02/21/2013 08:13 pm ET Updated Apr 23, 2013

Unexpected Heart Health Wake-up Call

Recently, just a few weeks before my 69th birthday I suffered a small heart attack as I was preparing for bed. My symptoms were not immediately frightening but within a half hour of feeling some nausea, slight dizzyness and numbness in my left arm, I thought to myself, "humm, this is kind of interesting, never had these multiple feelings at one time." My mind circled back to online articles I had read in the past few years about danger signals for women and heart attacks. It now occurred to me that I was experiencing some of them now. Living across the street from a hospital I've often thought about what would happen if I ever got sick -- and could I actually crawl across the street to get there.

This was all happening in the middle of the night and it was now the real deal, because I was getting weaker and dizzier by the second. I listened to my inner impulses, put some warm clothes on and started opening my front door when I quickly realized I didn't have the strength to go further. I grabbed my address book, called my neighbor, woke her up and asked if she would drive me across the street to the emergency room. Within a few minutes she was at my door and I was soon sitting in the waiting room of the nearby E.R.

As I gave the medical staff a short summary of my complaint, they ushered me into a triage space where they administered an EKG, took my blood pressure, asked more questions and started making room for me in one of the cubicles. I was escorted in a wheelchair to the rear, asked to undress and put on a gown, and wait. I complied slowly and patiently. Soon an E.R. tech arrived to check my blood pressure, my temperature, hooked me up to another EKG and then drew blood.

Within an hour, one of the nurses came by to say that my EKG was normal and the other tests were negative. "Whew!" I let out a large sigh of relief -- it felt as if I instantly began to feel better. A physician arrived soon and confirmed the earlier reports and suggested that I stay another night and follow-up with further testing. By this time, most of the earlier symptoms had gone away -- encouraged no doubt by the good test news! On my own accord and feeling confident, I decided to discharge myself, against my doctors orders, and go home to rest in the peace and quiet of my own home -- and then return the next day to continue with my doctor's requested testing. I thought it was a good idea at the time. Before I left, I had to sign the 'against medical advice' paperwork, which I admit, didn't bother me at the time because I felt much better. So I got dressed and walked around the corner and up to my apartment.

The next day I went back to the hospital and was admonished by my internist for not remaining at the hospital, and said that subsequent tests might tell another story about my condition. She scheduled further tests including a stress test for later that week. I left her office feeling a little chagrined. Humm -- but I feel much better I thought to myself -- what's the big deal.

Fast forward three days. While reading in bed late one evening, I started to feel a slight numbing in my left arm that made me sit up and forced me to walk about my apartment. This time there were no other symptoms, but the numbness was a little disconcerting and shaking my arm did not make the numbness go away magically. Not wanting to disturb my neighbor this time, I bundled up and at 3 a.m. walked as quickly as I could to my local ER.

The admission procedures were the same as before. This time, however, after two hours and more tests, including a second blood test, CAT scan and x-rays, there were strong indications that I had indeed suffered a small heart attack. The cardiologist arrived and said admitted me to the hospital immediately and scheduled an angiogram the next day. This time I didn't escape the premises, even though I had, again, started to feel better.

I had some anxiety about the angiogram, but steeled myself for the procedure and reconciled to follow doctor's orders. I would stay and behave! The results of the angiogram showed that I had a small single capillary blockage, but no major arterial blockage, therefore no stents or additional procedures were needed.

The cardiologist reported that my heart was still strong, but it was essential that I improve my lifestyle choices with increased exercising, no salt, a baby aspirin daily and regular monitoring of my cholesterol scores.

Most importantly, I was to get the excess weight off.

In other words, the heart incident was a wake-up call to seriously heed the advice that I had been hearing from my doctors for years and realize that now that I as I approach my seventh decade here on earth -- I would be wise to see the years ahead as grace notes if I wanted to continue life's journey in reasonable health.

As we end the national awareness of "Heart Health" month -- let's all remember that it's not just about awareness in February but the rest of the year too!

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Pat Johnson, Grannies on Safari