A vegan can have a heart attack? Yep.
Just over a week ago, I had a heart attack. It doesn’t make sense, but it happened.
Oh, you must be eating nothing but french fries and processed veggie burgers.
You’re a smoker.
You drink a lot of alcohol.
You’re downing loads of sugary sodas.
Let’s back up to the day this happened.
Chest Pains While Driving 75mph Down I-10
Friday, January 26th we finally got our RV out of the shop (another story entirely.) We stayed that night at a KOA between Tucson and Phoenix.
Saturday we headed towards Phoenix to stock up on supplies and then planned to try to catch the tail end of the Quartzite festivities.
Our first stop was to fill up with gas and propane. After filling up with gas, we found out that station didn’t have propane but the other one at that exit did. So we decided to split up. Kevin went to fill the propane, and I took the car towards Phoenix to get groceries.
And So It Begins
So, I’m hurtling up I-10 at 75mph, and I start to feel a little weird. I start feeling this tightness in the middle of my chest. Then there was a pain in my left side under my arm level with my boob. And both arms felt tingly and like I couldn’t grip my hands very well.
I had no idea what was happening but knew I needed to get off of the road. So I took the next exit, 198. It turned out to be a weird one with nothing there. But I found a good space to pull off the road where there was room for the RV.
I called Kevin and left a message telling him what happened and where I pulled off. I started to feel clammy, and the pain in my side got more painful. Kevin called back, and I asked him to describe a panic attack. Because that’s the only thing, I could think it was. It couldn’t possibly have been a heart attack.
I crawled into the backseat of the car and waited for Kevin to get there. I honestly have no idea how long that took. Maybe 15-20 minutes?
Right before Kevin arrived, the pressure lets up. I didn’t realize how much was going on until it stopped. I sat up and when Kevin got there said I felt better, let’s continue.
We hooked up the car and got back on the interstate. After a few minutes, it all started again. So we made a beeline for the nearest hospital.
We arrive at Banner Casa Grande Medical Center and find a place for the RV. It’s a pretty small hospital surrounded by doctors’ office. We walk into the emergency room and get in line. They took a little information, gave me an armband and sent me back to wait.
“Oh, that’s not good”
They call my name after maybe 15 minutes. I answer a few more questions, and then a nurse hooks me up to an EKG machine. The test finished she printed it out and ran out of the room. Then another nurse walked in, looked at it and said: “oh, that’s not good.”
At this point, things started going crazy. They put me in a wheelchair and rushed me back to the ER. They start pulling off my clothes and tell me that a cardiologist had already been called for another case and was on the way. I had to chew up a bunch of baby aspirin and swallow them dry. My chart says I got nitroglycerin too, but I don’t remember that.
The cardiologist arrives and tells me that they’re prepping me for the cath (Cardiac Catheterization) lab. He said they would first inject dye to locate the problem. After that, they would fix the problem if they could or put me on the medivac helicopter if they couldn’t. That is if they had to crack my chest open.
In the Cath Lab
They wheeled me into the cath lab and prepped me for the procedure. They inserted the catheter through my right wrist. If I remember correctly, and that’s debatable since one of the drugs they put me on was fentanyl, the dye went in first. Then they took a chest x-ray. After that, they sucked out the blood clots. Then put in a stent.
I was awake for the whole procedure. At one point I could feel the cath team poking around in my chest. That’s a weird feeling.
Right after the procedure, the doctor told Kevin and me what he found and what he did.
Most of my heart is squeaky clean and in great shape. But the left anterior descending coronary artery had a small plaque deposit causing a 30% obstruction. And that plaque threw a blood clot that closed off that artery, hence the heart attack. And then further down the artery from that blockage, there was more blood clot hanging out.
The doctor left the plaque because he didn’t want to cause further damage to the artery wall. He sucked out all of the blood clots he could. And then he pumped blood thinners directly to the site to help break up and remaining clot. Then he placed a stent at the location of the primary clot.
Recovering in ICU
So now, it’s about 3 pm or so, and they get me settled in the ICU. The nurse makes sure my chart specifies vegan meals. And by the time they brought dinner I was ready to eat a bit.
Vegan Hospital Food
Props to Banner Casa Grande Medical Center for the vegan food. Each meal was well rounded, filling, reasonably tasty and also followed a cardiac diet pretty strictly. Every day I got at least one plate or bowl of fresh fruit. They gave me hummus a few times, a veggie burger, and a bean and potato burrito. I can’t remember everything, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Confined to the Bed
The first six or so hours my cath arm was in a brace, and I had meds, fluids, and monitors going to each arm. So I was confined to the bed on my back for about 12-18 hours. I can’t even tell you how happy I was when they finally unhooked me and let me go to the bathroom on my own.
Out of ICU!
Around noon Sunday, I was officially off of ICU status, but they kept me in that same room until about 2 am. No, they didn’t wake me up to move me. I was up anyway if a bit groggy. Both rooms were private, so that was awesome.
Monday I got clearance to leave the hospital. And a parade of people started visiting the room. The cardiologist, the finance department, and a nurse from the cath lab with a bunch of literature about heart disease and my cath card.
It’s funny; the dietary recommendations assume that you have been eating the standard American diet. So most of the changes they suggested were things I already do. But I already figured that would be the case, and I’d need to research on my own to make further changes. And thankfully we have a friend that’s a registered dietician that generously offered to check my work and make some suggestions.
The nurse on duty came by with my discharge paperwork and prescription, took out the catheters in each arm. Relief! Other than the guy that came by trying to sign me up for Arizona Medicare/Medicaid, which, of course, I don’t qualify for not being a resident, no one made mention of a bill or payment. I’m sure a never-ending stream of paperwork will start arriving in our mailbox in no time. Meanwhile, I found all of the assistance applications on their website. So we’re getting that ball rolling.
We wanted to set up at a cozy campground with full hookups while we I recovered but there weren’t any spaces. So, our first night away from the hospital was in Cabela’s parking lot with The Motorhome Experiment. But it was quiet and awesome to be sleeping in my bed again.
So, I think I’ll end this post here. There’s so much more to say. But this is getting long. Next up, is a post about the changes I’ve made to my diet. That’s a long one! And there will be other aspects of this whole thing to talk about like how I’m going to manage follow-up care while traveling (I have no idea at this point) and how the financial aspect of my hospital stay shakes out.
Update: lab tests after 6 months
About the Author
vegan. digital nomad. cycling. scuba. intj. former vegan bakery owner.