This Article Scared the Hell out of Me
Christopher Hitchens, naturally, has a take-down of those who would lionize a dead man and heap sentiment on the fact of his death. (E-mails entitled "The Russert Miracles" and plaintive whimpers of "Is anyone still an atheist now?" after playing "Over the Rainbow" at his funeral are just too much. Bleh.) But this article, which I want you to read, is decidedly not maudlin. It is terrifying.
Most Saturday mornings, I bicycle with a group of men, mostly in their 50s, whom I affectionately call the Cheat Death group. We are all in pretty good shape, competitive but supportive, and convinced that hard-core exercise is our ticket to postponing the inevitable.
The ride a few Saturdays back was a tough one. At 6:30 a.m., the pack took off fast and immediately headed for the hills near Durham, N.H. The first few climbs felt pretty good, but by the third hill I started to feel nauseated.
Figuring that was probably a result of the four beers and large Chinese dinner the night before, I kept going. Twenty-five miles into the ride, I had fallen to the back of the pack. I was short of breath and wondering how I was going to make it much farther.
Bicks felt so bad that he fell back, stopped riding, and called his wife to get a ride home. After showering, and still feeling awful, he lay down and started thinking about Tim Russert.
Though I am a 50-year-old guy with a stressful job and a little too much around the middle, I had a clean bill of health. I had good cholesterol numbers and a great doctor, and recently I had passed a cardiac stress test.
That’s when Tim Russert popped into my head. In the last couple of weeks, like almost every middle-age man, I had taken a very personal interest in every detail of his story. Yes, he was overweight. But hadn’t he just passed a stress test?
That’s when the light went on. I bolted out of bed, went to the computer and Googled “How do you know you are having a heart attack?” The first Web site that popped up was a list of warning signs from the American Heart Association. As I read on, I started to sweat.
“Shortness of breath.” Check.
“Chest discomfort.” Perhaps, though it really didn’t feel like much [emphasis mine].
Ignoring the Web site’s advice to call 911 (I was too vain to have an ambulance pull up to my house), I drove to the hospital.
Of course, macho man. Ugh! Men.
The man gives the admissions nurse his age - fifty. The nation's emergency rooms, as it turns out, has seen a significant uptick in men reporting mild chest pains.
A doctor attached some wires to my body and conducted a quick EKG. “Mr. Bicks,” he said minutes later, “you are suffering a heart attack.”
Fifty years old, healthy, athletic, good cholesterol, and suffering a heart attack.
As in Tim Russert’s case, there were no warning signs. No sign I was suffering from coronary artery disease. A piece of plaque in one of my arteries just broke off and created a massive blood clot. When it did, I suffered a severe heart attack. If I had not gone to the hospital, I might very well have died.
It doesn't matter how young you feel or how healthy you are. You can have a heart attack. I wish I could say that I didn't know relatively young people - athletes themselves - who died in their sleep from a heart attack, but I do.
A piece of plaque is all it takes. A blood clot. Some ignored symptoms (or being a macho man/minimizing woman about it). Don't ignore them. Get help right away, even if you think it's embarrassing, or exaggerating. Think of Tim Russert and be safe rather than sorry.
Well, that's probably the way that Tim Russert would want us to remember him. I certainly will (and Michael Bicks, too).
Shimmies to Michael Bicks and Jason Rosenhouse at EvolutionBlog.