Saturday, August 11, 2018

Don't be still, my heart.

It was July 26, and it was a quiet day at work. In fact, there were just two of us in the office that afternoon, and while both Jackie and I had work with which to busy ourselves, none of it was terribly pressing. She and I were visiting in her office when I was suddenly hit with the worst indigestion I'd ever had. I reached for a peppermint from the little candy dish on her desk, where she keeps a steady supply of hard candies for everybody in the office, popped it in my mouth hoping it would ease my discomfort, and went down the hall to my own office.

Moments later, the discomfort not lessened in the least, I began instead to feel jarring pain under my right shoulder blade, and put my head down on my desk to catch my breath. I was just beginning to sit up again when Jackie showed up at my door, asking if I could answer a question for a donor who was on the line. When I lifted my head  a searing pain shot up through my jaw, and I just looked at her and said, "I think I'm having a heart attack." 

I had read articles about how women tend to exhibit vastly different symptoms of cardiac distress than do men, and that the ofttimes much more subtle signs are often brushed off as heartburn, or hot flashes, or dozens of other generalized feelings of being unwell and unsettled. As women, we tend not to want to bother anybody, and surely we don't want to set off alarms only to be embarrassed later when whatever was causing us distress passed of its own accord. 

But sudden onset, radiating pain to the jaw was so often a characteristic, that I just blurted out what I was thinking. Jackie moved quickly to grab the telephone in my office and dialed 911.  

And I reached over and hung the phone up. 

Because I didn't want to be embarrassed if it turned out to be nothing. Because somebody who was in worse shape that I might need them more. Because it was a very inconvenient time for me to have a medical emergency. Because I just did not want to be having a medical emergency. 

It took less than 30 seconds for 911 to call back, however, and in those seconds I had come to my senses and knew I might actually need help. 

In a flash, paramedics were standing in my office, taking my vital signs, all of which seemed to be just fine. They were actually packing up and I was, as is my wont, rattling on about how silly I felt, but that when that pain in my jaw happened I had panicked.  The minute they heard that, out came the leads for an 3-point EKG, and things got a bit real. Reading the results of that first one concerned one of them sufficiently that they called for an ambulance and insisted on doing a 12-point EKG. This pretty much shut me up -- a feat that many people in my life will have difficulty believing. 

The second EKG seemed to indicate that I was likely fine, but they still advised I jump on the stretcher that was now in the hallway outside my office and let them take me to the hospital. I declined, but did call to make an appointment with my doctor before they left the office. 

I went for blood work the next day, all of which came back utterly normal. Turns out, I am a pretty disgustingly healthy 60 year old woman with a heart rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen level that others would kill for. No Type 2 Diabetes, every single aspect of my blood chemistry is perfect. I do have a bit of a heart murmur, but it's very boring and nothing that my doctor or I can get worked up about.  

So, why am I telling you all this?  Because it could have gone a completely different way, and had that happened, and had I been foolish enough to wave off offers of help, you might be reading my obituary instead of my blog post. 

Here's what I want you -- especially my women friends -- to take away from this:

Not a single medical professional in this scenario made me feel silly for having had this checked out. Not a single one made me feel like I'd wasted their time. To a one, they all insisted that I (well, my coworker, Jackie) had done exactly the right thing. They all said they'd rather do a dozen calls that turn out to be nothing than to have a single person die because they didn't want to bother anybody. 

Please take this to heart. One out of four of you, statistically speaking, will die of heart disease of some sort. While it is true that we are all going to go of something someday, I'm not ready to cede the point just yet, and I don't want you to, either. 

Take care of yourself. Take a walk. Be mindful of how you're fueling your body. Be even more mindful of the hundreds of things you are letting steal your peace. 

And don't be afraid or embarrassed to call for help when you think you might need it. 

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