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10 Years...and I'm Still Here (Part 3)

Updated: Apr 9, 2023

If you haven't already read part 1 or 2, you can find part 1 here: I'm Still Here (Part 1)

DAY THREE & FOUR: Sunday-Monday, April 7 & 8, 2013

The pain wouldn't quit. After dinner that Saturday night, I went home and took a long shower, hoping the spraying water would have a calming effect and diminish the fire at the top of my stomach. Even after taking a handful of headache meds and antacids (because I still believed I had food poisoning), the pain just wouldn't go away.

I paced the end of the bed all night. I swallowed constantly, hoping that forcing air into my stomach would cause me to belch, giving me some relief. When I couldn't get relief from lying down, I was back on my feet again, tracing a line back and forth at the end of the bed. When I tired, knowing lying down wouldn't help, I sank to my knees, placed my elbows on the mattress, and sort of let my weight lean against the bed while hanging my head between my arms.

When the room started turning grey with early morning light, it was then I knew for sure there was something wrong with me...something more serious than just food poisoning. Deb got up, comforted me, knowing I'd been up all night and hadn't gotten a wink of sleep. The Direct Care Facility opened at nine on Sundays and Deb had me there when they opened.

Once in a room, doctors and nurses came in, hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff, an oxygen sensor on my index finger, and about a dozen wire leads were stuck to various spots across my chest and abdomen. They questioned me about my recent history and, when all the electrodes were in place, told me to lie still for the EKG.

When the EKG finished, a nurse took the machine away, and I sat there waiting for the doctor to come back in and tell me the news. While I suspected what he would say, there was still a slight glimmer of hope that what he reported would be less serious.

"Well, Mister Thomasson," he said as he entered the room and pulled up one of those round rolling stools. "It looks like you've won yourself a first-class ride in an ambulance." He had a small pill in his gloved hand. "Here, open up and let this dissolve under your tongue and you'll start feeling better in about 5 minutes."

"What is it?"

"Nitroglycerine. You've suffered a mild heart attack, Mister Thomasson. This will relieve the pain right now, but I believe they'll want to do a heart catheterization at the hospital to determine if there's more that needs to be done."

Two nurses came in, one of them with a I.V. bag—the other rolling a metal I.V. tree to hang the bag on. Whatever else the doctor said was lost by the other thoughts rolling around in my head. Heart attack? How can I be having a heart attack? I'm only forty years old!

"...not the first one."

I shook my head, clearing my own thoughts so I could focus on the doc. "Sorry...what did you say?"

Deb squeezed my hand.

"Based on your EKG, it appears this heart attack was not the first one."

"What do you mean?"

"In the past, have you ever felt like you did this weekend?"

I shook my head. "No, never."

"Hmm..." he says. By this time, I'd been prepped and was ready to be transported to the hospital. "How are you feeling? Is the pain gone?"

I shook my head. "It's not near as bad, but I can still feel it."

"Okay...we'll give it just a couple more minutes and if it hasn't gone away, we'll give you another nitro in the ambulance."

And with that, they whisked me out the door, asking my wife which hospital we preferred. After answering, she leaned over, kissed me, and told me she'd meet me there. Her eyes were red-rimmed and glassy—she was trying her best to keep from crying in front of me, and that hurt me worse than the pain in my chest. How could I have neglected my health so much? For her, the thought of losing me was as great as my thoughts of ever losing her—I don't know if I could handle life without her and here I am, a product of my own physical neglect, on the verge of doing just what neither of us want.

Don't get me wrong. I am a Christian. Christ is my savior and I know He's waiting on me in Heaven with arms wide open. I'll be glad to go there. But I'm also a selfish human being. I love my wife too—and want to spend as much time with her here as possible. I believe she feels much the same. So that look in her eyes—the tears that hid in the corners of her eyes—they broke me. I know the physical pain was mine in that moment—but she was feeling a different sort of pain, the pain which accompanies the realization that life is precious and none of us are promised tomorrow.

The rest of that Saturday was a waiting game—literally. We sat in the ER for hours waiting on a room to become available. In the meantime, the second nitro tab did the job—the pain in my chest was completely gone. One of my best friends was there with us and the three of us chatted and joked together to pass the time. He had to work the next day, and I kept insisting that he should go on home, that I would be fine. He was three hours from home and had driven up to play the tournament with us that weekend.

Not long after he left, they finally assigned me a room and informed me I would be having a heart catheterization the next morning. They gave me something to relax and help me sleep—and sleep I did. It would be the best sleep I'd have for days to come.

* * *

If you've never had a heart cath, here's how it works. You lie naked on a cold polished metal table. Doctors drape a thin blanket over you while you still shiver and try to stay warm—an impossibility as they keep the room at about -30 degrees. To my left are huge video screens. Above me is an x-ray that feeds video of my insides to the screens so that the doctors can watch what's going on in real time. It was pretty neat, actually—the tech, that is—not the neckid on a slab part. It was really something to see my heart beating on that screen as well as the outline of my ribs, sternum, and two shadowy forms that I could only assume were my lungs.

Then came the freaky part. They give you a mild sedative just to relax you—it's nothing to put you to sleep or anything. In fact, you are awake throughout the procedure so that you can inform the doctors if you feel anything out of the ordinary. However, just in case, there was an anesthesiologist standing by in case they needed to put you under.

It would turn out that I was one of the few that needed them.

The heart cath begins by the doctor tapping into the major artery running through my upper leg, just south of my groin. Once in, they run a camera attached to a wire up into the vein, through my abdomen, and into my chest where they could manipulate the camera into different vessels around the heart and visually check them for flow. It was a strange experience because I could feel the camera and wire working its way through my body. And I could see it on the huge screen beside me. My veins were like transparent, ghostly lines criss-crossing through my body. Where the camera went was a hard black silhouette of a line, reminding me of something alien from a creature feature.

Then something went wrong. I don't know if was all mental or what, I just know I heard the doctors start commenting on my blood pressure. I was also supposed to be still during the procedure, but I couldn't help moving, as if there were something crawling on my chest and I needed to scratch the skin. I became more agitated by the second and the last thing I heard from the doctor was him calling to the anaesthesiologist, telling him to give me something. Within seconds, I was out, and they finished the procedure while I was unconscious.

To this day, I don't know what happened during that procedure.

Later that day, the doctor came in to see me. He informed me I was scheduled for triple-bypass surgery the following morning.

Deb squeezed my hand, kissed my fingers, then kissed my lips.

Trying to keep a brave face, I squeezed back and returned her kiss. However, for the rest of that day, I felt as if I were holding my breath...

About the Author

Christopher J. Thomasson was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1972. At the age of two, his family permanently settled in the piney woods of East Texas. He discovered a love for reading and writing at a very young age and until the mid-2010's he only ever wrote for himself, his family, and his closest friends.

He currently lives in Smith County, Texas with his beautiful wife Debra. They have two children, Camron and Megan; and four grandchildren; Braydon, Cheyenne, Brooklynn, and Wyatt Christopher.

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