Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Be Still, My Beating Heart

I had been having chest pains for four days. I thought it was odd, but I had just gotten some new brassieres so I just made the assumption they were too tight. I wore my old undergarments for a few days but I still had chest pains. As I was clutching my sternum one day a friend said, “Maybe you are having a heart-attack.” My response to that was, “Naaaah.” But inside, I was freaking out, so I went home and took some aspirin.

My insurance company sends me a self-care book every year, to keep me, I mean assist me, from making superfluous visits to the doctor. It has little charts in it to help me in making a self-diagnosis. For example, if I have a rash, the first box of the diagram asks if it is red and itchy? If the answer is no, it asks more questions. If the answer is yes the diagram always recommends ‘go to the doctor.’ I grabbed my book and looked up ‘chest pains’ in the index. Instead of a diagram the page said, “dial 911, or seek immediate medical attention.”

The pain got worse. I went on to read the information about a heart-attack and had to lie down. I read the other things that might cause chest pains, everything from indigestion to a blood clot in a lung. I was sure death was imminent, but just in case, I took more aspirin.

I didn’t tell my husband because I didn’t want to stress him out. I debated about following the advice in my book, but decided on a little more research instead. Hello internet old friend. Every website I came to about chest pains was like a flashing warning, GO TO THE DOCTOR, it seemed to scream. The pains continued.

My husband didn’t know what was going on. He wanted to go out to a nice dinner, I thought it would ruin the mood to mention that I may, or may not, be dying and was in excruciating pain. Besides, if I was going to die anyway, I might as well have some salmon first.

Dinner was lovely, other than me clutching my chest in between bites, it was without flaw. The next day, still more pains. By then my malady had been going on for about four days. I had taken enough aspirin at that point, had I gotten a paper cut, I would have bled to death in two minutes. I had such bad pains that I had to wear, yes wear, a heating pad strapped to my chest. My husband finally noticed something was amiss.

“Are you having chest pains?”

“What gave it away?”

“I think I should take you to the emergency room.”

“Nah, that place is a rip-off. You know they charge an arm and a leg. No pun intended.”

“I am worried about you.”

“I promise I will go to the doctor tomorrow.”

That night as I lay in bed, my chest pains continued to get worse. I started to think, that maybe, I was really ill, that the chest pain thing was really serious. So, I did what all really guilty people do at death’s door, I started to pray. I prayed for my kids and my husband, and for all the people I love, and I prayed for forgiveness. I was crying a little bit. I thought: “This is it, this is how it is all gonna end. One minute you are living and the next you are preparing for your own demise. Cut down in the prime of life. Woe is me! Good-bye cruel world!”

In the middle of my dramatic monologue (I was whispering it to myself—I didn’t want to wake my husband) my youngest son started to cry.

“Mommy, I had a nightmare. Can I come snuggle with you?” he said.

So my littlest boy crawled into bed, snuggled up next to me, with his arm across my neck. Something about that sweet gesture, his innocence, his gentleness or maybe the fact that his arm was directly over my larynx and completely cutting off my air-supply, whatever it was, I fell right to sleep.

The next morning, I sent my husband off to work, took the kids to school and went directly to the doctor’s office. There is something about saying that you are having chest pains that gets those nurses moving, I had absolutely no waiting. The nurse took my blood pressure, my heart rate, and temperature, then she wanted to weigh me. All I could think is what malicious irony that in my last moments of life I have to get on a scale. It is the first thing they do when you come into the world and now the last thing they do on your way out?

Well, dying or not, I have a policy that I must remove as many items as possible to get the number on the scale to a more manageable one. First I set down my purse and took off my shoes, then my sweater, then my earrings. I removed my necklace and rings, and socks. The nurse started tapping her pen when I removed my belt and hair clip and the lint from my pocket. I would have removed my makeup but she said something about getting paid by the hour so I just went ahead and got on the scale.

By the time the doctor came in, I was almost hyperventilating.

“Have you had any nausea?”

“Not until I ate about two bottles of aspirin to keep from having a heart attack. Technically though, it might count as one since both bottles had expired in 2007.”

“Have you had any indigestion?”

“Not until I started reading about angina, arterial fibrillation, blood clots and imminent death.”

“Do you smoke?”

“No. But do you think it is too late to start? I could really use a smoke right now.”

“Do you have a family history of heart disease?”

“No, we are cancer people.”

The doctor hooked me up to an EKG, took blood and x-rays, pressed on my ribs and chest, listened to my heart with a stethoscope and poked and prodded. Finally, she said, “The good news is, you are not having a heart attack. However, your heart is in a state of tachycardia.”

I about keeled over. Note to medical personnel—do not use big words that a lay person would not understand. I am the moron your mother warned you about.

“I have a disease called tachycardia?!!”

“No, it just means your heart is beating rapidly. In fact it is beating at 138 beats per minute. The average person has a resting heart rate of about half that. I definitely would not recommend coffee for you.”

“So I am not dying?!”

“No. Your chest pains are due to stress. I am going to put you on some medication and you need to make some lifestyle changes.”

I stopped listening when she said I wasn’t dying. But I did go on to make some major lifestyle changes to protect myself from another heart scare.

To prevent a heart attack:
1.) I buy my aspirin at Costco.
2.) I have two clothes-irons spliced together making a homemade defibrillator.
3.) I eat a heart healthy diet except for special occasions, PMS, the weekends, when I am with friends and family, and daily between the hours of nine a.m. and three p.m.
4.) I don’t smoke or sniff the clothes or belongings of those who do smoke.
5.) I drink plenty of water (do melting ice cubes in a glass of Chardonnay count?).
6.) When I get stressed I calmly take a deep breath, sit down, relax and have another slice of cheesecake.

And I always, always, always remember to take my medication . . . so hopefully my husband will never have to come home and find my lifeless body with two irons burned into my chest next to a four-foot bottle of aspirin.


  1. Well, Sonia, that one just about had me laughing and crying at the same time! I am SO glad it wasn't anything worse!

  2. Glad you're okay. Take care, and keep writing!

  3. Can I stop laughing now? It's making me pee! Thanks for lightening my spirits.

  4. I recognize the symptoms - a book release will do that to you. :)

  5. That is another good one. Waiting to see the book come out.