Tag Archives: life

Heartburn or Heart Attack?

Signs and Symptoms
Believe it or not, if you know what bad heartburn feels like, then you know what my heart attack felt like. I have quite a sensitive stomach, so I’m used to the lovely feeling of heartburn, but this was worse than normal because I wasn’t able to get it under control with normal remedies. Still very weak from 22 days in the hospital, as well as nauseous, I asked my wife to drive me to our little local hospital ER. I was sweating profusely due to the nausea and pain. As they were hooking me up to the rhythm strip, I mentioned I was having the worst heartburn ever and promptly vomited; I then mentioned that I felt like I was going to pass out…


Have you ever seen an Rhythm Strip report with a flatline (no heartbeat) for 2 minutes? That’s as near to death as can be- and that was my my report- with a second flatline 20 minutes later lasting 30 seconds- and then my body began to posture and clench showing that oxygen deprivation had occurred in my brain. When the helicopter arrived, I was flown to a larger medical center that would try to stabilize my condition and repair my heart.

Restart My Heart
Restart My Heart

I was in an induced coma for 3 days while a pump was beating for my damaged heart. My family was told that if my heart did not stabilize I would be put on a cardiac transplant list and could also possibly be brain damaged due to oxygen deprivation to the brain during the flatline episodes.
Slowly I became aware I was in a hospital room (again!) and being disoriented, asked the nurse if she was real! I learned that I had flatlined twice due to a blood clot blockage in the left ventricle which controls blood flow to the body and the brain (thus the ominous name “the widow maker”), and that the valve had been fibrillating and would not stabilize. My ejection fraction had showed 29% while normal is 65-70%- not good at all- known as congestive heart failure! There was also good news: my cardiologists had installed a stent in the left ventricle, and were able to reduce the blockage from 80-100% all the way to zero, but time would tell if my heart would be able to beat normally once more!

I learned that people all over the country were praying for me – as requests had been sent out on church and Facebook prayer chains; when my heart began to pump effectively on its own, I was slowly brought out of the induced coma, meanwhile everyone was hoping I would not be brain damaged. All I can say is if my brain was damaged, it wasn’t in a part of the brain that I use! Miraculous either way!

When my ejection fraction was checked again a few days later, it miraculously had returned to the normal range of 65-70%, but as I had developed various severe infections, I remained hospitalized for 13 days. Between North Dakota and Idaho, I was hospitalized for a total of 22 days out of 25 days! In actuality, my heart attack was far more traumatic for my friends and family than for me, because I was clueless during the worst of it, blissfully in a coma while they were anxiously waiting to see if I would live or die!

When released, I was extremely weak and had severe muscle atrophy. My kidney stones and stent had not yet been dealt with and I was using a cane for stability and support. I could not go up or down stairs unassisted and had no stamina. I was not allowed to begin cardiac rehabilitation therapy for a few weeks to allow my heart to take a break. I came home with 7 new cardiac medications and slept for 16 or more hours per day.

When I was awake though, I began to think about my life in a new way. I knew God and believed in his son Jesus for my salvation from my arrogance and selfishness and had helped as many people as I could, but with this new lease on life I began to ask a new deeper question: How do I make the most of this second chance?

With so much of my future up in the air regarding career, my physical condition, and how I could most put a smile on God’s face, I knew that a new direction in my life was already beginning.

Next: Risk!

Maximizing Life-Changing Events

I recently had a heart attack and it got me thinking… about life in general, my life in particular, and what I was going to do with this second chance I had been given.

I had not been wasting my life per se, but recently some questions had been cropping up in my head, what with my wife and kids in Idaho, 800 miles away, while I was living out a life of quiet desperation, I suspect like many of us, making great money in the North Dakota oil boom, but wondering what had happened to the hopes and dreams of my youth. Does anyone’s life turn out like they planned? Have my priorities gone askew? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing with the rest of my life?

