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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

a very lucky man

i was busy helping myself to the food and drink samples at the LA marathon race expo last saturday when i felt my backpack vibrate. i reached in to answer my cell phone, but by the time i'd gotten to it, the call had already been routed to voice mail.

i looked at the phone display and it said that i had missed not just one, but TWO calls. both were from my good friend BDB. that's strange, i thought. he only calls me if he needs something. and for him to call twice in the span of fifteen minutes, he must've REALLY needed something.

i listened to the first message he left:

i went to a yoga class and i'm not feeling very well at all. i'm here at the starbucks by the yoga studio. give me a call...

then to the second:

i need your help. please call me as soon as you get this...

the tone of his voice had changed dramatically from the first message to the second. i immediately called him back. he answered his phone, sounding even weaker. i started to worry.

according to him, earlier that morning, he had taken the subway from his home in downtown LA, then biked to yoga class in west hollywood. since he had been busy with work and had missed all his usual yoga classes during the week, he was looking forward to making up for lost time. feeling exhausted after rushing to make the 10:30 power yoga class, he chose to push through with the class anyway.

after coming down from a handstand midway through the class, he started to feel woozy and lightheaded. he sat in child pose, hoping that the dizziness would pass. it didn't. he continued to follow along with the class but realized that he was just making things worse. he rolled up his yoga mat, walked out of the classroom, and sat outside to get some fresh air. that didn't seem to help, either.

eventually, he hopped back on his bike and made his way to the starbucks shop a few blocks down the street, hoping that maybe some food and drink would make him feel better. but when he got there, there was a long wait and he felt he was too weak and uncomfortable to stand in line. that's when he decided to sit down and call me.

since both my friend michele -- who happened to be standing next to me -- and i had taken the bus from santa monica to the convention center, neither of us could drive out to west hollywood to pick him up and take him home. i knew that we had other friends who were roaming around the expo, so i told him i'd check with the others and call him right back.

but the more i thought about how weak and desperate he sounded, the more i realized i didn't have time to find an alternate ride for him. i called him back to tell him to call 911. he assured me that not only had he just done that, but he had also tracked down anita, a mutual friend of ours, who was already on her way to him.

relieved that help was on its way, michele and i finished what we needed to do at the race expo and caught the bus back home.

from the bus, i called BDB one more time. the paramedics had examined him and were about to take him to cedars-sinai medical center, a little more than a mile away. it's probably just an electrolyte imbalance, he said. after all, i did sweat a lot in class and didn't really drink much before nor during class...

yeah, it could be, i assured him, hoping that whatever it was that he was suffering from could easily be treated with some extra fluids fed intravenously through his veins. or at least something as routine as that.

since anita was still on her way to get him, he asked me to call her and tell her that she should just turn around and go back home. by the time i reached her, she was already at the starbucks and was trying to find him.

he just left, i said. the paramedics took him to cedars.

oh my god. he must have been in the ambulance that i had to pull over for on my way here! she proceeded to catch up with him at the hospital.

i got home, and as i started up my car, i called BDB for an update. he said that the ER staff had run some tests and had decided to admit him. it was obviously more serious than either of us had thought it would be. anita was already by his bedside and both of them were waiting for him to be transferred to a room.

i called again when i arrived at the hospital. he was on the fifth floor. the cardiac floor. yikes. this was definitely serious. i gave him a hug when i saw him and asked him for details. all he could say was that he already felt much better.

you may be feeling better, i said, but they obviously think there's something wrong, otherwise they wouldn't keep you overnight...

just then, his cardiologist walked into the room. after getting his patient's ok to have us in the room while they discussed his condition, the doctor said that he was concerned that BDB's heart rate was too slow and that there were three possible reasons why. he either had a heart attack, his thyroid levels were too low, or he needed a pacemaker. he then ordered some lab tests and an echocardiogram. he also described how a pacemaker would be inserted, if one were needed.

whatever the outcome would be, it looked like my dear friend was going to be confined through the memorial day weekend.

he sat there, stunned. he had just celebrated his 53rd birthday two months ago. his father died from a massive heart attack at the ripe young age of 56.

