I had always imagined that my first heart attack would be presaged by pain. I had always imagined that I would feel that pain under my sternum, like the blow of a sledgehammer. I had always imagined that pain, and then numbness, would radiate down my left shoulder and arm.
But that’s not what happened.
My warning was not pain, but fatigue and mild discomfort. I had an odd feeling just below my xyphoid process, as if my heart were doing rapid somersaults, or something like that feeling when you try to swallow a bite of food that’s just a bit too large and hasn’t been chewed enough. I also had a loss of equilibrium, and I was quite sleepy, despite my having just woken from a night’s sleep. My pulse was racing, and I was slightly out of breath, as if I had just been running.
Now, I would sometimes have symptoms like these every now and then, but just that; only once in a while. And usually only one at a time. I would normally pause to bring my breathing under control, calm myself, and be done with it. But on this occasion, I had experienced the symptoms for two or three days. And I could make them go away by simple breath exercises.
At first, it didn’t worry me too much. After all, I’m fat—a fact which doctors never fail to point out to me, no matter the reason I go to visit (Me: Doctor! Doctor! My arm just fell off! Doctor: Ah. Well, you’re too fat, you see. Let’s take care of that first.). And I have high blood pressure and tachycardia, for which I have been taking medication since about 2016. But this past week, as the symptoms carried on, and I was unable to properly perform my work, I decided that it was time to go to the hospital.
I had gone into work that morning, tired, stumbling, and with that discomfort in my chest. Even my colleagues thought I was looking a bit pale. I begged off work from a supervisor, and went straight to the local hospital, where my minder met me. He got me checked in as per an emergency, then we went up to9 the cardiology department.
Now, this is probably something I should have done a long time ago. Living here in China, my custom has usually been to see my cardiologist when I come home for summer break. He would examine me, and if necessary, update my prescriptions, which I would simply have refilled each month at the local hospitals here in China.
This was, perhaps, bad enough. However, with the viral pandemic which has recently settled upon the planet, and the concomitant restriction of international travel, I have been unable to visit home for about two years, at least. So, if my condition had been changing, or if I had needed to alter my medications, I would never have known.
Well, my body had just sounded a warning klaxon.
At the office, my blood pressure was found to have been 151/115. And the EKG found sinus tachycardia with premature atrial complexes, left axis deviation, and non-specific ventricular conduction delay. I was then sent for a blood test just to be sure I wasn’t actually having an acute myocardial infarction on the spot.
I was prescribed new medication to bring my blood pressure and tachycardia under control; the old meds were no longer working, and who know for how long they had not been? I was also prescribed a concoction of herbal medicine to deal with the physical discomfort I was feeling. A combination of TCM and Western medicine. Well, whatever works. I am scheduled to return in a few days for a follow-up exam to see if the medication is working properly and to see if I have a good chance of continuing my existence.
After two days, the discomfort in my chest is gone, though I am still rather tired. Still—I can walk up to my third floor office at work, so my heart is apparently still functioning adequately. For now.
Of course, I will keep everyone posted. I should be more annoyed at not being able to finish the writing I want to complete before my death. On the other hand, every one of us will have a full in-box on the day we die, so I should just try to stop worrying about it and do the best I can.
And fear not; I have a plot reserved at Montefiore cemetery near Jenkintown—which, the gods willing, I shan’t need for another ten or fifteen years.