When our family business failed after 10 wonderfully busy years developing a rural transportation service, I suddenly found myself in the unenviable position of making a bunch of changes I wasn’t ready to make. I had dreamed of retiring from the transportation service in some 20 years and was at a loss of where to go from here- surprising how a decade of doing something you enjoy can do that to you.

The economy had recently tanked, but that had not made it any worse to find a good job in, or near, our rural community, which has traditionally struggled to move beyond forestry and logging- so after a summer of minimal opportunity, I made the mental leap to offer my skills and experience to the oil boom in western North Dakota- where hundreds of men in my small community had already gone, seeking a golden opportunity to make a pile of cash in the new oil patch- even if it was a 12 hour drive away from loved ones.

The summer landscape of ND is a bleak treeless expanse, broken by occasional gullies with a few scraggly trees eking out an existence within that low-lying washout, adding yet more desolation to the otherwise blank skyline. The recent addition of oil jacks dot the landscape, lighting the night sky with an eerie glow from the gas flaring off, further increasing the feeling of isolation. Then the North Dakota winter arrives- as early as October and often overstaying its ‘welcome’ until April- with 40 mph north winds creating whiteout blizzards driving the snow sideways for hundreds of miles with no landscape features to lessen the effects of the storm- save for the occasional building with a mountainous snow drift collected on the leeward side. And the 60 below windchill- indescribable unless you’ve been there- cutting into your skin like a knife!

Did I mention that I’m from the Pacific Northwest?

North Dakota is a far cry from the 4 seasons of the eastern Washington of my childhood and northern Idaho where my home currently is: mountains in all directions, full of evergreen trees and elk, moose and bear; rivers, lakes and countless streams full of fish and fun. The winters are glorious- with crisp beautiful days for skiing, ice fishing and snowmobiling. There are a myriad of outdoor activities for every season- winter, spring, summer and fall!

The barren landscape of western North Dakota notwithstanding, the average workweek for me in the oil patch was an amazing 84 hours- and for as many as 7 weeks in a row- 12 hours each day: not much time to do anything but eat and sleep! The money was obviously great, but home life not so much, since my family was 800 miles away and I was choosing to sleep in my minivan to avoid paying $1000 or more per month for little more than a bunk; I was grateful to eventually get on with a company which provided discounted mancamp housing- a very good thing since winter was on its way.

Following one 49 day stint without a break, I was eager to make a trip home, but my engine blew driving through an Indian reservation in eastern Montana; I was glad to catch the Amtrak at the next town and make it home- only to head back on the train to the oil patch a scant five days later. On my first shift back I felt pain in my left side and suspected an old nemesis- kidney stones- and began to feel my body declining as I tried to deal with the issue without going to the ER. I missed a shift for the first time and felt worse each day, but driving 40 miles to the nearest town after working 12 hours was just too much trouble, so I thought I’d just suck it up and deal with it. A few days later brought kidney pain like I’d never before experienced- and as I lay on the office floor waiting for the pain to subside, I wondered how I was going to get myself to the ER at the end of my shift.

My body made the decision easy- I began to shake so violently that the truckers hauling saltwater to our disposal facility were alarmed and my coworkers called for an ambulance. Nine days later I was finally released from the hospital in Bismarck diagnosed with pyelonephritis and bilateral pneumonia, with a stent installed in my infected kidney until the infection subsided enough to blast the stones after I returned to Idaho. My white blood cell count had been over 25,000 so there was concern regarding my body’s immune system. My mom, along with my wife and kids, had made the long drive to support me during my health crisis and I was grateful to be nothing more than a weak and tired passenger for the 800 mile trip home. I looked forward to following the doctor’s advice to go home and begin the recuperation process from my dual life threatening illnesses.

It was nice to be home recuperating- arriving home just in time for my 48th birthday and the 4th of July, never suspecting that less than 3 days after arriving home I would experience the “widow maker” heart attack and live to tell the tale!

Next: Midlife crisis?