By Ralph Walker
Dear Family and Friends,
While it is never my intention to unnecessarily frighten others, in the interest of public safety I feel compelled to make this announcement:
WARNING: RASPBERRY GARDEN DESTRUCTION CAN LEAD TO MAJOR HEART ATTACKS!!!
How have I come to know this undeniable fact?
Because this past Sunday around 8:00 pm (and I’m not kidding) I suffered a major heart attack. Furthermore, this event occurred less than 2 weeks after my raspberry garden was virtually destroyed.
Here are the facts:
Sunday, May 20th
8:00 pm: I came in from the backyard after having worked all day outside. I was hot, tired, and thirsty. I don’t recall if I felt any chest pains at that moment, but I realized I had ‘overdone it’ a bit. I told Loryn I needed to cool off and having run a cool bath earlier that afternoon I undressed and stepped into the tub.
8:08 pm: I began to feel some chest pains. I found this odd but figured I was just overheated. However, within moments the pain began increasing dramatically.
8:09 pm: I assumed that I was having an episode of ‘atrial fibrillation’ (a-fib) which I’ve had off and on for 20+ years. But this didn’t feel like a-fib. As the pain increased I took my pulse. Instead of an irregular heartbeat (which occurs with a-fib) my pulse regular BUT it was pounding like never before.
8:10 pm: The pain began to subside. I decided again that I was just overheated. I was relieved because I was debating whether or not to say anything to Loryn. I didn’t want to overreact and sound like a whiny baby (mothers and wives know how men really are behind closed doors). However, seconds later the pain returned with a vengeance.
8:13 pm: I realized I had to tell Loryn. Something was VERY wrong. I stood up, grabbed a towel, took a couple of steps and then collapsed to my knees at the foot of the bed. I called out for Loryn who came rushing in.
8:14 pm: I told Loryn I needed to go to the hospital – RIGHT THEN! Loryn took one look at me and quite intelligently called 911.
8:15 pm: I began sweating profusely; streams were literally pouring down from my head creating a wet spot on the carpet. The pain was enormous.
8:18 pm: In four (count ‘em folks – 4!!!) minutes, not one, but TWO firetrucks pulled up to our house.
STILL 8:18 pm: Although the pain was almost unbearable my innate, overwhelming sense of modesty (those of you who know me well know exactly what I’m talking about) took over. Despite my previous inability to move, I somehow found the strength to stand up and throw on some underwear (clean, mind you), a t-shirt (also clean) and jeans. I even hobbled my way to the closet and put on a pair of sandals (the ones I got married in) before returning to my crumpled position on the floor. How I found the strength to do this I may never know.*
*I feel compelled to mention at this point that getting dressed was limited only to my manly modesty. It had nothing to do with any “alternative” facts such as:
(1) I was butt-naked, wet, and freezing cold from my bath, and
(2) The room was about to be filled with young, strong, able-bodied firemen, or
(3) I held the least bit of fear that there might be snickers or snide remarks made about the temporary state of my – how shall we say – ‘privates.’
8:20 pm: Half a dozen firemen immediately went to work on me. They operated like a well-oiled machine. Not a moment was wasted. Calmly, yet urgently they communicated among themselves, each man knowing exactly what to do and when to do it. The manner in which they handled the situation and conducted themselves was extraordinary. They were taking my pulse, putting in IVs, asking questions, hooking up electrodes, taking readings, questioning Loryn and drawing blood – all at once. At the same time they were constantly patting my shoulder and reassuring me – by name – that I was going to be okay and that they were taking care of me.
In those moments I felt three things – overwhelming pain, frustration, and gratitude for these young men who were working so hard to save my life.
The pain was so intense that I was barely able to lift my head. But every few moments I would open my eyes, look at Loryn and reassure her,“I’m going to be okay. I’m not leaving. This is not my time.”
Shortly thereafter, however, my vocabulary was reduced to two words: “Hurt!” (to describe my pain) and “F—k!” (to describe my frustration which I will soon explain).
8:30 pm: I was lifted onto a stretcher, put into an ambulance and rushed to Kennestone Hospital. Loryn later told that both the ambulance driver and paramedic were women. At that point I was unable to open my eyes.
8:50 pm: I was rushed into the emergency room. By now I was barely conscious. The next thing I remember was being lifted from the stretcher onto an x-ray table. My modesty was then quickly undone with a pair of scissors.
I was then put back on the stretcher and wheeled into the ‘cath’ (catheter) lab. Loryn was told I was having a heart attack. She ran beside the stretcher as I was wheeled down the hallway and kissed me as I disappeared into the lab. They told her they were going to put in some stents and that it would take about 30 minutes.
9:15ish pm: I opened my eyes and saw that I was lying on my back on an operating table(?) surrounded by a dozen(?) or so men and women. Everyone now had a bird’s-eye view of my privates. I was unable, however, to determine whether or not any snide remarks or vicious rumors were circulating the room. (“Gee, it looks like one, only smaller!”) At that point I no longer cared.
