Tammie Painter recently posted about the health risks of writing, primarily due to inactive lifestyles. One week later, I got first-hand evidence to confirm this post. Yes, it was a STEMI heart attack triggered by a 90% blockage of the LAD artery. Depending on whom you ask, that may or may not be the Widowmaker, so named because it has caused a lot of women to lose their husbands. The event has necessarily delayed my writing, and I think this issue is important enough to deserve a few thoughts from the inside, presented in no meaningful order that I can discern.
- A heart attack can surprise anybody. I don’t drink heavily or smoke at all, I eat a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, and have always had excellent blood pressure and decent (though not stellar) cholesterol levels. I even started regular aerobic exercise two years ago, and I’m relatively young (not yet fifty). I’ve been watching for this kind of thing for over a decade due to family history, yet it caught me without warning, and my friends were surprised that it happened to me, too. It is dangerous to assume this can’t happen to you, because it can.
- A support system really helps. I spent a significant portion of the first day after my STEMI in tears – and not because of pain. The support I received from our friends during this past week has been overwhelming. Yes, I have missed work — and writing — for a duration I would have considered unconscionable in the days before my attack, but they really did hold things together for my family while I was out of operation. Oh, yeah, and my wife is awesome.
- Dealing with the risks in advance is worthwhile. All things considered, I am doing well after my heart attack. My hospital neighbors with compounding issues like diabetes or nicotine addiction have had it far worse than I. Despite my reasonably good pre-STEMI health, I find myself frustrated today by how weak and slow my post-heart-attack body seems to be, even when I “feel” good. They tell me this can improve, but even so, I look forward to taking multiple medications every single day for the rest of my life in order to avoid another attack. If you think it’s annoying to eat right and exercise today, consider what restrictions could be applied to your life if you don’t.
- Trauma may have a delayed emotional impact. I was mentally aware of what had happened to me from the start, but its implications seemed more like an annoyance for days after the event. I was actually more worried about my wife’s state of mind until a nurse in the PCU pointed out the obvious: that I could have died, and it was legitimately a big deal. Only then was I ready to apply myself 100% to my own recovery.
Moral of the story: unless you’re looking to transition into a permanent career as a ghost writer, you need to take a hard look at your own life and do those things today that will protect your life tomorrow. And if you know someone who has gone through a traumatic event (patients and relatives both apply here), give them the time to emotionally understand what has happened. We don’t all process things at the same rate.
 My doctor says the term “widowmaker” should only be used to describe blockage of the left main coronary artery, whereas it was my left anterior descending artery that was blocked. Honestly, I don’t care if I’m being imprecise, because I’m not a doctor, and they’re both bad news.
 The PCU is the “Progressive Care Unit”, where they send you after you’re stabilized in the cardiac care unit, and before you’re ready to go home. I told my sister that progressive care is just like intensive care, but with a livable minimum wage. I was being facetious.