...I made a decision that saved my life. After trying to talk myself out of it (or maybe into it) all day, I had gone to the emergency room the night before for the fifth time in five years. This time I calmly said, "I think it's my heart." Before my husband had the car parked, I was hooked up to an EKG. This time they admitted me for overnight observation. This time they found what had been missed for five years: serious heart disease.
On October 8, I had the quadruple (plus) surgery that ended up being the only treatment for blockages as serious as mine. Detailing all of that, though, is not my goal today. Today, as on other anniversary dates, I want to make others aware. My story has already saved the life of another woman, so here I go again!
Here's what I did NOT have:
- Pain in my chest...I had no chest pain at all
- Crushing pressure in my chest
- Pain in my left arm
- Profuse sweating...though I did have a "dewy" type of sweat
- Vomiting...though I did have queasiness that made me not want to eat
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
- Nagging fear (in spite of trying to talk myself out of it) that something was REALLY wrong
I had all the appropriate cardiac tests over the last several years, but until two years ago, I had not been given an angiogram--the gold standard, albeit invasive, test. Each time I mentioned the throat episodes to my doctor, she reviewed my history 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 I was probably 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. Yet, the countdown was on and my heart was getting worse.
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.
Keep going to the ER. One night, a doctor you never met before may save your life. And when you first walk through those doors, tell them you think it may be your heart. Minutes count and sitting in the waiting room for three hours will only put you at greater risk. I know. I did it four times.
(More of my heart journey can be found in the links below). The artwork is the official logo of Mended Hearts, a survivor support group. I am now a trained volunteer who visits heart patients in the hospital (link is also below).