Reva Pataki

Yes, even those of us who belong to a gym, who allegedly eat “healthy,” who don’t smoke, who have an occasional glass of wine, and who have no familial history of heart problems, can suffer a heart attack.

I am a healthy 79-year-old woman who has never been on medication and I have no immediate family members who have ever had a heart attack (nor heart disease). My internist once remarked, “If my patients were as healthy as you, I wouldn’t have much of a practice.” My HDLs were high; I box once a week; work out with weights; and perform high intensity aerobics at least three times a week.

That is until April 4, 2017 when, without any warning, I suddenly couldn’t catch my breath. The pain in my chest was so severe it felt as if an elephant was resting on it, and there was the strangest feeling of impending doom. But I didn’t equate any of these symptoms with a heart attack—those two words never registered.

Fortunately, my husband, a retired physician, knew immediately what was happening and called for an ambulance. As I was being rushed to Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, I went into ventricular tachycardia. I was paddled in order to slow down my heart rate.

A welcoming committee of four doctors and three nurses didn’t bother with amenities or questions, and I was rushed into the cardiac cath lab where they inserted stents into both of my two clogged arteries.

I don’t have any recollection of the procedure. I awoke in the ICU and was told that I had had a heart attack and that I would be their guest for the next five days.

Why didn’t I have any of the different “women warnings” that precede a heart attack? My thoughts were—and are still—so conflicted; how did this happen to an apparently healthy woman?

It has been almost five weeks since I had this “bump in the road,” and the “road” back to recovery has been a bit rocky. I had to post reminders in several spots throughout my house in order to remember to take my meds. I was fearful that it would slip my mind and this could all happen again.

I was always so energetic; now I was lethargic and tired. I had no energy. I couldn’t read because my concentration level was low, and although I’ve always had a hearty appetite, food was at the bottom of my daily “to do” list.

My first appointment with my cardiologist went well and he assured me I would start regaining my strength as soon as I started the program at the Suburban Hospital Cardiac Rehab Center. There, I found a helpful and caring staff, but a big sign that read “Excuses – Zero.”

It only took me a few minutes on the treadmill before I complained that I only liked to work out with weights and not the “dreadmill.” Or the bike. Or the rowing machine. These complaints fell on unsympathetic ears.

Why was I becoming so impatient? All the feelings I had subliminally buried were suddenly rising to the surface. There was no obvious or apparent anger associated with my having had a heart attack, but “subliminal” was the operative word.

I had to deal with my mortality. I had to deal with people expressing their “sympathy”—DAMN IT, I didn’t die, I had a (expletive deleted) unwelcome heart attack. “Quit hovering over me” became my mantra; stop asking me how I feel. But I couldn’t express those feelings when asked; most folks meant well.

I had several serious heart-to-heart conversations with my heart attack, and we have come to the conclusion that we must get divorced without any chance of reconciliation. I was fortunate enough to be provided with an excellent psychologist through the Cardiac Rehab Center. She has taken my hand and is walking me through the mountains and valleys that I must face. She advises me on what is—and is not—unusual to experience during the healing process; why I have a tendency to be so hard on myself; and why people are suddenly annoying me for no other reason than I no longer have any patience for their minutiae.

There’s also the new problem of word retrieval. Being quite loquacious, I have never been “at a loss for words.” I kept thinking, What the hell did I do wrong in my day-to-day life to deserve this? I realized I was born with an ethnicity of thousands of years of guilt and I signed up the day I entered this earth. It is inbred within a lifelong, non-returnable package.

Several days ago I had an epiphany. When I was removing an item from the freezer, I saw a large container filled with rendered chicken fat, along with a package of hot dogs—my “drug” of choice. Bastards!!! You did this to me!

No, Reva, you did this to yourself through all the years you ate rendered chicken fat every Friday night, smearing it abundantly on black bread with the nearly-burnt browned onions, and giving no further thought of how unhealthy it might be.

Hot dogs are my idea of gourmet dining and they are always in my freezer. It is ironic that the day I had my heart attack, I had eaten two hot dogs for lunch at COSTCO, along with two large diet cokes as chasers. But I have now lost all desire for hot dogs, even the big, juicy, kosher ones which crackle on the first bite. Perhaps it was just the hot dogs—or was it also the sauerkraut and onions as culprits?

I finally decided that my husband was not “Driving Miss Reva” and I slowly started to drive again. Heed this warning!!!! Stay off the road until such time that this warning is rescinded. My attention span needs some additional upgrading.

I had a wonderful happy life “before,” and I have all the confidence that I will continue to have a wonderful life once again when my sense of humor returns full force. Talking—and writing—about my initial experience has been very cathartic. A heart-felt thank you for allowing me to share my journey.
Reva Pataki