Now that it is over, I can say what happened — sometimes people freak out over this kind of thing, and there were no real worries here.
On Friday, as I do every day, I went out for a walk for about an hour — I strolled down to the Stevens County Fair, on an unpleasantly muggy early afternoon, and then walked back home…and I was almost there when I felt a peculiar tightness in my chest. That’s odd, I thought, I wasn’t exerting myself that much. And then I felt a slow ache building in my left arm.
If you have any familiarity with physiology and medicine at all, you know that is a very bad sign. I was about equidistant from home, where I briefly thought I would just go, lie down, and feel the odd weak ache go away, and the Stevens County Medical Center, where I would go if I were sane and taking the problem seriously. Sanity won handily, since I had a father who had his first heart attack in his early forties, and after a series of more heart attacks, would die in his mid-fifties. So I turned right and walked two blocks to the medical center (if I’d been entirely sane, I probably should have whipped out my cell phone and called them, but it was such a mild pain, and I was so close…).
Anyway, it turns out that if a 50ish man walks into a hospital and mentions chest pains radiating into the left arm, there is a kind of automatic freak-out response that I’m sure saves lives. I was flat on my back on a bed with an IV needle in a vein and a nitroglycerin pill under my tongue in about 30 seconds, and then I was hooked up to an EKG and surrounded by doctors and nurses. The ache was also gone right after that, but then I was completely in their control, and was wheeled right up into a hospital room for 24 hours of observation, which because it was a weekend, turned into several days of observation and tests and getting blood drawn every four hours and being awakend at 2am for more tests, all while being wired up to telemetry widgets.
It made for an epically boring weekend.
The good news, though, is that there was no sign of a heart attack, and even when they subjected me to a stress test (no fun at all for a sedentary professor) the pains did not return. The bad news is that all my bad habits were exposed and measured, and it turns out I have moderately high blood pressure, which is already responding to drugs, and a few little cardiac abnormalities that they’re going to check out more thoroughly later this week with an angiogram. So I’m OK! Don’t start the deathwatch yet!
It could have been worse. Mainly what I got was slapped upside the head with a warning, this time.
The main consequences are that I’m going to be taking pills everyday, and that I have to change my diet to more cardboard and blandness, which the TrophyWife™ has grimly seized upon as an excuse to take over all the cooking at home, and stick me with the dishwashing job. I think it also means that when I’m off giving talks and joining in the post-event celebration at the local bar, I’ll be eschewing the greasy bar food for a salad. Damn.
Oh, well, this is the price we pay for the accidents of family history. I got a brain and an appreciation of learning from both my parents, but my mother’s iron constitution passed me by, and instead I got my father’s heart. I’m not complaining, though, since it was the heart of a romantic poet; we all know how fragile those things are, but I wouldn’t trade it in for anything.
Oh, and for everyone reading this: if you feel some persistent twinge that you suspect might be a sign of some problem, but you think maybe if you just lie down for a bit and the symptom will go away, don’t. Get it checked out, even if it does mean you get to spend a weekend in a bed surrounded by beige walls.