While in this naked and exposed state a fellow started shaving my groin area. But then he stopped and asked me, “Have you had hernia surgery?” I was able to nod ‘yes’ and he immediately shouted to the surgeon, “Not the groin! Go through the arm!”
9:45ish pm: I was writhing in pain. People kept encouraging me to hang in there. Apparently, I was required to stay awake for the entire procedure. I kept repeating “Hurt!” over and over again. A nurse told me for the umpteenth time that I was about to be given some pain meds. But at that point I knew she was lying because for whatever reason they needed to wait (maybe until the procedure was over?) before I could be given anything.
They did, however, top me off with fluids such that I was soon struck with a new source of pain: my bladder felt as though it was going to burst. I now added two new words to my vocabulary: “Gotta pee!”
It was then that the surgeon yelled, “Please hold still, Ralph! I’m trying to save your LIFE!”
Whether it was due to ignorance or stubbornness on my part, it wasn’t until then that I actually realized I was having a heart attack. I know that sounds incredible, but it’s true.
You see, my grandfather, father, and older brother all died of heart attacks in their 60’s; my uncle didn’t even make it to 60. I was determined not to go that way. My uncle and grandfather were lifelong smokers and my father and brother didn’t keep their weight under control. I was going to avoid their fate through exercise and proper diet. I have mostly done so. But I’m now in my 60’s.
This is why I had been saying “F—k!” when the paramedics first arrived. I suppose a part of me knew what was going on, but another part of me refused to accept it. I simply couldn’t believe it was happening to me. I wasn’t supposed to have a heart attack. That wasn’t going to happen to me. But when I heard the surgeon say, “I’m trying to SAVE YOUR LIFE!” it all came crashing down.
I was having a heart attack.
I remained as still as I could until the procedure was finished. My bladder now hurt almost as badly as my chest. In fact, so much fluid had been put into me that I started coughing bloody-looking fluid from my lungs. (They said it wasn’t blood but then again they kept saying they were going give me pain meds so who knows?)
10:36 pm: Hospital personnel told Loryn that the cath procedure was over. It had taken an hour longer than expected. A few minutes later the surgeon came out and spoke to Loryn.
“Your husband has suffered a major heart attack. One artery was 100% blocked. Another one was 90% blocked. I put in three stents to open them up. You need to know that you literally saved his life by calling 911.”
Only then did Loryn realize how serious the situation had been.
I know this is a long post so I’ll fast forward. Sunday night I was put on a respirator to clear my lungs. I didn’t sleep. Monday morning they replaced the respirator with one of those plastic tube thingys they stick up your nostrils which was a great improvement.
Monday afternoon a cardiac/instructor/educator lady dropped by to give us the here’s-what-happened-to-ya talk. She had a colorful drawing of my heart, complete with all my blockages and the location of my new stents. She sweetly informed us that my heart function had been reduced to 40% and that any damage done to my heart would be permanent. However, before I had time to work up another heart attack she also said that 55-60% heart function is normal. If I was very lucky, she added, I might not have suffered too much damage. Only an echocardiogram would reveal the answer. Later that evening an echocardiogram was done.
Tuesday morning I was told I would likely get to go home. Later that day the doctor came in and said THE DAMAGE TO MY HEART HAD BEEN MINIMAL.
SO . . . family and friends, that’s what really happened. I have exaggerated nothing. I do, however, want to mention one last thing.
My oldest son, Jonathan, is an EMT. He has a lovely wife, a 2 year-old son and another on the way. (Another boy! Due in August! I can’t wait!). Jonathan works long, hard hours and in addition to all that, he’s studying and training to be a paramedic. My younger brother, Joe, is a firefighter down in Gainesville, Florida, and in addition to being a father of three he also works extra time in the pediatric ward of a hospital.
I’ve always been proud of the fact that Jonathan is an EMT and that he is now on the way to becoming a paramedic. But I must say that this was my fatherly pride of my son; he’s doing something good for society while at the same time providing for his family.
Then I had my heart attack.
I cannot express in words the depth of gratitude I feel in my heart for the men and women who just saved it. These people were perfect strangers to me. Yet they rushed to my aid without hesitation, and did everything within their power and experience to save my life. And they did.
I have no idea who they were. Right now, I wouldn’t be able to identify a single one of them in a lineup – even if ‘my life depended on it.’ But my life not only depended upon their skill, knowledge and experience – my life was saved by them.
I cannot and will not ever look at an ambulance, firetruck, or emergency vehicle in quite the same way. I will never be able to look at an EMT, paramedic, nurse, doctor or anyone else whose job involves saving lives without feeling an unspeakable sense of gratitude and genuine appreciation for who they are and what they do. And the pride I feel in what Jonathan and Joe and many others has been transformed into something much, much deeper that I can’t quite explain.
I can assure you that the first thing I’m going to do when I’m up and about is to find out each and every single man and woman that attended to me that night. I’m going to seek them out, one by one, look them straight in the eye, shake their hand, give them a big hug and thank them from the bottom of my heart – the very heart they saved.
The only advice I offer everyone, dear family and friends, is that if you decide to grow a raspberry garden, don’t let anyone mindlessly cut it down – it might lead to a heart attack!