Heart attack…the words themselves cause one’s own heart to skip a beat. Everyone knows someone who has “dropped dead” from one of those pesky little abnormalities that can ruin a perfectly good day. For all of our lives, that little remarkable muscle in our chest just keeps doing its thing, pumping 60 or 70 beats every minute of our lives. Totally unnoticed, purring along like a finely-tuned car. That is, until it doesn’t.

When the purring becomes a hiccup, there is much to get your attention. Oh…and it hurts like all get out.

The warning signs are pretty obvious. There is a little angina (aching in your chest). Nothing too great, just something that you didn’t feel before. In my case, I then became clammy and weak. My left arm felt tingly. Since I had one of these little buggers in 1999, I knew that this wasn’t indigestion from some of the leftover turkey from the Rose Bowl TV party.

I must digress for a moment. I first felt a little pain in December. I visited my cardiologist who told me that he would be on duty the very next day and that I could come in for an angiogram. Well, I begged off. “Doc” I said, “my UCLA is playing in a bowl game tomorrow. Can we do it in a week or so?”

“O.K.” says he, “Let’s schedule it for January 7.”

Of course, the hammer came down on January 5. When my doctor came to the ICU afterward, he, with a giant grin, wanted to know if it was worth it to postpone the surgery that could have prevented a heart attack for “those lousy Bruins?” (My guess is that he went to USC). Moral: always listen to your cardiologist.

But back to the important stuff. The first thing is to get some aspirin down as soon as possible. For some reason, that helps blood flow and relaxes the blood vessels. In fact, most medical professionals encourage to take a baby aspirin (81 mg) daily. But the most important thing is to call 911 immediately! Even if it is indigestion, call those outstanding paramedics folks. They are great.

Time is your most critical issue. If you can get to the hospital in less than an hour, your odds of survival are infinitely better than delaying that trip to the ER. Do not put off making that 911 call at the first signs of a possible heart attack. It will save your life. It certainly did mine.

By the way, you know that story about a long tunnel with a bright light at the end. Forget about it. It’s more like a long Greyhound Bus trip without any stops for breaks. And, oh, that stuff about 70 virgins waiting for you at the end. That’s not true either. I’d say two or three virgins…tops.

Lindsay Nielson practices law in Ventura at the Law Offices of Lindsay F. Nielson. 

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