I wish I had never smoked


I'd always intended to stop smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. When I had a heart attack it could have been the end of me. I was four miles from an emergency room that gave me CPR. I was 71 miles from the nearest trauma hospital which could give me emergency surgery. There were regional thunderstorms. I have deep gratitude for all those who participated in saving my life.

It was a wild dash across the stormy countryside night of Tennessee, sirens, ambulance lights, lightning, thunder and driving torrential rain.

It has been seven days since I almost died and I sit here knowing words cannot express my profound relief that kind compassionate men and women were there for me, didn't give up, looked after me, cared for me, so that I am now home, my recovery planned, registered nurses scheduled to visit me, guiding me.

I'd been experiencing stomach pain for a couple of weeks, coming and going, sometimes bad, sometimes not. I'd sometimes have pain up my right side on to my shoulder. At my age, 73, I thought I was getting a stomach ulcer. It was a Tuesday afternoon, thunderstorms predicted, and the pain came back with agonizing intensity radiating all the way up into my shoulder. My call for an ambulance resulted in me reaching the local Copper Basin community hospital within twenty five minutes. I remembered being lifted from the stretcher onto the operating table in the emergency room and I didn't become aware again until I was being reassured, back in the ambulance, siren and lights and a raging thunderstorm outside, being told I'd flatlined four times in twenty five minutes, they couldn't get a helicopter up to take me to Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga. They were taking me by road. I knew it was over seventy miles.

Time seemed compressed as I was wheeled into the emergency room at Erlanger, being asked questions as I was wheeled, being catheterized, losing awareness. I woke up in an intensive care room, frequent beeping of various kinds, hallway noises, voices, cardiac nurses there for me, conversation. I felt calm. I was told I'd had a massive heart attack.

After five years of abstinence I'd begun smoking more than two years before, was smoking two packs of light cigarettes a day. Other than that I had a healthy lifestyle with nutrition and exercise in my garden. My lipid profile was excellent. I'd been eating a lot of butter, thinking my low triglycerides allowed me to do that, memories of my childhood in Ireland, more cows in Roscommon than people they used to say.

My first two cardiac nurses were Bonny and Russell, many years of experience, quietly efficient, light humor, always right outside the room. There were shifts. Two nurses at any one time. Time passed. Oral medications twice a day. I couldn't eat much. The cardiac surgeon Dr. Huang came to see me, explaining where the artery had become blocked, at the top of the heart, where he had put in a stent, a platinum-chromium stent, and from then on I'd have to be on anti-platelet medication to keep the stent from clogging up. Of course I'd have to give up smoking and adopt a healthy nutritional pattern and take other medications. I was totally willing. Someone came in and said I must be tough, not having fractured ribs from the pounding and electric paddles to keep me alive. It may have been said to make me smile. It succeeded.

I wish now I'd been able to remember the names of all the cardiac nurses caring for me, all wonderful, dedicated, warriors for health, barriers against grim thoughts.

After two days in intensive care I was well enough to be moved to a private room on the general floor, quieter, preparing to be discharged. I was still receiving constant attention with heart monitoring, blood draws, blood pressure readings, medications twice a day. I was doing well, my mind clearing, remembering with deep gratitude the names of my final cardiac nurses. They had a profound effect on me, giving me confidence,

Josephina was like a sister to me, Katie and Tasha like cousins. Dr. Huang came to discuss my medications and arrangement to meet with a cardiologist back in Copperhill. I still had to prepare for another intervention. There was another occlusion in an artery near the bottom of the heart, eighty per cent.

My friends Jean and Scott drove 120 miles from Atlanta to pick me up, then on to my home in Copperhill.

In the months ahead I'll have frequent visits from registered nurses, guiding me, preparing me for the future.

After I began to recuperate I did my best to contact all the people who had participated in my survival to express my deep gratitude. They were all pleased to hear I had done well, said they were just doing their job. Not to me. From the physician and nurses in the Emergency room at the Copper Basin Community Hospital not giving up on me, to the men in the ambulance service transporting me in that stormy night, to the physicians and nurses ready for me at Erlanger, to the cardiac nurses caring for me in intensive care, they are all warriors to me, angels, the very best of what it is to be human.

Jonathankay operanews-external@opera.com