anita and i kept him company while the hospital staff continued to poke and prod him. when we realized that nothing was going to happen any time soon, both anita and i left to retrieve his bike from where he had parked it outside the starbucks store; she then took the bike home with her and i went straight to the kirtan i had planned to attend that evening.

when i got home later that evening, i read the following email message sent from BDB's iphone:

Subject: How I spent my Saturday night


About 9:30 tonight the Cardio MD who saw me in ER early this afternoon came into my room to inform me that a blood enzyme was elevated and my EKGs didn't jive indicating that I did have a small heart attack. Furthermore, same MD just let me know (10:33PM) that I'll be going for angioplasty in about a half hour! The reasoning is that there's no blockage now but they don't want one to develop by morning. They're prepping me now!

It will be alright! Love to all,


by then, it was 1:30 in the morning. i called the hospital to see how he was doing. he was still in the cath lab, according to the nurse. she assured me that a procedure lasting more than two hours was nothing to be worried about. that sounded good enough for me, so i went to sleep.

BDB called me the next morning to fill me in on the excitement that had gone on after we had left. he summarized it best in an email he sent out later that morning to his close friends and family:

... Things didn't really get exciting until after visiting hours ended at 9PM. My cardiologist came running into my room just as I was beginning to tell my brother why I was in the hospital. One look at the cardiologist's face, and I told my brother I'd have to call him back and hung up. Certain blood enzyme tests were elevated and the EKG from the ambulance didn't jive with one taken later in the day: I, in fact, had had a heart attack.

By 10:30PM I had been rolled up to the cardio ICU, and by 11:30PM, after several consults with my cardiologist and my brothers (How did we live before iPhones and Blackberries?), I was prepped for angioplasty. Surgery started at midnight and ended at 3:00AM.

To paraphrase Martin Lawrence, "Me so lucky!" That I would have an attack a few blocks from one of the top hospitals in the world; that my surgeon is world-renowned as a cardio interventionist and had just gotten off a plane at LAX from Barcelona at 5:30PM that day; that my attack occurred in 2009 and not 1976 when my father had his sternum sawed in two for bypass surgery instead of the catheter fished up my left arm vein to my heart; that out of laziness and no one to join me, I didn't go backpacking in the High Sierra six miles from the nearest road; and that in spite of myself, even I knew to call 911 - I am dumbstruck but very appreciative of fate. Surgery revealed that a major artery to my heart muscle was 90% blocked as well as two others in bad shape. So three stents later, I miraculously have no damage to my heart muscle and will probably check out of the hospital in a day or two and be back to work in a week. I imagine I will immediately earn distinction in cardio rehab when I ask how soon it will be before I can do a handstand in yoga class again...

after spending two and a half days in the critical care unit (where he was probably the least bedridden patient on the floor), BDB was discharged early yesterday afternoon. luckily for him (yet again!), i was available to check on his place in his absence, pick him up from the hospital, drive him to the pharmacy to get his prescriptions filled, and make sure he had everything he needed before he turned in for the night.

for the next week or so, i'll be checking on him to make sure he's ok. but since he already has a list of things he wants to get done before he goes back to work, it appears that my job will be to keep a tight rein on him to make sure he follows his doctor's orders to get lots of rest!

to increase your chances of a similar happy ending if you ever find yourself or a loved one in the same situation, here are the warning signs of a heart attack, as found on the american heart association's website:

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the "movie heart attack," where no one doubts what's happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren't sure what's wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

~ Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

~ Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

~ Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

~ Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

Learn the signs, but remember this: Even if you're not sure it's a heart attack, have it checked out (tell a doctor about your symptoms). Minutes matter! Fast action can save lives — maybe your own. Don’t wait more than five minutes to call 9-1-1.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your friend was very lucky indeed. I was very moved when reading his email to friends and family. Thank you for sharing.

9:37 AM  
Blogger joni said...

i think he's finally gotten over the shock of it all and is using it to his advantage -- his favorite line now seems to be: "don't stress me... i just had a heart attack!" :)

12:45 PM  

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