Magnificent machines

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Sunday, May 29, 2016

I'm not talking about locomotives, but something possessed by every mammal: Our hearts. These little, simple mechanisms go to work not long after we are conceived and never stop functioning until the instant we leave this realm. Take good care of them, and they will take good care of you, making you feel, even in old age,invincible, indestructible. But sometimes our hearts fail to work correctly, and then you lose confidence that you are well anchored to life. In other words, we know intuitively we are not indomitable, but a heart attack proves it.

Yesterday morning Cathie and I mapped out a 3.5-mile walk near our home in Virginia. Leaving the house I felt a sensation in my back I'd never felt before--not at all painful, just uncomfortable. My heart attack had begun.

We parked our car at a church next to the CIA campus and went down and back on a few hilly streets. There was a beautiful old wooden house in pristine condition I wanted her to see. A mile into our walk, that strange feeling in my back had begun to hurt some and had also moved forward into my chest. I shrugged it off. But a little voice in my mind whispered, Fred, pay attention to this.

Another half mile and I was sweating profusely, far more than the weather would suggest. Still another half mile and the pain was greater although quite bearable, but now I was tired and dizzy. "Cathie," I called out, "this feels like a heart attack." She suggested it was sore back muscles related to lifting scores of boxes the previous day. We are in the process of moving. Two more blocks and I stopped. "I'll stay here. Please get the car and pick me up." What I should have done was lie down and have her call 911; an ambulance staffed by firemen who know all about what was happening to me was a mere mile away. But now I was starting to panic and not think clearly. Cathie got back in 20 minutes.

The next three hours are a nightmare. The second I get home I reach for my iPad and Google, "symptoms of heart attacks." I have most of them "Let's go!" I yell. Driving to a very good hospital about three miles from our house, I notice Cathie won't violate the 25-mph speed limit or run a red light. Something to joke about later, I think, if there is a later. We reached the ER entrance about 90 minutes after I felt those first, queer aches.

I am writing this, so obviously I didn't croak, although in the ER, with 10 or 12 people working over me and administering life-saving medicines, I was certain I was a goner. I remember thinking my five children would be devastated. I also felt sorry I was letting Jim Wrinn down. And who would ever ghost-write Rob Krebs' memoirs better than I (another project)? I was awake as they slid a probe up an artery from my groin to the totally blocked artery leading to my heart. I heard the cardiologist squeal "Yippee" as the imaging showed she had successfully slid a stent into place to reopen my artery.

Today, 24 hours later, I feel great. No pain, no discomfort--like this near-death experience never happened--and I can't wait to go home. I am told I will recover completely; more than likely, something else will kill me, someday. I am here to kick you folks around some more, in other words, and you me. Jim Wrinn will get his August issue column from me on time, and Mr. Krebs and I will finish his remarkable rememberences. The reason for telling you this is to remember, not every heart attack feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest. They also creep up on you like the feet of little rabbits. Just be alert to what your body tries to tell you.--Fred W. Frailey

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