Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I'm Too Young For This Shit: Me & My Heart Attack

Ok, it's been a while. Things have been a bit busy, what with the moving cross-country, starting a new job, and having a kid. Through it all I'm continuing to deal with an existential quandary about my place in and relationship with organized Judaism, so the blogging about religion has somewhat tapered off.

Oh; also there was a heart attack.

As you may have heard around Facebook, I had a minor "major health incident" almost three months ago. You may not have know the details, though, because at first I was hesitant to post them online. Then I was... embarrassed. Not sure why that's my reaction, but it is. I decided it was time to write this post, though, and be a bit more open about the whole thing for one particular reason:

There are absolutely no resources out there for people who have heart attacks in their 30s. Or at least none I can find online.

Granted, the over-50 crowd make up the bulk of coronary heart disease (CHD) patients so it makes sense to cater to them, but you would expect with the hyper-niche formation that has become emblematic of the internet that something would be out there. I have my own theories about why it's like this. First, I suspect that, like me, many younger CHD survivors are too embarrassed to talk openly about their experience. Add in the rarity and it becomes nigh-impossible to gather a critical mass. Second, I suspect that, like me, 30-somethings refuse to accept the possibility they are having a heart attack.

So there's not enough of us who survive the experience in order to bond over it.

I wouldn't have gone to the hospital myself if it weren't for my loving, wonderful, hyper-protective wife. I had been feeling fine, or at least not noticeably bad, and spent the afternoon gaming with some friends. On the way home I started feeling some pain and assumed it was tension-related. When I got home I told Alex; she said that if I wasn't feeling better in 10 minutes we were going to the hospital - "just in case". Nine and a half minutes later we were in the car.

Many experts recommend that if you even think you might be having a heart attack or other life threatening emergency you should call an ambulance rather than drive yourself because you'll get seen sooner. I now agree. We walked into the ER, I told them I was having chest pains, and they directed me to a lovely blue plastic chair where I sat for nearly an hour. Then to the exam room. The nurse hooked up some wires, checked my EKG, and promptly ran out of the room.

That's usually a good sign, right?

She came back in, strapped me to the gurney, and pushed me into the hallway, alternately yelling at people in her way to either move or help.Then I met the nice doctor who got to tell me I was having a heart attack.


There followed some crying and some staring quietly into space while they prepped me, inserting and withdrawing various objects and substances as appropriate. I'll spare you for now the details of the operation and my stay in the ICU, although I may tell those stories sometime, to return to my main point:

It sucks to have a heart attack in your 30s.

Granted, there is no good time to have a heart attack but having one so young adds a special twist. When I go to physical therapy I'm the youngest person in the room by an order of magnitude. Many of the people I meet there tell me they took or are considering early retirement to reduce their stress load - not so much an option for me. They talk about their children coming back home to help or spending as much time as possible with their grandchildren while they can; meanwhile I'm wondering if I'll be around long enough to see my 7-month old son graduate from high school. Or get married. Or learn to walk. Even if I do, will I be able to play with him? Will I be able to teach him sports ("That's great, doctor, because I couldn't play sports before the operation!"), take him camping, or wrestle with him, or  will I be the perpetually weak, tired father on the sidelines his whole life? Having to take more than ten medicines a day or stick to a harsh diet plan for the rest of your life means something very different at 63 than at 33.

I should add that as of now I'm recovering as well as could be hoped. Physically, there was little damage and few lasting side effects. Pharmacologically, it'll take a while longer to get used to the new pills - and the inevitable experimenting until we find the right cocktail. Emotionally...I'm getting there.

I hope in writing this that I can reach other people my age who have CHD to let them know they are not alone. We are here, we are survivors. If you you just went through this and need someone to talk to, contact me. Likewise, if you went through this a while ago and have any advice, I'd be glad to hear it. I'm trying to remember that, long run, this will be a good thing. We found the problem early and with minimal damage, giving me time to learn to manage it. When I reach the age where CHD becomes a more common, more serious problem, I'll already be an expert on the medication and lifestyle.

I know that. It's just hard to internalize.


  1. Hey man, I posted a link on my blog. I totally was one of those people who hears about random 30 year olds having heart attacks and goes, "Yeah, but that's like, REALLY RARE and it's never happened to ANYONE I KNOW." So, now I'm going to be less stupid. I'm so glad you're okay.

  2. Best of luck! My mom's family has a varied history of all sorts of heart problems at various ages, so at least I have a heads up on this.

