By Paul Berg April 7, The pain was all wrong. If this were a heart attack, the pain should be on the left side. It should be shooting down the left arm. There should be shortness of breath, sweating. On the morning of Feb. He awoke at 4: First he tried nitroglycerine. A heart patient for seven years, King was familiar with the pain of angina, caused by a temporary shortage of blood to the heart during exertion.
This pain was different, but maybe nitro would work just the same. The pain subsided for 15 minutes. But then it was back, worse, more frightening. On the hunch -- or in the hope -- that what he had was indigestion, he took the antacid Mylanta. Oddly, the pain went away again, only to come back, and go away, and come back, for the next two hours or so.
There were calls to the cardiologist and, finally, a nervous car ride from his Arlington condo to George Washington University Hospital. But this couldn't be a heart attack. For 33 years he had smoked two and a half packs a day but the thought that he was doing damage to himself never sank in.
For seven years his doctors had told him he had heart disease. But he continued to smoke, ate what he pleased all the while, denying that he was among the world's leading candidates for a heart attack. For five hours that morning, he "knew something was really wrong," but certainly it wasn't a heart attack.
King is back in his element now, the Mutual Broadcasting System studio in Crystal City, four weeks after the attack, and he is trying to figure out how he could have been so stupid for so long.
The guest will be arriving in 34 minutes for "The Larry King Show," coast to coast on odd stations, and there are promos to be recorded, a sportscast to be ad-libbed, mail to be read.
All week, listeners have been calling to ask how he feels. It is his fourth day back, and his fourth radio program without a cigarette. Never to the wrong base. Many times threw to the wrong base. Logically, I knew I shouldn't smoke. But knowledge was of no use. I liked it too much. He got to the hospital shortly after his heart attack began. It was a minor heart attack; he might even have survived it without treatment.
Doctors know that a heart attack has much more to do with plumbing than with the heart itself. A network of vessels covers the heart, providing it with blood and oxygen. The narrowing of those vessels causes the relatively minor heart pain known as angina.
When a narrow vessel becomes completely blocked by a clot, a heart attack occurs and heart muscle begins to die. Restore the flow, and damage to the heart can be limited. Because tPA is still experimental, a patient must give consent before it can be used.
It is available at two dozen medical centers, although federal approval -- and widespread use -- is expected by year's end. It is delivered intravenously over several hours. Katz, one of King's cardiologists, who treated him in the emergency room. As soon as -- I mean, they knew I was going to say yes -- as soon as I wrote 'King,' it went right in.
On the air, first day back: After the heart attack, King suffers a typical case of post-heart attack depression. It comes with the realization of one's mortality. You leave the TV on so as not to feel alone. Wish you were married.
With the help of Woolf, his situation improved. Now -- between the radio show, his Cable News Network television show and his column in USA Today -- he earns more money than he needs. Comparing those two life crises -- the bankruptcy and the heart attack -- he says, "I'd make the heart attack much more major. When in trouble, turn to the experts. Do whatever they say.
It worked with his finances. King now says he is taking control of his health crisis with help from different kinds of experts: He's a good patient. He walks every day. He takes an aspirin to thin the blood. Although he dislikes alcohol, he has a daily drink because some studies show it benefits the heart.
No more fatty foods. And, of course, no more smoking. King talks with the excitement of someone who has just discovered a new world. I eat low-sodium cereals, like wheat puffs and rice puffs, skim milk, a lot of matzoh -- I love matzoh crackers, with margarine -- lettuce and tomato salads, and either fish or chicken, and baked potato.
The Palm and Duke's both have the low-fat mayonnaise that I can use on lettuce and tomato salads. Mostly, King is amazed that quitting cigarettes came as easily as it did. I do not miss it. I don't climb the walls for it. I don't know what I would have done if I did. Now, I don't know if this is some psychological thing imbedded in me -- I will never forget that morning. That I'm scared to death. Until the electrocardiogram was performed, not even the emergency room personnel were sure King was having a heart attack.
Right-side pain is not unheard of in a heart attack, but it is unusual, heart experts say. One physician told King he probably had gallstones.
When King learned the truth, his first thoughts were: Will this pain go away? He did not wake her the morning of the heart attack, and now wonders if he should have. I think the biggest smokers in America are year-old girls. And now, what she won't do is this -- she still smokes -- but she won't smoke in front of me. You know the odds.
You have greater odds because your father has it. I ain't gonna pull it out of your mouth. And you might as well come in and smoke in front of me. It won't make people take preventive health measures, which is why he talks about giving up smoking on the air with some reluctance -- primarily because his doctors told him he could "do some good. Michael DeBakey, the heart surgeon, urged him to quit the last time King interviewed him.
So did Surgeon General C. Everett Koop -- the day before King's heart attack. So did Angie Dickinson, who King is dating. We'd be driving in a car, I'd light up, she'd open the window and stick her head out.
And he smoked five packs a day and just dropped dead one day. I'm a first-time caller. I just wanted to call up and wish you well, and tell you that I've traveled all over the country in the last couple of years and it's been really nice just to have someone there, a friendly voice to hear when you're in different cities and sometimes you don't know anyone.
What do you think of the Cubs this year? King has received more than 2, letters from well-wishers. Not to mention Edward Bennett Williams. He has eased up on his schedule. Instead of doing four hours of live radio, he does three. He has canceled speaking engagements as well. Warren Levy, another of King's physicians, were the guests on his late-night radio show. People come over and say you never looked better.
It's weird, but I guess in a sense it did. But I suffered for it, right? I do have muscle damage.