Sunday, April 02, 2006

Coronary Procedure Story

You might want to read the Heart Attack Story first

I woke up around 7.00am still not really knowing what had gone on earlier. You hear people go on about chest pain but I'd never heard about the sore arms thing, certainly not about the weird vomiting. I'm very good at ignoring things usually but this had been scary enough to prompt even me to go to a doctor.

It's a very nice place, the Norwood Medical Clinic. Brand new and shiny with marble and granite and enough seats and couches for a discount furniture warehouse. It's the sort of place that's free and you don't make appointments, you just turn up. It was also empty so I registered, filled in forms and took a seat in front of a huge plasma TV. After waiting for only 2 or 3 minutes a doctor hurtled past me, mumbling something about having learned his new thing for the day already and instructing me to follow him. We sat in a room discussing my medical history for a while before, almost as an afterthought, he asked me why I'd actually come there.

"Well, I had this chest pain thing at about 2 this morning, my arms hurt and there was this really weird vomiting like Linda Blair..."

He jumped out of his chair, raced to the door, opened it and told me to "quickly come with me... no, um, actually, carefully and CALMLY come with me, we'll do an ECG. Are you OK? Have you got any pain now? I should have asked you sooner why you'd come! Um... be calm!"

ECG's aren't very interesting... lots of sticky things stuck all over you, including the ankles, wires attached to everything, a machine that prints something out after you've laid still long enough.

"Nurse! Ambulance, NOW!"

Hospitals are places where you wait for hours and hours after a mad panic getting there. I was hooked up to The Machine That Goes Ping, blood had been taken and now I was just waiting for results of the tests. There's some enzyme level they want to know that tells them if there's been any damage to the heart. If there has been, it's a heart attack. My reading came back as the lowest possible number you can have that indicates that that is indeed what has happened so I got admitted and wheeled up to a ward for overnight observation.

Every hour or so I'd get asked if I had any pain, which I never did. Over and over again a different doctor or specialist would ask me to tell them the Heart Attack Story. I actually felt like a fraud, surrounded as I was by other people who obviously did have something wrong with them. I felt fine. I shrugged a lot with each re-telling of the story. People started to look sceptical, and it didn't help when a cardiac specialist said "there are bits of your story that are suspicious".

What he actually meant was not that he suspected I was lying, as I first thought. He meant that bits of it certainly sounded like a "coronary event" but other bits, like the walking around the neighbourhood at 3am because it made me feel better certainly did not. He didn't know what to make of the elephant thing! NOT moving is supposed to help, apparently. I can't help it if I'm odd.

So the suspicions were aroused enough to warrant an Angiogram. That's where they shove something up through a hole in your groin and spew blue dye into your system while you're parked under a fuck-off-huge contraption with lots of TV monitors and big glass plates between you and them while you get zapped with what would be 2 years worth of "ambient radiation" via something roughly the size of a fax machine that zooms around above your chest making whirring noises. It's scary and it made me cry.

Within half an hour, the specialist came out to where I was parked on a gurney and showed me a black and white photograph that clearly showed a bunch of veins and arteries, one of the biggest of which suddenly narrowed from 4mm to less than 1mm along about 10mm of its length. Proof! I wasnt a fraud afterall.

Hospitals can also be places where things happen fast. Within another hour I was back under the scary machine with them feeding something else (I didn't want to look) into me, this time via my wrist of all places! I would have thought that if you wanted to get to a person's heart, there would be more straightforward and logical paths to choose than via their groin or wrist but hey, what do I know?

This time they were doing an Angioplasty which is where they somehow shove a 3.5mm x 25mm "Stent" up your artery... with a balloon inside it. Honest! A stent is a cylinder made of hi-tech "chicken wire", as they described it to me. When they get it where they want to they inflate the balloon to expand the stent to open up the blockage. Clever stuff but Jesus it hurts! The sensation is basically the same as the heart attack that got you there in the first place but at least it's shortlived. Then they drag their paraphernalia out of your body again and wheel you away.

That's it. Then you're fixed!

Apparently there's a 20% chance the stent might block up and they'd need to do it again, possibly in around 6 months. They are trialing "drug eluting" ones that are coated with, um... something that hopefully discourages this and so far the 20% looks more like 5% with this method, so that's what I went for. Which is fine except that as part of the trial I am committed to another Angiogram in either 4 or 9 months anyway - which rather negates the advantages of possibly not needing one had I been in the lucky 80% to start with!

Oh well.

So, here's the before and after shots. Nice eh!

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