New York City at Christmas time is a sight to behold. Window dressings of gold, silver, red and green sparkle with tiny lights that call out to be admired. The massive decorated Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center draws thousands to its presence. ‘Peace on Earth, Good Will towards Men,’ encourages all to view with delight and puts a smile on the glowing, rosy- cheeked faces that brave the chill winds.
Jessica and her dear friend, Alice, could only see a bit of the tree, as the crowd was large. Having taken the train from Connecticut, they still reveled in the joy of the season. Finished with their sightseeing, they walked back towards the subway that would transport them to Grand Central Station. Jessica was uncomfortable. She had chosen the wrong boots and they pained her. Nonetheless, the two enjoyed the city’s shimmer and recalled holidays past.
The subway was packed with scarf wearing, package carrying people. They stood, feeling grateful that this was only a short ride. “Do you feel alright?’ Alice asked of Jessica. “You’re awfully pale and sullen.”
“I’m not sure,” answered Jess. “I feel a bit nauseous and my legs are cramping.”
There were empty seats on the railroad train and Jessica and Alice sat down with relief. Jessica immediately removed her boots and rubbed her calves to sooth away the aches. “I really don’t feel well,” Jessica told her friend. “I can’t wait to get home and lie down. I hope I’m not getting some kind of virus…I’ve already called out sick once this month.”
The train’s motions and sounds usually lulled Jessica into a relaxed, sleepy state. This time, however, she felt agitated and pensive. Alice chattered away, complaining about the negotiations needed to placate all of her family members for this holiday’s annual visits. “Brewster, Brewster!” called the conductor as they neared their stop.
“Alice, I don’t know what’s wrong, but I feel horrible,” Jessica stated with tears in her eyes. “Let’s get home quickly as I need to lie down.”
The twenty-minute car ride didn’t happen as planned. Jessica climbed into the back seat to lie, calling out, “Alice, I think you need to take me to the hospital- my chest is tight, my arm hurts and my legs are getting more crampy. Alice, I’m really scared. Dear God, I think I’m having a heart attack.”
Petite, healthy Jessica had just celebrated her forty-sixth birthday. Alice stepped down on the car’s accelerator and hit a speed of close to 100 miles per hour. They hurtled towards the hospital that sat atop a hill in their hometown. “You’ll be fine, don’t worry, we’re almost there,” Alice said through sobs of panic. “Stay in the car and I’ll get someone to help.” They had made the trip in less than fifteen minutes.
Alice ran into the Emergency Department calling, “My friend’s in the car and she’s having a heart attack. Please, somebody, help!”
Behind the closed curtain of a cubicle equipped to handle cardiac care, doctors and nurses surrounded Jessica as they quickly accessed her condition and began to administer medications that could reverse this trauma.
Jessica knew she was dying. She closed her eyes and prayed and all went dark.
“Honey, it’s not your time,” her deceased father told her. “Go back darling…you have people that need you.”
Rushed to the operating room, a cardiac surgeon began his life saving work. Myriad tubes and monitoring machines overwhelmed her small body. Medications that can unclog arteries, stabilize blood pressure and regulate heart rhythms were flowing as the cardiac surgeon carefully threaded a catheter from the vein in her groin into her heart’s arteries.
Numerous occlusions where plaque was blocking free flowing blood in her arteries were seen. The surgeon precisely placed a stent in one particularly blocked are. [Stents are small mesh tubes used to treat narrow or weak arteries. They improve the blood flow and help prevent the arteries from bursting at the point of blockage.]
Alice had alerted Jessica’s mother and daughter. All were awaiting news from the surgeon; their anxiety levels near the breaking point. “How can this be?” Jessica mother cried out to no one in particular. “She’s young and healthy. Dear Lord, don’t take her from me.”
An eternity seemed to pass and the surgeon then met with the family. He explained his findings and the treatments used to save Jessica’s life. She would remain in the Cardiac Care Unit for days as she regained strength and was monitored around the clock.
Jess returned home and a month passed. She took care to not stress herself and to responsibly take her numerous medications. Follow up visits with the cardiologist taught her that her heart attack might be genetically based. [Heart disease definitely seems to run in families. If you have a relative who had an early heart attack, then you are at a higher risk of having one yourself.] Placed on a strict diet to help keep further episodes at bay, Jessica began to come to terms with her experience.
“I think of older men who are overweight and have extremely stressful jobs as the ones to have heart attacks,” she said. “It seems so unfair that this happened to me, but I know that it was God’s will. I don’t understand His will, but I believe that He never gives us more than we can handle.”
It has been one year since Jessica had her heart attack. She lives with her adult daughter, has an awesome boyfriend and continues to work full-time. From time to time she experiences tightness in her chest and has an occasional dizzy spell. She will take the medication prescribed for those minor episodes and try to slow down a rather hectic life style.
She looks amazingly well. Blonde, trim and sassy, Jessica did not take her brush with death lightly. “I like to try new things now, like zip lining. I hope to travel when I get caught up on the outrageous medical bills that still haunt me. I’m acutely aware that life is precious and I don’t want to sit around and let life pass me by…
Seeing my Dad on that day was incredible. I know that some think I was just delirious, but I know better. He watches over me and that is a huge comfort. I told my mother that I’m having two birthdays this year. I’ll be celebrating my actual birthday AND the day I survived.”