Three months ago, I made a life or death decision

By
Real Estate Broker/Owner with Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO 2004008944

I went to the hospital ER for the FOURTH time with what turned out to be a heart problem. On each of the three previous trips, I was told that my heart was "strong." Turns out, it was strong, but it was also being strangled by blockages.

Here's what I did NOT have:

  • Pain in my chest
  • Crushing pressure in my chest
  • Pain in my left arm
  • Sweating

What I DID have:

  • Gripping tightness in my throat from my chin to my collarbone, with an accompanying breathlessness
  • Searing pain on the entire left side of my face--though it developed only in the last two or three weeks before my diagnosis

I had all the appropriate cardiac tests over the last several years, but until three months ago, I had not been given an angiogram. Each time I mentioned the throat episodes to my doctor, she reviewed the records that included wearing a Holter monitor, two cardiac echo tests, a Thallium stress test, EKGs, normal cholesterol, normal triglycerides, and controlled blood sugar. She would reassess my medications, maybe adjusting the blood pressure medication. Surely, everyone reasoned, the tightness in my throat was some sort of esophageal spasm. So, I had an esophageal study. Then I was tested for asthma. It seemed that they were trying, but the message I got was that nothing serious was going on, and it must be some sort of stress or maybe it was all in my head. Angry that maybe I had been labeled hypochondriac, I would resolve to tough it out--whatever IT was.

I had started reassuring myself that my symptoms did NOT match the five minute rule so often touted as a reason to go to the emergency room: Pain in the chest that lasts for more than five minutes. I could make my symptoms go away in three or four minutes, simply by sitting down and forcing myself to take a few deep breaths. Because I had been told so often that I was probably having some sort of spasm, I had also started making myself a warm beverage--coffee or tea or even just warm water. On bad days, I often made ginger tea. By the time I finished my warm drink, everything would always be better; and I would go on with my day.

Then the evening of Oct. 5, I decided to go to the emergency room one more time. I had shaken off my symptoms three times that day, and I was feeling particularly tired on that rainy, dreary day. Though not really nauseated, I had been unenthusiastic about supper--maybe feeling just a little queasy. After eating, I had gone back to work on my computer. What I really wanted was to go home and sleep it all off, but I had that often-referred-to feeling of unease. I knew, deep down, that something was wrong. Or at least, I thought I knew, though it was easy to talk myself out of the conviction. I alerted my husband and then talked myself out of going to the hospital three times, before I finally decided to go and get the trip over with. I figured they would run a few tests, as always, and we would be home by midnight.  This trip was different, though. The doctor on duty that night was convinced that it was my heart. "The tests don't show it, but this just has to be your heart," he told me more than once as he ordered tests to rule out other possibilities. "Yours is the best story I've heard all year."

I was admitted overnight for observation and subsequently scheduled for an angiogram the next day. Before the scheduled angiogram, though, blood tests started showing elevated cardiac enzymes. I had, indeed, suffered a heart attack. When, I don't know for sure--before I went to the hospital, while they were doing tests, or during the night. I ended up having quadruple coronary bypass surgery on my "strong" heart. I had blockages of 100%, 90%, 80%, and two 60%, and I was alive only because I had developed collateral circulation around the severe blockages. That collateral circulation was proof that my heart had been struggling for years. Years during which I had only the one symptom of gripping tightness in my throat.

Stress tests, even the highly-touted Thallium stress tests, give false negatives 15% of the time. I was among that group. I passed the echo tests and all the other tests, until they did an angiogram.

So here is the take-away, especially for women: Know your own body. If you are afraid something is wrong, don't bet your life on everything being alright. Don't talk yourself into the morgue. When you believe something is wrong, it probably is. Trust your own instincts, even when common sense seems to be telling you to just tough it out. If I had not developed face pain, I might not have gone to the hospital that fourth time, and they might not have taken me seriously. When you go to the hospital, speak up and don't be afraid to tell them that you think it is your heart. I only did that once--the fourth time I went to the ER, but I had feared for years that it was my heart.

Once again, I apologize to those who have already heard my story. I plan to save someone's life by retelling it. Pass this on to a woman you love, or re-read it for yourself... I, by the way, am back to working a 10 to 12 hour day and running my company. Surgery was just a blip in the road, and I have been reborn! I'm loving life, and I want to share it.

