At Heart

COVID-19 Test

My experience inside the hospital at the height of the Corona virus.

At 61, I believed I was in decent shape. On Thursday evening, April 10th, I felt an unusual tightening in my chest. It felt like a lump down in my throat that wouldn’t go away. Didn’t think much of it other then indigestion, took some antacid and went to bed. The next morning, went to work in my home office and the lump in my throat was still there. This time, it felt like pressure or something squeezing in on my chest. Nothing terrible, but enough to make me stop working and search Google for the cause of the symptom. I had an inkling it could be heart related, so I searched for heart ailment symptoms, and what I found was eye opening.

I was most likely having a heart attack.

By that time, the pressure and discomfort was increasing. I knew it was serious, I was in trouble and I called for my wife and family. Their worry was clear, 911 was called and we waited for the ambulance. Breathing was getting more difficult.

In moments, the ambulance arrived. My memory isn’t exactly clear, but I recall getting to the stretcher myself with some assistance, loaded into the ambulance and off to the 15 minute ride to the hospital.

Of all of these ^ volunteers, I don’t know which ones were on the case when they got the call, but they were excellent. By now, I was in a fair amount of distress. The pressure on my chest was heavy and breathing was even more difficult. They gave me oxygen and nitroglycerine under my tongue, explaining to me clearly what it does and why they are giving it. Nitro opens the blood vessels to increase blood flow. It’s administered by a short spray, in this case, lingually, under the tongue. It didn’t seem to do anything, so they gave me another… then two more for a total of four. They may have given me an aspirin, but I can’t recall. By that time, we reached Valley hospital and my blood pressure was dropping. Feeling dizzy, perspiring heavily, I was brought into the ER.

I’m unsure what happened next, but needed to be screened for the Corona virus. I remember being asked for permission-to-test, and I agreed. Swabbed, deep into the nasal cavity, which made me wince. Uncomfortable, painful and fortunately over quickly, then wheeled into a waiting area in the ER.

4th floor, Valley Hospital, Coronary Floor

I remember being admitted and taken to a clean, private room. An ER doctor informed me I had a heart attack and I’ll need more tests. I expressed concern about exposure to the virus, but was reassured all precautions would be taken. All hospital personnel were gowned, masked with face shields and gloved.

I couldn’t help thinking, if the heart attack doesn’t get me, the virus will.

I asked again about my safety and was told there’s no guarantee. In my favor, the 4th floor, the coronary floor is a non-COVID floor. An ER attendant informed me I was COVID negative.

A CT and EKG was next. The CT scan was tougher. You are slid into a cylinder that looks like a machine out of Star Trek. There are two icons “Breath-In” and “Breath-Out” that instruct you in a computerized voice, as the technicians operate the machine from behind a wall. It’s claustrophobic and seems to take forever, then taken back to my room. (Not the room in photo above). Shortly after, I was transferred to a different room (see above).

A CT scanner

Troponin
Or “Trop” is an enzyme that shows up in the blood after the heart muscle is damaged from a heart attack. It’s caused by muscle breakdown, and can also show up after you over exert yourself, not necessarily from a heart attack. A blood test for “Trop”, and an EKG and a CT scan are needed in combination to identify a heart incident.

It was confirmed, I had a mild heart attack.

Happy Easter
Heart Monitor, the leads kept falling off!
As medications were prescribed, they’re added to my portal
IV
Blood tests. My arm became black and blue and very sore.

One of the medications is administered by injection into the stomach. It’s a blood thinner. This one hurt the most, and I developed a large black and blue spot. I’ll spare you the photo!

Can you identify this food?

The regular food service is closed on weekends, so you get what you get. This one was a surprise. I didn’t eat it.

Meeting Doctor B.

Since it was Easter weekend, I had to wait until Monday for the cardiologist. I was informed, he was on top of everything, despite seeing him briefly once and that I will be having Angioplasty to install a stent. Dr. Navin Budhwani, a highly regarded catheter-ist, cardiac specialist will be performing the procedure. The tricky part for the doctor was getting approval. The doctor informed me that Governor Murphy put a stop to most procedures due to the virus, unless deemed an emergency. Permission and approvals from the head of the hospital would be needed first. I was told that would not be an issue in my case, and thankfully it was not.

Easter Sunday was spent in bed waiting, then I got the word early Monday, we would be good to go for the procedure.

This is a catheterization lab.

I was prepped early for the procedure. Areas by the groin and wrist where the catheter might enter are shaved and disinfected. The groin is easier as it’s a straight shot. The wrist is difficult because there are some turns. I was told the doctor will go through the wrist. There is a quicker recovery when going through the wrist.

I was brought to the lab and they shifted me onto the table (like the one above). It’s narrow and hard as a rock. I was uncomfortable and my back hurt, so they propped up my legs, which helped a little. There were 4 or 5 doctors working and could not tell which one was Dr. Budhwani, until he came by my side to answer any questions. I asked if I’ll be completely out, and said no, I’ll be awake but won’t feel a thing.

He was right. I saw the catheters laid out on a side table along with other instruments. The catheters were long and in their manufacturers packaging. Only 2 millimeters thick. I didn’t realize the drugs were already administered for pain when they started. I felt some pressing on my wrist but felt nothing else. I overheard the doctor say it’s a no go, let’s do the groin. I saw the catheter being removed and they began quickly with a new one, going in through the groin. There’s really no incision, just a tiny hole. Amazing to think so much can be done through it.

First attempt through my wrist.

Although the recovery through the wrist is supposed to be less than the groin, I have zero post-operative pain from the groin. However, I do have soreness in my wrist! Weird. Good news from the doctor, the procedure was a success. They found 100% blockage in one artery and found several others partially blocked. A stent was installed in the worst one. Better news, there was little to no heart damage. Medication will help the other arteries but the worst one that caused the heart attack was taken care of.

Back to my room to recuperate, then released Tuesday, early the next day, with a bag of prescriptions. Feeling ok, weak, but glad to be home.

Much thanks to all the outstanding hospital nurses and staff who attended to me, day and night during the worst possible time when resources are stretched and the stress of the corona virus was taking it’s toll on everyone. I am grateful to you all.
Thank you.

Ivan

Postscript: I was in the hospital for five days, and lost 15 lbs. I had no appetite and hardly ate. My appetite has come back as I recuperate at home. I’m tired most days but Julianne and I go for a long walk every day with the dog and I’m feeling better each day.

I had my follow up appointment with the cardiologist who was pleased with my check up, said I will lead a normal life but will need regular check ups from now on.

I also went to be re-tested for the corona virus, to be certain I didn’t have it since I could have been exposed while in the hospital and when I arrived in the emergency room where other Covid patients were. I did have some minor systems when I came home, a cough and chest congestion that concerned me. Fortunately, my results came back negative! Phew!

The cardiac floor at Valley Hospital where I was admitted was a Covid safe zone. The only floor in the hospital where there were no corona virus patients. When I was released, a nurse told me they were going to begin admitting covid patients to the cardiac floor since they were running out of space. One of the nurses I spoke with told me she had the virus but fully recovered and she just got back to work. She said it was terrible and thankful she recovered. I asked another nurse how she and the hospital were coping with the virus, and if they had enough protective gear and do they feel safe. She said they were stressed but coping and getting PPE gear was beginning to be a problem.

About: Valley Hospital and Covid-19

Ivan Boden
I'm a graphic designer and a photographer based in the New Jersey - New York vicinity. Ivan has photographed in theater and performing arts for nearly a decade and currently specializes in commercial, editorial, lifestyle, brand and corporate assignments.

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