The Yoga Teacher's Heart Attack

Chapter 4: The Actual Heart Attack 

6 March 2017

Monday morning, 4:00AM, I bolt wide awake. I feel like I've been struck by lightning. My rib cage feels like it is on fire. I think “Thank heavens I’m laying down, man did that hurt!” Weirdly, I fall back asleep.

One hour late, 5:00AM. I again bolt upright, wide awake. The chest pain is intense and brief and hot. Again, I think "Good thing I'm laying down; if I had been standing, this would kill me." 

​(Bolting wide awake in and of itself was a giant symptom that something had gone horribly awry. I’ve long been a devout night owl and waking up is not my forte. It’s the one character trait of mine that I deplore. Oh, how I long to wake up chipper and ready for the day. But I digress … )  

Precisely one hour later, 6:00AM. Again, I bolt wide awake. Insane, crippling pain. I feel squeezed within an inch of my life.  As though King Kong has picked me up and has his big hairy fingers wrapped around my entire torso. Breathing feels very difficult, very, very hard to breathe in in any meaningful way. My yogic breathing has escaped me, just like at the sinus surgeon's office.


With alarm, it occurs to me that this is possibly the day that I am going to die.

(And to add some clarity here, on the import of the mind shift: I had fall-down grand mal seizures for decades, have been held at gunpoint in New York, been in two high-rise building fires and survived a foam-filled landing after the plane I was on lost an engine. At all other moments of peril, my pathologically perky brains has thought "Well, this is tricky! But I bet I know a way out ..." )

I decide I will delay dying until after I get the girls on the school bus. No sense in dropping dead in front of them; the psychological scars of that would be deep and unending.

I keep thinking "This cannot be a heart attack, nope, that is not in my cards." I decide that I will keep moving, that the heart needs to know that it still has a job to do.

First up, take a shower. Walking the 25 feet from my bed to the shower feels utterly epic, what with King Kong compressing my rib cage with his mighty, brute strength.  I stop every five feet to rest, leaning against the cool hallway.

Some little voice, an angel, my inner planner whispers “Don’t get in the shower. They'll never think to look for you in the tub and when they do, it will be too late.”

Made sense. I am determined to keep moving. I hobble down the stairs and email work that I am unable to come in, that I am feeling unwell.

I am so unwell that I cannot get back up the stairs. It takes a solid five minutes to get up two stairs. My darling girls find me, huffing and stalled out, and help me back up the remaining twelve stairs.


I remember that the girls and I  had planned on making coffee mug cakes for breakfast. Chocolate mug cakes, no less!


We had mixed the dry ingredients the night before; the plan was to splish in the wet ingredients and, poof, we start off our Monday with a nice treat.

I'm trying to pretend that everything is perfectly fine and the girls ask about the mug cakes, are they ready yet? I've not yet recovered from slogging my way up 14 stairs. I am simply too weak to walk the three feet to the fridge, I cannot fathom what it would take to actually crack the egg and whisk in the oil. Nope. No can do.

I give the girls my super fancy just-for-vegan-moms-only protein bars. "What's wrong, mom?" Smart girls, they know something is seriously wrong when I hand out my coveted $4 breakfast bar for no reason. Especially with coffee mug cakes in the offing. 

I don't want to call 911. Sure, partially because of the doctors-can-be-shmucky sentiment. Mostly I hesitate because I currently work at the local 911 dispatch center and a good friend of mine is a paramedic and this is surely heartburn or wicked gas and I will never hear the end of it, that funny Monday the dragon-boating yoga teacher thought she was having a heart attack. 

​Also, I’m a big believer in what you put out to the universe bearing fruit. If I actually say out loud “I think I’m having a heart attack,” perhaps this will alarm the heart, which is the last thing she and I need right now.

And I don't want to alarm anyone. I want to stay calm and alive. I remember something about aspirin. Chewing one helps, I think. So I put a couple of aspirins in my mouth and chew. Then I try to remember, maybe it was a Tylenol? I grab Tums, Tylenol, another aspirin and an Aleve and chew on them all as if my life depended on it, a weird bitter trail mix.

​James gets out of the shower. I stage whisper "Something is wrong. I'm pretty sure it isn't a heart attack. But I don't want to die in front of the girls. So we are going to put them on the bus and then we will drive to the ER." 

Wise prince of man, James asks "Do you want to go north to the Better Hospital?" 

And for the first truly sign of alarm, I am resigned. I mutter "No. We'll go to the Close Hospital instead."

James tries to hide his shock. He knows it is bad if I’m willing to go to that hospital.

Everything goes according to plan. I stay alive long enough to drop the girls off at the bus stop. We then drive to Close Hospital.

I shouldn’t hold a grudge against Close Hospital. But I do.