Not Complaining About Flight Delay
Like most women without a history of heart problems, I never gave much thought to my heart. Not even when my feet looked like matching balloons did it occur to me that the swelling might be connected to a heart condition. There were no bells or whistles that went off in my head when I had chest pain. Not until I was helping my mom complete her new patient paperwork and I found myself answering yes to the cardiac questions did I give any thought to my heart.
I picked a cardiologist based on who had the first available appointment. The first office treated my call with so much urgency I knew I had found the right one. During my initial visit, the EKG was abnormal. They ran some other tests — not because the EKG was abnormal but because I had previously had chest pain. On May 15, 2015, the cardiologist said, “Great news, you don’t have any blockage or valve problems.” Despite the doctor’s confident pronouncement, a month later I was fatigued, my blood pressure was consistently high, and I was regularly having heart palpitations.
So, on June 12, I went back to my cardiologist. She wasn’t interested in my spreadsheet where I tracked my blood pressure, how I was feeling, what I ate, or the number of heart palpitations I was experiencing. She was firm when she said, “Nothing is wrong with your heart, you’re just stressed.” I tried to relieve the stress, so I wouldn’t keep having heart palpitations, which didn’t hurt, but they were happening multiple times a day every day. That was scary!
I woke up early on July 2, in Farmington Hills, Michigan, where I had traveled for my job. It was Thursday and I was excited to be heading home to Dallas that day. I had a date, it was the 4th of July holiday weekend, and I wanted to relax to stop the constant palpitations.
I was busy all day. Near 4 p.m., I called my mom to remind her what time my flight would get in, and another palpitation hit me so hard it made me gasp. It didn’t hurt, but I really felt it. My mom commented, “You really need to see a doctor about those.” I reminded her that my cardiologist had told me there was nothing wrong with my heart — I was just stressed.
Soon after, I got a text message that may have saved my life: My flight was delayed by more than an hour. I worked on some reports and watched the office clear out for the holiday weekend. I heard my phone chirp that I was receiving another text. While I was hoping the flight wasn’t delayed any longer, I felt something far greater than a heart palpitation.
This time it felt like something massive was sitting on my chest, stifling my breath. I stood up in an attempt to shake it off — whatever it was. The only other person in the office called 911. I’m thankful she didn’t try to reason that I should sit down, walk it off or drink something cold.
I heard the paramedics say they had to hurry because I was positive for MI (myocardial infarction). I never imagined that MI was a heart attack. Why would I? People who are fine, without blockage or valve problems, don’t have heart attacks. The emergency room doctor leaned in very close and said, “Denise, you’re having a heart attack. We’re going to do everything we can.”
Later, when I saw the doctor who saved my life, I learned that I had survived the dreaded widow-maker heart attack. I had no idea what that meant — the doctor explained that I had 99 percent blockage in my left anterior descending artery — the main coronary artery. How was it possible that on June 12, I had no blockage, and July 2 I had 99 percent blockage?
The biggest thing I learned that day was that I have to trust my body. If something doesn’t feel right, and one doctor can’t figure it out, then I have to find one who can. I found one that listens to me, and together we are figuring it out.
Today, I am living my best life with heart disease. I have changed jobs. I exercise regularly, and my meal choices are filled with heart-healthy options. I take a few medications that I’ll take indefinitely — but I prefer this to the alternative.
Editor’s Note: Denise has recently started a non-profit, Fresh Start for Your Heart
Our Heart Felt department highlights our readers’ experiences with heart disease from their own perspective. We’re always looking for contributions, so please send us yours. Before submitting, please review our Writer’s Guidelines.
This information is provided as a resource to our readers. The tips, products or resources listed or linked to have not been reviewed or endorsed by the American Heart Association.