Sudden chest pain, light-headedness, then nausea, then loss of consciousness for a few seconds. I knew something was seriously wrong. I may be a nurse, but hospitals aren’t my thing. Neither is being poked and prodded, filled full of IV fluids and medications, and undergoing countless medical tests.
It was Tuesday evening. I was watching a program on Netflix and I noticed my hands starting to hurt and I wasn’t feeling altogether well, either. Setting the symptoms aside, I decided to move to the bedroom and get comfortable in bed, convinced that would do the trick. The midsternal chest pain started and shot through to my back. I asked my husband to put a heating pad behind me, thinking the pain was a muscle spasm. The intensity of the chest pain increased and I sat up. I felt light-headed, nauseous, and I told my husband I wasn’t feeling well. My husband moved into former EMT mode and started asking a series of key questions, but I couldn’t think or answer. I slumped over, losing consciousness for a few seconds. Coming around, he said he was calling an ambulance. He knows me well enough that if I didn’t think it was necessary I would definitely say so. I didn’t argue. From inside the fog of pain and light-headedness, I heard him tell me to stay with him, the ambulance was on the way. I slumped over again. When I regained consciousness, I could see the flashing lights of the ambulance pull up in front of the house from outside the bedroom window. My husband put the dogs in another room and went to the front door to let the firemen and paramedics in.
The firemen and paramedics did their jobs quickly and efficiently. Vital signs are primary. As they walked into the room, I tried to find my own pulse and could not. Neither could my husband when he had tried a few seconds before EMS arrived. Now, the fireman could not find a pulse. I was officially freaked out. The body is protective of its vital organs in a crisis, which I knew, so obtaining a manual pulse is often difficult. No matter, I was still freaked out. Hooked up to their electronic blood pressure and oxygen sensors, my blood pressure read low, and thankfully, the machine detected a pulse. Next came four chewable baby aspirin – protocol for a cardiac event. I remember thinking over and over “please don’t let me die.” It’s a weird and disturbing thought. The paramedics stabilized me and off we went to the hospital.
From the moment I realized something was very wrong, life felt surreal. We don’t spend much time pondering our mortality – most of us don’t, anyway, but now thoughts that my life could end swirled in my head. A few hours earlier the possibility of death wasn’t even a thought on the horizon.
Over the next several hours the doctors and nurses did their thing. Blood draws, CT scans, x-rays were all ordered, and we waited anxiously for results. Labs showed a critically low potassium level that needed to be treated as soon as possible. Potassium is a necessary nutrient that regulates muscle contractions, including the electrical system of the heart, relaxes blood vessels and helps balance sodium levels in the body. When potassium levels fall to critical levels, the condition becomes life-threatening.
A cardiologist was called to consult. My symptoms, along with the time leading up to their onset, was reviewed. It was decided I would be scheduled for a stress echocardiogram. If you haven’t had one, they are indeed a challenge. I wasn’t feeling well to begin with, and then I was hooked up to more cardiac monitoring equipment, medication was injected into my veins, and I was instructed to walk on the treadmill for at least 6 minutes or until I could no longer tolerate the activity while the incline and speed were increased. At 6 minutes, with a racing heart rate, I needed to quickly move from the treadmill to the table and onto my side. The tech had 60 seconds to obtain pictures of my heart under stress. The cardiologist was by my side the whole time in case the activity caused the onset of symptoms again or worse. Knowing too much isn’t always a good thing, and I knew that if there was concern for blockage I would be whisked down the hall to the heart cath lab for stent placement. Fortunately the cardiologist’s prelimary review of the results determined my heart looked to be in good shape. I was relieved.
Later that evening, I was discharged to home with the recommendation to take an aspirin a day, and to follow up with my healthcare provider as soon as possible, and told the cardiologist would also call to set up an appointment. Both appointments have been scheduled.
I am not a person given to over indulgence in anxiety or worry, yet in the few days since, anxiety has been a constant companion. Every twinge in my body sends me into a bit of a panic, and I don’t want to be out alone in a store or driving in a car. It’s crazy, really, or maybe I should say I feel crazy. And, I don’t want to admit my anxiety to others – it sounds like a sign of weakness to my ears. I am stronger than that, right?
We think we have a handle on life, we are somehow in control, and that our eventual death is out there somewhere in the future, but all of that is an illusion.
It sounds like a trite platitude, but it’s not – we do need to live fully each day. Reconcile with those who are estranged, forgive what feels life the unforgivable, say “I love you” to loved ones and friends, hold those who are dear a little closer and a little longer, and accept people for who they are, not for who you would like them to be – these are the important things in life…..