One Year



Traci with rehab nurse Kim Finney

One year and five days ago, I was experiencing what I thought was indigestion. It felt like there was something stuck in my esophagus. I drank more liquid to push it down and ended up taking some antacid tablets. We had just finished a large dinner of homemade enchiladas, my famous recipe, loaded with fat and cheese, so I attributed it to that and went to bed.

One year and four days ago, I got up, got ready and went to work. I worked the entire seven-hour shift only mildly acknowledging the discomfort in my chest as I served unhealthy snacks to members of the warehouse store where I was a demonstrator. I took my antacid and went home after work, ate dinner, complained about my incessant “heartburn” and went to bed.

One year and three days ago, I got up, got ready, complained again about the “episodes” I kept having, said a prayer and went to the final hearing for our bankruptcy. (That word alone should paint a picture of the fun my husband, Clark, and I had had over the previous four years, and why it was a very liberating day.)

At that point, I was irritated with the painful interruptions and stepped up my antacid to a stronger one. Ironically, I had suffered similar symptoms in my 30’s and after all kinds of gastro-intestinal investigation, it was diagnosed as esophageal spasms. I went with this selfdiagnosis again, even though it had been 20 more years of smoking, eating badly, coupled with plenty of stress. It seemed the “obvious” choice, and I was fine with it.

Because of the economy our family had not had health insurance for 11 years. Going to the emergency room is costly, and we had just ended in financial ruin, which included some unpaid medical bills, so I was not about to run up a huge new one just to discover that I needed some Mylanta. I was firm. No matter how many times Clark, co-workers or friends suggested that I at least have my blood pressure checked, I smiled through gritted teeth, said I would, then didn’t.

One year and two days ago, I went to work and suffered severe chest compressions but pushed through. I made it to the end of my shift, and just as I was rounding the corner, I could no longer push my cart or even go a step further. My supervisor stopped and asked, “Are you okay?” “No,” I responded. (Because I think I’m pretty funny, I always answered “no” whenever she asked this, so she laughed and kept going.) However, she turned around and came back and helped get my things to the office area and helped me sit down. She brought me water and offered to call 911, but I stubbornly explained that it was merely esophageal spasms and that I could drive home shortly and would be fine. I wasn’t scheduled to work again for the next few days so they let me go if I promised to rest.

One year and one day ago, one of my closest friends, Diane, arrived on the island to be married. Clark was to perform the ceremony in our backyard, which has a view of the Pacific. I cleaned house and attended to a host of details — none of which was restful. We met for dinner to plan the details and had a great celebration — fish and chips, alcohol, cheese dips. During it all I complained about the indigestion. Diane is a home-healthcare nurse and made the comment that I didn’t look right and maybe should go to the ER. She insisted, in fact. I managed to convince even her, kind of, that I would be fine and just needed to get home.

 

with grandson Scott

That night I was extremely nauseous, and I had severe upper-back pain, jaw pain, waves of excessive sweating, squeezing chest pain. Still, instead of calling 911, I chose to sit in a cold bath trying to ease the discomfort. Finally, the next morning I gave in and admitted that “perhaps” I needed to go to the doctor. Even then I would not agree to the ER. I opted for the urgent care clinic, the cheaper alternative. However, on the way, which was also the way to the hospital, self-preservation kicked in, finally, and I knew that I did not have time to waste and demanded Clark make the left turn to the ER, “Left turn, Clyde!” There it was confirmed — repeatedly — that I was “very lucky to be alive.”

I will spare you the details of the arrival and emergency surgery. I will not spare the detail that one third of my heart will NEVER function again because I was a stubborn person. However, I am not an unintelligent person. I am educated about the warning signs of heart attack and stroke. My own mother suffered a stroke, from which she recovered, only to die from a massive one a year later. I flat out had been taught not to ignore these symptoms, and yet I did, not once, but according to the test results, twice.

I had had a previous heart attack, exact date unknown, that I managed to completely ignore.

My “pay it forward” is to encourage anyone, man or woman, having any kind of symptom suggesting a heart attack, please have the faith to go get checked. I say “faith” because things really do have a way of working out despite our human thought patterns. I nearly died at age 49 over a lack of medical insurance, and yet by some miracle I survived, and by the time I left the hospital the full coverage insurance we qualified for was already being approved. Unfortunately, I now have to use that insurance like crazy because I didn’t go in sooner. Point being, how much is your life worth? There are many different excuses people use not to seek help — time, money, inconvenience, work, etc. If asked point blank, would we really chose _____ over seeing

with granddaughter Thea Cecelia

tomorrow? There is NO GOOD EXCUSE to die from a heart attack.

One year ago today, I was having a heart attack, but today I am exercising and eating healthier than I have in years. I have not had a cigarette since one month before my heart attack. I cannot get back the part of my heart that died, but I can build the two thirds I have left to be as strong as possible. I can make much better diet choices, take my medications, continue to follow through with cardiac rehabilitation and see my doctors regularly in sickness and health. We may die from our disease, but we may not. We cannot see the many other threats that may end our lives, but we know this threat, and we know how to fight it. If we fight it with the best of our ability and share what we know with others, then we are fighting a good fight.

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