Jay Cross
Jay Cross

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Two-day Setback in New Orleans
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Late Thursday afternoon I was making a phone call from the open courtyard of the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street when it hit me. Must...sit..down. I was dizzy, confused, nauseous. Something was wrong but I didn’t know what. “I’m sick,” I thought.

I plopped down on a sofa in the hotel bar. Self assessment time. What is going on? Should I try to tough it out? Both of my arms began to ache. I stopped a waitress. “I need two things: first, a glass of ice water, and second, call 911. I am having a heart attack.

[Spoiler: Everything is okay now.]

She brought the water and went off to get permission to call 911. The hotel’s security guy showed up. He’d had heart attacks. “Let me offer you a nitro-glycerine tablet,” he offered. I took the little white pill from his palm and put it under my tongue. When it’s fresh, nitro gives a stringing sensation. This tablet didn’t sting; it didn’t dissolve. It wasn’t nitro. Rather, it was a piece of the cap liner from this guy’s long obsolete pill bottle.

Two glasses of water later, the fire department arrived. “What is your name? How old are you? What’s your social security number?” They plugged in a cute little EKG. “It looks like you’re having a heart attack,” they said. I explained that’s why I’d called.

The fire department paramedics called an ambulance company. Ten minutes later I hear sirens. The ambulance crew comes in. “What is your name? How old are you? What’s your social security number? It looks like you’ve have a heart attack.” They lifted me onto a stretcher and away we went down Bourbon, siren screaming. It was cold in the ambulance. I asked for a blanket. “We don’t have any blankets,” came the reply.



We arrived at Tulane University Hospital & Clinic. I talked with the E.R. triage nurse, a regular nurse, a physician, a cardiologist, and the head of the cath lab. “What is your name? How old are you? What’s your social security number?” I told the nurse they needed to put a toe tag on patients so they would only have to answer these questions once. I had about zero energy and answering questions was a chore. When a paramedic asked for my birth date and then my age, I gave him the date and told him, “Age? You figure it out.”

The Cath Lab

A nurse wheeled my stretcher to the elevator and up to the “cath lab.” (Cath is short for catheter; it’s like inserting a long pipe cleaner into the heart’s arteries.) I gingerly shifted from my stretcher to a narrow bed under a hulking beige machine. People wearing green scrubs huddled around. I expected the traditional half-hour wait in an anteroom but these folks were ready to go. Could I at least go to the bathroom first? No, there’s not a moment to lose. I finally made it to a toilet 24 hours later.

My blood pressure was too low for them to spike my IV with joy juice, so I was facing this all fully alert to what we going on. A surgeon punctured my groin with a stinging need of local anaesthetic. From then on, all I could feel was occasional tugging at the skin in my crotch. From past experience, I knew they were boring a hole into my femoral artery.

I don’t know how long the surgeons were at it, perhaps 45 minutes, but it felt like a long, long time. They threaded a cable up through my arteries and into my heart. Arteries don’t contain nerves, so I could feel none of this. The toughest part was staying stock-still for the entire time, arms by my side, covered with a blanket. Have an itch? Call the nurse and ask her to scratch it.

About half way through, the senior surgeon, Dr. Lawrence O’Meallie, gave me a status report. One coronary artery was blocked 100%. That’s what caused the MI (“myocardial infarction” = heart attack in doctorese.) They cleared that one and put in a stent to keep if from closing back up. Another artery was 85% closed; as long as they’re inside my chest, they’ll go ahead and do that one, too. Great.

Critical Care Unit

After the angioplasty, they wheeled me down to the critical care unit (CCU). Private room. Lots of attention. But also buzzers, alarms, an automatic blood-pressure cuff that felt like it was trying to squeeze my arm off, loud conversations, and occasional shrieking from some sufferer down the hall. Nurses and staff were extremely friendly but nothing could make up for the cacophony and bedlam. I didn’t sleep a wink.

I “rested” in the CCU until 8:00 pm the next day. I was delirious from lack of sleep. I finally did get an hour of shut-eye between EKGs and blood pressure readings.


In Stanley Milgram’s infamous Stanford prison experiment, some students were dubbed “jailers” and the others “prisoners.” Within a short while, both groups were playing out their roles. Student guards abused student inmates. The experiment was called off before getting totally out of hand.

