It was June 30, 2005 and the end of my 1st six months of teaching piano for 2005.
For the first time since 2001 we were going to take a two week vacation. We had finaly gotten to the point after 9/11 that it looked like we just might keep the business going.
It was just after 7:30 p.m. and I felt very good and very relaxed.
I said to my wife "Let's go to dinner" and she replied "that sounds great! Where?" I suggested the Outback, one of our favorite restaurants and off we went. I love the appetizer at the Outback called "Grilled Shrimp on the Barbie". Soon as we got there I ordered the appetizer plus a steak, salad and steamed vegetables. I don't often drink and Lynne is on a diet (on which she has lost a spectacular 22 pounds!) so without any drinks, we just relaxed, I watched a little bit of the baseball game and we chit chatted some.
The Grilled Shrimp came and I started in on it feeling like I'd died and gone to heaven. Just as I finished the shrimp, here comes the steak, salad and the veggies. I really wasn't that hungry so I ate about five bites from all of it and told Lynne that I wanted to bring the rest of it home - as I said, it's "great chow for tomorrow."
We left the restaurant about thirty minutes later after Lynne had finished her Grilled Salmon and arrived back home about 9:30 p.m. I told her I was tired and going right to bed. She stayed in the living room to read and I went to the bedroom.
Now what I am about to tell you is really bizarre. Seems like a full fledged hallucination. I don't know if it really happened or if I was dreaming or what but who can tell? It sure seemed real at the time!
About four minutes to midnight, someone came after me with a big blow torch and proceeded to burn the middle of my chest. The pain was EXCRUCIATING! It was like I was on FIRE! The only pain that ever came close was the pain from the severe arthritis in my back three years before. I bolted upright in the bed, opened my eyes, and looked right into the face of the devil! The traditional one - I mean with the horns and the red color, etc. He had both his hands around my throat and was squeezing unmercifully. When I looked down, his barbed tail was going right through my heart. It was simply unbelievable but it still scared the living hell out of me. Then he opened up his mouth and screamed "MM-RR-OO--RRR-WWW-RRR!!!" into my face as he breathed fire and smoke on me.
It was at this time that my wife's sister saved my life. She lives in California so she wasn't there but six months before she had sent me an article by Dr. F. Daniel Rochman. The title of the article was "How to survive a heart attack alone". I had made a bunch of copies and left them in the waiting room for all of my students. It fit my case because I was alone since my wife was in another room and she can barely hear. When she stays up late to read, she usually ends up sleeping on the big sofa in the living room. If I had not been able to get out of the bedroom to where she could see me, I truly believe she would have found me stone cold dead on the floor the next morning.
As instructed in the article, I started to cough very vigorously with about two seconds in between each cough. I would cough and then say "One, Two". You have to deep breathe to do this and this gets extra oxygen into the lungs. The coughing movement squeezes the heart and keeps the blood moving. This provided me with the energy I needed to get up from the bed and stagger to the living room. She looked up from her book and said "What's the matter?" I just pointed and led her into the kitchen still coughing. I managed to point to the heart and ask for my keys on which I keep a small stainless steel container with nitroglycerin tablets. I managed to get one of them under my tongue and pondered the events that caused Dr. Clement Eiswirth to give me the prescription seven years before "just in case". Meanwhile, she got on the phone and called 911.
At this point in time, she used the right words. The police told me later on that most women blubber about how their husband is in pain, please help, etc., etc., etc. so the dispatcher sends the police. That's about ten or fifteen minutes of very critical time gone because when the police arrive, they call for an ambulance right away. She told the emergency dispatcher "we have a medical emergency here, please send an ambulance". During all this time I could hear her answering a couple of questions as I looked around our beautiful, newly renovated kitchen and it dawned on me that "I may never see this kitchen again!" About seven minutes later, the front door bell rang and New Orleans Finest Fire Department was at the door.
Now I know the Fire Department has to train their personnel on how to approach an accident or heart attack victim. I don't know if they specially trained this particular fireman who walked into my house. I did have a direct view of the front door from my seat in the kitchen. When my wife let him in, he didn't just walk in, he swaggered in and his whole attitude was "All right! Where's this stupid, puny heart attack that thinks it's going to steal one of OUR citizens?"
I can't tell you how happy and relieved I was to see him and that attitude! He caught sight of me and came right over to where I was sitting, knelt down on one knee, patted my knee and said "All right, Podnah, your in good hands now!" He grabbed hold of my hand. shoved some stuff in it and said "Here, chew this up". It was partially crushed aspirin. Ten minutes later I was laying on the gurney, strapped in and out in the street with all of the gawking spectators, even at midnight. I looked around at the outside of our beautiful house thinking "I may never see this again". Ten minutes later I was in the ambulance and on the way to the hospital. Twenty minutes later a doctor at Baptist Hospital was working on me with an angiogram and inserting a stint into a blocked artery. Talk about quick response! It doesn't get much better than that!
Now folks, in regards to the ride to the hospital, I don't know how many of you have had the great misfortune to have to be carted off to the hospital in an ambulance but I doubt any other ride would have been as painful or jarring as that short trip to Baptist Hospital, less than 4 miles away. We all know that the streets in New Orleans are in terrible shape but to put an accident or heart attack victim into a vehicle that has NO shocks and NO springs is nothing short of criminal. A good set of shocks and springs can make a trip on very rough roads very tolerable. Without them it is HORRIBLE! I intend to pursue this as soon as I get back on my feet because I feel that under other circumstances, the trip in that ambulance could have killed me.
The treatment I received at the hands of the entire emergency crew, and from all the people at Baptist hospital involved in helping me recover from my heart attack, was first class. I don't think I'd be alive if it hadn't been for them. Thanks to all of you - someday soon I intend to thank you in person.
Copyright 2005 by fritz owens, hendersonville, NC 28792
May 2006 - a few additional notes. Less than two months after I was released from Baptist Hospital, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and Baptist Hospital was wiped out. The last information I got about a week ago is that neither Baptist or Mercy hospitals are ever going to open again. I hope it's not true but I certainly wouldn't be surprised.
We have left New Orleans never to return because of the avoidable flood that put five feet of water in our home and destroyed everything we held dear after 42 years of married life. The crooked politicians who are responsible for this disaster won't give up easily as is evident from the things that have gone on in the last six months, particularly the lack of meaningful action in fixing the levees to handle a Category 5 storm. We are not going to live in fear, wondering if it's going to happen again every June and tremble everytime a hurricane hits the Gulf until November. We are NOT going to live like that. The weather people are predicting a worse hurricane season than last year. I sure don't want to be around for that!