Saturday, March 31, 2007

Not A Heart Attack

Since Monday or Tuesday this week my chest has felt kind of tight. I'm not quite sure how to describe it--it's like my rib cage is pushing against my heart. I was a little worried because I've added a cardiovascular routine to my weightlifting routine, and all three times I've been on the exercise bike this week I've been hyperaware of the tightness. My instinct when I noticed the discomfort in my chest was to breathe deeply--I felt as if I weren't getting enough oxygen--but generally this had no effect but to make me more aware of the discomfort.

On Wednesday as I was sorting through our file cabinets I came across the printout from my last cholesterol test, a couple years ago. I'd completely forgotten about this, but I had been told that my cholesterol was a little higher than healthy--especially the bad cholesterol to good cholesterol ratio--and then I'd never really done anything about it, at least consciously. Now, truthfully, I'm a fairly healthy person, particularly in the last couple years. I eat fairly well, albeit not overly conscious of cholesterol, and I go to the gym regularly, even if I haven't done a lot of aerobic exercise until this week.

On Thursday I looked up ways to lower one's cholesterol online and I went to the grocery store to buy a loaf of whole wheat bread. I was sure to eat plenty of fruits and veggies too.

Friday morning as I ate a doughnut in class I asked a classmate if he thought it was a good idea to eat doughnuts when one is having a heart attack. He appeared concerned so I assured him that I was only joking. I hoped I was. He suggested I take some aspirin.

I considered stopping by the campus health center yesterday just to be sure, but I didn't have time--I had to go to the gym and ride the exercise bike, after all. By the time I got home from work at 5:30 I'd decided I should take some aspirin. The only pain reliever I had on hand was clearly labeled NON-ASPIRIN (it's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife), so I headed over to the drugstore and picked up some aspirin. I took two and, though I didn't feel any better, I at least felt like I'd done something.

By eight o'clock I was getting worried. I took another two aspirin. I looked up heart attack symptoms online and pretty much every site said that if you feel pain or tightness in your chest you should call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. I panicked. I did not want to be having a heart attack. I had too much going on in my life to have time for a heart attack. Somewhere in the back of my mind the thought of my own mortality loomed. It terrified me.

I called Tolkien Boy.

"Hey, Master Fob, how are you?"

"Good," I said reflexively, then remembered why I was calling. "Well, actually, not good. Bad. My chest has been hurting all week and I think I should go to the emergency room. I'm scared."

Tolkien Boy explained that he and Sir Jupiter were in Factoria, which is almost a half-hour away from me. He encouraged me to call a neighbor or, if necessary, call an ambulance. I told him I'd walk to the hospital, as it's only a couple minutes away, but I'd appreciate it if they could meet me there. I didn't want to be alone in the emergency room.

On my way to the hospital I cursed myself for insisting on walking. My logic had been that I could justify going to the emergency room for heartburn, which this no doubt would end up being, but I couldn't justify calling an ambulance for heartburn. Walking, though, seemed to be making the pain worse, and I was having a hard time breathing. I was so relieved when, halfway to the hospital and less than fifteen minutes (maybe even ten minutes?) since I'd gotten off the phone with Tolkien Boy, he and Sir Jupiter pulled up alongside the curb.

In triage the nurse told me that my blood pressure was a little above normal--155 over something or other--but not alarmingly high, which was a good sign. He asked if I'd been under a lot of stress lately. "Um, yeah, a little."

After waiting a few minutes for a room to open up, I was brought to the back where I was instructed to strip down and put on the flimsy piece of cloth they call a gown. Through the course of the night I was asked the same set of questions at least ten times: What does the pain feel like? How long have you had it? Is it worse at some times and better at others? Have you experienced any shortness of breath? Is the pain radiating? Do you have any history of heart disease in your family? Have you been on any flights recently? The student doctor, as I'm sure she's trained to do, expressed skepticism when I said that I don't drink, smoke, or do drugs. "This is a very important question. Are you sure you don't?"