Update: In the year following my heart surgery, I had several heart issues, including another heart attack. I still have never had chest pain or pressure. I'm fine now, but the cardiologist warned me that my symptoms might be different the next time--and they were. My primary symptoms now seem to be nauseau and slight sweating (dewy, not wet, just dewy). I also have had upper gastric pain above the belly button. Gas pain usually occurs lower in the abdomen, but please take any gastric pain seriously. The most important take-away is that it's better to risk a false alarm in the ER than it is to risk a fatal mistake.

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Re-Blogged 1 time:

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  1. Ginger Harper 01/05/2013 10:51 AM
Topic:
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Tags:
womens heart health
signs of heart attack in women
gripping throat pain
face pain as a heart symptom

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Ambassador
1,951,682
Fernando Herboso - Broker for Maxus Realty Group
Maxus Realty Group - Broker 301-246-0001 - Gaithersburg, MD
301-246-0001 Serving Maryland, DC and Northern VA

Liz . .what a profound advice you give us all in this post. .

"don't bet your life on everything being alright. "

I'm happy for you that you've found the relief . .

Jan 05, 2013 10:54 PM #24
Anonymous
Judith Dzur

My retired physician husband was told in medical school, if you listen to your patient long enough she/he will tell you what's wrong.  Glad things turned out as well as they did.

Jan 05, 2013 10:58 PM #25
Rainmaker
892,820
Kay Van Kampen
RE/MAX Broker, RE/MAX - Springfield, MO
Realtor®, Springfield Mo Real Estate
Liz, you are one smart lady. Glad you listened to your instincts and everything turned out ok. May you have a very healthy new year. Take care of yourself.
Jan 05, 2013 11:36 PM #26
Rainmaker
1,067,144
Margaret Goss
Baird & Warner Real Estate - Winnetka, IL
Chicago's North Shore & Winnetka Real Estate

Many years ago, my mother was standing in front of the refrigerator drinking some milk in the middle of thenight.  She often drank milk to help with her "heartburn."  

Suddenly, she sank to her knees and understood that it was not heartburn.  Many years of thinking it was also led to a quadruple bypass.  

Thank goodness you did what you did and listened to your body.

Jan 06, 2013 12:32 AM #27
Rainmaker
1,220,411
Gene Mundt, IL/WI Mortgage Originator - FHA/VA/Conv/Jumbo/Portfolio/Refi
NMLS #216987, IL Lic. 031.0006220, WI Licensed. APMC NMLS #175656 - New Lenox, IL
708.921.6331 - 40+ yrs experience

Liz:  Thank God the doctor that played his hunch on your pain and issues being results of heart problems was on duty the night you went in.  Personally?  I think God put him there on purpose.  There's a plan for you.  And perhaps you just fulfilled part of that plan by telling others of your experiences ... and others will be saved as a result.  That's my hunch ... 

Gene

Jan 06, 2013 02:00 AM #28
Ambassador
876,696
Connie Harvey
Pilkerton Realtors - Brentwood, TN
Realtor - Nashville TN Real Estate

Liz, I can't believe you and I were writing on the same subject at the same time! OMGosh! So glad you went that last time!

Jan 06, 2013 04:50 AM #29
Rainmaker
303,859
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

Bill~ Good advice, but tough to give to yourself sometimes!

Richard~ Knowing and KNOWING can be different things, but you always need a doctor who also knows...

Maureen~I was shocked to learn that the Thallium stress test gives false negatives 15% of the time! That means that 15% of the people who PASS the test are then erroneously reassured that everything is fine. Those 15% either continue to get worse and are somehow diagnosed or they DIE of the very condition that they were told they did not have. Obviously, the medical establishment cannot and should not proceed to angiogram for everyone who passes the stress test, but it does seem that doctors should keep looking when they have not been able to explain symptoms. How do you find the 15% who are at risk?

Brian~BTW, I do have type 2 diabetes, though it is well-controlled. When the cardiologist spoke to me at 9 am, he still did not have any definitive test results pointing to my heart, though they had been having some trouble all night regulating my blood pressure. Since I went to the hospital at just before 9 pm and the elevated enzymes did not show up until a little over 12 hours later, I must have been in the hospital (and on Heparin) when I had the heart attack. If that is the case, I don't believe I even felt it. The outcome surely would have been much different, if I had been at home in bed trying to sleep it off!

