Yes. I was so young, thirty-three years old. Yes, I was in good shape but there it was.
It came in the middle of the night,- 11:42pm to be exact.I woke with a piercing pain in my left shoulder. Thinking I had slept in a bad position, I shifted onto my back to get the blood flowing again. It was then I noticed that my ten-year-old daughter had managed to shimmy into my bed without waking me. I lay there quietly, waiting for the pain to subside. It didnâ€™t. It got worse. I tried deep breathing. The pain increased. I looked at the clock; it was 11:44pm. I thought, â€œthis isnâ€™t good, something is wrong, what am I-â€œand then stopped short, remembering that for the first time in several years, I had health insurance. I could go to the doctor if it was serious.
Relief was short-lived. I slid out of bed as quietly as possible, planning to take something, get a drink of water, and maybe lie on the sofa for awhile so I wouldnâ€™t wake my daughter. When I tried to stand, the left side of my body gave way. The pain went from a â€œwow, that is really, really uncomfortableâ€ to â€œall of your insides have turned to molten lava and you are being attacked by Freddy Krueger and Edward Scissorhands and thereâ€™s a huge blood pressure cuff around your chest and Nurse Ratcheted is in charge.â€ And I couldnâ€™t much move my left arm.
Did I call 911? No, I didnâ€™t. I made it a few steps to my dresser and using my right hand, pulled out a better-looking set of pajamas, a good bra and nice underwear. What? Didnâ€™t your mother tell you to always wear nice underthings in case of a car accident? I couldnâ€™t manage the bra, much to my consternation.
Then I called 911, right? No. I dragged myself to the bathroom, where I managed to brush my hair, put on a headband, suck on some toothpaste and spritz a little perfume on. Ever heard of a show called ER?
And THEN I called 911, right? No. I dialed a number better than any ambulance service. I called Momma and Daddy and for good reason. One, my parents lived a half mile from my house and two, if I called an ambulance it would freak my daughter out and she would have to go to the hospital with me and that wouldnâ€™t work and finally, $500 for an ambulance ride.
My mother is not a person you want to wake up unless it is really, really important. Daddy and I used to flip a coin as to who had to wake her up from her weekend naps. She is never, ever happy about being awoken. It took a very long minute for my mother to wake up enough to realize this wasnâ€™t a dream and I was asking for a ride to the hospital, not asking for a ride home from a party.
At this point, the pressure on my chest was such that I couldnâ€™t catch my breath and the pain had grown more intense at its locus in my shoulder and was radiating further throughout my body. I now actively wished for my left arm to fall off. A picture of my great-grandmother, lying in a hospital bed, twisted and wasted after her stroke, flashed through my mind.
I went back to my room, kissed my still-sleeping daughter, grabbed my book bag â€“ because I might need something to read, obviously â€“ put on my slippers and started to make my way to the den to wait for my parents. My mom was walking in the back door by the time I made it there. I was dragging my bag on the floor, my bra flapping uselessly under my (cute, matching) pajama top, shoulder straps around my elbows. Apparently, I did not look well. Her face turned white. â€œI canâ€™t get my bra onâ€ is all I remember saying.
The lingerie problem taken care of, I was shuttled into the car, Daddy at the wheel. The dashboard clock read 11:50. We started the short drive to the hospital, Daddy driving at a moderate but still illegal speed. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong?â€ â€œDaddyâ€¦it hurts,â€ I said, gasping for air. He stomped on the accelerator and we made the last of the five-mile ride in less than three minutes. He squealed to a stop in front of the ER, and in a few seconds, out he came with a wheelchair, a nurse hot on his heels. Daddy does not mess about. The clock read 11:54. As Daddy was helping me out of the car, she asked me what was wrong, half-bored, half-annoyed. I didnâ€™t know at the time there were magic phrases one could use in the ER, phrases that would get you immediate and impressively efficient attention. I looked her in the eye and croaked out one of them, â€œchest painâ€. She snapped to attention and everything, it seemed, changed in that instant.
The subsequent hours held many other firsts â€“ catheters and morphine come to mind. Honestly, most of it is a blur, a blessed blur of highly medicated nothingness punctuated by moments of desperate panic and petty annoyances. Things got better and then got worse and got better again. More cardiac events followed. I will write more about that later. For now, the important thing to know is that I survived and that my zombie apocalypse-earthquake bug-out bag includes lip gloss and perfume. Unlike the firsts I mentioned earlier, I didnâ€™t choose this one. It chose me. Iâ€™m still trying to make my peace with that. On the upside, how many people do you know can begin a story with â€œafter my first heart attackâ€?