Guy’s Time: From The Heart
written by CARL DANBURY, JR.
You just never know. It was an ordinary Monday. I had taken my bloodhound to the vet late in the afternoon, went home, grabbed a handful of pretzel nuggets and a couple bottles of water, and then headed to the tennis courts for practice. Coach Thad was there and so was practice mate Darren. I’m not sure where the other four or five guys were that night, but we began banging balls and the pace was pretty good. After about 30 minutes, I told Thad I needed a water break as I just wasn’t feeling 100 percent. I thought perhaps I should have eaten something more substantial prior to practice. But no worries, a few minutes rest and then back to the task at hand. After another seven minutes or so, I was done for the night. On the 200-yard walk home, a nagging feeling of dread crept into my mind. There was a slight burning sensation in my chest, one that I was totally unfamiliar with, despite 37 years of smoking cigarettes.
My wife and 18-year-old daughter were talking at the kitchen table as I entered. I interrupted. I asked my daughter to read the expiration date on the back of a children’s aspirin bottle I had just retrieved. I took one immediately.
I tried to go to the bathroom. No avail. I burped repeatedly. “Maybe it’s indigestion or heartburn,” my wife offered.
I remember feeling a bit clammy. I had an overwhelming, uneasy feeling. I just knew something was wrong.
“Honey, I need to go to the hospital. I need to go now!” I said with urgency.
“Maybe you just overdid it,” my wife said calmly.
Nothside Hospital Forsyth is just five minutes from our house. Had it been six or seven, I likely wouldn’t be writing this. My wife pulled up to the Emergency Room entrance. I sauntered into the lobby and to the registration desk while she parked the car. Honestly, after walking into the lobby, and waiting patiently to catch the attention of the man at the desk, I remember nothing else.
A SECOND CHANCE
From the time my wife had parked the car and entered into the same doors (two minutes max) I had already collapsed. When she entered, she later explained that she saw five or six people trying to revive me. They performed CPR and then utilized a defibrillator. She thought I was gone. Her mind drifted to how I would miss the weddings of our three girls who have yet to marry.
“Mr. Danbury? Mr. Danbury? Can you hear me? Do you know where you are? You have had a heart attack,” a voice persisted. I looked at the clock on the wall. It read 11:45. I had walked through the front doors at about 8:45. What had happened to those three hours, I wondered?
Reviewing my medical profile that now reads like a nightmare, I wonder how I survived. Coronary Arteriosclerosis (sudden clots that form in the arteries); Myocardial Infarction (essentially “death of heart muscle” in which blood flow is critically reduced or fully blocked; Hypertensive Disorder (high blood pressure); Hyperlipidemia is a fancy word for too many lipids – or fats – in the blood (for most, the two better-known terms are high cholesterol and high triglycerides; and Congestive Heart Failure (occurs when your heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should). Certain conditions like hardening or narrowing of the arteries, high blood pressure, gradually leave your heart too weak or stiff to fill and pump efficiently. Simply put, I had been a walking coronary time bomb. Thankfully, full detonation wasn’t yet in the cards!
Once my heart began pumping again, Dr. Aman Kakkar, director of the new Cardiac Cath lab at Northside Forsyth and founding member of Heart and Vascular Care, Inc., and his team inserted a stent (used to open blocked arteries) during a procedure called a percutaneous coronary intervention. It is minimally invasive. During CPR and defibrillation, the emergency team trying to keep me alive cracked six of my ribs, a painful yet happy reminder of why I am still alive.
ANGELS AMONG US
So, that’s the backstory for what began as an eight-day hospital odyssey at Northside Forsyth. My previous longest stay in confinement was less than 12 hours. This one, however, was one marked with uncertainty, pain, guilt and sleeplessness, yet at the same time an incredible reminder of the presence of angels who perform the relatively thankless tasks of patient (and familial) care, rehabilitation, empathy, compassion, encouragement, sensitivity and timing. Of course, many of my friends and family share those same traits, but I think we are more apt to expect it from them. Having not previously been exposed to hospital staffers for an extended period of time as a patient, the level of care I received from these strangers was exemplary, and became an extraordinarily humbling experience.
