I didn’t realize I was having a heart attack. I thought it was just one of those things.
The feeling wasn’t totally alien to me. Fast heartbeat, weakness, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, restlessness, and sweaty palms.
I felt those before, from time to time, over the past several years, and I took these as “normal” whenever I was tired.
Because of my work as a litigation attorney, when deadlines flooded, I got used to staying up late to research and write for pleadings in my cases. Pushing myself hard to meet deadlines, I kept myself awake with coffee and more coffee.
Relying on adrenaline and coffee, the pleadings got done, then I slept. Then goes another day, more cases, more pleadings, meetings and work. And it goes on and on and on …
The heart attack didn’t happen in a flash. There was a build-up that I refused to recognize., warning signs that I ignored, as if these are things we must simply learn to live with. It’s part of the job, comes with the territory, I thought.
Then one day, I felt too weak to stand. A few steps, and my chest felt tight and painful. I had to lie down, but could not sleep. I felt my heart pumping, the world was spinning.
Since I’ve had high blood pressure for at least two decades (since my 30s), my doctor advised me to monitor it regularly. I had my own digital monitor, and several months ago he taught me what to do if the numbers got too high.
He told me to take this little pink tablet, put it under my tongue, and wait. After half an hour, take my blood pressure again, and if it’s still high, take another tablet. After another half hour, if it’s still high, I should go to the nearest emergency room.
At 2AM that day on March 26, 2016, I did what the doctor said. The blood pressure monitor showed 220/110, numbers that I can’t forget because I associated these numbers with the voltages in electrical outlets. Normal blood pressure should be around 120/80.
I took the pills and measured my blood pressure as the doctor directed. After following his instructions, it was still the same.
At some point, I felt like I was dying. The chest pains were getting bad, heavy as if there was a block of iron pressing on me, and I felt that I was dwindling, becoming smaller, wasting away.
I didn’t want to die, I told God. My sons were ages 20 and 18 at that time, and their dad had just died a few years back. I didn’t want them to feel devastated by dying too soon. I wanted to see them finish college, have jobs, get married, raise their families. I wanted to see my children’s children. I asked God for this favor.
I had myself brought to the emergency room of Manila Adventist Hospital. After taking my electrocardiogram and a blood sample, the doctor said I had to be confined, which I expected.
The next morning, I tried to stand up to go to the bathroom. A nurse came in just in time, and said I am not allowed to stand.
Puzzled, I asked why, I felt okay and the bathroom was only about five steps away.
The nurse said she will call the resident doctor who will explain why.
After a few minutes, a young doctor came in with a chart, and said that I had a heart attack.
I cross-examined him, asking how he can be sure I had a heart attack, and insisted that I felt okay and that I am strong enough to take the few steps to the bathroom.
He patiently explained that according to my cardiac enzyme test, I had a heart attack, and it was not mild. My heart artery had a blockage, and a part of my heart muscle was damaged for lack of oxygen supply. And until a procedure is done, I should not move away from my bed.
Six days later, I went through angiogram and angioplasty procedures at Cardinal Santos hospital. I was awake during the process, watching the monitors while the doctors inserted a wire into my narrowed coronary artery. The lead doctor explained to me what was happening, and in a couple of hours, it was over.
The doctor gave me a print-out and a CD of the procedure. The print-out stated that I needed aggressive lifestyle modification.
It was only when I was back in my room that what happened sank into my psyche. I almost died. God heard my prayer. And I thank God that I am alive.
It has been three years. It has not been easy going for an aggressive lifestyle change after decades of bad work habits, getting used to a pressure-filled life, careless diet, and lack of exercise.
Change isn’t easy. It has to be intentional, and for the most part, I had to learn to say no. No to pressure, no to a workaholic lifestyle, no to meat, no to soft drinks, and no to over-caffeine.
I also had to learn to say yes — yes to my physical limitations (that I cannot work 12 hours a day or more and get away with it for the long haul), yes to enough sleep and exercise, yes to the right food, and yes to lots of water.
I had to learn to relax, go into arts, appreciate nature, read The Word and, in these ways, connect with God.
One song that has been playing in my mind is “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” by Danny Gokey. It’s a story about moving forward, about not living in yesterday, because there is so much more about life to enjoy. It also talks about the future as a life of grace:
Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again
Change begins in the mind. That brings me to one of my favorite Bible verses, Roman 12:2, which tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Now I can see far into the future, by the grace of God. Spend more time with the people I love – husband Jun Quinto, and my sons JJ and Peej, my siblings, relatives, friends and the people God put into my life to love. See more of the world, listen to more beautiful music, enjoy technology and nature.
At age 58, it’s the change I’ve always wanted.