It was Saturday morning, January 14. I don’t remember the exact time, but it was sometime in the early morning hours; I can’t remember if it was 3:30, 3:45, or four o’clock. I was getting into bed, laying on my back, getting comfortable, and then I felt it. My chest was hurting. It was a dull ache that grew stronger and faded over and over again. My left arm felt tingly. My face felt tingly. I felt sick to my stomach. I climbed out of bed, went downstairs to my desk, and searched for heart attack symptoms online. I felt completely silly doing so, but sobered up when my symptoms aligned to the ones I was reading about. However, I did feel better when I was sitting at my desk, so I thought maybe whatever it was had passed, and I went back to bed. When I was horizontal again, the pain came back. I sat up. Boyfriend, who was previously asleep, asked if I was okay.
I didn’t know.
I told him what hurt, and he told me he’d drive me to the emergency room if I felt like I needed to go. I thought about it. I hadn’t had pains like this before, and I had no idea what was happening to me. I looked at the clock. 4:15. The pain swelled. I started getting dressed.
The car ride to the hospital was probably the most harrowing part of it. My chest radiated with pain. I was shivering. I didn’t know if I was going to be conscious, or even alive, when we got there. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me if I did get there. I was afraid to find out. I wanted it to be over. The streets were empty, the heat was running. It was 4:30 by now, but I wasn’t tired.
The tests started as soon as I got there. The waiting room was empty. Boyfriend sat down in one of the chairs while I talked to the nurse at the front desk. After giving my info and being asked a few diagnostic questions, I was brought into a room and had my vitals taken. An EKG was done. At this point, I’m feeling kind of foolish, because the pain was gone. Of course it was. It started again as the nurses peeled the adhesive electrodes off my breasts, like it had been hiding from them. It came and went as it had before. The nurse who took my vitals pulled up a wheelchair; I sat in it and she pushed me through the big doors that led to the emergency room proper. It was actually like twenty feet from A to B, and I thought it was silly they wouldn’t just ask me to walk.
The nurse set me up in a bed and hooked me up to monitor. More nurses came by and asked more questions. “Describe the pain.” “What were you doing before it started?” What were you doing before that? Radiologists came and took an X-ray of my chest. “Family history?” “Did you take any drugs?” “Anxiety?” The phlebotomist came, put a needle in, and drew vial after vial of blood. Having blood drawn might possibly be my least favorite thing in the world.
I’d planned to take my health much more seriously in 2017, but I wanted to do it before the health scares started. I wanted to prevent being in the emergency room in the middle of the night. I wanted to skip the eternal waiting to know what was wrong with me, and the inevitable lecture on how none of this would be happening if I took better care of myself. The pain came back, and my leg shook. I wondered if I should have packed an overnight bag.
In general, I like hospitals. I don’t like being a patient, of course, and the smell of despair and disinfectant isn’t always pleasant, but I like how organized they are. I like how everything in a room has a purpose, how every person has assigned roles. I like being close enough to the nurses’ station that I can overhear their conversation; in this case, two men were listening to House of Pain’s Jump Around and trying to figure out who the artist was. I grew up being ill and injured a lot and, for some reason, hospitals are comforting. It’s not fun not knowing what’s wrong with me, but I do feel a calmness when I’m there.
Boyfriend comes into the room and sits in the chair. The room is only big enough for the bed, the chair, and the specialized medical waste bins. “Your life,” he says, shaking his head. This is one many expressions in our private language; the rest of the sentence, now redundant, is usually “is ridiculous.” We’re both on our phones, showing each other memes on Facebook. My phone battery dies. He looks through a sheaf of papers which happened to contain my medical history, and I have to explain all the embarrassing times and reasons I’ve been hospitalized, like the time when I was ten and I got a bead stuck in my ear and had to have it flushed out — long story short, I was bored in class. “You’re stupid,” he laughs, and accuses me of hiding my humiliating secrets. I’d forgotten all about it.
Doctors come in, listen to my heart, ask some more questions. All the previous tests came back normal, they say, but they wanted to wait until an hour had passed and run them again. The EKG machine was pushed into the already-crowded room, the same nurses performed the test. The same phlebotomist drew another sample of blood. I was starting to feel tired, but I was afraid to fall asleep. It was past five o’clock now, I was cold. The pain was still coming and going, but with much less frequency now, and not as strong.
My mother’s side of the family struggles with cardiac issues, and that’s something that troubled me about this whole episode. My mother has been told to avoid caffeine, though I don’t think she does. Bother of her parents had multiple heart attacks and open heart surgeries. And there I was, 31 years old, another link in the chain. I really did need this wake-up call. I have a dark sense of
humor sometimes and I make a lot of flippant jokes about not caring about dying, but truth be told, one of my biggest fears is dying, and especially dying early. Because I’m obese, I’ve always feared having a heart attack in my thirties, and now it could really be happening to me.
The results came back. My heart was normal.
Boyfriend mentioned before we left for the hospital that something similar had happened to him a few years ago, where he had scary unexplained chest pain and arm numbness, and ER doctors told him he had GERD and sent him home. He said that was probably what was going on with me, but I had to go to the ER and make sure I wasn’t dying.
They told me I had GERD and sent me home.
They actually did give me the option to be admitted for overnight observation, but I figured that if they’re letting me leave, it’s not serious enough for me to be admitted. They did tell me that, since I’m uninsured, following up with a cardiologist would be difficult and that being admitted would give me that care, but I decided to take my chances and go home. They referred me to a cardiologist and a primary care physician, but I actually have yet to call them. I’m afraid of being turned away for being uninsured, and even if they do agree to see me, I have to borrow money to pay for the visit. Either way, it’s cheaper to gamble.
I realize this missive contradicts itself. It was probably annoying to read. However, it’s also annoying when it’s happening to you. I don’t like writing about my health and wanting to take control of it and then say “Well, what can I do”. I think it solidifies my commitment to my health, though. My chest actually hurt a bit while I wrote this. I will get this sorted. Eventually.