The Making of a Widow (Part 1)

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The Grim Reaper may or may not get an undeserved bad rap, but when a cardiologist reads an EKG and sees the telltale “tombstones” on the EKG paper he/she knows that a myocardial infarction has occurred, and that coronary heart disease is the likely culprit; someone has joined the ranks of the approximate one million per year experiencing MIs in the United States alone.

All of this Grim Reaper, heart attack, and tombstone tracing is mere talk until it describes something that has happened to someone you love. Or . . . to you. Twice as likely in men as in women, this event can have catastrophic impact, especially when it is the type of MI referred to as the “Widow Maker.”

This came crashing home to me on Tuesday morning at 2:30 AM, when after going to the bathroom I returned to bed only to find myself completely uncomfortable. Quickly I was aware that my left bicep felt like there was a band around it, squeezing relentlessly. I could not escape the pain. Soon I began to sweat, and became light headed.

I woke up my wife, and asked for a cool washcloth on my head. I said something like, “I don’t know for sure, but . . . I might be having a heart attack!”

This was unbelievable to me! I have always taken exercise quite seriously, and although there have been times when I was somewhat overweight, in general I have maintained above average health and strength for my age. Just months ago the doctor told me to get serious about my pre diabetic numbers, and so I did. I quickly attended a class my neighbor was teaching on avoiding diabetes, learned a great deal, and took it to heart.

Not to brag, but . . . I was “the model student.” Pounds began to be shed, a semblance of a six-pack gave hints of emerging. I had been a bit tired over the past few months, but I just relegated that to aging and let it go at that.

But early Tuesday morning none of that was any consolation. The Fire Department arrived in minutes, ran a quick EKG, noted by 100/50 blood pressure, put me on a stretcher, loaded me into the ambulance and began to work their magic. I was given baby aspirin to chew up, and nitroglycerin to dissolve under my tongue. I was shaking like a leaf, and miserable.

It is beyond interesting to be transported at high speed, siren blaring, lying flat on your back; equally fascinating to experience the view provided as you are rolled into a hospital on a stretcher, and wheeled into an OR, doctors and nurses awaiting your arrival. The ceiling doesn’t provide a vantage point with which I am familiar.

And I didn’t know it at the time, but they were probably hoping I’d still be alive by the time I got there; my STEMI was a potential killer. When the doctor started the cardiac cath procedure (radial, BTW) it was clear that he was dealing with a 100% blockage in the LAD, the left anterior descending artery. This supplies blood to the front and main wall of the heart.

This proximal LAD lesion is commonly referred to as “the Widow Maker.”

The cardiologist was able to use a minimally invasive procedure, inserting a stent (wire mesh with an uninflated balloon inside), then inflating the balloon to push out the walls of the wire mesh to match the size of the artery, then deflating and extracting the balloon.

The doctor saved my life that early morning. Interestingly enough, he is the same cardiologist who told me 18 months ago (when referred to him by my GP doctor) to “go home, quit wasting my time, and come back when you have some real symptoms!” This time, I think I qualified.

Now I am at home . . . recovering. My blood pressure and pulse are too low for beta blockers (used to help control arrhythmia) due to a very low ejection fraction rate (caused by the damage to the heart). With healing of the heart muscle this should improve.

I am in the classic 40 day period after an MI, trying to rest, trying to avoid illness (since my heart is too weak to handle it), trying to adjust to what several friends have referred to as “the new normal.”

The Grim Reaper arrived that morning and stood nearby, leaving the smell of death in the air (the same smell we discussed when my mother was nearing death), but it was not my time, I suppose. It was like Garrison Keillor described some years ago when he talked about “just pulling the hearse up close enough so you could smell the flowers.”

I smelled them. The whole family did.

My wife was not made a widow this time. But she felt the shadow of the reaper in a very real way. One day we will all cross that proverbial river.

It is more real to me now than ever before.

About ivanbenson

I am a singer, guitar player, writer, story teller, voice over talent, and heart attack survivor in the Atlanta, Georgia area.
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37 Responses to The Making of a Widow (Part 1)

  1. Dave says:

    One day at a time, my friend. So grateful you made it through!

  2. Sandy Oster says:

    Ohhh, Ivan, I’m so glad you’re here to tell the story. Sounds like you will be the perfect cardiac rehab student, too. Take it easy– it’s hard to learn to be “sick” sometimes. Hope you are feeling way better very soon. Your energy will be zapped for a while, but that’s all part of the process.

    • ivanbenson says:

      Thanks so much for reading, commenting, and encouraging. I’ll try to follow doctor’s orders, and repair soon. Blessings on you and hubby, and don’t forget to practice those drums!

  3. Steve says:

    Ah…well….that’s a different kind of post at the Depot. Very thankful you are relating this event and not someone in your family: yikes! And..a sobering reminder of my (most likely) pre-diabetes numbers, as well as my family’s history of heart issues. Blessings, my brother.

  4. Extraordinary, Ivan, though I am disappointed it took you three days to publish this informative essay on your MI. After all, you’ve just been lying around.

