The pain which seemed to tighten and burn in my chest was one I’d never experienced before; however, I get ahead of myself...
Set the clock back to 11:10 PM.
I was writing a blog; for some reason I just couldn’t sleep. That’s when I first felt the sharp pain in my chest. It was a tightening, like somebody had hold of my heart and was squeezing it. It wouldn’t go away. At first I tried to brush it off as nothing and decided that I was just tired, I tried to go to sleep.
I’d now tossed and turned for over an hour; the pain kept coming in small spurts about every fifteen to twenty minutes. It felt like my breathing was coming with labored difficulty. I was now starting to worry; I grabbed my laptop and did a quick search: What does a heart attack feel like? I was greeted with the following:
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the “movie heart attack,” where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
- Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck or arms. The pain may be mild to intense. It may feel like pressure, tightness, burning, or heavy weight. It may be located in the chest, upper abdomen, neck, jaw, or inside the arms or shoulders.
- Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.
- Anxiety, nervousness and/or cold, sweaty skin.
- Paleness or pallor.
- Increased or irregular heart rate.
- Feeling of impending doom.
Not all of these signs occur in every attack. Sometimes they go away and return. If some occur, get help fast. IF YOU NOTICE ONE OR MORE OF THESE SIGNS IN YOURSELF OR OTHERS, DON'T WAIT. CALL EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES (9-1-1) RIGHT AWAY! In the event of cardiopulmonary arrest (no breathing or pulse), call 9-1-1 and begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.
It was at this point that I began to panic.
Did my arm feel tingly? I couldn’t be sure…maybe it was just because I’d been leaning on it. It probably wasn’t tingly at all; but I was doubtful.
Did I feel a sense of impending doom?
I wanted to call someone…but it was much too early to be calling my friends for something which could very well be a false alarm. I punched 911 into my cell phone so it was ready to connect, dressed quickly, and drove myself to the hospital—all the while feeling this intense, burning pain which came in waves; it would be there, and then it would be gone.
I felt relief wash over me as I walked through the sliding doors of Intermountain Health Care. If I were at the hospital, chances are I wouldn’t die. After all, the doctors on duty had taken Hippocratic Oath…they had sworn to save lives.
My life would be saved.
The ER was not how I’d envisioned it would be; it wasn’t how I’d always seen it on television. I fully expected to find a room full of people bleeding, ambulances pulling in, with brilliantly flashing lights—gurneys being rushed everywhere, and alert doctors and nurses barking orders.
Life is not like on television and in the movies.
The receptionist was slouched over, obviously bored with being on the late shift. People sat around the room in groups of up to four. Some were trying to sleep, others were not.
Not sure if I were really having a heart attack or stroke, I merely took a seat and looked around the room.
There must have been about twenty people altogether; I found myself wondering about their stories: the woman with the sleeping toddler, the three teens sitting one chair away—the only group talking, the Latino couple by the oversized aquarium, the three men standing together by the door, one of them wearing a dust mask.
The receptionist began to eat Red Vines and seemed to be playing a game on her computer. This was definitely not at all like the show, E.R.
The pain had stopped—so I merely slipped into an empty chair—and sat. I wasn’t about to leave just because the pain had stopped; I wanted to be here in the event that this was really real. If it were, I figured that somebody could probably get to me before I actually died.
Nobody else was talking—all maintained radio silence—they were probably all wondering just what the others were doing here. It was at this moment that the burning sensation returned. I made a decision; I’d talk to the receptionist.
The receptionist directed me to the nurse practitioner on call that evening, a lady by the name of Debbie. I talked with her in triage room #2. I told her about the chest pain I’d been experiencing, how breathing seemed laborious, and how my grandfather had died of a heart attack before he was fifty.
Debbie started to explain several things it could be, but she couldn’t be sure unless they ran some tests. If it felt bad enough, she recommended staying, checking in, and hooking me up to some monitors, “I wouldn’t want to take a chance on having you leave and then die in the parking lot.” She said.
Being the bargain shopper that I am, I asked, “What does a trip to the emergency room run a person if it’s not during ‘regular business hours’?”
Debbie smiled. “The cost of an ER visit is the same no matter when you come…we don’t take coupons either.”
I smiled back. I liked this lady. “I think I’m just going to…wait, if that’s okay, after all, that’s what that room is really for, right?” I gestured to the adjacent room where several patrons still lingered.
“You got it.” She winked.
I turned to go sit back down, but then paused. “Debbie, if it starts to hurt really badly, I’m going to scream your name. I’m just asking one thing…come save my life, okay?”
“Don’t worry, Teachinfourth, I won’t let you die.”
I smiled and walked back to the waiting room.
I saw the sign behind the receptionist; it talked about how patients were seen by the severity of their condition, not by the order in which they arrived. I grinned…there were an awful lot of capitalization errors on that sign. I thought of how much my class of fifth graders would enjoy finding the mistakes during our session once a week when we’d look at photos of ‘errors in advertising’ and talk about the importance of doing things right.
Yes, my class would definitely have a heyday with that one.
Another brief pain flashed through my chest—it only lasted a few moments and then was gone. I opened my notebook and thought about writing out a will…probably not the best idea as most of my stuff would just be divided amongst my family members. I didn’t have a whole lot of heirlooms which people would be fighting over.
A woman came in with two plates of frosted heart-shaped sugar cookies. She gave one to the receptionist and the nurse on duty. The pain hadn’t come back in all that time; I started to think about how good those cookies looked.
A man by the name of Mr. Holly was brought in on a gurney with a wad of cotton in his mouth. I was thinking that he’d perhaps had a seizure—I found myself feeling gratitude that it wasn’t me. There were only six people left in the waiting room with me at this point…most had been taken back to see a doctor or nurse. Many of them had also left after their consultation. Most appeared to be in good spirits; I could only assume that that means they were going to be alright.
A Mapleton ambulance pulled up without sporting its lights; no true emergency then. The pain had not returned in awhile so I made the decision to leave—despite the Nicholas Cage / Sean Connery movie which I’d been listening to offhandedly for the past hour.
I drove home.
The pain did happen a few more times.
I arrived home and went up to my room, feeling more tired than ever. I dropped onto my bed and was soon asleep—hoping to still be alive when I awakened.
It wasn’t until afternoon the next day that I figured out what had ailed me: gastro esophageal chest pain.
In a word: heartburn.
The remedy: A large, soft-serve cone from Macey's and two Omeprazole.
Prognosis: I am going to live.