing and started giving me CPR.

“That’s not good,” I thought to myself, as I watched and listened to the excitement. “I sure hope this isn’t where the bus stops,” I told myself, thinking of all the people I needed to tell I loved them, and how much I would miss them. Then I began thinking of all the stories I had yet to write, the 865 Kroger fuel points I would lose if I didn’t cash them in by Saturday, and the premiere of the fourth season of "Bosch" on Netflix I would miss if I augured in now.

Soon, the excitement was over and the procedure was done. Though my heart had briefly stopped, I pulled through relatively unscathed. In a few days I was home, walking around, driving to Kroger, and though happy to be alive alert, getting bored to tears.

So far, I have stuck to my new heart-healthy diet and avoided all the fast food, candy and donuts that were staples only a few weeks ago. Thanks to the medical staff at Thomas, and to a much lesser degree, my dogs for waking me up, I have been given a second chance at life, which I don’t intend to screw up.

So to anyone who doesn’t like my new routine, be warned: I’m packing baby aspirin and nitroglycerin for the rest of my life.

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