five anatomical hearts with birthday cakes inside of them

Happy Fifth Birthday to Me!

Today (the day I'm writing this) is a significant milestone for me. Today marks the fifth anniversary of the day that changed my life forever. The day that is now my 2nd birthday, one I celebrate more than the day I was born.

A massive heart attack

I suffered a massive heart attack on April 18, 2015, a heart attack I was not supposed to survive. A heart attack that crept up on me without warning, at least warning signs I didn't catch. Sure, I had been irritable, tired, and short of breath. That had to be from my daily dune hikes. I pushed myself hard, and I thought it was paying off.

That day started normally; I met my neighbor Carla for our morning hikes. We hiked up and down Lake Michigan dunes, something we had done for years, as the weather permitted. This particular day, I had pushed myself hard. I was trying to finish a goal of hiking a marathon, 26.2 miles in 4 days. I had to be in San Francisco the next week and wouldn't have much time to work out. This particular Saturday was the day before I was to leave on a 5 hr flight to the west coast.

Ok, I overdid it

I was tired, confused a bit – I thought it was from the strain. I had some short-lived chest pains, which I thought were from a slip I had taken during my hike. Something was off, but I had worked hard that week. I collapsed on our final descent; I thought it was that muscle strain. It was a quick setback, and I got right back up. I walked home and took a shower. Something wasn't right as I kept fading in and out of consciousness. Ok, I overdid it. I had heat exhaustion – even though it was only in the 40s outside.

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For hours later, I hovered on the bedroom floor. I couldn't get comfortable, no matter what position I tried. Ok, it wasn't exhaustion. It had to be a bug bite. Spiders, bugs, or maybe that awful poisonous plant, indigenous to the area that was all over the news.

The impending sense of doom

Then the impending sense of doom. Ok, something is wrong. I can barely sit still. I'm throwing up every 5 minutes despite not having anything to eat or drink. It won't stop. I cannot get comfortable.

What seemed like a long ride later, my then-boyfriend takes me to the urgent care. I thought this was an allergic reaction to something. The desk staff tells me I am having a panic attack. That's strange – I'm not panicked at all. I hover over a chair in the waiting room, knees on the ground still unable to get comfortable.

Once in the room, the nurse tried to take my pulse ox. The first one they deemed broken, my oxygen can't be that low. 2nd and 3rd ones, also broken. EKG finally comes in "Margaret," says the doctor, "yes, that's me" for some reason I answer to Margaret today, a name I was given at birth but often forget and rarely respond to "Margaret you are having a heart attack." My boyfriend jumps up as my jaw drops. WHAT??

My life has completely changed

An ambulance ride later, I end up at the hospital. They stick two chaplains on my boyfriend (of note he is now my husband), and they tell him to be prepared. We are both still in shock – I guess pun intended as I did end up getting shocked. By the way – it's not fun.

I spend a week in ICU; a balloon lodged in my chest to aid in the event I do go into complete heart failure. Months later, I have to get a pacemaker/defibrillator installed to also support in the event of a fatal arrhythmia and/or heart failure.

My life has completely changed from that day five years ago. Overnight I went from zero medications to having to manage and take over ten pills a day. I cannot hike anymore, only fast-paced flat walks. I try not to sweat the small stuff. I enjoy every day more now that I've been through this. We got married and moved to Boston, something I had wanted to do. I count my bonus days, 1817 today. Days I got back because I survived this, a second chance. I celebrate two birthdays now, which is funny as I never celebrated my birthdays before.

Looking back, I couldn’t imagine celebrating year five. As I look back, it seems so far away, but it also seems like it happened yesterday. Happy fifth birthday to me!

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