2 weeks ago I came very close to dying. I was alone at home and had a “Widowmaker Heart Attack,” also known as “The Big One.” I am sure most of you have heard of this type of heart attack. It’s the kind that Bob Harper from “The Biggest Loser” had [he survived] and it’s the kind that killed the dad on “This Is Us.” I am only 41 and had no risk factors except for my weight, which I had been working on and had lost a good bit of recently. No high cholesterol, no high blood pressure, no diabetes. Nothing. But my dad died suddenly at 46 of a heart attack. He also smoked which I do not and, because of that, I thought I was safe until at least 46, but I was very wrong.
I Had A Widowmaker Heart Attack And Lived: Widowmaker Heart Attack Symptoms
In restrospect, I had symptoms for several days before the widowmaker heart attack. As many of you who read this blog know, I have asthma. And this year, my asthma has seemed particularly bad. I have gone without using an inhaler or taking other asthma controlling meds for years as taking a daily allergy pill seemed to mostly control my symptoms. But this year, my asthma seemed to be particularly hard to control. Catching my breath has just been so difficult.
I went to Carolina Country Music Fest in early June and was sick the entire time. I came back home and was diagnosed with the flu and, honestly, I just hadn’t felt like myself since then. So, I chalked up the shortness of breath I experienced on Wednesday night, July 18th, as either after effects of the flu or more asthma symptoms. I did call my doctor on Thursday morning though and went in for a visit where I told her that I felt my asthma was out of control and she re-prescribed me a daily inhaler to try, which I had done years earlier. I was not able to get that prescription filled until Friday evening as my pharmacy was out, so I kept experiencing the breathing symptoms but had no reason to believe it was anything else as I had not been able to use the new inhaler yet. So, Wednesday – Friday I felt a lot of shortness of breath, probably every 4-6 hours.
Over the weekend, the symptoms became more intense. My back started hurting and I started feeling like I was hyperventilating more often. This probably increased to every 4 hours then. I also started getting tunnel vision on occasion and I just didn’t feel quite in my body. And my right shoulder hurt. I would say that I felt some heaviness in my chest but never anything really major. It was pretty much a lot of vague stuff. Mostly the right shoulder bothered me and the inability to breathe well.
I never once experienced left side chest pain and certainly no pain that made me grab my chest like you see in the movies.
I called my doctor’s office on Sunday and asked to speak to the on call physician and I was told that I would get a call back but I never did. This didn’t concern me too much because, at this point, I assumed I was having panic attacks or something like that. I had never had a panic attack but the symptoms seemed to align. I just didn’t consider what I was going through a medical emergency. It sucked. But it didn’t seem like an emergency.
Sunday night I went to sleep and I was miserable. I woke up every hour hyperventilating, with a cold sweat, and I felt like my heart was beating out of my chest. My right shoulder hurt pretty badly and my back hurt as well and I just could not get comfortable. I felt really miserable, but I still didn’t have any classic heart attack symptoms as far as I was concerned so I didn’t see it as a medical emergency. Heart attack just didn’t cross my mind.
I called my doctor on Monday, July 23rd, and they said that they could not get me in until August. After I told them of my symptoms they told me that I should call 911. Personally, I still didn’t think it was an emergency, so I thought about it a little while longer after getting off of the phone with them. I mean, I didn’t want to be that person that calls 911 for something like a strained shoulder and gas, know what I mean? I was still coherent. I had no left side chest pain. I had asthma, so it was really easy to chalk most of the symptoms up to that as I had definitely experienced lung pain and shortness of breath in the past. It was easy to make it seem like what I was experiencing was nothing.
From Sunday night until that Monday morning, I would have waves of these symptoms, every hour. I would sleep on and off all night, only to be awoken, again and again. Finally I thought to myself, “emergency or not, I can’t live like this.” Also, I was at home alone. What would happen if I waited too long? I wasn’t going to be that person either.
I called 911. Then I calmly put Daisy Baby in the bathroom along with her food and water. Then I changed clothes as I didn’t want paramedics cutting the clothes I had on off of me. Like I said, I was coherent. Then I sat on the couch and they arrived at my house so fast.
Calling 911 was definitely the right decision. The paramedics had to shock me in my yard as I was in a bad heart rhythm called V-tach. I was again shocked when I reached Northern Hospital [our local hospital]. After running some tests, Northern Hospital informed me that I had heart failure, so they sent me to Wake Forest Baptist Health who then took over care.
And 2 weeks later I am alive, sitting in my living room sharing my experience with you and so very thankful. I am trying to be very thorough so that my posts are actually helpful so this post has become quite lengthy. You can read about what happened next at the hospital here.