In the spirit of Heart Month I am sharing stories of fellow Heart Attack Survivors that I have met through The Under 55 Heart Attack Survivors Group on Facebook. Everyone has a story and I hope you will take a read and help us create awareness of the #1 Killer in North America.
Today Please meet Wendell Laughter, a man who’s last name suits his his personality and demeanor.
It was July 26th, 2014, a beautiful Saturday. I lease 2200 acres of land fairly close to where I live, I lease it for hunting as I’m an avid hunter.
The morning of the 26th I got up fairly early and went to the lease property to work on building a shooting house for deer season. Basically a 4’ by 8’ by 7 feet tall house built 15 feet off the ground. The only unusual thing that happened this day was, my wife decided to go help me, and that wasn’t something she done hardly at all. She has other things she likes to do on her Saturdays, as she works a full time job through the week like I do.
When we left the house and headed to the lease property I didn’t feel all that good, but wasn’t feeling sick or anything either, I was just being lazy I thought. In order to get to where I was building my blind you have to have 4 wheel drive as the road is an old logging road and it’s easy to get stuck. I guess at this point I should give you a little of my history.
I was 45 years old, and in good shape. I’m 6’3” and at the time for my heart attack I weighed 270lbs. I carried it really well, I wasn’t over weight at all. I smoked close to 2 packs of Marlboro reds a day, and partied on my boat at the lake most weekends, all bad food and good ice cold beer and some occasional moonshine.
Anyway, back to that memorable day, haha. I had unloaded some 16’ long 4×4’s and some plywood and 2×4’s out of the truck, and Rhonda (my wife) was helping hold them together while I screwed them together, making the frame of the building. It was in the low 90’s and I was sweating pretty good. I had been eating allergy medicine because I had flu like symptoms. My chest was congested and my nose was runny, so when I started feeling light headed and sick, I thought I had got too hot. I told my wife that I was really nauseated and dizzy headed and she thought I had got too hot as well. She convinced me to go sit in the truck with the air conditioner on, the truck was about 20 feet away from where I was at.
When I started walking to it, I wasn’t sure I could make it, but I just stared at it and stumbled my way over to the truck, almost falling/walking. When I got to the truck I fell to my knees at the truck door and rested my head on the running board/step… I was trying to “shake off” whatever was wrong with me, so I stayed on my knees there for a few minutes before hearing my wife ask me if I was ok. I, of course answered yes and reached up to open the truck door. At that moment my left arm felt like someone had jerked it out of socket, it felt dislocated at the elbow and shoulder and just “ached” something awful! That’s when I thought to myself, “oh crap! I’m having a heart attack!”. I yelled to my wife, “Come on Rhonda, we need to go”.. and of course she yelled back, “ok, let me gather your tools up.” I was thinking we didn’t have time for that! Haha ! but I also knew that if I argued with her about it, it would take even longer, so I just stayed on my knees and waited. In a couple of minutes she was at the truck and said everything was picked up and we was ready. I stood up to get in the truck and it felt like someone had shot me with a rifle, dead center of my chest. That’s when fear overwhelmed me, the weird part was, I wasn’t really scared of dying. The fear was more of a panic, all I could picture in my head was my wife being stuck out on the middle of nowhere with a dead body, what would she do, how would she handle that? OMG!! I need to get out of here! I don’t want her to go through that!.
I started driving us out of there and she was getting mad and yelling at me because I was driving wide open and even making new roads here and there, lol. She wanted to drive but I knew we needed to hurry and she would be too slow. I honestly don’t remember driving out of there, my wife said I slid to a stop 3 or 4 times and put my head down on the steering wheel, when she would ask if I was ok, I replied that I was ready to pass out. I would as her to just give me a minute and I would be ok. I don’t know how exactly, but I got us home, (my wife says it was the scariest ride she’s ever had, lol). We got home around 1:30pm. Ok, mission one was to get out of the woods so my wife wouldn’t have to deal with a dead body. Mission one, step one a success!!. Mission two: I’m filthy.. sweaty.. dirty.. filthy!.. so apparently I started undressing as I walked to the front door. By the time I made it to out bathroom I was naked and getting in a very cold shower, my wife was right behind me asking if she should call an ambulance. I told her no, that I must have torn something in my chest from all the coughing (was hoping) but I stepped into the shower and rinsed off and stepped out. I barely remember crawling out of the bathroom and down the hall to the kitchen, it’s like I dreamed it. My wife had me some fresh clothes and was demanding that I let her call 911.. I told her no, that she was going to drive me to the ER, so I got in her little Lincoln MKX and off we went.
I kept telling her to go faster! Faster! She was barely over the speed limit. I remember passing a state trooper parked on the side of the road and her pointing him out to me as a reason to not speed. I think my exact quote was something like “phuck him!! Go damnit!! Go!! I’m dying!” The pain was so unbearable that I was upside down in the passenger seat trying to find a spot that didn’t hurt me, my feet on the ceiling of her MKX, pushing like a woman in labor, lol. I finally gave up and had her go to the ambulance service place. We got there and everybody was gone, so we called 911 from the ambulance garage, lol, it took them forever to get there (about 15 minutes), they checked me, ran an EKG and said: “We can take you to the hospital but you can drive and get there just as fast, your EKG shows your heart is ok. I get back in Rhonda’s car and off we go. The hospital is about a 40 minute drive and she’s not going fast enough. I’m mad as hell because everybody is ignoring her emergency flashers and won’t move over, finally we hit a long straight away with nothing coming, so she passed about 10 to 15 cars. I remember looking at the speedometer and she broke 110mph, I laughed and told her that NOW she’s driving ! I was trying to make her laugh and lighten the mood. We get to the ER around 3:00pm, and when we walk in they ask what’s wrong and after I tell them my chest is killing me, they take me straight in. They run an EKG and it’s good. They send me and get a cat scan, it was all I could do to hold still long enough, I was in agonizing pain. They put an IV in me for the scan, to put dye in or something, so when I got back to my room they wanted me to drink a “GI cocktail”. it tasted like shit and didn’t touch the pain.