  3. Take care of yourself! I'm also in my 30's and recently had to change my diet for a variety of reasons (no caffeine, no dairy, limited soy), so I sympathize. However, if you feel better and can be healthy for your son, it'll be worth it!

  4. I was admitted about 10 days ago for chest pains too. Mine would arise from the heart region then explode into a mass of tingles that would shoot up my left arm and sometimes go up my neck to the back of the head. The first test, the ECG/EKG read that I had had a heart attack. Being a single mother to a 4 year old and at the grand old age of 38, it scared the living daylights out of me too. However, I have actually lived with the knowledge that I do have irregular heart beats anyway. That was diagnosed in my teens. My uncle died of a heart attack at 40 and there is allot of family history of CHD. Anyway after 3 days of testing everything from abdonminal scans to brain scans, I was released with a cocktail of meds, told to exercise and stop smoking.

    I now find myself more patient with my little boy. I stop procrastinating about things. Don't dwell on the maybes in life and just get on with it. We are lucky to have survived. Be thankful for it and focus on the best positive things like love rather than hatred, anger etc. We don't have time for that shit...

    1. Thanks Smooch. You're right; we don't have time for this. Hope you're doing well now!

  5. I found this post from another blog. I feel like I can relate, although my story is different than yours. Instead of a heart attack, I had a huge DVT in my leg that went from my groin all the way to my foot at the age of 18. I ignored my symptoms since I couldn't believe someone my age could go through that sort of thing. I also took myself to the ER and was ignored until they diagnosed it, then I was suddenly a "real" patient with heart monitors and everything. It got to the point where I could easily have had a PE, stroke, or heart attack at any moment (I believe I may have had a mini stroke prior that I didn't pay attention to at the time). Anyways, that was six years ago. At the time I found it really difficult to handle mentally. I had to get my blood thinners checked and go to physical therapy. Everyone else was easily 40 yrs older than me. It can be really difficult feeling as if you are some how broken. I understand the not talking about it as well. If it hadn't been for my family, I don't know that my friends would have found out I was in the hospital. I've never really talked about it with any of them. When I meet new people I don't mention it unless it seems really relevant. I feel like it's just too hard to explain. I always get that sort of pity look, which just makes it feel even more like I'm not normal.

    I always get depressed around the anniversary of when I got hospitalized. I finally was able to write about it recently. If you or anyone else reading this would like to read about my experience they can here:


    Anyways, I'd just like to say that you aren't alone. I've noticed over the years that almost everyone I've met has something different about them that you wouldn't normally expect. Everyone has something, and it doesn't make anyone better or worse than someone else. I think over time it'll become easier. I don't know about you, but I really hated myself after what happened to me. I felt unworthy of my friends. I had to reevaluate what my identity was, and I realize now, that I'm still always going to be me. And the me that I am is just as wonderful as who I thought i was before. Just focus on being the best you that you can be, and don't worry about all the what ifs.

    I also agree that this sort of message should be more widely known. The signs and symptoms of blood clots, pulmonary embolisms, strokes, and heart attacks aren't widely known enough, and definitely not by younger individuals. March is blood clot awareness month, and I always try to talk about it on facebook or around my friends (even though it is still a bit touchy for me). I think it's great you are trying to spread the word. :)

    1. I read your post and really identified with a lot of it. Different condition, same experience. Makes me wonder how many more of us there are who got the "If you weren't so young I'd know what you have" diagnosis.

  6. A friend referred me to your post. I am 45 years old. 9 years ago at the age of 36, I went to the doctor for shortness of breath and discomfort and inside of 4 hours was undergoing a triple bypass. This was completely out of the blue. There had apparently been a family history on my mother's side of young heart attacks that I never knew of. I have to say though it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I had no idea in what bad shape I had been until I got the all new plumbing put in. Suddenly I could breathe. PT and recovery go very quickly when your young. You will be surprised how quickly and how thoroughly you will recover from this. I actually like eating fish now. Never did before. Dude, I can run! That was the best thing during the PT - with the newly increased bloodflow and oxygen - I found myself wanting to run! Never thought that would happen. I'm not a jogger or anything like that but to be active, to be able to run up a flight of steps, to ride a bike to work...I've even done a few obstacle mud runs over the past few years. Trust me, it's not something to be ashamed of. Congratulate yourself for getting this out of the way early. It is something to wear like a badass badge. This didn't kill me, world. Whatever's next, bring it!

    1. Aaron and I read your comment last night, and found it inspirational. Thanks for posting and giving us renewed hope for the life ahead!