Igot my heart fixed on Valentine's Day. It was unplanned, believe me, but when I woke up Saturday with tightness in my chest, a visit to the hospital became urgent business. I called my internist, Mark Kaplan, who said, "Chew two aspirin, Ron, and swallow them with water, then have June take you to St. Joseph Medical Center. The Heart Institute there is terrific. They'll take good care of you."
Off we went to the emergency room at St. Joe's. Within two hours, Dr. Mark G. Midei and the rest of his "Cath Team" were working at warp speed to first determine the extent of arterial blockage in my heart and then to insert a heart stent into my right coronary artery, which they had discovered to be 95 percent occluded. The way they determine this is through a coronary angiogram, also known as a heart catheterization. A catheter is inserted into the groin or arm and pushed into position at the beginning of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. A fluid called contrast dye is then injected through the tube to visualize the blood vessels on X-Rays so pictures, called angiograms, can be taken, allowing the doctors to see any blockages and how severe they might be.
As mentioned, mine was severe. Luckily, the left main was clear and the stent alone could do the job of opening the right coronary artery. There was no need for bypass surgery of the kind performed last year on Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. The reason I mention Mr. Smith is that I saw him at WBAL shortly after he returned to work, and when I asked how he felt, he said, "I've never felt better." It's amazing how much finer one feels when the blood flows through the heart freely. I can vouch for that today.
Another thing Jim Smith said to me was that he went to the hospital after three mornings in a row in which he experienced chest tightness. This was the same phenomenon that struck me. Both of us were lucky to avoid potentially lethal heart attacks (myocardial infarction) - lucky because we should have heeded the first warning and sought medical help then, not two days later.
Here's the annoying sermon from the recently converted: If you have heaviness in your chest or shortness of breath, you may well be suffering from a reduced blood flow to your heart muscle. Don't delay seeking help or treatment. If you have pain in the neck or the jaw, persistent heartburn, heavy sweating or nausea, get medical help. Recent research has shown that women may experience different symptoms of cardiac disease than men, being less likely to report chest pain during a heart attack. Women may notice other symptoms, such as unusual tiredness or sleep disturbances. Again, get help.
The people most at risk for coronary heart disease - not surprisingly - are those over 65, a man or a post-menopausal woman. Oh, and if you smoke, stop. If you eat a high-fat diet, change it. If you don't exercise, start. End of sermon. Amen.
I'm grateful to the staff at St. Joe's, to the doctors, nurses and supervisors, for the excellent care they provided me. On the back flap of one of the booklets given me when I went home was a note saying:
"Thank you for choosing St. Joseph's. Your Cath Team: Dr. Midei; Sue Blackstock, RN; Jill Brown, RN; William Willey, RCIS; and Ron Beckwith, RCIS."
Actually, all thanks are due to you guys for your expertise in putting Talkshowman back on the road. Because of your efforts, chances are I'll be around to chew the fat and offer my observations on things for some time to come. I feel like a million bucks!
Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Wednesdays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is email@example.com.