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Two days after my 51st birthday I had a massive heart attack. I did not know what it was at first. I was drinking coffee with my wife in the dining area of our Manhattan apartment when I broke out in sweat and felt so nauseated I could not finish the coffee. I had been up until four in the morning and now it was eight, and I thought the nausea and the sweat were probably the result of a night of hard work, drinking, smoking, tension and very little sleep. After a few minutes I felt better, and I dressed and packed, preparing to catch a plane to Montreal, where I was to cover a heavyweight championship fight.
Dorothy suggested postponing the trip for a day, but I told her I really was feeling much better. I had not missed a day's work because of illness in over 10 years. I reached the door and was just turning to say goodby when I began sweating again, and the nausea came back so strongly I had to clench my teeth to keep from vomiting. My legs felt weak and trembly. I put the bag down and leaned against the door to keep from falling.
"You look terrible," my wife said. "What's wrong?"
"I'll be all right in a minute," I said. "I'm just tired."
I walked back into the living room and sat down on the couch, and she sat by me, watching anxiously. I smiled at her and tried to light a cigarette, but my hands were shaking so badly that it seemed a long time before I got it lit. I still had no pain of any kind. The cigarette tasted like burning sulphur and made my nausea worse, so I put it out and took three or four deep breaths. This made me feel a little better. My face was wet and the sweat was trickling down my sides. I stood up and took off my topcoat.
I had taken only five or six steps when the pain in my chest started. It was not severe at first, more of a dull ache, but the nausea and the weakness grew with it, and I sat down on the couch again.
The pain now stretched across my chest from armpit to armpit. It was becoming crushing, as though my chest was being mashed down by a giant kneeling on me, growing heavier and heavier. I could no longer breathe deeply. I realized that I was panting, taking shallow breaths like a tired puppy, and for the first time I wondered if I was having a heart attack.
From some medical article read long before, I remembered that the fingernails of a person having a heart attack turn blue, and I held up my hand and looked at my fingertips. The nails were bluish.
I stood up gently and began to walk toward the bedroom and said, "Honey, I think you better call Marty."
Dr. Martin Fisher, our family doctor, also happens to be a heart specialist. By the time he arrived, my daughter, who was then 18, was up, and she and my wife were doing their best to help and growing more and more frightened. Strangely, I never felt afraid; I think I was more irritated with myself than anything else and apprehensive about not being able to make the trip.