Heartbreak Hill, Part 2
There were perhaps a dozen people in the Emergency waiting room. I anticipated it was going to take some significant time to see a doctor. However, when I told the receptionist, “I’ve had some chest pains,” I was in a wheel chair in under a minute. My EKG was normal, but a blood test soon revealed some minimal damage to my heart, which meant I would spend the night in a hospital bed.
My care, both at the Kaiser West Los Angeles medical center, and then at the Kaiser Sunset facility, to where I was transported for my angioplasty, was excellent. Every employee was unfailingly friendly. The technology was cutting edge. That health care is an expensive proposition is obvious. That I'm blessed to have health insurance is obvious, too. It is also obvious to me that the greatest country on earth, with a government of, by and for the people, should provide health care for all people, no matter what their economic status. And just as obviously others disagree with my prior sentence. I think they are as wrong as I was for too long about the nature of the pain in my chest.
The next afternoon, Monday, two days ago, I was under mild sedation as a doctor sliced a scalpel into my groin, at the top of my right leg. He inserted a catheter, which ran up into my cardiac arteries. The catheter administered a dye that, under X-ray florescence, showed the flow of blood - or lack of it - to my heart.
After a while, one of the doctors told me the angiogram revealed blockage in my left coronary artery, as I had suspected. There were two significant blockages, not one. Both blockages would be removed, replaced with two stents. Miniature balloons were inflated inside my arteries at the site of the blockages, which squeezed my artery open. Then the balloons were replaced with the stents, tiny mesh tubes that would hold open the artery.
I was completely at ease throughout the angioplasty, confident of the outcome of the doctors' and medical technician's efforts on my behalf. With that mild sedative percolating through my veins, I drifted off to sleep from time to time, which I suppose was a bit impolite.
When the angioplasty was over, the doctor told me he estimated sections of the blockage in my arteries to be from 80% to 90%.
Through it all, from my initial hospitalization and right through my angioplasty, my blood pressure and heart rate remained low, which I attribute to my biking and hiking over the years.
Despite the blockage of my arteries, and since my heart attack last December, I've made 100-mile bike rides, cycled through desert heat, and pedaled thousands of feet up into the mountains of California and Arizona. Any of those activities could and probably should have triggered pain long ago. Perhaps my level of fitness held pain at bay, until my ride in the oxygen-starved upper reaches of the Sierra Nevada Mountains a few weeks ago.
By early evening I was in a recovery room. I had to spend an unpleasant several hours on my back, my right leg motionless. By early morning yesterday, I was on my feet again, a little lightheaded at first, feeling no pain.
Nor will I feel pain should I choose again to ride my bike up Mount Lee and to the top of the Hollywood Sign, that place where myth and reality blur into each other.