 

Jan 06, 2013 06:53 AM #31
Rainmaker
303,859
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

Rhonda~Yes, I do know that I was blessed. That is why I want to pass it on...

Praful~Keep telling your wife, but also take the advice yourself. I think that self-employed people, especially, are so self-reliant that they sometimes put off dealing with nagging health issues. Men do that as well as women.

Inna~I hope you get a diagnosis; but even if you don't, go back to the ER next time it happens. Keep going. That's my message. My first office visit with the cardiologist is next week. I met him in the hospital, and I think I'm really going to like him. If we don't "click," though, you can bet that I'll be looking to replace him. From now on out, we are not messing with my heart health. You are so correct when you say that we need to trust the doctor!

Sharon~You are welcome and thank you. I'm glad to still be around and looking forward to 2013.

Debbie~I thought I was doing pretty well in 2012, especially since I went out on my own and started my own company in February. I thought I had a renewed outlook on life then. Wow, have I truly learned now what a renewed outlook really is!

Jan 06, 2013 07:08 AM #32
Rainmaker
303,859
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

Andrea~Thank you. Doctors and all of their tests can be wrong, but that simply is not what most of us believe. We want to trust them with our lives, but sometimes we need to trust ourselves more. After all, who has more to lose?

Jackie~Yes, I totally believe that Dr. Black (the ER doc) is the one who saved my life, though he is not a cardiologist and he did not do the surgery. You always hear that women have different symptoms. I'm just glad to be around to second that opinion!

Barbara~The loss of your daughter-in-law is so tragic! My brother's step-son just lost his wife and baby in childbirth last fall. Rachel knew something was wrong and had even gone to the hospital the night before in terrible pain and was sent home after a few hours. Still in terrible pain the next day, she died on the way back to the hospital. Doctors could not resusitate her or her full-term baby. She knew something was going wrong and sought help, but she and her baby still died. Life and death are really not simple.

Valerie~While women's heart health does challenge doctors, maybe we are making progress when we simply get the word out.

Wayne and Jean Marie~Thank you! I am so glad, too!

 

 

Jan 06, 2013 07:27 AM #33
Rainmaker
303,859
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

Donald~I hope so, I truly do. Though I have written about my surgery several times, I will keep doing so, from time to time. Each time I post, I reach some new folks.

Richie~Maybe the most reliable sign is the one we trust the least, and that is a general feeling of uneasiness--the feeling that something just is not right.

Christensensen~Now THAT's what I want, exactly what I want.

Michael~Thank you! I'm trying to take care.

Fernando~Yes, I do believe that is the core message: "Don't bet your life on everything being alright."

 

Jan 06, 2013 07:49 AM #34
Rainmaker
303,859
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

Judith Dzur~I think that your retired physician husband was actually my endocrinologist for a time before you moved out west. I was so upset when you moved out of state.

I have to say, though, that he actually sought ME out before I was his patient. It was the night of Christmas Ball, and he was there for coronation ceremonies because his daughter was in the court. I was her teacher. When Dr. Dzur called me aside, I assumed that he wanted to discuss something about his daughter. I thought his daughter was delightful, and I was genuinely concerned that something might be wrong with her.

He started by first saying, "Don't tell me who your doctor is, but are you under a doctor's care?" For a split second, I thought that maybe he was inferring that I needed psychiatric help! He went on to tell me that my eyes were too dialated and that he could see that my thyroid was enlarged, and then asked if I was being treated for my condition. I told him that my doctor had prescribed liquid iodine. "Well, that's not enough," he said, assuredly.

He then advised me to go back to my doctor and demand a T3, T4, TSH, and iodine uptake test. I was so impressed that he cared for someone who was not even his patient, and that he took the risk to go out of his way to say something! Eventually, I became his patient, and then I went through separation anxiety when he moved. Just in case we are talking about the same Dr. Dzur, please thank him. I have never forgotten his caring attitude. No wonder he has such a great daughter!

Jan 06, 2013 08:01 AM #35
Rainmaker
303,859
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

Kay~Thank you! I plan to have one of the best years of my life!

