My husband, Mike, is a personal trainer so we always had a strong focus on fitness. I was active and got regular exercise. I don’t eat fried foods and do eat lots of fruits and vegetables, so I have felt good about myself, and my overall health condition.
I realized that with the COVID crisis everyone’s stress level is up and I was staying in, not exercising as much and doing some stress eating. I had gained a few pounds and also realize that my stress levels with my work, as a counselor at Wake Tech, were elevated. Because of working remotely, helping my students who were also dealing with more issues and not having my usual resources, my stress levels where compounded and I did not even notice. But I was still confident that I was doing well and certainly not in a high-risk group.
One evening Mike and I decided to go to Cary and have dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant we frequent. I ate light but decided to have some of his kale salad, which had a very robust vinegar based dressing. As I was eating, it occurred to me that I might end up with acid indigestion later, but I figured, hey, kale is good for me. Sure enough, around 9:00 that evening I felt heartburn and took a natural antacid. I went to bed but woke up around 1:00 am with heartburn and took a couple more of the antacids and it eased off. At 5:00 I woke up with it even worse and more antacids did not help this time.
I went to the living room and suddenly felt short of breath, which alarmed me that something was going on. I woke Mike up and asked him to call 911. I sat on the floor and started feeling better - we told the 911 operator that I was better and we would drive to Johnston Health’s Emergency Department, which I now realize is a certified chest pain center. By the time I got to the truck I was feeling so bad he called 911 again but he drove me to the hospital and went into the ED and told them he had a patient with heart pain in the truck and needed help. They brought me in and administered nitro glycerin and ran an enzyme test. That test came back with good levels, but they kept me and gave me another enzyme test later, which did reveal that levels were elevated. They gave me a blood thinner and transferred me to Johnston Memorial in Smithfield where my nurses talked to me and explained what was going on inside, which helped calm me down. I felt much better and had no pain and rested well.
The next morning, Dr. Matthew Hook and his team performed a cardiac catheterization through my arm. They found an 80% blockage. I didn’t know what to expect during the procedure, but the bedside manner of Dr. Hook and his team was fabulous. They were so kind and talked to me and explained every step as they proceeded. They told me that I had a tear in an area of plaque in one of my main arteries and that blood had clotted on the site. They also told me that they were going to insert a stint to open that area up and eliminate the threat.
Afterwards, I met with Cardiologist Dr. Eric Janis. He assured that I was fine and told me that nothing else was required other than medications. In our discussion, he did encourage the benefits of enrolling in their Cardiopulmonary Rehab program. I had no ill effects from the procedure and was able to resume my normal routine without issues but I felt that the rehab would be a good step.
I am so glad Dr. Janis encouraged me on that path. The staff at the Cardiopulmonary Rehab Center in Smithfield was so good. I met with a nutritionist who was very helpful with food intake. My physical therapists educated me in detail about my new target heart rates, and what not to exceed. They were flexible with my schedule and pushed me to better lifestyle changes. I learned so much and still refer back to their information. It was a very positive experience and has made me stronger and made me feel better about my situation going forward.
Coming out of this I am thankful for several things. First, that I went to the hospital when I did and that I did not continue to try to rationalize my discomfort as something nonthreatening. Second, that Johnston Health had a Certified Chest Pain Center so close to me. Third, for the care and help I received from their excellent Cardiology Services and Cardiopulmonary Services in Smithfield.
Most importantly, especially to anyone reading this, be acutely aware of your body and anything that you feel is not normal! When in doubt, check it out! It is much better to find out that you did not need to go, than to not go and have the worst happen.