At about 1 a.m. on Friday, I woke with a terrible pain between my shoulder blades. The pain radiated around to my chest and took my breath away. Being the obstinate person I am, I did my best to ignore it and tried to go back to sleep. A nagging thought did as much to keep me awake as the pain did: women experience atypical symptoms when having a heart attack…like pain between the shoulder blades. When the sun rose, I was still miraculously alive, and pretty cocky about it, I might add.
I was still in a great deal of pain and couldn’t move my upper body without a lightning bolt bringing tears to my eyes. My sister, bless her, insisted that we go to the hospital… Off to Kaiser Santa Clara…
Now, there are a lot of people out there who are Kaiser naysayers, but they’ve been very good to me. Friday was no exception. I was immediately whisked away to a private room, and a million adhesive electrodes were put on rather private parts of my body for the EKG (okay, only 22 total, but holy cow it seemed like I was finding them for hours after I got home). Blood samples were taken, and an IV was started.
Normal procedure for an even-remotely-possible heart attack is to take aspirin, but that’s something I cannot take. Instead, I was given nitroglycerin. Let the fun begin. This chemical is what’s called a vasodilator. Blood vessels expand, making it easier for blood to flow through them. This is very good for someone with high blood pressure or experiencing a heart attack because the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood, and as a result, blood pressure drops. But if the pressure goes too low, then blood will not be pumped to vital organs.
The typical blood pressure is around 120/80, although mine is a bit lower, usually 110/75ish. After the first dose of nitroglycerin (a round of treatment is three doses if chest pain does not subside), I knew something was wrong. I became feint and dizzy. My blood pressure dropped to about 100/70. I’m a little fuzzy on what happened from here on out… When I was given the second dose, I really didn’t like the way I felt, and with the third, I knew I was going into shock. I felt like my insides were boiling – a feeling that I hope I never experience again. My blood pressure again dropped… to 70 over 58.
While the nurse was forcing the IV fluids into my body as fast as she could to help get my blood pressure back up, a strange thought occurred to me. I turned my head to look at her. It was like I was in a tunnel that was expanding and she was getting further and further away from me. I knew I was losing consciousness. As reality was slipping away from me, did I think about my family? My beloved dogs? No. Instead I struggled to stay awake and asked, “What would a coroner find in an autopsy for someone who was killed with nitroglycerine?” What a great way to murder someone!