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Zaleski: Heart attack? You've got to be kidding

West Fairlee, Vt.

I had a heart attack.

Those are words I thought I'd never write, having fatuously embraced the fiction that I was invulnerable to such things. Having blithely assigned to the deepest recesses of consideration a family history that one day would reach across the generations and deliver one helluva dope slap. Having fooled myself that less physical exercise and no change in diet were of no concern because I had attained the biblical milestone of threescore and 10 without serious health problems, and felt really good.

Wrong on every count.

Here's what happened:

Sandi and I were preparing to shuttle our triplet granddaughters to their school a few miles away in Thetford, Vt. I'd had a light breakfast, bantered with the girls and was going out to start the car, when I realized something was amiss. An invisible anvil was crushing my chest. Pain spread to my left arm. Mini-waves of nausea and overall weakness sent me into a fetal crouch on the sofa. A clammy sweat soaked me like a cold spring downpour. This was new. This was not right. This was something I'd never experienced.

Sandi drove the kids to school, rushed back, and we hustled the few miles to the emergency room at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in nearby Lebanon, N.H. When I described the symptoms, a medical team peppered me with questions and did a thorough examination. I'd had an attack, but they could not say precisely what kind of attack or determine its seriousness. Routine blood work, a sonogram and electrocardiograms were inconclusive.

A final series of sophisticated blood tests detected a slightly elevated level of an enzyme that indicates a heart attack. The decision was made to go in and take a look. The next day I spent five hours on the table while a catheter was inserted into an artery in my right arm, across the shoulder and into the heart. Sure enough, there were significant blockages in two branches of the right coronary artery. After angioplasties and placement of stents, blood flow was restored. I was awake through the procedure, watched it on monitors above the table, and thought it was was cool to be able to do that. Still, I'd rather have been elsewhere.

Prognosis is excellent: no heart damage. The ol' ticker is pumping normally. No hiccups. I won't be chopping firewood or hiking mountain trails this week (maybe next week), but I feel good, indeed better than I've felt in over a year, which confirms this thing had been stirring for some time. So said the doctors.

Can't say enough about the support and love from friends, colleagues and family. Especially family back in Fargo and here in Vermont. My heartfelt (!) thanks to all of you.

By the way, have you ever witnessed doctors getting grilled by precocious 11-year-old triplets? Formidable. Marvelous. Gotta love it. But that's a topic for a future column.

Zaleski retired in February after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com

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