  5. Jeff McVey says:

    Ivan, I had nearly the same experience when I nearly died of pneumonia in 2002, and when I had my stroke in 2015. I have almost always been majestically healthy, so much so that my time in the hospital on both occasions was extremely interesting: these people really exist, and are not just a figment of someone’s television imagination !!!
    My experience with pneumonia left me with a powerful sense of the extreme fragility, almost vapor-like nature of life. The stroke was out of the blue, came after years of warnings about my high-blood pressure, and impressed me with the randomness and almost accidental quality of life.
    We are so glad to hear that you have apparently survived and are recovering as best you can, not just for you but also for your impressive family.
    Yes, enjoy each day, because they are indeed numbered one by one.

    Your friend,
    Jeff McVey

    • ivanbenson says:

      Blessings on you, my old friend. Experience is a great teacher, but sometimes I’d rather read about it than go through it. Thanks for your encouragement.

      • Jeff McVey says:

        We are so glad to hear that you are not yet just another grim statistic. Keep on getting better !!!!

  6. Luanne @ TFK says:

    Ivan, I’m so sorry you’ve been going through all this, but so glad you were blessed with a successful recovery. I trust you will continue on this upward path. Maybe it is because you HAVE taken such good care of your health that you are still here after experiencing such a traumatic event.

  7. Mary Crumbacher says:

    Glad all is well. Wishing you a speedy and healthy recovery from Ken and myself!

  8. Jessica says:

    Ivan, I am so glad you are ok! I couldn’t believe the news when I read it on FB.

    You are such an amazing writer and I can’t even believe that you were feeling up to it after all you have been through!

    Sending you my love and a speedy recovery!

    Jessica

  9. Julie Anderson Armstrong says:

    Praying for you! Praying for strength and healing. I am sorry you had to experience such a scary event.
    I sure miss our walks and conversations!

  10. Jean Pitner says:

    Mr. Benson you remain the consummate storyteller. You probably don’t know, but I am a RN that used to work in the ER and then in the Cardiac Cath Lab, and to hear your story from the patient perspective is eye opening. I am so thankful you are still with us, and able to share your story so eloquently. I will keep you, your family and physicians in my prayers.

    • ivanbenson says:

      Thanks for the accolades; I did not realize you were an RN. Thanks for your kind words, and feel free to correct any medical mistakes I may have made in this treatise. A friend of mine who teaches nursing once did an article re: being on “the other side of sheets” when she experienced heart surgery.

  11. Roger says:

    Have mercy. God doesn’t have to make sense to mortal minds if He doesn’t wan to. But He wastes nothing & works in ways that, although baffling, lead to something amazing later. He isn’t finished w/ you, yet! But goodness gracious! Many people were rattled by this side trip & are praying for you & the family. We are certainly praying for you at my house. Continue to be the “model student/patient” & we look forward to many years of deep fellowship to come. Look forward to when you are ready for visitors but don’t let folks ear you out!

  12. Tony Westmoreland says:

    As I told you in the ICU room on Tuesday, I would have been very upset with you had you passed away unexpectedly and without sufficient warning. I think we all have this on going impression of our continuing immortality, until the reality of our mortality hits us square between the eyes. James 4:14 (NAS) says “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away”. With all that being said I just want to tell you that I thank God you are still with us my friend. I pray that He will strengthen your heart and your recovery will be complete. God willing, I plan to spend many more days with you & your family.

  13. Monica says:

    Great article but something no one ever wants to experience! So Glad God spared us from having to live life without you! We are counting our blessings!

  14. Martha McCance says:

    Thank you for sharing so articulately the nightmare you just lived through, Ivan. And it was so surprising because you really do appear to be the picture of health – pretty amazing what’s going on in the inside that we never even imagine. Yours is, indeed, the story of a miracle from a loving God, as well as a powerful lesson to take note and start taking better care of the temples God has placed our souls inside. Love you, brother, and grateful that God has allowed us to continue to enjoy your friendship and godly wisdom.

  15. Robin Duffy says:

    Oh, Mr. Benson, I’m so glad you are home & well enough to relay your experience–very scary indeed! The Grim Reaper may have come to call that day, but he was thankfully unwelcome & turned away!!!

    Please keep us posted on your recovery. You are treasured by so many & we are praying for your healing & recovery.

    I love your reference to Garrison Keillor. That reminds me of high school. My dad is also a huge Prarie Home Companion fan! Better get Mrs. Benson to stock up on those powder-milk biscuits. You know there wouldn’t be a show without it!!!

    Love to you & your sweet family taking care of you. BE WELL!!!

    Robin (Burns) Duffy ’86

    • ivanbenson says:

      So good to hear from you. I will keep posting on my condition as well as my experience through it all as much as I am able. I showed my wife your comment about powder-milk biscuits, but I am afraid the cardiologist may put his foot down there! Ha! Love to you, my unforgettable Robin.

  16. Suzanne Doublestein says:

    Words can never express how thankful I am for the miracle we saw that day – love you and continuing to pray for your healing! I love you – always have and always will. 😉

    • ivanbenson says:

      You are a sweet one, my dear. Never thought this would happen to me, but . . . it HAS! And your love and support through it all is invaluable to me. I love you, too. Always have; always will.

  17. Jeff McVey says:

    How are you doing today, Ivan ??? Making progress, I hope ???

  18. Pingback: So, you just had a HEART ATTACK? – HeartAttackSurvivor

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