The CCU has the same impact as the student prison. The message over and over again is “You’ll very ill.” It’s like the old grade-school trick. Someone, say it’s Billy, is “it.” Classmate after classmate tells Billy he’s looking under the weather. In time, Billy buys in and feels sick as can be. If you left a healthy person in the CCU for a few days, I’m confident they’d find something seriously wrong with themselves before departing.


Mr. Jimmy helped me into a wheelchair and whisked me to a regular hospital room. I couldn't get Mick Jagger out of my head for an hour. Entering the new room, the feeling that I was super-sick lifted from my shoulders. I slept through the night save for the four or five interruptions for me or my roommate to be tested or poked.

I’m in the home stretch now. I walked up and down the hall with Monique, my nurse for this shift. Then Dr. O’Meallie came by on rounds with five or six followers. He told me I would be dismissed in half an hour. I took a long shower while Monique filled out my discharge papers. They gave me a voucher for a taxi to the airport.

The staff at Tulane were friendly and comforting throughout. I’m writing this at the Louis Armstrong International Airport. Just finished a catfish po boy at Popeye’s.

Modern medicine is amazing. Less than forty-eight hours ago I was walloped by a heart attack and now I’m preparing to hop a plane back to the coast. Minimal if any damage to my left ventricle. From first attack to cab to the airport was about forty-two hours.

Several years ago I read a book by Steve Levine titled One Year to Live. In the courtyard of the Sonesta, I could have had one hour to live. I didn’t think about death until I was in the taxi to the airport. I was too busy following instructions, dealing with IVs in both arms and other paraphernalia, and taking care of myself. No exertion. No worry. Neutral mind.

I am glad to be back. I still have things to do.

Lesson: If you're ever overcome with listlessness and nausea, and feel pain radiating down your arms, call 911. Just do it. In my case, if I'd blamed my symptoms on too much gator and gumbo, and lay down to rest in my room, I wouldn't be here to tell the tale.

broozDon't click this one if you get queazy. Pump a body full of blood thinners. Then press down to staunch bloodflow. It leaves one hell of a bruise. Fortunately, this one doesn't hurt. In fact, I was quite surprised to see it.


Blogger Harold Jarche said...

Thank God you're still with us, Jay. And on top of that, within 48 hours you're back to blogging! You're addicted buddy ;-)

6:12 AM  
Blogger Ben Watson said...

Jay, reading your story almost gave me a heart attack! Make sure you rest and take it easy over the next few days. You still have things to accomplish in this world!

9:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Lee said...

Good Gosh, Jay! Where's the audio?!?!

Hope that laugh didn't hurt too much. Take care of yourself. You know, leaving one or all of your blogs empty for a day or two IS ok!

5:23 PM  
Blogger Dennis said...

Why would we expect anything less than an eye-witness account of your unfortunate ordeal and also learn something in the process? Glad to hear that you’re okay.

6:31 AM  
Blogger Godfrey Parkin said...

Jay, I am so glad you got through this. That said, you're a mad ejit to be photographing the ordeal AND blogging it as well. And what's with the "setback"? To anyone else, this would be a nightmare.

Take a few days off, and stay away from the crawdads!

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Karsten Dambekalns said...

James, good to read that you haven't lost your sense of humour. And yes, you are crazy to keep taking pictures all the way through! :)

Anyway, take care! I still plan to talk to you when I come to Berkely some day.

1:29 PM  
Blogger jay said...

Thanks to all my well-wishers.

Here's a thought to ponder. In the hospital, who's crazier, the person who keeps on blogging or the one who bites the ends of his fingers off with worry? I felt inconvenienced, not scared, throughout the two-day ordeal. It was only after I returned home that a few Emily Dickinson poems started replaying in my head. "Before I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me."

My take on this? Life is for learning. Less carousing, more balance, no fried food. :-)

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Clark Quinn said...

Glad you're still with us, mate. Please take care, keep thinking, reflecting, and challenging us intellectually and with your firm grip on life. Any day above ground is a good day!

7:23 PM  
Blogger jheuristic said...

Hi --

At first pass, it sounded like you were describing a typical elearning conference.

Stay well!


1:11 PM  
Blogger Clark Aldrich said...

I am belated to this party, but yikes!

5:54 AM  

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