In the public relations classes I teach, I point out the importance of thinking of people as members of many different publics. One single individual may be a student, a tennis player, a parent, a voter and a church-goer, for example. All of that has significance to the PR person in determining how to shape and deliver a message and to interpret feedback.
It’s a principle that came home to me in a vivid way this week as I became a brand new member of a specialized public. I am now a heart-attack survivor.
It started as I was at Queens University of Charlotte on Wednesday night, acting as a member of the media public covering a basketball game between Queens and Augusta (Ga.) State. I didn’t get to write the story.
As the game entered its final minutes, a case of indigestion which had been building up in me since halftime reached a disturbing new level. But being the dedicated reporter, I was determined to just ride it out, get my story done and get home as soon as possible. (It has occurred to me that I could have easily been one of those folks about whom it is said, “Well, he died doing something he really loved to do.” I guess God wasn’t quite ready for me to make my final deadline. But I’m getting ahead of myself.)
Ovens Gym, Queens’ cozy home court for basketball, is aptly nicknamed “The Oven” for the heat and humidity generated there even when the place isn’t full. But as the game ended, I realized that I was soaked with sweat as I had never been before, with blotches beginning to appear on my shirt. Then my chest started hurting.
I went to a back hallway, found a chair and called Jayne on my cell phone.
“I don’t want to scare you,” I began. “But I’m feeling really bad right now.”
Jayne said, “Tell me what you mean.”
I told her how I had been feeling and Jayne asked me — about five times by her count — if I needed to go to the hospital. I responded that I just wanted her to come get me because I didn’t think I was able to drive.
Now, this entry isn’t intended to be didactic in nature, and I don’t presume to tell you how to react in a medical emergency. But I will give two suggestions gained from this experience:
(1) If you think you’ve had a heart attack, pride and stoicism aren’t really helpful character traits.
(2) “I’m going to look really silly if this is just something minor” is not a useful response, either. Listen to your body first because your brain has probably become an idiot. We live 25 minutes from the Queens campus, which is less than five minutes away from Carolinas Medical Center.
But I did follow Jayne’s next bit of advice and am probably alive now because of it. To make a long story a little shorter, I found Queens sports information director Cherie Swarthout and told her how I was feeling. After sitting in an office for a while, I asked her to take me to CMC. We called Jayne, who was en route, to tell her of the change of plans. And a huge thank you to Cherie, who’s another one of the heroes of this story.
A few minutes later, I was at the emergency room door at CMC, and I got the full zone press treatment from the ER staff. In seconds I was in a wheelchair and within minutes I was being prepared for a heart catheterization. (“In the throes of a heart attack,” was the phrase I remember one of the ER doctors using.) No questions, forms or insurance card until much later on — the priority was on helping someone who looked like they needed it. Very professional and very people-centered.
I was soon being wheeled to a cath lab and prepared for a procedure which would put a lattice-shaped metal tube called a stent, into my right femoral artery to open up what was described as a “99 percent cholesterol blockage.” The procedure is described here.
Under local anaesthesia, I was able to watch some of it on a monitor, as the surgeon (he introduced himself to Jayne afterwards as “the plumber”) removed an incipient blood clot and introduced the stent into the artery with a catheter which had been inserted into my right thigh near the groin. The 1960s science fiction movie “Fantastic Voyage” came to mind.
Within 30 minutes, the procedure was finished. From that point, I’m a little fuzzy on things. I was wheeled into a room in the Intensive Care Unit and I remember looking at the clock on the wall and noting that it was nearly midnight. Time flies when you’re having a heart attack.
I also remember talking about the latest episode of “The Office” with my nurses — we laughed about the scene where Michael marks one of the waitresses from Benihana so he can identify which of them is his “new girlfriend.”
I’m in the ICU for the next 13 hours, instructed not to move my right leg because the catheter was still in there. I’m hooked up to a couple of IVs and a heart monitor, and my body’s dotted with little connectors to the EKG machine which records my heart activity. Looks like a graph of some company’s stock price and my future seems to be improving as an investment as the hours pass. My vital signs are checked regularly, but what I really want is to brush my teeth and take a shower. Jayne comes to the rescue, bringing my shaving kit from home.
I’m told that I’m in good enough shape to be moved to a room on a regular floor and about 1 p.m. on Thursday, I’m wheeled to my next destination. Everybody tells me I’m doing fine.
The old PR practitioner and professor in me kicks in when I’m asked by my nurse in my new room to tell her what I thought the phrase “outstanding care” means. I answer: responsive, friendly and knowledgeable. And I think that the CMC staff earned high marks on all counts as they dealt with this customer. (NOTE: I was not asked to provide, nor have I been compensated for, this testimonial.)
Sadly, I can’t recall everyone’s name who helped me out in some way in the last 48 hours.
But I’m especially grateful for the efforts of my cardiologist, Dr. Irvin Naylor of the Sanger Clinic. His clear explanations of what had happened and what was going to happen to me provided some needed reassurance. And I especially appreciated his thoughtful and thought-provoking comments on the nature of the body and the keys to wellness. Nurses Gena Belk (a proud Independence High and UNC-Chapel Hill alumna) in the ICU and Cathy Parris on the sixth floor also provided a boost to the spirit as well as physical care.
The hospital did a good job of providing me with information on nutrition and exercise as I begin my post-heart attack life. (Another good PR lesson, too.) And all staffers were attentive from the time I walked into the ER until I was wheeled out the main entrance to go home.
It’s been an eventful couple of days to say the least. And on top of everything that’s happened, I guess it’s appropriate at this time of year that I’ve learned the George Bailey lesson: with or without your intention or realization, your life has an impact on so many others. The flowers, visits, phone calls and e-mails I’ve received in the last several days are a gift from God as well as from my friends, the senders.
It truly is a wonderful life. Merry Christmas.