Saturday, March 5, 2011

No wonder women ignore the signs of a heart attack. How can we even tell the difference between a heart attack and just living life?

I had a pretty weird few days. I was at a work conference on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Sunday night, my chest was feeling sort of tight, like I was being gently squished, but it also felt like my diaphragm was being sort of squeezed upward. I’ve never had heartburn or indigestion, before, but I assumed that’s what it was. My hotel roommate gave me some of her tums, but it didn’t do anything. So, I just kept going at the conference. Still feeling the pressure, but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t breathe through or work with. Eating didn’t make it any better or worse, and I didn’t have a fever or any other symptoms.

Then, on Thursday morning, I woke up with it really bugging me, then it started to sort of burn across my chest and up into my shoulder and neck a little bit, so I called my doctor. They sent me immediately to the Emergency Room. They ruled out an immediate heart attack pretty quickly, but they couldn’t figure out what was going on. I couldn’t reach the hubby, since he was driving a shift, so I was all alone, freaked out, while they did EKG’s and gave me nitroglycerine and baby aspirin and took blood and did other tests, etc., etc.. Because I have a left ventricular bundle branch block in my heart, it makes reading my EKG’s next to impossible, because they all come out looking wacko. With my strange health history – mini stroke, avascular necrosis, busted thyroid – they were afraid to just let me go, so they admitted me. This meant that I sat in the back corner of a cubicle in the ER for another hour or so, all alone, while they tried to find me a bed upstairs. Since I still hadn’t talked to John, I was trying to figure out who might be able to pick up the boys and get them settled, if necessary. I don’t have a cell phone, so I couldn’t call anybody just to keep me company or to get the ball rolling with a plan for the kids. The only phone in the ER was attached to the wall, and I was forbidden to get up and move around. On the plus side, I did get to listen to the drunk guy who’d just gotten in a car accident giving the nurses and attendants all kinds of trouble. It was pretty entertaining. Lots of cussing and threatening and thrashing going on. Then there were calls for "Technicians! Stat!", followed by the sound of clomping feet and deep voices and then more whining and crying from the patient, as he swore up and down that he'd sue every single person who was holding him down. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it through the skinny little curtain. At least it took my mind off of things for a while. It was like listening to an episode of Grey's Anatomy, without being able to see the picture. Oh, and the other plus side to this whole situation, was that my ER doctor looked EXACTLY like the guy from the TV show Castle. I don’t know if you’ve seen that show, but the resemblance was uncanny. Could’ve been his twin brother. And that’s a good thing...I felt surprisingly calm staring into his warm, concerned, blue eyes.
Anyway, I got admitted upstairs, where they did another unreadable EKG, gave me more nitroglycerine, took more blood, and I can’t remember what else. I finally reached John, and he and my friend (who had gamely driven me to the ER earlier that morning) put their heads together to see if they could get the boys picked up and my van back from the school (staff members’ cars tend to get vandalized, when left in the school parking lot. Hmmmm..) Then, John was able to come and see me for just a little bit to bring me contact solution and pj’s and stuff like that. The on-call doc (not my gorgeous Castle doctor from the ER) explained that they still didn’t really know what was going on. They were going to try to see if there was something going on in my G.I. tract, since my heart seemed to be doing OK and my blood pressure was stable and fine. So, they made me drink the “G.I. Cocktail”, which was a horrendous pinkish white slushee, that I had to gulp down to see if it would numb my G.I. tract and give me some relief. All it did was make my tongue go numb. I still felt the pain and pressure on either side of my sternum, mostly left side. So, they just gave me morphine, put me back on oxygen, and kept me all night, waking me up to do the various vital checks all night long. In the morning, my nurse gave me valium, to see if it would lessen the pressure. It did take the edge off of the pain, and I didn’t feel like I was being squeezed quite as tightly. So, my doctor put his head together with my cardiologist and came up with this final diagnosis: Chest pain and severe pressure of unknown physical origin, most likely caused by too much ongoing stress. Then, I had to hear the whole anti-stress spiel (delivered in a tone so blatantly condescending it was like listening to fingernails being raked down a chalkboard) about taking time for myself, getting enough sleep and exercise, eating healthy, and making sure I take time to recover in-between stressful responsibilities. (How, exactly, is that supposed to happen? Have you ever been a full-time working mother with two little kids, no family resources anywhere nearby, and a husband who’s schedule means he’s never around? Huh? No? Then kindly shut up about giving myself recovery time in between stressful responsibilities, you officious little man! That is, unless you're offering to take some of my responsibilities off my plate. No? Not gonna take any of that on? Didn't think so.). Anyway, it was all the usual stuff. So, I got home last night, with a little bit of valium, which they want me to take when the pain and pressure are severe, just to take the edge off. Of course, I can’t take it, if I’m going to have to drive, and there's no way I would take it at work. Caffeine? Yes.Valium? No.

Anyway, I have a follow-up appointment with my doctor next doubt to discuss my stress levels some more and to hear one more person, who has NO idea what my lifestyle has really been like for the last 3 years, or the type of emotional and physical energy it requires to keep this family bumping along relatively smoothly with the schedule John works, tell me that I need to take it easy. I swear, if she smiles at me and says, “Sweetie, you’re really just not taking good enough care of yourself,” I will fly across the room and rip her head off!!! But, then I’d be guaranteed a nice, long rest in a psychiatric hospital, right? Oooooh, now there’s food for thought!



  1. Oh, Beth. I've missed you! This story is horrifying. You must have been so scared. I wish there was something I could do for you. The only suggestion I have, well, what worked for me, was to recruit a responsible 14 year old girl to be a mothers helper once a week for 2 hours. After my nap, or workout or whatever, I paid her $10 and felt ready to dive in again. Think about it. Please?

  2. Oh yikes, it sounds like that day did nothing for helping you destress. I wo udl second the thinking about a mother's helper, I always have at least a few former students lined up to babysit..i feel i can justify the money because they are poor college students who need the money. Second, I wouldn't rule out the valium at work...I feel that it would add a special something to your day!

  3. I've said it before, and I'll say it blog friends are the best. Thank you SO much for checking in (and for the great advice). Cheers!

  4. What a year you're having, Beth. No wonder the stress is getting to you! But I'd stay on top of this and make sure it's not something more. You can never be too much of an advocate for your own health (something I learned from Kami!) Big hug to you!

  5. Thanks, Noelle. I appreciate the advice AND the cyber-hug.