Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Surviving a Heart Attack
Hearing an accident in the sports scene a few weeks back led me to rethink if healthy or fit individuals really carry a risk of sudden heart problem. I have very fit colleagues who have had this bad experience, and also heard relatively strong high altitude mountaineers dying in the mountain due to heart attack.
Well, I too – once had a HEART ATTACK. Or at least I think so. There could be different reasons why, but it would seem like – ANYONE is at risk! The question is – can we prevent it, or can we manage it…
A Close Call?
Sometime 1997, I went home in one of the more ordinary and typical nights in my lonely apartment-house. This era in my life is one of the ‘normally fit and ok’ years being very active in mountaineering and other sports. My biometrics was more than good, my fitness was better than average, and my general well-being / feeling was perfect.
I normally sleep shirtless so that one night, I felt a tiny bit of ginaw (minor coldness) so I decided to turn off my fan – my only air mover in that enclosed house.
I suddenly woke up around 230am with a BAD chest pain, and instantly realized that I was having a VERY FAST, ERRATIC and STRONG heart beat! Combined with a PANIC attack – my heart was doing an explosive beat without sound rhythm – WORST than any other time in my tired, exhausted, or scared moments in life! I concluded that I was having someone’s worst nightmare – A HEART ATTACK!
I jumped up, instinctively did a wide-mouth breathing and explosive coughing (a natural routine then but which was actually a self-aid procedure for heart attack). I ran outside (for fresh air) and did a lot more of my open-mouth O2-SUCKING breathes followed by forced coughing! Now – for someone who practiced deep-breathing meditation, who’s used to explosive heart use and very quick recovery, someone who can easily and wilfully slow down a fast heart beat – it felt strange that it was taking me many agonizing minutes to stabilize myself.
I did several Red Cross medic courses, and was supposedly a rescuer (trained in 505 Rescue -Air Force Auxiliary) and therefore should be skilled enough to ‘save’ myself – but quickly realized that I could be dead soon given that it is impossible to do self-CPR. While still agonizing with my erratic strong heartbeat which somehow was not responding (yet) to my deep-but-quick inhale and coughs (exhale) – I suddenly remembered that my neighbour is an EMT – a medic! You know what my first thought was, “Nakakahiya mang-gising…” (shy to disturb someone). Anak ng putakte – I was dying and even thought of that?! Or maybe I didn’t like the fact that he may soon perform mouth-to-mouth breathing. I thought of grabbing a cab to the hospital but I doubted an easy taxi ride very early in the morning. After around 20mins of these panic-breathing, restless back and forth walk outside the house, and what-should-I-do dilemma (-an eternity of time compared to my normal quick heart stabilization breathing of 2-5mins), I somewhat felt that my heart rhythm was GETTING BETTER. Still fast and strong, but no longer explosively erratic. “I’ll probably make it…”
I relaxed a bit, and meditatively stabilized myself – heart, body and mind! After another 5 or so minutes, I felt that my heart has responded to my routine, it was more STABLE with better rhythm - though a bit faster than normal. Obviously I stayed awake for the next hour to ‘monitor or observe’ myself- I was the doctor of my own patient.
Next day – I went straight to our company doctor for a check-up. Nothing! She asked me to get a second opinion – which I did. Nothing! A thread-mill ECG was recommended after that – and I thought, any other ‘check’ will be useless at that point in time. I recovered from something, and whatever that triggered my ‘attack’ was no longer there. In the end- there was no medical conclusion if I truly had a heart attack. Well, if I can make the doctors feel how I felt – they’ll make an easy conclusion… ;)
My own conclusion points to an external and environmental factor. Having worked in a manufacturing plant – I always chatted with ‘safety engineers’ and learned about Confined Air space. It’s where someone can be deprived of O2 (and die) even with abundant O2 in the vicinity. When air is not moving or circulating, one can consume available O2 in his/her immediate surrounding – and later collapse due to lack of O2. (Wondering why man-hole workers always use a little air-motor, or why basements have some sort of ventilation units?) I recall that when the ‘attack’ happened, it was the only time that my electric fan was switched off. The little apartment house was not also well-designed to welcome flow of air (same-sided door and window, and the window air-flow was heavily constricted by curtains). And so, I probably slept in one position, consumed all available O2 surrounding me, stopped breathing unconsciously when O2 ran out, heart worked harder to pump whatever remnant O2 there was in my system, then LUCKILY woke up to do something about it! The event was similar to a sequence of a typical drowning man - water fills the lungs (no air intake), the breathing shuts down, followed by cardiac arrest. (Whatever the cause, this is not my main story anyway).
My Thoughts and opinion
1. It seems like EVERYONE carries a serious health risk. Be it heart, brain, liver, whatever. The question is – are we prepared to manage it. Do we know self-aid? If I didn’t go through some courses – I may not have learned or invented ‘O2-flooding inhale and forced cough’ routine. Do we have insurance? Just in case… your family may need it, or if you survive – medical bills easily shoots up to million pesos! Do we have stand-by support? Friends, colleagues or good neighbours. I did – but stupidly didn’t utilize it. Do you have emergency procedure established and PRACTICED?!! I didn’t then. I do have now, be it flooding, fire, medical emergencies, others. Are we mentally trained to handle crisis and stress? Experience helps. Medical and Rescue courses help. Task-heavy and stressful or trouble-prone sports help (diving, rock-climbing).
2. Does our home environment support ‘good living’. A place could be dirt cheap, but does it erode our health?
3. Do we know our health and fitness limits? Do we know when to ‘stretch’? I sometimes think I know my body, but there are times that I over-stretched myself. A joint pain for example, or a dehydration that took me 3 days to recover from. The more serious ones, say a heart use stretch could be tricky especially when one is climbing above 20,000ft. Luckily I’m not super strong and would naturally slow down when the going gets super tough (I have a related post here about not going beyond one’s target heart rate zone). I never collapsed, just near-collapse which forces me anyway to stop at all cost! Seconds to minutes of ‘quick recovery’ (from a momentary stop) can spell the difference between life and death. Are you pushing enough, or pushing too much? Listen to your body.