As many of you who follow my posts every other week know, I have been conspicuously absent for a month or so. Like Big Ben or Old Faithful, I could always be counted on to provide a new entry every two weeks like clockwork. Well, sadly, that perfect record now has a blemish on it. I was unable to perform my duties as your purveyor of Rheumatoid Arthritis facts and R.A. related info, but I assure you there is a good reason.

As those of you who follow my shoulder replacement blog know, I went under the knife on September 26 in order to get my joint replaced. Well, the surgery itself was a success. I won’t go into too much detail here, but sufficed to say that I will soon be able to reach those plates on the top shelf. (For an in-detail account of the surgery and its outcome, please check out the shoulder replacement surgery blog–Part 5.) Unfortunately, there were unexpected complications that made a five-day long hospital stay into a week-long ordeal that has far-reaching consequences that will affect me for the rest of my life.

As I said, the surgery went fine, and I was recovering quite nicely the next day. I had a room with a view of the East River, and the sunlight beaming in plus the ships going by made for a relaxing day of healing. It provided a welcome rest after the fiasco I had to deal with the first night of my hospital stay. As I have told you all in the past, hospitals do not take well to patients who take large amounts of narcotic pain medicine. Because the surgery was performed late in the day, I did not get assigned a hospital room until after visiting hours were over. The lateness of the hour meant that I had to deal with the night staff of doctors and nurses, and it took until well after 3am to get the right people to provide me with enough pain medication to allow for sleep.

So, after a day of rest and recovery and the proper pain medication regimen, I was watching television while waiting for sleep to take me. Suddenly, at around 1am, I felt a pain near the middle of my esophagus. I had felt pain like this before, and I chalked it up to a pill that had gotten stuck halfway down my throat. I immediately began to drink water to help wash it out and push it the rest of the way. It didn’t work.

After three minutes or so, I began to sweat profusely. In addition, the pain became more severe, and started radiating outward from the initial spot of discomfort. In the back of my mind, a voice was shouting at me that it knew what was happening. I ignored this inner voice and called the nurse. When he showed up, I told him the symptoms and he immediately ordered an EKG to see if my heart was beating properly. When I saw his face after he looked at the results, I finally conceded the fact that the voice in my head was right – I was probably having a heart attack.

To make a long story short, after a whirlwind night of tests, procedures, and a lot of Nitroglycerin and Aspirin, I ended up in the ICU at New York Presbyterian. Originally, it was thought I had some form of Pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart tissue. After my blood tests came back, though, it showed that my heart had been damaged, which proved that there was, in fact, a blockage in one of my arteries. By the time I was told this, I was not surprised to hear that I had a blockage. This was because at that time I was having chest pain that rivaled the worst R.A. pain I had ever experienced.

I am not sure if any of you have ever experienced a heart attack before, but let me tell those of you who haven’t – it is one of the most painful things I have ever endured. Whenever I have read about heart attacks or blockages, no one ever mentions the tremendous pain that goes along with the event. Morphine is usually used to control this burning, stabbing, throbbing pain in the chest, but because I used narcotic pain medicine on a regular basis, the normal dose of Morphine did nothing at all. In the end, I needed four times the regular dose before my pain subsided enough to be bearable. Unfortunately, waiting for the pharmacy to deliver the Morphine in between doses was pure torture. The pain never went away completely, mind you – that is until I made my trip to the cath lab.

Medical technology has come a long way since the first open heart surgery. Today, doctors can thread a camera and a needle into your femoral artery (in the thigh), and then feed said needle all the way to the heart where they use a special tool on the end to remove any arterial blockages. All the while, the patient is fully awake and aware, and can monitor the progress on computer screens in the operating room. This is the procedure I underwent eight hours after my heart attack, and it was only then that my pain finally subsided. The doctors removed the 100% blockage from my left anterior descending artery, and once they opened up the passage by inflating a small balloon, the doctors inserted a stent. A stent, for those who don’t know, is a small metal mesh tube that keeps the artery open once the doctors remove the needle.

So, once I was blockage-free and my shoulder was well on the way to healing, I was allowed to leave the hospital and sleep in my own bed. It has now been a month since the incident, and I am just now getting back to some semblance of a normal life. Of course, my diet and lifestyle will be forever altered, but there is nothing bad about living and eating healthy (except maybe the taste). I still have to undergo another cath procedure to remove another 70% blockage and put in another stent, but that will be something to talk about next time. For now, I am lucky to be here with you, writing this column, and I know it. This is why I call it my triumphant return – I beat the widowmaker and I came out with a brand new shoulder to boot. I’d like to thank everyone here at CJ who sent their thoughts and prayers, as well as tell my family, my love, my friends, and my readers that you guys aren’t going to get rid of me that easily!