Most of you have heard me talk some about how I really don't fit the media stereotype of the heart attack survivor—the most obvious thing being that I'm not a 60-70 year old, type A personality male. I'm a 42-year old woman (40 when the heart attack happened) who doesn't have high blood pressure, doesn't smoke, isn't diabetic and doesn't have clogged arteries. I'm overweight but had been dieting and exercising for several months and taken off around 20 pounds when I woke up that morning with crushing chest pain.
I'm also unusual in the heart disease community because I'm, well, let's face it: I'm a geek. I'm a nerd. I was the kid in high school who was in the AP/advanced classes. I took one of the first computer processing classes offered at my high school (on TRS-80s, no less)—we spent a semester on BASIC, then spent a quarter split into small groups to write a program in COBOL. When my world history teacher did review sessions at the end of the semester and gave extra credit for correctly-answered questions, he wouldn't let me play—said it would skew his grading curve too badly. I wear glasses.
I have volunteered at and run science fiction conventions in my home town. I play role-playing games (Champions/Hero System, if you must know). I love Star Trek, Babylon 5, Futurama, Firefly/Serenity, Farscape, the new Battlestar Galactica, and more. My favorite authors write series you've probably never heard of: Honor Harrington, Skolian saga, Saint Germain chronicles, Deryni series, Liaden universe, Technic civilization. At my day-job, I work for a science fiction publisher. I read comics and love comic-book characters, with Batman being a particular favorite.
My husband and I spent Labor Day weekend congregating with our tribe, our people, our fellow geeks and nerds. Maybe you've heard of San Diego Comic Con? The event we attended this past weekend is similar, but is run by a hardworking corps of volunteers and takes place in Atlanta every year: Dragon*Con.
Some people jokingly call it "Nerdi Gras," and that's as good a quick description as any. You'll find people of all shapes and sizes in costumes of all types, from cartoon characters to the latest sf TV shows—one family came as the characters from Scooby Doo, someone else dressed up as the Witch King from Lord of the Rings, there were several Batmans and Supermans, and the group that won the Sunday night masquerade did steampunk versions of the X-Men. Lots of people, including me, have no talent at costuming; we just wear comfortable clothes and admire the skill and chutzpah of the people who do take the time to dress up.
There are 37 tracks of programming, so there's always something to do—usually two or three things are happening at once and you want to go to all of them, so you have to make hard choices: Jim Butcher autograph session, or discussion on the lasting impact of H.P. Lovecraft, or Q&A with the cast of Firefly?
Somewhere around 50,000 people streamed into downtown Atlanta to take part in the con (short for "convention," not "con game"), and I do mean "take part," because the people become part of the experience—via costumes, via interacting with panelists, meeting fellow fans while waiting in line, hosting or attending parties, taking pictures. It's an interactive experience. Wear comfortable shoes.
If you're at all crowd-phobic, you may need to take steps to make sure that you can fully enjoy your weekend at Dragon*Con. The public areas of the hotels hosting the Dealers' rooms—where you'll find everything for sale from leather corsets to T-shirts with snarky sayings to dice in all colors, shapes and sizes—and large events like concerts and some of the really popular panels turn into wall-to-wall people, especially on Saturday.
As a short woman who apparently projects an invisibility shield, people were bumping into me, stepping on me, and cutting me off all weekend. Even when my 6' husband was holding my hand, we'd still get separated. It seriously made me wish I had a taser.
That said, once I'd fought my way through the crowds, ultimately I enjoyed whatever event or panel I went to.
Then the bruises started showing up.
This is the legacy of having a heart attack: taking Plavix and a full-strength aspirin every day. Sometimes a bruise shows up and I know exactly what happened. "Oh, I banged my shin on the coffee table last night in the dark." Other times, a bruise'll appear and I'll have no idea what I did; maybe someone looked at me cross-eyed.
Most of the ones incurred from the full-contact sport of getting from place to place at Dragon*Con aren't visible; they're on my legs and feet, with one on the last two knuckles of my right hand that falls into the "I have no IDEA where that came from" category.
If you're on blood thinners, arnica gel is your friend. It really does help the bruises fade faster. It won't disguise them if you're self-conscious about them where they show (next post: why Capri pants and 3/4-sleeve shirts are a Plavix-girl's friend), but they will disappear quicker than they would otherwise. I spent time every morning and evening at D*C putting arnica on my battle-scars.
As a heart disease patient, I also modify the standard travel-size emergency kit to include a list of current meds, emergency contact info, nitro pills and baby aspirin, and of course my trusty tube of arnica gel. You can get it at most organic food co-ops and also places like Whole Foods.
This is a good time for me to remind people to get and wear a medical ID of some sort—bracelet, necklace, there are a TON of options in every style, color, and price range, and there's no excuse to not wear one. Many times at Dragon*Con, my husband and I were attending different events in different hotels. Depending on your carrier, cell phone reception in the various host hotels ranged from OK to decent to horrible. If something had happened to me, it would have taken some doing to track him down, but thankfully I was always wearing my medical ID bracelet.
One thing that happened over the weekend that meant a lot to me was getting to meet Kevin Sorbo. If you don't know his work, he's an actor who played Hercules in the show Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Xena: Warrior Princess, as well as Capt. Dylan Hunt in Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda.
Right after my heart attack, I was, to put it mildly, freaked out and scared. The heart attack was in late March and my birthday is in early May; for my birthday that year I received a lot of Amazon.com gift certificates. I pooled them together and bought the box set of Hercules.
I was only out of work for a couple of weeks, then it was back in the saddle, and I started up cardiac rehab a few weeks after getting out of the hospital.
It was wonderful to come home in the evenings and be able to put on an episode of Hercules and get transported to another place and time for awhile and not have to think about what had happened to me. Not have to look at the scar on my wrist where they stuck an arterial line my third night in the hospital. Not sitting at the computer reading scary statistics about spontaneous dissections. Having a little bit of time where I didn't have to remember that my life had changed forever and I could never go back to the way things used to be.
An author friend who'd met Kevin at a previous convention offered to introduce me, and since I get so tongue-tied around people, I accepted. While we waited for him to show up at his table, Tim and his wife Anna took me around and introduced me to some of the other Dragon*Con guests at the Walk of Fame: Peter Mayhew, Raelee Hill, Claudia Christian, and then... Kevin Sorbo.
After they introduced me, I bought a photo and got it autographed—then got incoherent and weepy. I think I managed to get out "Thanks... box set Hercules... helped me through a really scary time of my life... heart attack... freaked out... thanks for the entertainment and distraction..." He was really sweet and gave me a hug. I'm tearing up a little now just writing about it. I just wanted to make sure he knew that I appreciated him and the show and what it meant to me.
The con could have ended right after that, and I would have counted it as a win. But there was still another day's worth of entertainment, including having dinner with a friend and watching the Masquerade (a costume contest) from the comfort of our hotel room. One thing that Dragon*Con does is to have some of the larger, more popular events broadcast to the TVs in the host hotels, over a private channel called D*CTV (Dragon*Con TV). So sometimes you don't have to fight through the crowds to see your favorite events.
All in all, it was a great weekend full of memories that I'll carry with me for a lifetime.
Having heart disease doesn't mean you stop enjoying life; it means you take a few precautions and get out there and keep living.