Pain. It hit suddenly. 3:00 a.m. Chest pain. Dead center. It doesn’t go away. One
day. Two days. Three days. Aside from the crushing pain, I feel fine and so ignore it
and continue with Christmas shopping, music rehearsals, and wrapping presents.
Unable to bear it any longer, I drive myself thirty-five miles to a doctor, wondering if I will
make it there. The doctor, unsure what’s going on, sends me to the hospital
emergency room in an ambulance.
During the ride tot he ER, the Paramedic wants to start an IV and I refuse. “This is
silly,” I say, as embarrassment spills over me at being coddled and actually riding in an
ambulance. “I’m fine except for this pain that won’t stop.”
In the ER I have an ultrasound of the gall bladder, a chest X-ray. They give me an
EKG, nitro under the tongue, and morphine. Nothing helps. I drink a horrible tasting
“GI cocktail” which only makes my throat numb. They give me Demerol. It doesn’t stop
the pain but I don’t care anymore. Stumped, they admit me for observation.
Hooked up to monitors, I spend the night begging for something to relieve the pain.
They give me Tylenol. There’s no sleeping again this night.
Twenty-four hours later the EKG and blood enzyme tests become positive for
myocardial infarction. I have had a heart attack! They start IV nitro, which finally begins
to ease the pain.
I’m rushed to the heart lab for an emergency catherization, angioplasty, and stent
implant within the 95% occluded artery. The pain is finally gone.
I was a forty-six year old woman. Who would have thought it could be my heart?
Heart events are not suspected 40% of the time in women though they may present
with the same symptoms as men. Many think women have natural immunities against
heart disease until their later years, after menopause. But there are risk factors
common to younger women that can override these hormonal advantages.
Heart disease may begin when young and develops over time. And we may not be
doing all we can to prevent it. Clogged arteries can be related to a history of high blood
pressure, poor diet, overweight, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and tryglycerides, a
sedentary life style, stress, heredity, and surgical menopause.
Women should learn to recognize cardiac symptoms. If you find yourself facing any of
these and they don’t go away shortly, call your doctor. Including:
Shortness of breath Extreme fatigue or weakness
Dizziness Sweating (cold or hot)
Nausea Palpitations (fast heart beat)
Chest pain or discomfort Pain in arms or jaw
If you believe you’re having a heart attack, don’t drive yourself (I found doctors don’t like
that!), but do not delay. Stay calm and act at once by having someone get you to the
Once there you can expect an EKG (electrocardiogram). This test connects you to an
electrocardiograph machine that records the electrical currents moving through the
heart muscle. Once requiring several minutes this is now done in seconds.
You will also have a blood test checking for enzymes that indicate a heart attack.
These enzymes are a waste product of damaged heart tissue and verify that an
infarction has occurred.
You may be given blood thinning drugs, including aspirin, and nitroglycerin tablets to
help dilate clogged arteries.
You may receive a thrombolytic drug. These “clot busters” include t-PA, streptokinase,
APSAC, and urokinase. These must be used within the first few hours to be useful in
dissolving clots, if that is the cause of the attack. Sometimes a catheter is used to
place this directly into the blocked artery.
You might have a heart catherization, a procedure where a catheter is threaded through
a vessel to the heart. Dye is then injected and shows which artery or arteries may be
If there is indeed a blockage the doctor may perform an angioplasty. This is done using
a catheter with a balloon on the tip. It is passed into the narrowed artery and inflated to
flatten the fatty buildup in the artery wall.
If it appears the artery may not remain open, the cardiologist may implant a stent. This
is a stainless steel mesh or coil placed within the artery to help keep it open. It remains
there and the artery’s wall lining will grow over it.
Sometimes it is advisable to have by-pass surgery. A leg, arm, or chest vessel may be
removed and grafted onto the narrowed heart artery, above and below the blockage,
allowing blood to flow freely around the occlusion.
You may be able to avoid major heart damage with one of these options. But even if
damage has already occurred, the heart has amazing ways of healing itself.
Scar tissue will replace the damaged heart cells and make the injured part stronger.
And within two to three hours of an attack, small arteries near the damaged area often
begin to expand and grow. These “collateral blood vessels” may continue expanding
for several months until they are able to bring oxygen rich blood to tissues around the
Today, women have a better chance of surviving a coronary event because of newer
technologies and being aware of their risk factors. And perhaps can avoid it altogether
by controlling medical conditions, eating right, exercising, not smoking, and reducing
At your next doctor visit, ask him to give you a Cardiac Risk Assessment. If coronary
heart disease seems to occur at early ages in your family, you will need to work hard to
control other risk factors that can lead to fatty buildup in your arteries.
As for me, I should have heeded the early warning from our junior high Phys. Ed.
teacher. But how I hated exercising to the song, “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go.”
Cassie Memmer © February 16, 1999
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