At left is an angiogram image of my LAD artery 99% blocked and another 60% blocked. At right are the same arteries after the angioplasty and the placement of two stents. The procedure takes between 30 to 45 minutes. It can save your life.

Don't live in denial about your health: If you doubt it at all, check it out

By Patrick Robinson

A life is measured in breaths.

Some are deep, and sweet like after a rainstorm. Some are quick and sharp when you see something amazing. But you only get so many. When you breathe the last one, you are gone… so I want you to pay attention.

I work as a journalist. It’s demanding work. It means I’m on call all the time. I don’t really take days off. If a siren sounds I’m on the road running toward the danger. Fires, crimes, and a lot of hard things to see. It’s tough, emotionally draining and because things happen quickly it can even be physically demanding.

So it requires a certain amount of stamina, and yes breath.

Recently, after covering a fire during which I spent some time in some very acrid smoke, I noticed that my lungs and chest hurt. It held on for about a week, then seemed to get a little better but I was still short of breath.

Running up a hill to catch a photo of a rainbow (yes, I actually do that), I really noticed that I was not doing very well.

But I put it in the back of my mind.

Then a week or so later, just walking around was a little difficult. I’d sit down and feel fine so I didn’t think to check it out.

A couple of weeks ago I was out for dinner with some friends. The male just happened to be a Family Doctor and a former Emergency Room Doctor. We walked out of the restaurant down Alki to a coffee shop.

I had to stop after about 50 feet. My chest hurt. I had trouble breathing. He asked if I was ok.
“Yeah,” I lied, “I’m just a little short of breath.”

He persisted, “What do you mean? Are you in pain?”

“I’m just short of breath but yes, my chest hurts right in the middle here. I think it’s just some smoke inhalation from a fire I was covering a couple of weeks ago.”

“You need to go to the hospital right now, “he said urgently,” What you are describing is called Unstable Angina and it’s very serious. It’s a precursor to a heart attack. Do you want me to take you?”

“No…I’m alright,” I said, still in denial. “If I’m not better tomorrow morning I will call the hospital.”

He said, “I really think you should go right now.”

I didn’t.

The next morning I woke up and still had some pain and was still short of breath.
I called Group Health and described my symptoms. They said, “We can send an ambulance right now. You need to come in immediately.”
OK…that got my attention. It’s one thing when your friend tells you something and quite another when a doctor on the phone sounds worried.
So we drove up to the hospital and they said I had to go to Virginia Mason right away for a cardiologist to see me. This was getting serious.

While they could not treat me immediately (I mistakenly had lunch and that’s not something they recommend before any kind of medical treatment) they did get to me the next morning. I met Dr. Tim Dewhurst who is a West Seattle resident. He calls himself an “Interventionist” and he said they would put me on a treadmill first for a stress test and ultrasound and then likely do an angiogram (where they inject dye into your veins) and look for blockages and then an angioplasty where they inflate tiny balloons to expand any blocked areas followed by the placement of what are called drug eluting stents…little metal mesh cages that keep the artery open.

Sure enough, the stress test was SCARY…I made it about 90 seconds before nearly collapsing. They rushed me up to the Cath Lab and after some medication (and some shaving of areas I won’t talk about) they used a vein in my wrist to perform the procedure.

I kept wondering when they were going to start. Then it was over. The doctors and nurses were great. Truly professional caring, people. They laughed at all my bad jokes.

After I got a little less groggy the doctor showed me the pictures they took. My LAD artery, the one that supplies blood to a major part of the heart was 99% blocked. Another was more than 60% blocked. But amazingly
I had suffered zero damage to my heart muscle. How lucky can a guy get?

But I’m here to tell you something important. Do. Not. Wait.
Don’t take chances or live in denial. If you are short of breath, check it out. If you are experiencing chest pains check it out. See your doctor.

I'm on a cholesterol medication and blood thinners for a year, plus a baby aspirin. Not so bad. But I'm going to be just fine. In fact BETTER than fine. I can BREATHE normally and well for the first time in a long time.

You may not understand it, but you are not alone in this world. There are people who need you in it. So not making sure you are ok is really not right.

You only have so many breaths. Make every single one of them count.

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