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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Critiques & Reviews
by Dale Shank

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This advice was emailed to me and many, many others. It apparently came from a Rochester hospital newsletter.

How To Survive A Heart Attack

Without help, the person whose heart stops beating properly and who
begins to feel faint, has only about 10 seconds left before losing
consciousness. However, these victims can help themselves by coughing
repeatedly and very vigorously. A deep breath should be taken before
each cough, and the cough must be deep and prolonged, as when producing
sputum from deep inside the chest. A breath and a cough must be
repeated about every two seconds without let up until help arrives, or
until the heart is beating normally again.

Deep breaths get oxygen into the lungs and coughing movements squeeze
the heart and keep the blood circulating. The squeezing pressure on the
heart also helps it regain normal rhythm. In this way, heart attack
victims can get to a hospital.

Doubtlessly, this advice about surviving a heart attack was crafted by the same clever folk who, in the 50s, developed the emergency preparedness training for a thermonuclear war. In the event an atomic bomb scorched our neighborhood, we were to quickly get under a desk and crouch in a fetal position or, at the very least, make sure we didn't look directly at the blast without wearing sunglasses. Lacking that kind of training, we would all be victims of nuclear war by now. When our evil enemies found out we were completely protected against a nuclear strike, they decided launching the warheads would be a waste of money, and nuclear war was avoided. Logic dictates there are similar measures you can take to prevent or survive a heart attack.
     I'll let you in on a secret. I have a serious character flaw. I tend to be a little scatterbrained when I'm having my heart attacks, and can't always remember exactly what I'm supposed to do. So I've developed a number of alternative strategies, hoping I might remember at least one in my hour of need. They've worked for me. They might work for you, too.
     First, I try to arrange to suffer my most serious heart attacks on the sidewalk outside of an emergency room. If I'm really on my game, I have them in the reception area at my cardiologist's office. And, yes, I do keep tabs on the doctors' vacation schedules.
     But life isn't always so sweet. When my ticker is headed south, so to speak, I try to stimulate my body in a way that directly invigorates my cardiovascular system. Abject terror has been a favorite technique. When staring directly into the black face of death, I've found that screaming "Jesus Fucking Christ!!" has brought me through a couple times. You see, I was raised a fundamentalist Christian (Mennonite, for those who want labels) and there's still a residual excitement in swearing. Gets my juices flowing every time. I try to use phrases that phonetically trigger a wide range of glossopharyngeal responses, figuring it might have a therapeutic ripple effect all the way to my heart. I particularly like emphatic glottal stops.
     I've also taken CPR training. The traditional problem with CPR is that it's done on other folks. And the right people have an irritating way of not always being around when you need them. But I'm always around. So I've practiced a technique that works quite nicely. I cup my left hand over my mouth and nose and exhale through my nose. It's really a fairly robust snort. I then catch the air and redirect it into my mouth. Simultaneously, with my right hand, I pound the holy bejesus out of my chest, and Whammo!, my heart starts beating again. I don't even bother getting the Red Cross certification anymore.
     Let me step aside a moment and stress the value of practice. If you don't practice these things all the time, there's very little chance you'll remember to do them in the ten fleeting seconds you have before you go tits up.
     Another procedure I occasionally use during a heart attack involves shock and repressed memories. It's a documented fact that as soon as your body senses it's going to be stone dead in the next few minutes, your entire life flashes before you. I use that flash of memory to stimulate my heart. I seek out those moments in my past where my body has responded with extraordinary vigor. I've fended off several potentially fatal heart attacks by reliving the same horrific event. You guys will understand. It was at a Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparent's house. I was probably thirteen or fourteen. The dinner was dragging on and on and on and I began to sense a certain primal urge. I excused myself and went in the bathroom and began servicing myself while the rest of the family finished off the cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. To my horror, I heard the door open. You see, I'd forgotten to lock it. I turned around to see the shock on my grandmother's face. It's a wonder she didn't keel over and die. The still-vivid memory of the visceral reflex that rattled my body is one I use now to fend off heart attacks.
     During my hippie days in the Sixties, I dabbled in tantric yoga and I recently survived a moderately severe heart attack using a variation on an old yogic maneuver. I felt the stabbing pain radiate down my left arm and the heaviness in my chest and I knew I was about to buy the turnip farm. Immediately, I threw my left leg around the back of my neck (I'm standing, of course; it might not work lying down) and I hopped around on my right leg while whistling "Wang Dang Doodle" by the Grateful Dead. Three laps around the house and garage were completely recuperative. In celebration, I treated myself to a heaping bowl of boiled tofu.
     I admit there are certain minor flaws in my techniques. For instance, it's pretty damned hard to dial 9-1-1 while engaging in these life-saving activities. And it's almost as tough to drive to the nearest hospital while hopping around or while pleading for mercy to the Baby Jesus. But, hey, you got to die of something. And besides, what's wrong with dying of a heart attack? Sure beats Alzheimer's.
     May the Lord in Heaven be with you and bless you always.

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