Margaret~I'm glad that your mother's problem was discovered in time. I have often said that I'm lucky to have been diagnosed at some time earlier than an autopsy. I'm happy to hear that the same was true of your mother.

Gene~Yes, God certainly had a hand in all of it. I was so calm and reassured while awaiting my Monday morning surgery that my best friend thought I had been drugged. I did not need tranquilizers or any mind-altering meds--just the Heparin and BP meds, thank you. I didn't even need a sleeping pill (maybe I even slept through the actual heart attack). God had it all under control. Perhaps I had to skate so close to the edge so that others could benefit from my experience.

My hunch agrees with your hunch. That's why I am sharing the story, instead of just going on with life and pretending it didn't happen.

Connie~Actually, I logged on to write my "3 month anniversary" story and I read your blog first. I hope you have received an accurate, complete diagnosis. Keep on keeping on. I believe that I am sort of on the other side of the problem, having already had the surgery I needed. The day before surgery, I shared that optimism with the cardiologist and said that I was looking forward to the surgery that would "fix" me. Immediately, he said, "Don't be deceived. You will ALWAYS have a heart condition." That certainly shed new light on the situation! In all of my euphoria about being alive and getting back to a new normal, I can still hear his warning..."Don't be deceived..."

Jan 06, 2013 08:24 AM #36
Rainmaker
863,526
Les & Sarah Oswald
Realty One Group - Eastvale, CA
Broker, Realtor and Investor

Liz, So glad you are loving life after all you have been thru and that you were persistant in getting the right life saving treatment! Best wishes for 2013.

Jan 06, 2013 11:18 AM #37
Rainmaker
99,642
Lea Deo - REALTOR®
Keller Williams Legacy Partners, Inc. - Shawnee, KS
Johnson County REALTOR®| Shawnee KS Homes for Sale

Thank you for sharing your story.  You probably will never know how many people may be motivated to take the next step when something "funny" happens to our bodies.  That little voice inside of us is there for a reason.

Jan 06, 2013 11:42 AM #38
Rainmaker
303,859
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

Erica~Yes, the gut knows sometimes.

Sarah & Les~I was persistant, but my adult children were extremely upset when they learned that I had been having the face pain for over two weeks before going to the hospital or telling them. I did delay...just glad it did not cost me my life.

Lea~That little voice serves us well. It usually knows when danger is afoot. Years ago in college, I attended a self defense lecture held by a rape prevention specialist. He emphasized, over and over, that the little voice is not to be ignored. It's called "animal instinct," he said; and civilized people have learned, all too well, how to tame the voice. It is a survival instinct, though, and we ignore it at our own expense.

Jan 06, 2013 11:54 AM #39
Rainmaker
657,592
Kathy Stoltman
Rockwood Realty - Ventura, CA
Ventura County Real Estate Consultant 805-746-1793

Liz, keep telling your story.  I am humbled by your persistence, we must be Shepard's of our own bodies. 

Jan 10, 2013 08:26 AM #40
Rainmaker
303,859
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

Yes, Kathy. I do plan to tell it, from time to time. I benefited from hearing the story of my former broker's sister, who died in the hospital while they were trying to diagnose what they thought was a stomach problem. She never felt chest pain, but she died of a massive heart attack. She was, I believe, in her 50's. While my throat tightness was weird, it was frightening and painful enough to send me to the ER. It was always gone by the time a doctor saw me. What I now know is that I should have said the magic words, "I think it's my heart."  Throat...heart...who knew?

Jan 10, 2013 01:29 PM #41
Rainmaker
303,859
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate

996 people have CLICKED on this blog. I hope the blog does encourage someone to get to the hospital in time...

Jan 10, 2013 01:41 PM #42
Rainer
208,519
Robert Hicks
United Country River City Realty - Savannah, TN

Wow,,, thanks for sharing your story. Glad you are doing better and i know you have helped some people here. It is amazing how people can have different symptoms... All the best...

Jan 16, 2013 12:15 PM #43
Rainmaker
303,859
Liz Lockhart
Riverbend Realty, Cape Girardeau, MO - Cape Girardeau, MO
GRI, Cape Girardeau Real Estate
Rafi~I'm glad that your grandfather-in-law made it through such tough times. What a great start to the New Year, though.
Feb 02, 2013 01:46 PM #44
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