Frank, a Doctor, didn’t even know

They were on their way to Southern Illinois to visit Frank’s son at college before classes resumed for the next semester. They had stopped for the night in the small Arkansas town of Newport and had settled in for the night before resuming their trip North the next morning. It was a cold, wintry February night in 1984 when sometime around 2AM Frank woke up with a severe case of indigestion. He woke his wife, Marilyn, and asked her to go to the hotel desk and ask if they had any antacids. Marilyn walked down to the desk, retrieved some antacids and went back to the hotel room where Frank took the antacids and went back to bed. Upon awakening the next morning, the indigestion was no better than it was the night before but, much, much worse. Marilyn tried to talk Frank into visiting the local Emergency Room. Frank argued that it was nothing more than his usual indigestion but, that it was just worse than usual for some odd reason. Marilyn would not give up so, she sat down and called the local Newport hospital and spoke with the triage nurse in the Emergency Room. The nurse on the telephone was in agreement with Marilyn that Frank needed to come by the Emergency Room just to be checked. With the Emergency Room nurse’s advice, Frank finally broke down and agreed with Marilyn to go by the Emergency Room for what he believed would be a checkup, an EKG and some bloodwork. As it turned out, Marilyn was correct in forcing Frank to the ER. Frank was having a myocardial infarction. A heart attack.

Frank was rushed by ambulance to the nearest ICU in Searcy, Arkansas, until he was stable enough to be transferred back closer to home a full week later. He was then transferred to Fort Smith, Arkansas to St. Edwards Hospital where he would remain under cardiologists care for two more weeks. The myocardial infarction had caused 40% damage to Frank’s heart muscle.

One month after his initial heart attack, Frank was admitted to the hospital once more for a balloon angioplasty but, was informed that he had yet another blocked artery in his heart beyond the one that was slightly opened with the balloon angioplasty. He would remain under cardiologist care for the remaining part of the year experiencing chest pains over and over again until the cardiologist decided that it wasn’t going to get better. The balloon angioplasty had not opened up the main blocked artery enough to make a difference plus, he had the other fully blocked artery still in there blocked. Frank needed open heart surgery.

In October of 1984 Frank went under the knife and they cracked his sternum, cut into his heart and split the blocked arteries open and replaced the blocked areas of the arteries with segments of artery removed from Frank’s leg. Over a seven-month period Frank went from bad indigestion to a double bypass open heart surgery. Once he had had the first myocardial infarction he had an incredible personality change from a calm and collected, cool headed man to an irritable, grouchy, constantly angered human being. He had experienced so much time with so little oxygen to the brain during the heart attack and from the blocked arteries that it had, literally, changed his personality. The loss of oxygen during the heart attack had actually caused some brain damage.

Don’t ever think you may be too smart to not know when you are having a heart attack. Frank was a doctor, himself. Frank thought he was simply having a nasty case of indigestion and only went to the Emergency Room at the insistence of his wife and a triage nurse on a telephone. Be heart smart. Know the signs, know the symptoms, know when you need to get checked out. Don’t be afraid of looking silly or naïve when you are having some “bad indigestion.” That burrito you had for lunch may not be the problem; it may the hundreds of burritos you’ve eaten your whole life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Di Vergigelis