By Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator [CC-BY-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, February 21st, was a normal workday for me. It was the first day back from a 4-day weekend that didn’t quite go as planned. Friday morning I had been setting up camp for the long weekend when I dropped a picnic table on my big toe, turning it various colors that are not good for toes to be. Other factors conspired against us that weekend so we returned home early and took it easy. I had had a mild case of heartburn for several days, unusual for me, but the big thing on my mind that Tuesday was my throbbing toe.

My heartburn kept getting worse, though, and after lunch I googled the differences between heartburn and heart attacks, just to be safe. I was pretty sure I wasn’t having a heart attack since the pain was central to my chest (not radiating into my arms), and I felt it in my throat and glands, which led me to think acid reflux. There were two symptoms that I had — sweating and light-headedness — that were heart attack indicators and it was getting kind of painful so I hopped in my truck and drove over to the Occupational Health Facility (OHF) to have them check me out. I walked in and told the lady behind the counter that I was having chest pains. I have had pretty much zero control over my life since that moment.

About 15 years ago, I had done the exact same thing. At that time I had never had heartburn before and Google wasn’t around yet so I didn’t know what to expect. They hooked up an EKG, took a look and declared me okay. They sent me home and told me to get checked out by a cardiologist. I did so. The verdict was heartburn. I expected no different this time. I was wrong.

They took the EKG, which looked okay. But they told me that they were shipping me off to the hospital in an ambulance just to be sure. I kept insisting it was probably nothing more than heartburn. They said maybe but they weren’t screwing around. I called Patti and told her what was up and not to worry. (HA!) Off I went in the back of an ambulance for the first time ever — strike that one off my bullet list. The EMT and I chatted the whole time and he told me I looked good, all the signs were fine, not to worry. And I wasn’t worried (even when we were followed the last several miles by a hearse). I was feeling fine by this time and was convinced that they’d check my blood, no markers would be present and I’d be sent home.

The ER was nuts, like all ERs the world over. They wheeled me in, moved me to a bed and I said bye to the KSC EMTs. And it began. I was poked and prodded, blood was drawn, students came to take their shot at me. At one point they gave me some nitro under my tongue, which seemed to help (a mild pain had returned by then). That was when I knew that I might be in trouble, since I had been told that nitro only works on heart attacks. Crap. I remained fully in denial.

I was in the ER for many hours. They kept drawing blood to watch the markers, which were indeed trending up. I had already been told that I would be spending the night and by that time Patti was there as well as my good friend Oscar. Oscar had told his daughter Michelle, who just happened to be in town and who just happens to be a cardiac nurse, what was happening and she came over too. The moral support was much needed.

Finally, they came in and told me the news that by now had become inevitable: Wednesday they were going to run a tube from my groin up into my heart, take a tour and, if necessary, put in a stent or two. No sweat. By 10:00 that night I was settled into a room enjoying all the comforts the hospital had to offer. The next day was going to be an interesting day.

Coming up next: Women laugh at me, I see my heart in action and I spend the day on my back.