Written 7/30/11, after heart attack, before second hospitalization:
I sit on my little hotel deck, watching life go by. Cars are smaller here. People smoke more. Ride bikes more and definitely enjoy life more. As for me, it’s been one week since my heart attack and I still live in fear. Will I relapse? Will I survive the flight home? Can I go to sleep at night, ever again, and not worry about not waking up?
I imagine being here in a different scenario and how much I’d embrace every little thing and place. But I’m 49 and had a heart attack and nothing seems right anymore.
Genetics and my life of stress did me in. Although I am active and live a clean life it was not enough to save me from this fate. I must learn to take control of the one part I can do something about – stress.
Across the way there is a woman in her kitchen preparing dinner. I try not to be a voyeur, but it is a pleasant distraction from my corrosive thoughts. On another porch two siblings are chasing one another, running out one way and in through another door. Their laughter soothes me.
It doesn’t get dark until after 10 pm. It’s 7:15 and bright as midday outside. Today was great weather. I ventured to St. Germain, a funky and artsy neighborhood. If I lived in Paris, I’d want to live there.
I have to learn to breathe again through my mouth and nose. I find myself almost holding my breath, by accident, if my mouth is closed.
Two doctors gave me the okay to travel, even though it was known that two out of three arteries were blocked. I thought I’d be okay.
We were having a really good time, even though I felt a bit tired. I was good. Then Paris. Truth is if I had to have a heart attack in Europe, France has an incredible health care system. Funny thing is I didn’t know I was having a heart attack. I just thought I was having an adverse reaction to the Properol I was taking.
I woke up at 4am feeling sick. I didn’t want to wake my daughter. At 5am I took a shower and thought I’d let her sleep a little longer. I swallowed a baby aspirin. At 6am I couldn’t wait anymore. I told her I was sick and needed to go to the hospital.
At that point she thought I was being dramatic and took too long to get dressed. I stumbled down the stairs (good thing our room was on the first floor) and asked reception to call a taxi for me. I should have asked for an ambulance, of course. But the mind plays tricks on you even as you stare down death’s door. I just didn’t believe it was as bad as it was.
The receptionist told the taxi the wrong hospital. The young woman at the front desk was anything but helpful. My daughter ran out and hailed a taxi. The next hospital was right, but the driver dropped us off at the far end of a very large campus. I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t walk and was starting to gasp for air. I told my daughter she needed to run for help. I couldn’t take one more step. Poor thing – so traumatic for her – running through the grounds screaming for help, fighting fear and a language barrier. It felt like eternity until I saw her with a team of people and a stretcher. I collapsed in their arms, they lifted me on to the stretcher.
I’m not sure I was taken seriously right away. I seemed like a crazy, neurotic American, until I was hooked up to an EKG. Suddenly everyone got quiet and serious.
I was terrified and in horrible pain. I was worried about my daughter. How could I do this to her? What must she be feeling?
I was told I had to be transferred, via ambulance, to a cardiology unit of another hospital. No one told me I was having a heart attack; I only learned of it after my angio surgery. I started crying, begging them to make sure my daughter would be okay. I didn’t see her on the way out and I was terrified. Later I found out she was told to find her own way to the next hospital. Her story is hers, but suffice it to say, it was torturous for her.
I used to think the French were snotty, from my experience in Paris in the 80’s, but I was wrong. Everyone was incredibly kind. The EMT’s were tremendous and kept me calm. I was immediately wheeled into surgery.