As a male quickly approaching my 50’s, I must say I feel every bit of my age; my parts are a little rusty and I certainly don’t have the power I once had, but luckily, I don’t have any parts missing! I guess I am so up there in age that I occasionally surf the Internet trying to find information about heart attacks.

This past week I went through quite a scare when I suddenly started to feel a dull ache in my chest area radiating to the middle of my upper back. Of course, I was worried and thinking I was possibly having early warning signs of a heart attack. Trying to convince myself, I thought, “My parents and family have no history of heart problems, so I shouldn’t be worried.” At the same time, I started thinking about how my diet had been a little off kilter lately and how those Friday happy hour rum and cokes were causing a lot of heartburn every Saturday morning. Other than that, I was exercising at least 30 minutes every weekday and I was eating low-fat and healthy foods, for the most part.

I decided not to take a chance. After all, I have two kids and a wife counting on me at home, and I don’t really have the type of life insurance policy to be able to sustain them for the next several years comfortably, at least not yet. Even though I considered myself a true warrior, the dull pain had already lasted 4 hours.

I drove myself to the nearest fire rescue station and asked the attending fireman to take my blood pressure. He politely asked if there was anything wrong as he sensed my agitation and uneasiness. I told him what I was feeling and moments later, after a routine EKG test, I found myself getting a nitroglycerin spray on my tongue and ingesting 4 baby aspirin while strapped in tight on a gurney on my way to the hospital. All the while, I kept insisting the pain in my chest was coming from my stomach and not  my heart and that it was merely gastritis. In my mind, I was  convinced of this due to my negative family heart history and because I was diagnosed with gastritis just last year. For a moment, though, I couldn’t help but think I may have been experiencing early warning signs of a heart attack.

Once I arrived at the hospital, my nerves started to get the best of me as I couldn’t stop thinking about my kids and wife, worrying about the slight possibility of a heart condition. Was I at the age where I should start getting concerned with artery obstructions in my heart? Was it really possible that all those years of occasional fatty meals had caught up with me?

My blood pressure had started going “out of whack” just one year earlier and the medications I had taken were giving me too many side effects, so I stopped taking them, thinking I could control my blood pressure through diet and exercise. When the nurse took my blood pressure at the hospital, it registered at 140/100! Ouch.

Nurse Vampire (she was actually very nice) then started taking my blood, enough to fill a few vials, and within the next hour my blood pressure had dropped back down to 125/79. I was feeling much better and I started thinking how I got worked up for nothing over a little pain in the chest which I knew was stomach-related.

An x-ray technician came into my emergency room and took a quick chest x-ray. About 30 minutes later, the doctor came into the room and told me my blood tested negative for cardiac enzymes and she wanted to keep me overnight for observation and to take a CTA scan (Computed Tomography Angiography) of my heart in order to make sure there was nothing obstructing the blood flow. The threat of my episode being anything resembling the early warning signs of a heart attack was gone!

The following morning, after fasting for about 22 hours, I finally got my chance to get my CTA scan. Once in the room, the technician told me the test would take about 30 -45 minutes, depending on how quickly my resting pulse rate could get between 50-60 beats per minute. I proudly told him my resting rate was already at about 55 BPM because I was in good cardiovascular shape as the result of bike riding every day. He seemed happy and said, “Well, let’s see.”

After a 5 minute prep, the entire CTA scan lasted only 10 minutes. Apparently, my resting pulse rate was exactly where it needed to be for this kind of test without having to take any medication to lower it for scanning purposes. The technician and nurse both thanked me for being such a wonderful patient and I could tell they were in a great mood as lunchtime had arrived.

Two hours later, the doctor walked in and told me everything checked out just fine with my heart; I had no obstructions at all and the pain was likely a result of my gastritis history. I felt such a sense of relief! Even though I kept telling myself my  heart was fine there was always that hint of doubt, the kind of doubt that forced me to check it out, just in case! I knew deep inside if the pain ever happened again I would have to presume the worst; that I was possibly having early warning signs of a heart attack and I couldn’t take the chance, especially when I am always covered by my company insurance policy.

By the way, the hospital staff was so amazing throughout my whole ordeal that I wrote a commendation letter to the administration thanking their employees for their friendliness and professionalism.  I urge you to do the same for these wonderful men and women who give their all and work long hours and odd shifts.

My experience got me to thinking; I read somewhere how many men and women ignore common heart attack symptoms until it’s too late and how this can easily be avoided. If you are feeling light-headedness, nausea, indigestion, shortness of breath, heavy sweating, and extreme fatigue, call 911 immediately and let them check you out. Even though fire rescue is not equipped to give you a diagnosis, they are your best chance for survival if it really is a heart attack. It may not be heart-related but why would you want to take a chance with your life?

The 65 and older population should always stay on top of information about heart attacks so they can be better prepared; they are much more likely than any other age group to experience a heart attack.

I would imagine this won’t be my last trip to the hospital in my life regarding any type of pain in my chest. Maybe I won’t visit the hospital anytime soon after the great news but I will definitely not hesitate after the next several years or so, even if I believe my chest pain is stomach-related. For now, my arteries are clear as a whistle and that’s enough to lower my blood pressure at least a few points! if you ever think you are suffering from early warning signs of a heart attack, don;t hesitate to call 911 right away; it can save your life.