Walking out to lunch yesterday in the 99% humidity I started to feel an odd heaviness and pressure on the left side of my chest. No pain, no shortness of breath or anything else out of the ordinary, so I thought, “Ehh..it’ll go away.”
When the nurse came on the line I described what I was feeling, and then answered “no” to each of her questions regarding pain in my arms, neck, chest or jaw, clamminess, nausea and dizziness. When she was done I said, “So, no big deal, right?”
“Well, I think you should call 911.”
“Or, if you don’t want to call 911, have someone drive you to the Emergency Room because you shouldn’t be driving.”
While that last opinion might be shared by others, I didn’t think it made sense in this instance, especially when I considered the logistics situation. I thanked her and hung up and decided that I’d risk driving home at any rate. I made it home without passing out, though the sensation in my chest did seem stronger. When I got home I weighed options with my wife.
Now I am rather robust in size, but my cholesterol is way down on the low side of the range, I don’t smoke and my typical blood pressure is around 110/70, and my pulse was strong and steady. Then again, my dad just had aortic valve replacement surgery that also identified and prevented an imminent anuerysm, all of his three brothers have had heart attacks (one fatal), and his father had several heart attacks before he died. Stay or go? Wait to see if it got better, or wait to see if it got worse and have the medical staff say, “Oh, if only he could have gotten here sooner”? There was also the question of cost since we have a high-deductible plan, so my wife had to consider the impact on our savings vs. the sizable life insurance pay out.
The ER won out this time, and after some casual, calming words for the kids we took off. My wife dropped me off in front of the ER and went to find a place to park while I walked in and told the sweet little old lady at the admitting desk what I was concerned about. She gave me a short, six-blank form to fill out with basic information and when I looked up from that she was standing behind me with a wheelchair.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said.
“Sorry, it’s hospital policy, but we’ll let you walk out on your own once you’ve been checked out.”
I hunkered down in the chair and half-hid my face while this woman who was literally half my size pushed me across the floor to the next admitting station. I figured if my heart didn’t kill me I’d likely die of mortification instead.
The next nurse asked more questions and entered data. She asked me to rate the amount of pressure I was feeling on my chest on a scale where 0 meant no pressure and 10 meant an elephant was sitting on me. “Umm,” I said, “I think it feels like a good-sized beaver.”
Moments later my wife and I were in a little curtained space deeper inside the ER and I soon had tape and wires on my chest and legs, an IV stuck in my hand and an oxygen sensor on my left index finger. Once I was “comfortable” another nurse popped in. Now, I happen to share a name with a certain TV personality who has rather high profile (though he doesn’t know how to spell the name properly). The new nurse looked at me and said, “Oh, darn, I thought we had someone famous.”
“Imagine my disappointment,” I said.
(I recently had a similar experience when I used my credit card at Cafe Latte. The cashier asked if that was really my name, and I responded that, no, I always used bogus credit cards whenever possible. I added that there were a lot of us with that name, and her response was, “Yeah, but he’s the funny one.” I said, “How do you know that? You’ve hardly been around me yet.”)
Anyway, the little wires and the machines they were hooked to did their thing, and my blood was analyzed. I looked at a monitor: heart rate 70; oxygen 96; BP 105/64. I told my wife that this could cost a lot of money for nothing. The BP edged upward. The autograph-seeking nurse came back in and gave me a nitroglycerin pill and told me to let it dissolve under my tongue. I asked if it would explode if I bit down on it instead.
“Try it and let’s find out,” she said.
The doctor came back in with the results from all tests and said everything looked normal or better than normal. The chest x-ray showed no strange masses other than my own. And he had no idea what was causing the heavy sensation in my chest, but if I still had it I was welcome to spend the night.
I was relieved to hear that nothing was going on but still a little mystified because the sensation was still there. I declined his kind offer to spend the night, however, because I knew adding that hospitality to what I had already received would do more to lighten the heaviness in my wallet than in my chest.
Oh well, at least he didn’t call me a pansy.