The cat scan guy walked into my room and said: “The cat scan didn’t show any fluid around your heart, no blockages and no aneurisms, your heart is fine” I as adamant that something was literally killing me. I was begging for something for the pain and trying to convince them that I wasn’t a druggie looking for a “fix”. They gave me a nitro pill under my tongue, it didn’t help. They gave me a second nitro, still didn’t help, then a third pill, still no help at all. They gave me some morphine through my IV then a hydrocodone pain pill. Still. No. Help…. at all. I was getting mad as hell, I thought they was giving me placebos. I got up at one point and was going to walk out, I told them if it wasn’t my heart that I could tough it out long enough to get home and take a hand full of pain pills (I never take them, so I had plenty in the cabinet from other things over the years). My wife and an emergency room doctor talked me into staying for more tests and observation.
They wheeled me to a room and started giving me a pain pill every 4 hours, and morphine every 2 ½ hours. I watched the clock like a hawk and was asking for the meds 10 minutes or so before time from the previous meds were up, so they would have them ready, lol. At 1:00am (now it’s Sunday), my wife is asleep in a chair in the corner of my room when a doctor comes running in, turning my lights on, and telling me “Mr. Laughter, your blood work is back and your enzymes are sky high!!.” I looked at him, with my fists clinched against my chest and asked what that means, he said “you’re in cardiac arrest, you’re having a heart attack!”
He stood there awaiting a reaction, I looked in straight in the eye and said, “no shit!!”…. lol. I was actually relieved to know why I was in agony, believe it or not, He told me that they cancelled my stress test they had scheduled for the morning and was getting a cath scheduled no stress test??… smh. When he walked out I whispered to Rhonda (not knowing if she was awake), “did you hear that?”. She whispered back, “yeah” but didn’t move or a make a sound the rest of the night, it scared her more than it did me, lol.
The rest of the night was a Chinese fire drill, nurses crawling all over me.. yeah, was wondering if it was heaven a few times, lol. The morning came, and at 9:30am, 18 hours after arriving at the ER, I was headed to the cath table for a 30 minute procedure. They put me on the table and started shaving my groin, but went through my wrist. They did a “radial” cath but shaved the groin just in case they needed to go through it. I was hurting too bad to lay still, so they knocked me out. I woke up still on the cath table, with my doctor poking me on the shoulder, calling my name. “Wendell. Wendell. Wendell.” When I answered he said and I kid you not, he said: “This ain’t good, this ain’t good at all! We need your help, we’re in a tight spot here, can you lay still and hold your breath when we ask you to?”. I, of course said yes and done as he said. I remember him talking with someone over an intercom, “insertion of 10X in LAD”… “Insertion of 8X in LAD”… after the first insertion he turned his head to talk to whoever that guy behind the glass was. I used that instance to readjust myself, I was hurting too bad to lay still, he wasn’t looking at me but immediately knew I had moved, everybody laid their hands on me and was saying “don’t move, don’t move”.. was like, “ok, ok!!”, lol.
Anyway, I remember laying there and all of a sudden the pain leaving, I remember my muscles finally relaxing and my body settled. I remember saying out loud, “oh thank god!!”. I said that a couple of times before the doctor asked me if I was alright. When I told him the pain was gone he smiled and said that was what was supposed to happen. It was such a relief, I was the happiest person alive!!
I had two blockages, one on my right side and one on my left side, in the LAD?. I still don’t understand all of that, but that’s ok I have 3 stents in 2 blockages. My LAD was the 100% blocked artery and he had to put a stent inside of a stent because my artery kept collapsing the single stent, thus the 10X and 8X, they were stent sizes! Haha. The other artery was a 95% blockage. The 30 minute procedure took over 3 hours, and I was rolled back to my room. I’ve had so much crap happen since then, that it really gets overwhelming and sometimes you think it’s winning. I try my best to still be a strong guy and keep a good attitude. I’m not going to lie though, it’s a hard thing to accept knowing you’re not near the man you were 6 months ago.
I did attend Cardiac Rehab, it was an important part of my recovery. I loved it ! They were on me to keep my heart rate within reason as sometimes I would go too hard. The nurses kept me in line lol.
My wife, I could not ask for anyone better. She is concerned when I am concerned and OK when I am OK The entire time at the hospital, the whole 4 days she stayed by my side. We have been together since high school, we were prom King and Queen. We have lived a good life together.
Advice I would tell others…..Quit smoking, don’t eat the fat stuff. I do still spend time with my old crew just not as much. I use to hang with them a lot, drink the beers and eat all the bad food. They were very understanding when I made the changes.
I have had a great life, always have and I love it.
I’ve already wrote a book here, so this is where I’m ending “me story”.. I hope I didn’t bore you all to death.