First they did an EKG. Then they put me on oxygen. Then they drew blood and put an IV in my arm--without a doubt the worst part of the evening, as I am absolutely sickened by the thought of needles, so the idea of leaving one in there is just about enough to make me pass out. Finally, they did a chest x-ray. After several hours of waiting, Sir Jupiter insisting that men don't have anginas and making references to fobby story titles while Tolkien Boy expressed distrust in the coat hangers by the door, my blood pressured dropped down to 120 over something or other and the doctor told me that all the tests said that I had not, in fact, had a heart attack.

Though quite relieved to be alive and to have them take that darn IV out--I hadn't dared move my arm an inch since they'd put it in--I was kind of frustrated to go home still having that pain in my chest and no explanation for it. As the ER doctor explained, though, their job is to make sure I'm not going to die; I'll have to go to my regular doctor to figure out what non-life-threatening things are going on inside me.

Tolkien Boy and Sir Jupiter, being the true friends they are, spent the night on my living room floor so I wouldn't have to be alone. According to my calendar, I should be going to the gym in twenty minutes, but I think I'll pass today. Today I'm going to take it easy and thank God I'm alive.


FoxyJ said...

I'm glad you're feeling better! You didn't tell me last night that you were going to the ER...

Did anyone suggest an anxiety attack? The have very similar symptoms to heart attacks.

JB said...

Holy scariness, Batman! I hope your doc can figure it out quickly.

Tina said...

Scarey! You better take it easy. I am reminded of a Tshirt Mom used to wear- the one where the snake is laying taut across a rock overhanging the rock by about 75 % of its body. Just above the picture of the snake it said, "RELAX!" Of course with everything you have going on I am sure that is easier said then done. But you have to find a way. And I agree with Jessie- that does sound like a panic attack. Hope this week is better for you.

TK said...

Hm-m-m. Have you ever heard of Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP)? :) And FoxyJ may be right-on, in that anxiety attacks are a common symptom of MVP. But so is chest pain, in general.

The good news is, it's not generally serious; the bad news is, it's got a bunch of quirky, humbug symptoms - and some doctors aren't really too familiar with it, (since it's not serious). You have a better chance of being properly diagnosed by a cardiologist.

And since you're a man, there's more good news - men are seldom bothered with all of the quirky symtpoms, although extreme stress CAN bring some of them on!

Thirdmango said...

Um, You know, you're describing a lot of the symptoms that I had just a couple of weeks ago. I had an ulcer on my esphogus, apparently you can get one from having any pain reliever with asprin or caffine in it if you don't drink it down with water it can get stuck in the esophagus and erode away into an ulcer, you might have the beginning signs or just a small one but I'd say that's what you have. I don't know if you read my blog that often but if you wanna read about it, go to Here

Th. said...


So that's why you didn't email me back.

My goodness, you didn't have to have a heart attack (faux or otherwise). I can wait if you need the time.

-L- said...

If only you had a friend who was a doctor who had recently expressed a willingness to talk if you needed anything. :-) Actually, I've been less available what with being in the coronary care unit on call expressing my skepticism over people's ostensible abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

Add to the differential of musculoskeletal pain (from weight lifting), GI pain (ulcers, reflux, etc.), and anxiety attacks the possibility of a clot in your lungs (making it feel like you weren't getting enough O2). I'll resist the temptation to work you up any further in your comment section.

I hope you get feeling better.

Sir Jupiter said...

The best part was when I almost accidentally let you sit on the chair that had, in the words of the nice Latina lady, drug-filled blood on the seat.

skyeJ said...

Hey Master Fob. Sounds like a classic anxiety attack to me. Your body physiologically reacts to a psychological stress and POOM. Your body does real things that are the same sorts of things it would do if the actual physical stress of a heart attack was happening. Except without the actual heart problem, itself. I know that one person can't relieve your anxiety, but if it helps, how bout a whole country? Morocco loves you.