Better Life

A Real Tough Guy

A Real Tough Guy
I’m 46-years-old. Thin, fit, healthy. Three weeks ago I had a heart attack.

I’m 46-years-old. Thin, fit, healthy. I play rugby, bike, run, lift. I don’t smoke. My intake of coffee and alcohol is reasonable. My blood pressure and heart rate are excellent. I eat kale, walnuts, and quinoa. I wolf down bee pollen, for chrissake. Three weeks ago I had a heart attack.

I don’t have a heart defect. The cause was much more prosaic. One of my coronary arteries was blocked. Plaque—a hunk of fat, cholesterol, and other nasty substances—had broken off from the artery wall, crashed through my bloodstream like JJ Watt coming at the quarterback, and clogged an artery.

My cholesterol runs a little high, but I was taking care of it myself, like a man. I cut out butter, bacon, and croissants. I had periodic chest pains, but who doesn’t? Sometimes the jolts were pretty strong, but I wasn’t afraid to ask for help — from Dr. Bourbon or Nurse Beaujolais.

For the past few years I’ve been getting winded more quickly during strenuous exercise, and my recovery time is noticeably longer. But that’s to be expected, right? I’m getting older. My body’s been ravaged by contact sports. But it’s not like I was going to see a doctor about it. I didn’t wear a helmet or pads when I skateboarded competitively, and I never wore a mouthpiece for rugby. Not even a jockstrap. When my body needs fixin’ I reach for vinegar, aloe, and duct tape, or I’ll make a poultice of fresh mint leaves and mud. Medical assistance is for sissies.

So what made me drive to the ER? I was sweating. I couldn’t breathe. My chest was tight. My forearms ached. I thought it was just heartburn, so when the pain subsided after 10 minutes I shrugged it off. The next day it happened again. Again, I shrugged it off. A few minutes later it happened yet again, so I thought okay, maybe something’s actually wrong.

The doctor also thought it might be heartburn, but the blood test didn’t agree. Elevated troponin—1.0—indicating a minor heart attack. I was admitted to the cardiac care unit.

Another blood test. Troponin level of 35. Major heart attack. The cardiologist came in brandishing sharp tools and long words. I needed angioplasty. A small mesh tube—a stent—would be inserted to expand the artery and get more blood to the heart.

To be honest, it was pretty cool. I watched the procedure on a wide-screen TV. A microscopic camera snaked into my heart to get a better look. The camera was like a Swiss Army knife with multiple attachments. One tool vacuumed out the plaque, while another placed the stent. For some reason the camera went in through the groin. That part wasn’t so cool.

I’m fine, more or less, but I’ll be taking medication for the rest of my life. I should have consulted someone about the chest pain. I should have taken cholesterol medication. I didn’t want to see a doctor every year, but now I go once a week.

Why did it happen to me? No reason. We all have plaque. It’s just waiting to break free and clog your arteries. We’re all susceptible to heart disease, no matter how healthy you are. It can happen to anyone, so sweat the warnings and see your doctor regularly, tough guy.