Rabbit Trails & Heart Attacks (Part 1)

November 21, 2006, I had a heart attack….

This morning I’ve opted to go on a rabbit trail from my current topic of Sexual Abuse and Violence, and am telling the story of the heart attack I survived in 2006, two days before my 37th birthday. Nearly six years have passed….

Yesterday I had a stress test, to check the strength of my heart. It is always a bit disconcerting to go there, because of the damage that was done. Sometimes denial, and living day to day without details of what’s happening under the skin, is easier. But in the past half year or so I have had episodes of unbearable fatigue, so I asked for the test, just to make sure it’s not that.

I recognize that part of the fatigue is the medications I’m on because they suppress my ‘fight or flight’ instinct and give me low blood pressure and heart rate. (Lowest I’ve gone is 89 over 58, with a heart rate of low 40’s, for those of you who like medical details.) The body adjusts to these things, and with time it’s only the ‘new unusual’ that causes concern.

People ask me why I never tell that story, why I don’t do a public talk about it, when I do conferences or public speaking. Mostly, other than taking my pills to keep my heart going, I forget that I am a heart patient. Well, and paying the bill for the pills. That’s always a not-so-subtle reminder. And when I think about going on roller coasters, in hot tubs, horror houses and stuff like that, I know I will never be allowed to be part of that with my children, and haven’t been allowed since a month after my oldest daughter turned 12.

So how did it happen? How did it all begin?

***

It was an ordinary fall morning, or so I thought when I got out of bed, that memorable day, November 21, 2006, when my life would change forever. Normal, as I knew it, would never be the same again, and adjusting to my new normal would be a long journey with many crossroads. At every crossroad I would have to choose between life and death, hope and despair.

I awakened that morning to an unusually cold house. We had already adjusted the thermometer to prepare for winter-like weather so that the furnace would kick in and get rid of some of the early morning chill before our feet hit the floor. This morning it was bitterly cold, no heat to soften the bite.

Tim checked the furnace and discovered it wasn’t working so he made a few phone calls and arranged for a service man to come mid-morning. If I stayed home in the morning and did some cleaning and tidying before the service man arrived, I could still be at work in time to teach math class – that was very important to me.

I was working under a 7-week contract at the Open Door Program, an adult education facility, as a teacher’s assistant in the morning and teaching grade 10 math in the afternoon. Finishing my studies in Biology and Chemistry on November 4, had earned me my high school diploma at age 36. Immediately after the principal approached me to see if I would ‘teach’ grade 10 math.

When she called, my initial response was to laugh. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even do Grade 10 math,” I said, “so I don’t think I can teach it,”

Growing up in a culture where children were not encouraged to finish school because of the ‘worldly influences’, finishing high school was virtually unheard of, especially in women. I had gone farther than many by finishing grade nine but when I left home later that year I had to make a living. By finishing my high school in an Adult Education program I received math credits for mutual funds and life insurance licensing, as well as the years of bookkeeping experience. But I had no confidence in academic math.

“But you did amazingly well in Chemistry and Biology, I’m sure you’d be fine. You’re a natural – I’ve watched you.”

I laughed, but, with a bit of coaxing from the principal, I decided it was too great an opportunity to pass off. I opted for my philosophy regarding adventure and told the principal “I’ll try anything once (as long as it is safe and legal). But,” I added, “if I discover I’m in over my head, I’ll let you know.”

“That’s fair,” she agreed, and proceeded to instruct me to get a police check, an official resume` and a school board application as a teacher’s assistant. She explained that for me to ‘teach’ the students, they would be pulled from the regular Adult Education system into a self-study program with me as their ‘guide’ or ‘tutor’.

With a lot of prayer and hard work, I managed to learn the lessons one day and teach them the next, literally staying only one step ahead of the class. I bonded well with the students and together we got through the lessons. We worked hard, knowing that at approximately two and a half weeks into the program the students would be tested. I looked forward to getting that test done to make sure we were on the right track. Though I was quite certain I was teaching the math right, there was the lingering ‘what if’.

We were nearing test time and that was why I didn’t want to miss school the day our furnace died. Some of the students had a hard time with math and I wanted to prepare them to the best of my ability, and ensure a passing grade.

I picked up toys and began to vacuum as I waited for the service man. Our family room is a nice size but it was no gymnasium – nothing I should have had difficulty cleaning. However, I had not completed vacuuming half of the room when I stopped and subconsciously rubbed a spot in the centre of my chest. I took a deep breath and kept working. By the third ‘pause’ I realized what was happening and a sense of restlessness overcame me.

To be continued…

© Trudy Metzger

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3 thoughts on “Rabbit Trails & Heart Attacks (Part 1)

  1. hiddinsight October 17, 2012 / 9:53 am

    Wow, that is so young for a heart attack! Had you known anything was wrong with your heart before it happened? I have structural heart disease, so I’m closely monitored too (with my echo coming up next month!)

    • Trudy Metzger October 17, 2012 / 9:58 am

      My heart was healthy before the heart attack, and all things considered is in better shape than I ever expected. (The rest of the story will explain why it happened, and that we believe there were ‘outside forces’ at play… namely medications, but of course we can’t name them or say it’s that for sure, b/c of risk of being sued. Crazy world.)

      • hiddinsight October 17, 2012 / 5:41 pm

        I look forward to future posts 🙂

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