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Phil O’Brien is the Publisher and Editor of W42ST.com. After a recent medical emergency on vacation, the website took a break of three weeks while Phil recovered from a heart attack.
The last full day of our weekend break on Martha’s Vineyard started with a cycle ride from Edgartown to Oak Bluffs along a causeway between the two towns. I didn’t get to complete the ride — my next forms of transport were two ambulances and an emergency medical helicopter.
Three miles into the ride, we stopped to take in the view of the water. I regularly cycle around New York on a Citi Bike and was enjoying the lighter ride on the wheels we had hired. It did feel a bit cold though, and I mentioned to my partner Gwen in passing that it felt a bit like I was cycling uphill (even though you couldn’t get a flatter ride than the causeway).
We headed on and Gwen hit a pothole on the path and screamed, I hit the same pothole at an angle, jammed on the brakes, my feet hit the ground, the frame jammed into my legs and I hurtled into a bank shoulder first. I was on my back feeling shook up, could tell that nothing was broken — but as I got up my shoulder was in real pain. I’d had a shoulder injury before, that had required surgery, so I knew how painful those injuries could be. As I went to sit on a nearby wall, the pain was making me nauseous, it was across my chest too and, looking up, everything was super bright.
We took stock, working out whether to call a car and get the bikes back to the hire shop or cycle on to Oaks Bluff. After about 5 minutes, I was feeling more normal — just a little shaken up. The chain had come off my bike and we sorted that out and started to cycle on.
Within 200 yards, I felt really awful. I said to Gwen that I needed to stop. The nausea and pain had returned but much worse. We agreed that Gwen should call an ambulance while I worked out on the map where we were. Five minutes later the ambulance arrived and paramedics started to work their magic on me. They wired me up to an ECG and monitored as I had another attack as we rode to the hospital. They gave me chewable aspirin. In between the attacks, I had no pain. I had one more episode as they were taking me out of the ambulance into the Emergency Room at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and the paramedic gave me some Nitro — which really helped.
In the ER, the room was full with medical staff. I seemed to get wired up to all sorts of things. I had one more attack there. The doctor quickly explained that I would be going to the mainland on a helicopter. Initially, she told me Boston — but then came back and explained she had managed to secure a place with an excellent cardiologist over in Cape Cod. It was a shorter ride — and every minute counted. She explained that I had a blockage somewhere in my body, but they didn’t have the equipment to find it. They took chest X-Rays, more ECGs and then the two paramedics from the helicopter arrived to take me on the journey.
I can remember the very focused briefing from the doctor, and her asking for precise timings on my journey. They told her it would be 10 minutes in the air and then a 5 minute ride in an ambulance at the other end. She made sure that they would accompany me all the way and had copies of every bit of information they had, including the ECGs from the ambulance.
Gwen came in to see me. We talked logistics. The helicopter would take two paramedics, a pilot and me wedged in on a stretcher, no more. She had to go pack the hotel room, get to the ferry, take the ferry, get a bus to the car park and find the car — and then a 45 minute drive. I shared the phone numbers of my sister, son and daughter. She’s met my son Joe, chatted to Sandra, my sister on the phone — but not met or talked to Millie, my daughter. Gwen had a tough few hours.
We said our goodbyes and I was off. After the flight (I had a wonderful view of the ceiling a foot above my face), we were in another ambulance and then wheeled into a spaceship-like room in Hyannis — one of their specialist cardiology suites.
Again, a team of medics awaited me. I was cold and shaking from the journey, they were trying to get me ready to explore where the blockage was, using a dye injected into me and their scanners. They told me that they would try to complete the operation through my wrist, but there was a chance that they would have to enter my network of arteries through my groin. Their shaving and preparation for this possibility has given Gwen one of the few laughs from this stressful time!
They gave me relaxants during the process and I was conscious the whole time. The doctor found the blockage on my left main artery at the heart. I found out later that this type of blockage and attack is called the “widowmaker” and statistically only 12% of people survive this if they are not in a hospital environment. He told me that he would put a stent into the area and this should clear the issue.
After that, I was taken up to the ICU unit and was monitored closely overnight and into the next day. The next morning, a specialist did an ultrasound of my heart and I was given the all clear. No heart damage — which was frankly another miracle.
In the afternoon, the doctor came and said I could go. I’d survived, I had no heart damage — and the only change was that I will be on a cocktail of pills for the rest of my life to keep my blood thin, cholesterol low and blood pressure normal.
When I had got dressed, I pressed the button at the bedside to leave. A nurse (who I hadn’t seen before) rushed into the room. She looked at the empty bed and asked who I was. I don’t think she’d ever seen someone up and walking and leaving the ICU before.
I saw a cardiologist in New York a few days later. I need to be careful that I don’t get injured, as I will bleed and bruise badly (my legs from the initial bike crash have been a testament to that!). Otherwise, I will go back for a blood check in January. Before the attack, I had been taking a statin for a couple of years for high cholesterol, but that was the only indication of my risk.
Looking at the map from my aborted cycle ride, I discovered that I was picked up from Harthaven! That was a good omen. I am a very lucky man!
Thanks to all the well wishes from the W42ST community and friends. Huge love to Gwen for being my rock through all of this. Seeing my family this month from the UK is going to be the best tonic for my recovery. Thanks to Sandra for keeping the W42ST social media going for 3 weeks while I recovered.
I am not able to name check all of the wonderful medics who helped perform miracles — but here are the few whose identities I know.
Dr Katherine Stedman who led the team in ER at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Her prediction to Gwen that she didn’t think that I was going to die came true. Her care in the ER room with her team and her decision to connect me to the specialist at Cape Cod undoubtedly were significant in this happy outcome.
The team at Boston MedFlight was amazing. I’ve since researched this wonderful organization. Boston MedFlight is a nonprofit organization that provides transport to the sickest of the sick, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. For 35 years, they have provided critical care medical transport by air and ground. As a nonprofit, they provide over $4 million annually in free and unreimbursed care to patients in need with little or no medical insurance.
Over in Cape Cod, the team was led by Richard Zelman, MD. I’ve since learned that his interventional cardiology program has earned wide recognition for “their door-to-balloon times (the time between when you enter the hospital to the time a lifesaving cardiac balloon is inflated in your artery through a percutaneous coronary intervention), and low readmission rates for stent patients.”
My heartfelt thanks will never be enough for these wonderful humans.
Finally, the question that I know is on your lips… What did it all cost? Luckily, I am covered by my partner’s medical insurance. Here are the bills that the insurers will be paying (with probably a few more still to come).
Visited Provider Claim Type Amount Billed ER Doctor Martha’s Vineyard Medical $6,878.57 New England Life Flight Inc Medical $21,024.00 Cape Cod Ambulance Medical $2,190.00 Cardiologist Cape Cod Medical $3,189.74 Cape Cod Hospital Medical $89,119.49 Misc Cape Cod Medical $926.07 Cape Cod Healthcare Pharmacy Prescription Drugs $428.03 $123,755.90