Another close brush with death

Contrast view of coronary arteries before and after stents
At left: my Left Anterior Descending coronary artery, before stents. Vessel is shown by contrast material; multiple occlusions as high as 90 percent are visible. At right: same artery with 3 stents, (indicated by marker lines alongside artery) restoring blood flow

To be honest, my doctor wasn’t that helpful. I had a bad experience with a statin drug; he couldn’t suggest any alternative. But for one checkup he was not available so I got his assistant. She listened carefully, outlined different kinds of statins and got me on one that doesn’t seem to have awful side effects. Based on my symptoms, she also suggested a calcium scan for my heart.

The heart is a muscle; it isn’t supposed to have deposits of calcium in it. But arterial plaque has calcium in it, making for a simple and cheap test using an ordinary CAT scanner. It was only a hundred bucks, not covered by insurance. I went in.

A calcium score above 400 indicates “extensive plaque burden”. My score of 1,325 for the Left Anterior Descending artery was… concerning. I met with the PA again. She called for a coronary perfusion scan coupled with a stress test. The results of that test confirmed the calcium scan.

Bridge Out SignCould it wait until the end of the semester to address? Well, no. Actually, the choice was between meeting the cardiologist this week for a procedure next week, and just doing the procedure this week. The cardiologist’s nurse advised just going ahead with the procedure. There was no “snooze” button.

The procedure itself was fascinating, and carefully-chosen drugs allowed me to recall every detail, only with a sense of detachment, as if it had happened to someone else whom I’d read about in a magazine article. I could see the flow stopped by occlusions. I could see it improve in real time, as the stents were inserted.

Some takeaways: My exercise habit is probably responsible for the fact that I saw a cardiologist and not a coroner. Even though the intensity of exercise had declined sharply, I had kept doing it every day. This kept blood flowing.

I have tendinitis in my left elbow. Often, the entire arm hurt, quite severely.  Coupled with lack of energy, shortness of breath, and sudden dizzyness, was the signal that prompted me to ask the sympathetic PA for a deeper investigation. Now, only my elbow hurts. Not my whole arm.

Because I’m on Plavix now, I can’t take ibuprofen, which is the only medication that really helped with my chronic pain. That’s a trade-off. After 25 years however, I have many strategies for dealing with pain. This is familiar territory, don’t worry.

I’m gonna have to find a new doctor. Unless I can just keep seeing his assistant. She’s a better ‘doctor’ than he’ll ever be.

I do not yet have a dramatic improvement in energy, but it’s only been two days. In earlier times, this would have been a bypass operation with six months of recovery.  I’m going back to work on Monday. Once the semester is over, I’m gonna take an actual two weeks off. Spend some time at the senior activity center.

What did I mean by “Another” brush with death? Well this post is already getting long, but it’s been an eventful couple of decades, and I’ve got to go for a walk.


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Older technology guy with photography and history background