October 24, 2011

A scary moment

The sudden, crushing pain caused me to double over and grab my chest. I struggled to breathe. The pain shot down my left arm and across my back to my shoulder blades.

I had to hold on to the kitchen counter to remain upright. It was as if someone was squeezing my chest, tighter and tighter. It is difficult to say how long it lasted. Once the pain passed, there were lingering symptoms.

The whole time, I kept trying to talk myself out of calling 911. My internal dialogue went something like this:

"I can't possibly be having a heart attack."

But what if I am?

"I am a healthy, 42 year-old woman. I've never had any heart problems."


Heart disease is known as the "silent killer."

"Surely it would turn out to be nothing and I'd feel stupid."

But what if it is something?

"I can't call 911. I'm home alone with a two year old."

Your neighbors are home and could watch her.

"I'll just wait a little longer and see if it gets better."

That's what Joe thought, and he's dead.

Joe was an old friend of my husband's. He died recently from a massive heart attack at the age of 46. At home with his wife. They had been online looking up symptoms of a heart attack. He didn't want to call 911. He told her he would get in bed for a bit and see if he felt any better.

He died there. He had two children. Daughters. It really affected hubby, who is the same age. And it made both of us think about how quickly things can change.

Even with that knowledge, I was still reluctant to dial 911. I came up with an alternate plan I thought sounded good. I would call my husband to come home. He would stay close and observe me, and if things got worse, he could make the call. And stay home with SB when I was taken to the hospital.

I called and described to him what I was experiencing. "Hang up immediately and dial 911," he replied. "I am leaving work now."

SB was in her booster seat at the kitchen table with a snack, enjoying some PBS. I calmly told her I was going to go see the doctor, and that Daddy was on his way home. Then I walked into the living room and dialed.

Hubby arrived seconds before the firetruck and ambulance, racing into the house. He immediately came to my side. I told him to stay with SB, keep her distracted, and not let her see them attending to me.

A ride in an ambulance and six hours in the emergency room later, and doctors determined I had not suffered a heart attack. They also ruled out a blood clot. All good news. They sent me home under orders to schedule a stress test within a week.

I followed up with my primary care physician the next day and scheduled an appointment. He says something definitely did happen, but doubts it was my heart. I don't have any of the risk factors for heart disease. Nonetheless, he set me up for a consult with a cardiologist this Wednesday.

Friends and family have had lots of ideas. Heartburn. Gall bladder. Anxiety attack. Too much beer and coffee. My doctor does not believe any of those are to blame for my symptoms. He wants to start with the cardiologist. If everything turns out to be OK, I can have the peace of mind that my ticker is in good shape.

Ever since the episode, I've been experiencing shortness of breath with the slightest exertion. A tight feeling in my chest. And heart palpitations. After reading this article, I am not going to feel stupid for getting checked out. It's probably nothing. But it could be something. And I believe it is best to know.
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