Upon exiting the emergency services section, I was sent to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for a few days. Honestly, I don’t remember much as I was well sedated during my time there. I was hooked up to oxygen and a myriad of IV tubes including the pain medication that provided some ability to rest. Through my foggy and agitated state, I was fortunate to have met a group of nurses that encouraged me through these fi rst few days of agony, caused more by the broken ribs and the possibility of pneumonia than anything heart related. Ana, Angela, Candace, Sandra, Petrena and Meredith set the course for helping me recover. The primary goal for both the patient and the nursing sta is to exit the ICU as quickly as possible. The longer you to stay in that unit, essentially, means the longer you will be hospitalized, or worse. While the ICU nurses at Northside Forsyth are lovely, private rooms in the Progressive Care Unit (PCU) are more appealing, and eminently more hopeful.
In the PCU, as the pain medication lessened and my awareness became more acute, the incredible elements of care became more meaningful. Richard, Clayton, Heather, John, Alma, Corey, Katie May and Kelly Ann were more than nurses! Each acted as a confi dant or cheerleader, and reacted to my questions and requests, and those from my family members, reasonably and tactfully. I felt as if they were going well beyond providing a standard response. And, the standard provided by the Patient Care Technicians (PCTs) in the PCU at Northside also was inspiring.
The PCTs have thankless jobs, such as bathing you, making you comfortable, emptying receptacles, changing bedclothes and more. They typically work for an hourly wage, but their encouragement, calming influence and expressions of love or genuine concern is priceless. Danielle, Assumpta, Maria, Luke, Jonathan and Elen made me feel like Jesus himself was washing my feet during my stay. It was truly remarkable how a visit from one of them made my days brighter.
Another thankless position is a respiratory therapist who administers various breathing exercises (punishment) during a hospital stay to help patients avoid pneumonia by helping to strengthen lung functions. Those joyful exercises via nebulizers and volumetric exercisers (spirometers) are a necessary evil, but I am certain I didn’t welcome those fi ne individuals with open arms. But John, Angeline, Sara, Janie, Sajee, Tolulope, Virlande, Iccsho, Denny and Judith were instrumental in my recovery, and my ability to exit the hospital more quickly than was first imagined. Breathing, coughing, sneezing and laughing with broken ribs are unpleasant undertakings, but this team encouraged me despite my protests. Our paths crossed again with an old friend, the mother of one of our sons’ best friends from high school, who happens to be an RN clinical supervisor at the hospital. Thanks Sharon, for checking in on us!
The team of doctors from Heart and Vascular Care and Georgia Pulmonary & Critical Care Consultants, particularly Dr. Vikram Khetpaland Dr. Sunil Vallurupalli were patient and very forthcoming with excellent information. And now, I am in the great hands of the cardiac rehabilitation team at Northside, where I get to see Teri, Michell, Danielle, Vanessa, Morgan and Rochelle Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week for an hour or more. I am happy to be in Phase III and look forward to graduation later this summer. I do appreciate your willingness to educate and oversee my progress.
FROM THE HEART
Not all conditions that lead to heart failure can be reversed, but there are many subtle lifestyle changes that can improve your chances to avoid what I encountered April 18. Sometimes, it cannot be avoided at all but precaution often is the best medicine. Many of us are too stubborn, too busy, too stupid or too scared to get checked out on a regular basis. I suggest it is well worth avoiding the experience of my eight days in the hospital, and subsequent 40 days of convalescence no matter how great the care or how great the people that I met.
For now, let me just finish by telling each of those individuals that have been part of my recovery: Thank you and God bless you! I am grateful to you not only for extending my life but also for making it a better one.
Join the Conversation on Twitter @guystime