A first-person account written by Debbie Loughrin, RN:
On March 4, 2004, I woke expecting a normal day. I was scheduled to work my regular shift at 3pm at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, where I was an RN on the inpatient psychiatry unit.
As I tended to my normal daily chores of laundry, cleaning, and vacuuming, I felt a little "funny." It was just sort of a vague feeling that something was not right. I felt emotional, almost on the verge of tears. I dismissed it, thinking it was menopause, or just anxiety about what the shift would be like tonight.
It was too late to call into work and anyway, what would I say? "I can't come in today because I feel funny"? No, I thought, it will be fine. It is just 8 hours, and I can do it.
A "Funny" Feeling Worsens
When I arrived at work I was greeted with a very busy unit. There was high acuity and word of several admissions pending. There it was again - that "funny" feeling. Convincing myself it was just stress, I went to work - listening to reports, passing medications and checking in with my patients. Shortly after that, I felt tightness in my chest. It was an odd feeling, something I had never felt before.
I dismissed it as stress, or indigestion. After all, I was only 50 and had just been to the doctor for my yearly check up. My cholesterol was below 200. I was only a "little" overweight. I was active - well, sort of. Most of my family died of cancer, not heart disease. I told myself not to worry, and to just get through the shift.
A little later, the tightness was back - only this time, it really got my attention. It hurt. I felt short of breath and nauseous. But I was getting the next admission, and it was already halfway through the shift. I could go to the ER after my shift was over, I thought. I mentioned to my co-workers that I wasn't feeling good, and went to take a break.
At this point, the pain was getting stronger, and now it was radiating down my arm. I was still in denial, but it was getting harder to ignore. Finally, a co-worker and the team leader suggested that I go to the emergency room right away. I really felt it was nothing, but agreed to go - expecting to have an EKG and return to work.
An Emergency Room Whirlwind
Upon arrival at the ER, I was seen very quickly. I was placed on a monitor, an EKG and chest X-ray were completed and blood was drawn. The doctor arrived quickly to look at the EKG. Much to my surprise, my EKG was not normal, and I would not be returning to work. Instead, the doctor recommended an overnight stay to "rule out a myocardial infarction," otherwise known as a heart attack.
I was given medication and by the time I was admitted to my room in the hospital, I was feeling better and even a little foolish for consenting to stay overnight. I was positive that in the morning I would be going home.
One of the reasons for an overnight stay is to check cardiac enzymes, a series of blood work done to determine if there has been heart damage. At 3am, the lab came to draw another set of enzymes. At 4am, suddenly the room was full of people. The nurse was starting a new medication through my IV. The doctor was there asking more questions. And, I was told that one of the enzymes was elevated, indicating that I had a heart attack.
I was shocked! I thought, "Are you sure?" It can't be true. After everyone left the room, I laid there, thinking again, it could not be true. I wanted to call my husband, but didn't want to wake him. I couldn't go back to sleep. I sat there alone, afraid and sad - unsure about what had happened and what would happen next.
Facing the Facts
Later that morning, the doctor came into my room, sat with me, explained what the rise in the enzyme meant, and what the plan would be from here. I was to have an angiogram as soon as they could fit me in the schedule.
I called my husband and told him the news. I couldn't believe how quickly he got to the hospital, and I was so happy to have him there. The next few hours were a blur to me. I had an angiogram and an echogram, more blood work and EKGs
. Soon, the doctor came to share the results.
He confirmed that yes, I had a heart attack - and there was some damage, but no major blockages in my arteries. It was good news - I had a mild heart attack (if there is such a thing as a "mild" heart attack). I would probably need to take medication, and would need to follow up with a cardiologist, but overall the news was good.
Whew!!! I spent the next night in the hospital and went home 2 days later on many new medications, and was told to go to cardiac rehabilitation. I left, feeling fortunate to be alive, yet unsure of the future.
A New Approach to Life
It has been 3 years since that day in March. There have been many changes in my life. I completed a cardiac rehab treatment, right after going home from the hospital. I have regular check-ups with my cardiologist. I have left my stressful job and have found positive ways to deal with the ongoing stress in my life.
I think I was in total denial for the first year and a half after my heart attack. It wasn't until last summer that I made a commitment to get fit. Since then, I have been working out with a personal trainer. I also do yoga and Pilates, and I try to walk every day, getting at least 10,000 steps in a day.
I have lost nearly 50 pounds, and feel unbelievably good. I try to eat healthy, and watch my sodium intake. My cholesterol is right where it should be and my blood pressure is great. I have recently been given a gift of 2 new granddaughters to go with my 2 grandsons. I plan on being active in their lives for a long, long time.
Last fall, my long-time friend Helen Martin asked me to help her with a graduate school project. The project involved educating women about heart disease, and she needed a person to tell their story in order to illustrate her message. I agreed. Since Helen and I are avid quilters, the project had to include quilts in some capacity or another.
So we are currently visiting quilt shops, shows and guilds to present an educational program on heart disease. In turn, many of the shops and guilds have offered to donate a quilt to be auctioned off at the Go Red For Women luncheon in April 2008 to raise funds for heart disease. I am happy to be involved to help raise awareness of heart disease in women.