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Heart Attack

On July 1, 2012, I had some guitars that needed some attention, so I brought them to my guitar guy, Fran. Fran's the best—if you ever need a guitar worked on, call me, because he's the man. Since Fran lives near the dump, I load up my truck with trash, grab a couple of guitars, and head out. I notice a little heartburn on my way to Fran's, but I put it down to a rough night the night before. After dropping off the guitars, I meander over the to the dump and empty my truck. The heartburn's a little worse now, and I’m thinking about heading to the convenience store to pick up some Tums. On the way home, it occurs to me that this is a little different from normal heartburn. It's right in the center of my chest, and it's not going away; it's constant. Not being completely stupid, I call Louise to see if she's free to bring me to the hospital just to check it out. She's not home. She's already in Hyannis, our nearest big city. She asks what I want, and I tell her I was thinking of having her drive me to the hospital because I'm having some serious indigestion. Don't worry, I tell her, the hospital's not far and I'll just drive over there. Well, I'm on my way down Route 132, about three miles from the hospital, when my phone rings. I don't recognize the number but decide to answer it anyway. “Hello?” “Mr. Hagberg? This is the Barnstable Police Department. We got a call from your wife that you're having a heart attack and you're driving to the hospital?” “Well, I don't think it's a heart attack,” I say. “It's just some heartburn that won't go away. I'll be at the hospital in about five minutes and have them check it out.” “Mr. Hagberg, I'm instructing you to pull over immediately, let me know your location, and we'll send the rescue squad to get you.”

I believe that you should obey a lawful order from a police officer, so I pull over into a nearby parking lot and tell him where I am and what I'm driving. I'm literally about a three-minute drive from the emergency room and everyone seems to think I'm having a heart attack. About ten minutes later (remember, I could have driven to the hospital in three minutes), an ambulance pulls up next to my truck and three EMTs run over to me. They won't let me get out of the truck; they pull over a gurney and make me get on it, and they start to strap me down. Hey, the ambulance is ten feet away—I can walk over! No dice. I'm now in the ambulance, and they start hooking me up to wires and starting an IV. Here, put this under your tongue, it's nitroglycerine. I keep cracking jokes and insisting that I’m fine. I do that when things get scary; it's a defense mechanism, I suppose. I insist that I’m not having a heart attack. The EMT looks at my EKG, waves the strip of paper in front of my eyes, and says, “Mr. Hagberg, if this isn't a heart attack, then I don't know what a heart attack is. You're in almost complete heart failure and we're getting out of here.” Lights, siren, action! And away we fly to the hospital. Now, I've been to the emergency room plenty of times and I hate the wait. But there’s no waiting today. I'm wheeled immediately past the waiting hordes of unwashed humanity and pushed into a room where there are at least eight people waiting for me. “Mr. Hagberg? I'm Doctor Somebody [I don't remember his name], and we're going to take good care of you.” While he's saying this, two people are removing and cutting off my clothes, two nurses are working on a better IV, one nurse is wrapping tubes around my head and putting them in my nose to get me more oxygen, and one is taking blood and running to the lab. Here's the weird part. I feel fine. I keep trying to get up off the table and they keep gently pushing me back down. Finally, the doctor whose name I can't remember pushes me down on the bed, leans over and says, “Mr. Hagberg. You are in the middle of a heart attack. Now, are you going to let us take care of you or do you want to do it yourself?” Okay, then, that's clear. I lie down and try to flirt with one of the nurses. Cath Lab, Cape Cod Hospital. If you're ever going to have a heart attack, get in your car and drive to Cape Cod Hospital. Their heart guys and chest cutters are as good as you'll find anywhere. I guess it's because we have a lot of old people who have heart attacks and there's lots of business. I meet Dr. Richard Zelman, who I'm later told is one of the very best in the country. He explains that he's going to insert a stent into an artery in my groin and push it up to the blockage to clear it and repair the damage. Now, the really cool thing is that I'm wide awake, and being the complete jerk I can be, I start discussing with him the best path to the blockage. I think they finally gave me something to knock me out and shut me up, because I don't remember the last part of “our” operation. When I come to I'm in recovery, and the Lovely Louise is staring down at me. She says something like, “I don't know whether to hug you or kill you myself for scaring me like that.” Wait a minute! I didn't do this on purpose, and I promise you I know easier ways to get a hug from you. She forgave me for causing her concern and set about making sure I was well taken care of. Anyway, I recovered fully with one stent in my artery and a clean bill of health since. I didn't and don't have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. There was no indication that I was at risk for a heart attack. But I did learn one thing: I now keep a bottle of Tum's in my glove compartment. If I get heartburn again, I'm going to chew five of those bad boys, and if it doesn't get better, I'm calling the EMTs to come get me and bring me back to Cape Cod Hospital. Everyone I annoyed was incredibly professional, and I'm grateful to all of them—although I don't recommend a heart attack as the best way to meet these great people.


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