The Heart of a Firefighter: Listen to Your Body!

On April 14, while getting ready for a trip to Washington for CFSI the next morning, I began to not feel right. I couldn’t put my finger on how I was feeling, but just not right.

While I continued packing for my trip, I noticed my heart rate was rising. This was unusual for me; I have a resting heart rate of about 61 and I wasn’t performing any strenuous activities.

When I went to bed for the evening, I couldn’t get comfortable, tossing and turning. I went back to our family room to lie down and relax, thinking this was all stress-related and I should just calm down.

At about 9 PM, I checked my heart rate and was surprised to find it at 125 beats per minute. This was unsettling, as I hadn’t been doing anything that would have caused my heart rate to be at 125—more self-induced stress.

Remember, this all started with me not feeling right, a sensation that I had not experienced before. The feeling went on for a few more hours as I tried to convince myself I was getting myself worked up and should just calm down. We’ve all been there.

At about 1 AM, feeling continually worse but with no explanation or reason, I woke my wife, Ann, who is an RN. She checked my BP which was 170 over 125, with a pulse of 130. We agreed a trip to the hospital was needed. Remembering the LODD reports, I wasn’t going to be one of them.

All the while, I was insisting that I needed to be on a train to Washington at 11 the next morning.

We arrived at the hospital, private car of course—no ambulance for me. The EKG was normal, as were the blood gases; I did have an elevated white blood count. My BP and heart rate continued to be very elevated and after additional testing, it was determined that a full cardio work up was needed to determine the source of the problem.

Remember, at this point I had no difficulty breathing, no tightness in my chest and no pain in my left arm. I wasn’t diaphoretic and I had none of the classic signs of cardiac event that we’ve been sensitized to recognize.

For background, in 2009 I took advantage of the A Gift from Captain Buscio Program through Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital in Browns Mills, N.J. During my cardio workup and evaluation, it was determined that I had plaque buildup in one of my heart’s coronary arteries. The condition was further evaluated with a cardiac catheterization, which proved no blockage.

With the result of my 2009 experience, I changed my diet and began exercising, although my commitment was on and off.

While I am a 61-year-old man who has been in the fire service since 1970, I’ve never been a big guy, being six feet tall at about 205 pounds with a thin build. I’ve never smoked. Not the stereotypical body type that most associate with heart disease.

But there I was, back at Deborah Heart and Lung Hospital. As soon as I walked in, I was whisked to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, with the attending physician stating that the elevated white blood count indicated some cardiac issue involvement.

By Tuesday afternoon, April 15, I had two stents implanted in my descending right coronary artery and no trip to D.C. for CFSI. The following Wednesday, April 23, I had two additional stents implanted in my left anterior descending artery.

Again, I didn’t have any of the classic signs of a cardiac event we’ve all been taught. No chest pains, no shortness of breath, no sweaty or diaphoretic symptoms and no radiating left-arm pain. I had increased heart rate and elevated BP and I just didn’t feel right.

When asked to describe the “just didn’t feel right” condition, it was something I’d not experienced before. I was shaky, nervous, unsettled and unable to get comfortable.

If you sense or feel these conditions, listen to your body and seek medical treatment.

Don’t forget all those LODD reports, where the firefighter just didn’t feel right and went home or to their bunk to rest—never getting up. Don’t get complacent.

Your greatest act of valor is going to hospital and getting checked out. It’s easy to put off, say you’ll be alright, say you don’t want to be a burden. The courageous act is taking care of your family by listening to your body.

Take some time to have a medical physical. Trust me; the impact on your family will be far greater if you’re no longer around. If you live in New Jersey, take advantage of the A Gift from Captain Buscio Program.

The moral of this story is listen to your body! The physician at Deborah told me that had I gone to sleep that Tuesday evening when I wasn’t “feeling right” rather than seeking medical treatment, I may not have woken up.

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